Questions regarding pH dynamics and adjustments.
What is pH?
pH is the measure of acidity/alkalinity of a solution.
Can you explain this in a little more detail?
Specifically, pH is a measure of the hydronium ion H3O+. It is based on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 14. "Pure" water has a pH of 7.0. If the pH is less than 7, the solution is acid. If the pH is greater than 7 it is alkaline. Because the scale is logarithmic and not linear, a pH of 6 indicates ten times more H protons than a pH of 7, and a pH of 5 indicates 10 times more protons than a pH of 6.
What pH is best for growing plants hydroponically?
The ideal pH range for most hydroponic crops is between 5.5 and 6.5.
How does pH level affect plant growth?
pH is important because it affects availability and absorption of several of the 16 atomic elements needed for plant growth. Maximum absorption of these elements is found at pH readings 5.5 to 6.5. When pH falls below this range many of the macro elements (N, P, K, etc) have less availability, and absorption of the micro nutrients can reach toxic levels.
How do you change the pH?
pH is adjusted by using an acid to lower it or an alkali to raise it. General Hydroponics' pH Down and pH Up are designed for this purpose. Many acids and alkalis are extremely corrosive and dangerous, so care should be used if you are not using a product labeled for hydroponic use.
What if I can not get any pH Down, and my system is running high?
Short-term solutions include citric acid (which degrades in solution) or sulfuric acid made for car batteries. Make sure this does not include any lead, and be very careful with this acid. Vinegar will also work, but generally, the effects are short term.
How often should I check my pH level?
When first starting out it is a good idea to measure the pH of your water every day, until you get a feel for your system. Measure your water and then add your nutrients. Within an hour check the pH and adjust accordingly. Repeat this process until pH stabilizes. The liquid Flora Series has special pH buffers to help maintain a desirable pH. It is a good idea to note how much water, nutrients and pH modifiers are needed to obtain the desired values. After several "start- ups" you can generally get a feel for how much acid or base to use for your situation. Frequently pH stays within a desirable range for a considerable time, and then rapidly rises or falls to an extreme. This is usually an indication of the need to do a nutrient change. If you are using hard water, pH has the tendency to climb above 7.5. Sometimes this can be neutralized with acid, though one might consider adding a reverse osmosis unit in an extreme case.
How much pH Up/Down is needed per gallon?
Start out with one milliliter per gallon. Wait 15 To 30 minutes, and test your water again. Frequently you will only need 1 to 2 ml of pH Up/Down per gallon of water. You may need additional pH Up/Down if you have hard water. The General Hydroponics Flora Series is pH buffered to facilitate keeping the pH in a favorable range.
The pH in my system drops below 4 every few days after cleaning and refilling. How do I increase the pH and stabilize it?
The easiest way is to continue adding pH Up. This is generally fine because the additional elements that are added are potassium ions. Potassium is frequently the highest element in hydroponic nutrient solutions. Sometimes pH crashes because of the presence of a large amount of microbial activity in the nutrient solution. This is usually a result of poor maintenance of the system due to infrequent nutrient changes or other stresses. The best way to avoid this scenario is to keep a clean system with adequate nutrition.