Should I use seawater to increase micronutrient content?

By Lynette Morgan | Last updated: May 26, 2021

kelp under the ocean

A: Hydroponic nutrient solutions already contain all the essential micro elements required for growth: these being iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, and molybdenum. What you are referring to are ‘potentially beneficial micro elements’, which are not essential for plant growth, but may give some advantage, with a few having human health benefits as well. These would include elements such as aluminum, cobalt, titanium, silicon, selenium, sodium, iodine, and some lesser investigated ones such as silver, chromium, rubidium, tin, vanadium, and tungsten.

Hydroponic growers have long been concerned that the use of nutrient solutions means many of these other elements, which are commonly found in soils, are not available to their crops and that the composition of the food produced hydroponically may not be as nutritionally diverse as soil-grown plants. However, this is not the case, since these beneficial elements are taken up in such tiny quantities, hydroponic plants tend to end up with the same composition as those grown in soil despite growers not deliberately adding these elements to the nutrient solution. The reason for this is that often water supplies (particularly well water or city water) contain tiny amounts of many of these beneficial elements that are available for plant uptake. Furthermore, trace amounts of beneficial elements are present in growing substrates as dust in the environment and as impurities in the chemical fertilizer or organic compounds used to make up hydroponic nutrient products and solutions.

(Read also: Rockin’ the Rhizosphere: The Benefits of Microbial Life in the Rhizosphere)

Seawater is not a great option for boosting beneficial elements in a hydroponic nutrient solution. There is the potential for sodium and chloride to accumulate in a recirculating system despite tomatoes being fairly salt tolerant. A more sophisticated approach is to select some of the booster supplements sold on the hydroponic market, such as those based on concentrated vermicast extract, organic or mineral clay supplements (there are also silicon-based liquid boosters and even some hydroponic nutrient lines which have certain beneficial elements added).

Since many of these beneficial elements need only be present in minute quantities (parts per billion) using a professionally prepared supplement is a good place to start as it ensures no additional and unwanted elements, microbes such as pathogenic bacteria, high levels of carbon or other issues are likely to occur. As well as beneficial elements, research has found that healthy microbial populations within the nutrient solution and root zone can interact with some of these beneficial elements to boost mineral uptake and plant growth even further, so it’s worth considering using both microbial and mineral supplements in combination.

Best of luck with your growing,
Dr. Lynette Morgan

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Hydroponics Plant Nutrition Plant Growth Plant Types Vegetables

Written by Lynette Morgan | Author, Partner at SUNTEC International Hydroponic Consultants

Profile Picture of Lynette Morgan

Dr. Lynette Morgan holds a B. Hort. Tech. degree and a PhD in hydroponic greenhouse production from Massey University, New Zealand. A partner with SUNTEC International Hydroponic Consultants, Lynette is involved in remote and on-site consultancy services for new and existing commercial greenhouse growers worldwide as well as research trials and product development for manufacturers of hydroponic products. Lynette has authored five hydroponic technical books and is working on her sixth.

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