Garden & Greenhouse


Troubleshooting Hydroponic System Problems

Posted May 10th, 2017 by Garden & Greenhouse in ,

Troubleshooting a hydroponic garden can be a tough task, especially when you come across something strange, or downright destructive in your previously healthy hydroponic system. Unfortunately most growers encounter problems in a hydroponic garden. Discovering something strange or downright destructive in a previously healthy crop frustrates many experienced and novice hydroponic gardeners. Troubleshooting these problems can be difficult, especially when there are multiple causes for a single set of symptoms or when more than one issue exists at the same time. The following are some of the common hydroponic problems together with their solutions.

Ethylene, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and Sulphur Dioxide

It’s a common and severe problem for an indoor garden. The enrichment of Carbon Dioxide is a useful method of boosting the growth and development of plants. However, overdoing it does not increase yields. The typical dose of Carbon Dioxide is based on several factors including species, previous exposure and plant maturity. CO2 toxicity in most indoor gardens is caused by either broken or inaccurate monitoring equipment. The most common and of course, the first sign of CO2 toxicity can be mistaken for other problems. It involves leaf damage like yellowing (Chlorosis), curling leaves and necrosis. In some cases, stunted growth is caused by high levels of Carbon Dioxide. It can occur without any other visible injuries or damage symptoms. indicates that Ethylene and sulphur dioxide, a damaging plant by-product, are generated CO2 that occurs through burning of a particular fuel is used.

It’s advisable you use proper maintenance of CO2 monitoring equipment like using backup testing techniques. Also, use clean sources of Carbon Dioxide and a reasonable level of ventilation to assist in the prevention of ethylene-induced growth problems.

Resistance and Super Bugs

Another common issue associated with the use of diseases and insect pests controlling sprays is the establishment of resistant disease and super bugs. Most gardeners may discover a particular spray or compound they applied to eliminate insect pests may not be sufficient. As a result, there is an explosion in pest populations. Any compounds that are applied for plant protection should not be used more than two times during a growing season. Repeated use of a similar class of pest and disease control compounds may cause disease and insects developing a genetic resistance to a particular compound and even help develop a new strain of superbug. In fact, as it was stated by Dr. Lynette Morgan from Massey University, New Zealand, most highly effective fungicides and pesticides compounds have been over applied to an extent where they are not effective at all. This leaves most growers frustrated since they cannot eliminate mere pests.

An effective solution to resistance and super bugs is to regularly change and rotate various control options, especially when dealing with insect pests and disease outbreaks. It is also advisable to involve some environmental control options like traps and resistant cultivars, integrated pest management and biological pest control.

Algae Growth

Every hydroponic gardener uses plant nutrients and water. Unfortunately, once you have light, water and nutrients in one place, you’ll eventually have algae development and growth. This is a common hydroponic gardening problem since algae usually attract fungus gnats. The fungus gnat damages plant roots that can eventually destroy the garden.

To avoid and prevent algae growth, limit the exposure of nutrient solutions to the hydroponic system as much as possible. Make sure the nutrient reservoirs are made from an opaque or dark material to avoid light penetration. It should have a lid, and the holes made on the tank’s cap should be smaller when compared to the hydroponic pump hose and water return pipe.


High-pressure hydroponic systems are more likely to leak when compared to the low-pressure systems. Leakages within the hydroponic system are another common problem. The most frequent source of leakages found in a hydroponic system is drip or spray emitters and stab fittings flipping out of the correct position. Root growth may also cause leaks in a regularly flowing hydroponic system and can result in water backing up and spilling out, especially when there isn’t enough area in the tubes. In fact, during the periods of power failure, nutrient solutions normally drain from the system and flow back to the reservoir. This can lead to high-pressure pumps that are not tightly connected, blowing off its exhaust hose.

Many of the leak problems can be prevented by using a hydroponic system that is designed around a low-pressure pump. Furthermore, you can prevent leaks by using a large nutrient reservoir, which is capable of holding all the water in the hydroponic system. Using large pipes that handle the water flow in the system even after substantial root growth can also prevent leak problems.

Invisible Pests

Some insect pests are easy to spot and eliminate. However, some of them are tiny and difficult to see, and their damages and presence are often overlooked. These pests include mites which can be difficult to spot. Look for tiny orange dots, specifically on the underside of the leaves. Mites can also produce leaf silvering or bronzing, dullness to the leaf and webbing on the foliage underside. If left unchecked, a severe mite infestation can destroy the plants. Another pest, parasitic nematodes can be seen only under microscopes. They cause a distinctive damage to the plant root that includes swelling, galls, root death, root knots and overall loss of plant vigor.

Dr. Lynette Morgan also discovered that mites can be entirely controlled with a mixture of environmental modifications and applications of sprays. Note that they thrive in dry and low-humidity conditions. An increase in the level of humidity assists in restricting their growth and development. On the other hand, a heavy infestation of nematodes requires the entire system being shut down and sterilized.


Clogs can happen, especially with spray and drip systems. Spray or drip systems use high-pressure pumps, specifically to force the nutrient solution to pass through a very tiny hole.

Nutrient filters as well as pre-filters can significantly reduce clog occurrence, but cannot eliminate it. It’s wise to spend some extra time each day and check the drip head or spray nozzle and replace any that are clogged.

Strange Plant Problems

An unusual problem encountered by many hydroponic gardeners, especially those who have specialized in tomatoes, appears when they open a tomato. Many germinated seeds inside the fruit tissue may appear rather alarming. The premature germination of seeds in tomatoes, while the fruit is still enclosed, is referred to as vivipary. It is a common issue that can also be found in supermarkets where tomatoes are not stored properly. Vivipary occurs when the natural germination inhibitors that surround the seed break down, enabling the seed to germinate inside the moist environment. Vivipary mostly occurs in tomato fruit that experiences cold temperatures, specifically during storage and development.

Using abscisic acid to help prevent vivipary on the mother plant, as well as the addition of hormone to the culture medium helps inhibit vivipary.

Salt Buildup

The buildup of salts appears as off-white or white crystalline residue or crust on the surface of a growing plant. It can also be found at the base of the stem and can cause salt burn damage. Different types of media are

more prone to salt build up and EC problems when compared to others. Plants with a high rate of water loss and a porous structure are more susceptible to salt crusting. An extended clay granule or similar media can develop a white coating, specifically on the surface, especially in ebb-and-flow systems. The buildup of salt occurs when a media is supplied with nutrient solution. The dissolved salts in nutrient solution evaporate faster and lose moisture when compared to the rate the plant’s root system absorbs the nutrients. Good indicators of a salt buildup problem are plants that become stunted, hard, dark and that show unusually slow growth.

Fortunately, it’s easy to deal with salt build ups. To help eliminate salt buildup frequently monitor the EC levels and drain and replace the nutrient solution in the system.

Eric Gibs is a writer / blogger who concentrates on home improvement and creating a healthy home. Those passions pushed Eric to become a self-taught hydroponics gardener. You can follow him at Blog –, Twitter – @EricPlaceHome and Facebook –

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