Adjusting pH and EC in Hydroponics for Optimal Conditions

In hydroponics, water is the lifeblood of the entire system. It carries nutrients and oxygen to the plants and regulates temperatures as well.

Two of the most important aspects of hydroponic water are pH and EC levels. If they become unbalanced, the whole system goes off the rails.

Thankfully, adjusting the pH and EC levels of hydroponic water is a simple enough task once you learn how. 

How do you adjust pH and EC in hydroponics? The pH and EC levels in hydroponics are adjustable in a couple of different ways. The most effective method to adjust pH and EC in hydroponics is to use professional adjuster kits. The next best technique is adding household ingredients to the water that raise or lower levels.

If you’re new to hydroponics or need a refresher course on pH and EC-related subjects, read on below!

Hydroponic pH and EC

The terms “pH” and “EC” are two of the most important terms that you must understand to fully grasp hydroponics. These two crucial measurements dictate how well your plants will do in general; if they will thrive or barely survive.

What’s the Difference Between pH and EC?

The H in pH stands for Hydrogen. The p however is debated as to what it stands for. The main school of thought is that together, pH means “power of hydrogen,” and as power is simply a word, while Hydrogen is a proper subject, the p is little and the H is capital.

EC stands for Electrical Conductivity. It measures how much salt is found in your hydroponic water, and how much electric current is possible.

The pH level measures the acidity of the water.

Together the pH and EC determine how much hydroponic nutrients are available for your plants.

Hydroponic pH Explained

The pH level of your hydroponic water is vital for success at growing virtually anything. Depending on the level of the pH, the amount of nutrients in the water differs, as does the ease at which the plants can absorb them.

Further, every plant is unique and requires a specific pH range to grow and flourish. So, pH level is incredibly important to understand, especially if you grow more than one type of plant.

What Happens to Plants If the pH Is Too Low?

When pH levels drop down lower than they should be for a certain type of crop, a gap in the needed nutrients occurs. Even more, serious deficiencies in calcium and magnesium appear as well as toxicity from copper and iron.

That means that your plants may very well die if their pH is not raised back to safer levels rather quickly.

What Happens to Plants If the pH Is Too High?

When pH levels are too high, plants aren’t able to easily absorb nutrients that are present in the water. A high pH may also cause deficiencies in iron or calcium.

That means when the pH is higher than it should be, your plants can die due to not being able to get the food they need, even if it is available.

Hydroponic EC Explained

The EC of your hydroponic water is crucial as it basically allows you to gauge how much nutrients are available in your water. Further, it gives you a clear idea of how easily your plants may absorb the present nutrients.

How Does EC Affect Plant Growth? 

If the EC in your hydroponic growing system is on point, your plants are safe. But, when the EC is too high, or too low, they are in danger of eventually starving to death.

What Happens If EC Is Too High?

When EC in your water is too high, it causes something similar to a draught. Regardless of how much nutrients are available in the system, roots simply aren’t able to function properly and absorb the needed nutrients and water.

In other words, a high EC level causes plant growth to slow, and eventually come to a total stop. If the EC level isn’t corrected in time, the plants will go into shock, start losing leaves, shut down completely, and then die.

How Does EC Affect pH? 

Technically speaking, EC and pH aren’t related to each other. However, the two are closely intertwined as EC does affect the number of nutrients/pH plants are able to absorb.

What is TDS in Hydroponics?

The TDS is the measurement of salt concentration and the strength of nutrients available in hydroponics. That means that TDS readings allow you to measure the total of all substances dissolved in your water.

Generally speaking, TDS levels should read between 600 and 1200 in hydroponic systems. That said, each crop requires a specific TDS level.

Is EC the Same as TDS?

EC and TDS are similar only in the fact that they both provide a measurement of how much salt is present in your hydroponic water. That is where the similarities stop, however.

EC is primarily a measurement of electrical conductivity, TDS is primarily a measurement of all combined dissolved solids found in the water.

Testing pH in Hydroponics

Tests for pH in hydroponics are normally carried out with a simple hand-held device called a pH meter. All you need to do is power the meter up and hold its probe in the water. 

Alternatively, pH is also testable by measuring its chemical reaction on paper strips. This second method may be old-fashioned by today’s standards but is nearly as accurate as most meters.

Testing EC in Hydroponics 

Tests for EC in hydroponics are extremely similar to pH testing. They are typically carried out with EC meters. 

One difference between the two meters, however, is that EC meters work with two electrodes rather than a single probe. Once placed in the water, the two electrodes measure the level of electric conductivity between them.

Best pH and EC Meters

Hanna Combo pH/EC/TDS Combo Tester

The Hanna Combo Tester works not only for measuring pH and EC levels, but for reading TDS, C, PPM, and temperatures as well. The meter is well-made with a long-lasting battery, auto-shutoff, and two sets of memorized buffers for auto-calibration.

The unit has a sleek design, easy to grip, with waterproof materials that float. So, even if you happen to drop it in the water, it will still work perfectly the next time.

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Pros

  • Measures pH, EC, TDS, and more
  • Waterproof and floats
  • ATC ability
  • Auto calibration
  • Long-lasting

Cons

  • Expensive compared to other meters

Extenuating Threads pH and EC Tester

A popular duo of testers, the yellow meter measures pH and the blue one reads TDS, PPM, and EC. The units both feature auto-locks, yield quick results, and have small compact designs. They are also lightweight

These meters are accurate, give fast readings, and are super easy to use. Even more, both of the Extenuating Threads pH and EC Testers are built for use with pools, spas, in addition to hydroponic and aquaponic systems.

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Pros

  • Quick results
  • Accurate
  • Easy to use
  • Comes with two meters
  • Reads pH, EC, TDS, and PPM

Cons

  • Not as heavy-duty as some meters

Apera Instruments 5-in-1 Tester

Another heavy-duty and highly accurate (albeit expensive) pH and EC meter is the Apera Instruments 5-In-1 Tester. Waterproof, easy to use, the unit features a bright LED screen with pushbuttons.

This meter has a dual display, displaying the water temperature alongside the specific reading you are taking. The unit also comes with a calibration kit ready to use, so hardly any time is wasted keeping the meter as accurate as possible.

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Pros

  • 5-in-1 design
  • Large easy to read screen
  • Dual display
  • Takes AAA 
  • Multi-parameter probe

Cons

  • More expensive than other meters

How Often To Measure pH and EC 

The pH and EC levels in hydroponics requiring measuring daily. Make sure to check both the pH and EC simultaneously, regardless of what time of day you perform your tests.

Ideal pH and EC Levels for Most Plants

A standard temperature for hydroponic water is 72 to 75°F, the pH should be between 5.5 and 60, with an EC of 1.2 to 2.0. Depending on the crops you’re growing, or plan to grow, optimal pH and EC levels differ from species to species.

Adjusting pH in Hydroponics

The pH level in Hydroponics is relatively easy to adjust. But, you must keep a couple of items on hand to do so. If you’re growing plants in a hydroponics system, there is no other option.

The first item is a pH level adjuster kit that comes with two to three pouches of powder, or bottles of liquids. The adjusting agents are concentrated nutrients that instantly raise, neutralize, or raise your water’s pH level when added.

The alternative way to adjust pH levels in hydroponics is by adding household items that contain the same sort of nutrients needed. Adjusting pH in this manner isn’t the easiest route to take, therefore isn’t highly recommended.

Adjusting EC Levels in Hydroponics 

The EC level in hydroponics is even easier to adjust than pH. If the EC is too low, simply add some liquid fertilizer, plant food, or nutrients. 

You could also change all of the water in the system, replacing it with fresh clean water and proper nutrients.

How To Reduce EC in Hydroponics

On the other hand, if the EC in hydroponics is too high, add water to the system. Make sure the water is clean and top off the tank. 

If, however, there isn’t enough room to add water (because the tank is already full), you’ll need to scoop out some of the water first.

Related Questions 

Does pH Up Raise EC?

Adding nutrients to an EC that is lower than it should be raises the electrical conductivity of the water. The pH affects EC in this manner due to the extra salt content that it adds to the water. 

The more salt, the higher the conductivity of electricity in the water.

How Accurate Are EC Meters? 

EC meters can be extremely accurate. That said, the quality of the meter is a huge factor in how accurate it is. 

Another significant factor is how well cared for the meter is. It is highly suggested that EC meters are calibrated for accuracy once every 10 to 15 days on average. 

If you install new electrodes, drop the unit, or use a meter for the first time in a long while, it should also be calibrated then.

Key Takeaways

The pH and EC levels in hydroponics are equally crucial. Further, you have the ability to easily measure and adjust both of them. 

An imbalance in either level may cause the untimely death of all crops grown in an otherwise perfectly cared for and well-functioning hydroponics system.

Remember to test pH and EC in your hydroponic water on a daily basis and adjust them as soon as possible and you’ll do just fine.