Hydroponic seed germination is a crucial step in any hydroponic gardening. After all without plants you cant really do an gardening! But can you use any seeds for hydroponics? What are the best seeds for a small indoor hydroponic gardener?
Do you need special seeds for hydroponics?
The short answer is no, but the correct answer is it depends. What I mean, there aren’t any specially made for hydroponic seeds but the success of a hydroponic garden very much depends on what seeds you are choosing. When deciding on the best hydroponic seeds for germination you have to take into consideration the limitations of your hydroponic system and what you want to achieve.
So what is the best seed for hydroponics?
Always choose organic seeds for hydroponic germination
For a small indoor hydroponic gardener growing your food it’s about the joy of seeing your plants growing and being in control of what goes into your plant. You probably don’t want pesticides or any other growth enhancement procedures. Probably that’s why you wont want to start with the wrong foot by using GMO or pesticide treated seeds.
Pick seeds that are fresh
Date of expiration should be regarded differently. A best by date that is less that a year away means the seeds are already maybe a year or more old. Old seeds mean less germination.
Plant specific details to look for when picking hydroponic seeds for germination
Do your homework before purchasing the seeds. Some plants are yearly, some are everbearing. For example, when picking seeds for tomato indoor hydroponics there are determinate and Indeterminate tomatoes (determinate means that reach a certain plant height and then stop growing and producing; Indeterminate varieties continue to grow and produce tomatoes, therefore they need extra-tall supports.
Also, the size of the tomatoes is important. If you grow big tomatoes is your hydroponic system able to support the big tomatoes?
Height of the plant is an important factor when choosing seeds for hydroponic germination
Usually the small scale hydroponic systems are height limited. The entire plant should be less tall than the hydroponic light. Of course, if you have an outdoor hydroponic system, sky is the limit when it comes to light, but if you have a very tall plant you should also consider if your hydroponic system is able to support the plant weight and if you need to make a support system for the taller branches
Light requirements for the hydroponic plants
If you are an indoor hydroponic grower, no matter what type of hydroponic lightning you have it’s still a limited light source, not comparable with the full Sun the plant might be needed. So pick seeds for plants that have a low light requirement.
Hydroponic seeds starting techniques
So how do you start seeds for your hydroponic system? Do you have to do anything special?
While you don’t need to do anything special to germinate your seeds for hydroponics there are things that make your life easier. For example, you could start the seeds in soil. But is this a good choice? Well, not really, because hydroponics is a soilless growing method. Your going to grow your plant in either rock wool, clay pellets, coconut Coir or even the humble sponge, so if you start seedlings in soil you will need to wash them before transplanting them into your hydroponic system.
So the best way to start hydroponic seedlings is to start them in rock wool cubes, this way you can transfer them very easy to the hydroponic system later.
Rockwoll hydroponic seeds starting
MIgardener has a clear and easy to follow tutorial on how to start seeds for hydroponics using rock wool, a seed some and maybe a heating mat. Nothing fancy, a humidity dome that can be purchased at any gardening store, then presoaking the rockwoll cubes and placing the seeds inside.
This is a very basic technique, that can be improved over time. For example, JimmyB Harvests shows us how to save money by slicing your rockwool cubes into smaller pieces and also make a very basic self watering system using a ice tray and a container with water. By making small holes in an ice tray and placing the tray in a cut container with water he is making sure the seeds will always have enough water and don’t go dry even in a very dray area.
Alan Hulme has an self explanatory tutorial on how to make a self watering system for your hydroponic seeds staring:
Starting Seeds on Cotton Balls: an alternative to rockwool for hydroponic growing
If you are looking for ways to save money on those expensive rockwool cubes, Tikki O. makes a side by side experiment to see how well lettuce seeds germinate on cotton balls compared with rockwool. It looks like the cotton balls are a great alternative, cheaper too!
Seed starting on Paper Towel – another cheap seed starting technique
Of course, seeds germination doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive at all. You can use paper towel inside ziplock bags and you’re good to go! Growing seeds with paper towel method can really help your germination rate and increase your seed sprouting percentage as you learn how to germinate. The ziplock back creates a Greenhouse Effect inside the bag and as long as you provide heat and a little light you will love the results.
Hydroponic seed kit starting
If you are lucky and have an automatic hydroponic system like Aerogarden things are very easy. They come with a per-seeded hydroponic pots – you just need to start the system and drop the pots inside:
You can germinate even your own seeds with an grow anything kit where you simply use the Aerogarden system and replace their ready made pots with your own:
Transplanting Seedlings to your hydroponic system
Depending on how you started your seeds and how your hydroponic system is setup, transplanting the seeds might be as easy as placing your rockwool cube in a pot with clay pebbles or as complicated as picking your seedlings from your paper tower and inserting them in your grow medium.
Joe’s Hydroponics shows how easy is to transplant the rockwoll cubes to a 5 gallon hydroponic system
Q&A about hydroponic seeds starting
Can you use regular seeds for hydroponics?
Yes you can, just consider how the plant will fit your hydroponic system later.
Do hydroponic seeds need light to germinate?
Most seeds germinate best in the dark. Seedlings however need as much light as possible, so as soon as the seeds are germinated move them under the light.
When should I start feeding my hydroponic seedlings?
While adding nutrients to your seeds before germination might actually result in less germination, you should start adding hydroponic solution when your plant begins to grow its first true leaves.