There is no hydroponic grower anywhere in the world who didn’t get his system clogged by the plant’s roots. You know that you have crossed a long way through your hydroponic journey and that you are not a newbie anymore when you have reached this step.
So, how to fix the problem of the roots clogging the hydroponic system? You can unclog your hydroponic system by pruning the roots. Moreover, there are a lot of other effective methods that can be used as well. However, you must first get to know why your system got clogged in the first place to choose the right method of fixing it.
I know the hassle of trying to unclog the pipes in your hydroponic system, we have all been there. Getting a clogged hydroponic system happens with a lot of growers nowadays. This problem is frequent in certain systems like the recirculating DWC and the nutrient film technique (NFT).
When the roots start to clog the water circulation in your system, the nutrient supply to other plants present in the same system will be reduced. In some cases, clogging can be in advanced stages that the water flow could completely be stopped.
Of course, you must find a solution to this problem if you want to continue growing plants hydroponically. Lucky for you, you will find answers to all of your questions regarding how to unclog your hydroponic system.
But, before knowing how to unclog any hydroponic system, we must first get to know what are the causes of getting the hydroponic system clogged in the first place.
Why Is My Hydroponic System Clogged?
One of the main advantages of hydroponics is that there are many fewer forces applied against the roots. On the other hand, when plants used to be grown in soil, the root system faces a lot of resistance from the surrounding soil. As a result, the root system of hydroponics grows faster when compared to soil.
This explains why hydroponic plants have a very well-developed root system that can easily clog any pipe in your hydroponic system.
So, what makes the roots go into the piping system and clog it? The answer lies in the water current of your system. If you are running an RDWC or an NFT system, your system will most probably have a water current that is running continuously as your plants grow.
When your plant root’s become developed enough, they will be drifted by the water current into the piping system. This will lead to clogging your system after a short period of time.
A clogged system is no good when it comes to growing hydroponic plants. As you know, plants need a continuous fresh supply of water and nutrients. In recirculating systems like the RDWC and NFT, the plant needs to get it’s the supply of nutrient solution from the main nutrient reservoir. When the system is clogged, fewer nutrients and oxygenated water reach the plants, which results in a stunted growth that, if left untreated for several days, could lead to the plant’s death.
Given that we now know why our hydroponic systems keep getting clogged, it is time to know how are we going to solve this issue.
How To Solve The Problem Of A Clogged Hydroponic System?
There are a lot of ways that can be used to prevent your hydroponic roots from clogging your system. Moreover, even if the roots are already clogging your hydroponic system, you will still find the solution in the next section.
Place Flat Air Stones Under The Opening Of Every Pipe
This solution has been tried by several hydroponic growers around the world. It is most suitable for RDWC hydroponic systems. You can place a flat air stone under the opening where the water leaves the bucket. The air bubbles created will prevent the roots from getting into the pipes of the system.
Make sure that the air stones are flat and not like the regular stones that are present on the market. The flat air stones create a virtual wall with air bubbles that act as a barrier for the roots to get into the piping system and clogging it.
Place A Wire Mesh On The Openings Of Your System
Although That I don’t like this option and I will tell you why there are some growers who have gotten some successes by using this method. A wire mesh will act as a filter. It will pass only the nutrient solution and blocks any roots trying to get their way into the narrow pipes connecting the pipes together.
What I don’t like about this option is that in theory, it works just fine. However, when it comes to practical real life, the wire mesh will most probably result in clogging your hydroponic system faster than usual.
The wire mesh will sure prevent roots from getting into the pipes, but the roots will keep growing and developing tiny root hairs that will get through the wire mech holes and block the water flow completely within days.
Get Wider Pipes
Whether you are using an RDWC system or an NFT hydroponic system, I will tell you to do one thing which is to get wider pipes. In RDWC hydroponic system, getting wider pipes to connect the buckets together can be a major game-changer.
On the other hand, in NFT systems, using wider piping systems will significantly increase the root space. Moreover, it will reduce the likelihood of your system getting clogged.
Grow Plants With Shorter Growing Periods
So, let’s be serious, don’t expect to grow tomatoes in your hydroponic system without getting a clogged pipe at some point during your growing journey. Plants with long growing cycles tend to build a more developed root system.
On the other hand, crops with shorter growing cycles such as lettuce are easy to handle and will not clog your system under any circumstances. So, the next time you want to grow a hydroponic plant, think wisely before selecting a crop.
If you are planning to grow some sort of dwarf trees that require long growing periods, then you must consider getting a larger hydroponic system to give enough space for the roots to thrive without clogging your system.
Reverse The Direction Of The Water Current
You can reverse the direction of how the water flow in your system to unclog it. For example, if the direction of the water current is running through the buckets of an RDWC from right to left, then you can simply change the direction by reversing the inlets and outlets of the water.
This method has proven to be successful with many growers. However, it cannot be applied to all the systems in the market. Many prefabricated hydroponic systems on the market cannot be unlogged using this method. You can have a chance if your system is built from scratch using DIY materials.
Pruning Your Hydroponic Plant’s Roots
Pruning is by far, the most practical and effective method to unclog your hydroponic system. However, some people doubt if pruning can be used on hydroponic plants or not.
Can You Trim Roots In Hydroponics?
As I have mentioned before, some people are afraid of trimming their hydroponic plant roots because they are unsure of what will the consequences be.
So, can you trim roots in hydroponics? Yes, trimming the roots of your hydroponic plants can be the perfect solution to unclog your system. Moreover, it has a great effect on promoting the root growth of your plant.
Tall roots can cause a lot of problems in your system if not managed well. Extremely lengthy roots will definitely clog your hydroponic system, especially when you are using an RDWC. These roots could get into the interlinking pipes between the buckets and form root balls that will block the water flow of your entire system.
On the other hand, when you are using an NFT system, the situation becomes more difficult. In NFT systems, the pipes are narrower and there is no enough root space. Therefore, this system gets clogged faster than any other hydroponic system.
How To Prune Hydroponic Roots?
Pruning is not a difficult task to do for a newbie. You only have to follow the following tips to avoid making anything that could harm your plant.
Prune The Last Third Of The Root
while pruning, make sure to trim only the last third of the root. Make sure not to trim more than this length because it might lead to stunting your plant’s growth.
Avoid Trimming The Root Crown
The root crown is the part where two roots join together to form one larger root. Avoid cutting any root crown. You should only cut the root tips that are below the root crown. Root crowns are crucial in developing a healthy root system, so you have to make sure not to prune them under any circumstance.
Use Sterile Tools While Pruning The Roots
Sterilizing your tools is very important to prevent the roots from getting any pathogenic infection that can lead to several negative effects.
Cut The Dead Roots First
The whole idea of pruning is to reduce the root mass to prevent it from clogging the system. So, while you are pruning your roots, make sure that dead roots are being pruned first before other normal and healthy roots.
White healthy roots do function well and support your plant by absorbing water and essential nutrients. There is no need to trim them when there is plenty of dead roots that when pruned, can remove a huge chunk of the root mass that was originally causing the problem.