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Pest Management and Disease Prevention in Hydroponics

Hydroponics is the technique of growing plants using a water-based nutrient solution rather than soil. Pests and diseases can rapidly spread throughout the hydroponics system causing severe damage to the hydroponics infrastructure and plant health.

Aarushi Chadha
Hydroponics a technique to grow plants using water-based nutrient solution rather than soil
Hydroponics a technique to grow plants using water-based nutrient solution rather than soil

Hydroponics and other forms of controlled environment agriculture are prone to pest infestations and diseases when there is an imbalance between the equipment, the environment, and the plants. Variables such as temperature and humidity can favour a group of pests and pathogens encountered in these systems.

Let us take a look at some common hydroponics pests and diseases

Spider mites- Spider mites are spiders that are the size of a pinhead. Adult spider mites can be reddish, pale green, or yellow in colour. Spider mites weaken plants by sucking juices from the steams. Observable signs of spider mite infestation includes yellow specks on leaf tops and webbing on leaves and new shoots. Spider mites tend to thrive in dry conditions.

Powdery mildew- Powdery mildew is a common disease that plagues plants that are grown in the hydroponics system. Signs of the disease include the appearance of sprinkled white powder over leaves and stems, stunted growth, premature falling of leaves, and yellowing of plant tissue.

Thrips- Thrips are tiny and round insects. Observable signs of thrip infestations include small metallic black specks on the top of leaves and premature browning and drying of leaves as the thrips such as the leaves dry. They also bore holes and insert their eggs into leaves and stems.  

Iron deficiency- Iron deficiency is a common nutrient deficiency amongst plants grown in the hydroponics system. Lack of iron leads to a reduction in chlorophyll production and causes the leaves to turn bright yellow.

Fungus gnats- Fungus gnats are similar in appearance to whiteflies instead they are a dingy grey colour. While the adult fungus gnats do not harm the plants, its larvae, however, devour plants’ roots. The maggots feed on algae and tend to thrive in the dark conditions found around the base of the hydroponics plants.

Root rot- Root rot is an exceptionally common disease in hydroponically grown plants. It is caused by the plant’s prolonged exposure to too much water and pathogens in the growing medium. This disease causes the plant to wilt and turn yellow and causes the root to become mushy.

Ways to Prevent Pest Infestations and Diseases in Hydroponics

Maintain general hygiene- Diseased or infested foliage should be promptly removed from the plants along with other waste material.

Do not incorporate disease or pest-infested foliage in compost bins instead burn them. The surfaces of the hydroponics systems should also be kept clean from dust, dirt, and spillages. Also, consider sanitizing your growing media and water supply to prevent inadvertent contamination.

Provide proper ventilation- Ventilation is essential for temperature control, humidity, and CO2 management. In a controlled environment agricultural setting, such as hydroponics, to achieve proper ventilation, you can position a fan to move fresh air around the plants. You should also not overcrowd the plants, prune vining and invasive growths, and remove diseased or dead plant matter.

Humidity- While humidity is essential, controlling the humidity to provide the best growing environment for the plant whilst simultaneously preventing spore germination for many diseases is also important.

Ensure good drainage- Make sure that your plants are neither being overwatered nor underwatered. Also, monitor the drainage systems of the containers regularly because an incompetent drainage system can lead to oversaturation of nutrients and standing water.

Seeds and cuttings- While procuring seeds and cuttings to propagate new plants, make sure that they are being procured from a reliable source and are free from diseases.

Monitor for signs of diseases- Walk through your crops at least once or twice a week to scout for emerging disease signs. Also, use a magnifying glass to scout for any signs of pests.

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