When growing your plants in a hydroponic environment, many questions can arise as to why (and how) to approach pruning your plants. The first thing that we’ll take a look at in this article is the question of why you should prune your plants in the first place. For some of us, it may be a slightly traumatic experience to get out the scissors and start cutting away on our beautiful plants that we have spent so much time and effort in growing. But trust me – it’s quite necessary. Some of the reasons for pruning your plants include:
Preventing crop diseases that can occur when moisture pools on flowers, fruits and foliage
Preventing insect infestation when a dense plant canopy hinders airflow, which provides a favorable environment for insects
Ensuring that the necessary light is distributed in a more even fashion instead of the top getting the majority of the light while shading the lower parts of the plants
You’ll have the ability to channel a greater amount of energy to selected areas that are providing a larger amount of flowers or fruits
Allows water vapor to freely escape and lower the humidity within your already developed plant canopy
Provides a better exchange of air (allows produced oxygen out and the necessary carbon dioxide in)
Productive areas of your plants can receive more light
When you understand these reasons, it becomes a far less traumatic experience when it comes to caring for your plants through efficient pruning!
Pruning Provides For Larger Flowers And Fruits
One of the best things about pruning your hydroponic plants is that it is a relatively free process that provides a proven, effective way to obtain more fruits and flowers from your plants. This is especially true when you are growing under indoor artificial lighting. Under hydroponic conditions, you will discover that growth is quite rapid and can easily get out of hand unless you manage everything diligently. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a miniature jungle that’s become hard to control.
On a more technical note, the intensity of artificial light, such as LEDs, T-5s, MH and HPS tends to diminish very quickly as it travels over a distance. In other words, unlike natural sunlight, you won’t have the same canopy penetration. Therefore, you have to remain conscious of certain parts of your plants that may be providing too much shading over other parts of the plants.
You will find that a canopy that is too dense will tend to hold too much moisture and can cause the flowers and fruits of your plants to suffer from blossom end rot. This will cause lower fruit and flower production as well as promoting various plant diseases. In addition, flowers will tend to fall off early while promoting calcium-related issues with the plants. You will also see too much branching that will make plants weak with smaller flowers and fruits.
Growing your plants UP Or Topping
Many different kinds of plants (ex. - cucumbers, peas, tomatoes and many herb varieties) need to be trained to grow in an upwards fashion, lest you find yourself with a sprawling situation in which these plants will take over the entire hydroponics growing area. If you’re growing herbs and lettuce together with tall vining crops, it’s important to separate these two types of plants. Otherwise, the tall plants will begin to overshadow the shorter plants.
It should also be noted that you can grow a tremendous amount of produce from plants that have been trained to grow up. You can accomplish this by using trellises, strings or stakes in order to support the plants that you are currently training to grow up. But keep in mind that you will need to prune your plants so that they keep in line and don't exceed the maximum height of your growing area. This can sometimes be a bit difficult to maintain, but the yields are definitely worth learning how to master this technique! Here are some additional tips regarding different types of plants:
If you’re growing plants of the bush type (ex. - tomatoes), you will want to pinch off the plant tops at about 1-3 feet.
For herbs and vining plants, you can just let them go and then prune them for maximum light distribution and to keep them from reaching the actual hydroponics light source.
Additional staking and training plants hints
When it comes to pruning your hydroponic plants, your crop health and overall yield will be significantly improved by training and staking your plants - in addition to pruning. Note that plants which you are growing for high yields can easily develop a huge amount of leaf and flower weight when compared to the branches that are actually supporting the plants.
Even though pruning your plants in order to provide better air circulation will yield sturdy plants, you also need to keep an eye on plant support. The general rule is that if you’re growing plants that are over two feet tall, you should give those plants additional support such as a small stake. If you’re providing support for stout bush plants (tomatoes, etc.) you can you can use a variety of methods including string, stakes and trellises. But once you’re dealing with plants that are growing in excess of four feet (such as certain varieties of herbs), then these types of supports won’t do. You should then use professionally-made trellises which can be found in our store or create your own heavy duty supports.
Removing Bottom Foliage
This grower has pruned off the lower and bottom branches and leaves on his plants. This creates much better airflow through the plants and lower level of the garden. Having a higher airflow provides the plants with more oxygen and provides faster growth, healthier plants and bigger yields. It also helps in reducing humidity, pests and disease.
When's The Right Time to prune
Some growers will generally begin pruning in the plant’s early development stages. They’ll do this if they want growth that takes less time. For growing herbs, you will want to begin your pruning during the 2nd week of growing. This is the time when herbs will possess a number of internodes. Some herbs may require pruning at the three week mark, since some plant varieties tend to grow slower than others.
In general, you can prune up to and including the 3rd week of plant flowering. Doing so will allow enough time for your plants to recover. Keep in mind that your plants will always require a couple of recovery days after each pruning. As a matter of fact, in some cases, a plant may actually stop growing since it’s using all of its energy in order to recover. In any case, do not prune after the 2nd or 3rd week of flowering (depending on the plant variety). However, also keep in mind that your pruning schedule will depend on your hydroponics setup and your personal trial and error pruning experiences.
Any part of your plants that are obviously not receiving direct and strong lighting can be a prime candidate for removal. The foliage that you’ll find lower on the plant will only add additional moisture which, as mentioned previously, can cause an unhealthy plant environment. In addition, you might consider pruning branches and leaves that exist on the entire lower 1/3 of the plant. However, another approach can be to train any side branches that you want to grow towards the stronger light. These can lead to a significant yield provided you can have your hydroponics setup provide strong light to the lower parts of the plants.
How you should prune Your Plants
When it comes to pruning your hydroponic plants, always employ sharp instruments and keep an eye on good hygiene. It’s actually a good idea to view the pruning process as a form of medical surgery – but for plants instead of people and animals! If you don’t have access to an actual medical scalpel, then a sterile razor blade is also an excellent choice. However, you need to follow strict disinfecting measures after each use so that you don’t spread disease and pests.
Additionally, you may also want to feed your plants a B-vitamin supplement in the form of a light spray or applied to the plant’s root system. This can assist your plants when it comes to their recovery and helps eliminate potential shock to the plants. Another good tip for dealing with an extensive number of plants, is to dip your hands/tools into milk as you go from plant-to-plant. This procedure can assist with preventing the transference of harmful plant disease-causing pathogens. You may also want to prune during the beginning of your plant’s dark cycle. This will allow your plants to begin to recover prior to the introduction of light that will cause the plant’s desire to grow.
Other considerations also exist, such as making sure that any material that is removed from your plants is quickly placed away from your hydroponic growing area. This will lessen the chance of insects and pathogens to develop from the decaying plant material.
By approaching your hydroponic plants pruning in a careful and organized manner, you will be rewarded with a much more bountiful harvest from your healthy and efficiently grown crops.