What is a Hydroponic Medium?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Hydroponic gardening involves the use of water and other materials instead of soil. The materials, known as hydroponic media, usually include specific nutrients to foster plant growth. A hydroponic medium can be anything such as sand, rockwool, vermiculite, perlite, or coconut coir, along with components to support the plants.

According to gardening sources, a hydroponic medium offers several benefits compared to soil-based gardening. Plants in this soil-less method tend to grow faster than plants grown in the traditional way. A hydroponic growing medium is designed to allow more oxygen to enter a plant's root system, thereby making it easier for it to absorb adequate water and nutrients. In hydroponic gardening, the medium combines the nutrients and water to feed a plant so that it doesn't have to rely on soil. Similar to soil-based plants, hydroponic plants must also be placed in an area of sunlight and mild temperatures as well as receive adequate amounts of water.

Materials used to set up a hydroponic gardening system include pots, growing cubes, or blocks. Grow rocks such as shale may also be added to aerate a plant's root system. Components such as wicks, pumps, reservoirs, and drainage systems move the nutrients throughout a plant and its roots. A hydroponic medium, such as sand, rockwool, vermiculite, perlite, or coconut coir, often follows.


Beach sand works well for certain types of plants like orchids. Gardening experts note that wet sand helps some orchid species to grow. Sand usually drains well compared to clay-based soil, and it is easiest to use as a hydroponic medium. Horticultural rockwool comprises of limestone and volcanic rock. This hydroponic medium usually comes in the form of blocks and cubes with pre-drilled holes that allow for seed and plant placement, and its porous consistency allows for adequate plant water drainage.

Vermiculite consists of pebbles that help circulate water and nutrients through a plant. Vermiculite holds more water than most other hydroponic media and should be used with moisture-tolerant plants. In hydroponic gardening systems, vermiculite makes it easier for water to move through the pumps via capillary action. Perlite also can be obtained as pebbles that resemble glass beads. This particular hydroponic medium holds air quite well and also helps the pumps used in hydroponic gardening process oxygenate the water that feeds a plant.

Known as one of most popular hydroponic solutions, coconut coir works as an organic nutrient in soil-less plant growth. It consists of coconut husks that get transformed into blocks of fibrous material for growing vegetables, tree plants, and ornamental flowers. Properties of coconut coir include a high water-holding capacity, an excellent balance of water drainage and passable air, and sufficient amounts of phosphorous and potassium for healthy plant growth without soil.


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