The first few days of a plant’s life are often overlooked, but they are among the most crucial to success. Getting the best root system possible at this stage will not only increase your final yield dramatically; it will also result in healthier plants.
Tapping Your Roots
Here we will outline the ultimate method for getting an outrageous root system for your plant from day one, letting you make the most of your time and space, with a faster-growing plant that can support more flowers. We’ll cover how to easily make a homemade hybrid dripper system with integrated air pruning, which makes young plants produce an abundance of fresh, healthy roots. We’ll also explore in depth the optimum feeding regimen so that your young plants get farther, faster, with their first tender steps -- kind of like a kindergarten for your little green babies.
To get the ultimate root zone using this system, you will need to acquire the following (you may already have a lot of this kicking around):
Three-inch rockwool cubes (1-inch hole, standard height)
Peat pellets (disks of dried, compressed peat that expand in water) A large plant tray (it must be at least twice as large as the space needed for your rockwool, at least three inches deep and watertight)
A smaller plant tray for the tiny seedling stage (optional)
A hard metal screen to sit on top of the large plant tray (cheap greenhouse shelving works well)
A midsize pump suitable for dripper systems
An in-line filter between the pump and dripper manifold
A dripper manifold, to split the drip tube to each plant
Dripper tubing (buy a couple feet or meters more than you need)
A 24-hour timer, with 15-minute segments.
Now it’s time to assemble our incredible ultimate-rooting hydroponic system. We will keep the plants in this system only for a week to 10 days, but it gives them the best possible start before you install them in their final home. Nutrient solution is pumped through the rockwool, dripping out below into the tray to create an active recirculating system.
The magic comes with the screen: As the roots grow through, they hit the air and the tips die off, triggering an explosion of new root growth from within. We time the plants’ feeding schedule and adjust the nutrient composition to encourage the most extreme roots possible before we transplant them to their final site.
Sterilize your trays, pump and screen. Diluted hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl alcohol works well and doesn’t leave any residue that’s unfriendly to plants. Put your small tray down on the bench and attach your pump to the base, toward the back end of the tray and away from the center. Lay your screen over the tray. Next, fit your in-line filter to your pump, then your dripper manifold and tubing. The pump filter and manifold should be sticking up through the hard screen.
It’s better to use the smaller plant tray at this early stage, because you won’t need to make up such large quantities of feed just to get the depth high enough for the pump to work efficiently. Using fewer nutrients is more economical and better for the environment, with less waste solution. As the plants grow too large for the small tray, you can simply lift the screen, pump, plants and dripper, all in one convenient movement and swap the bottom tray for a larger one.
If your screen is unsupported anywhere, you can place a couple of metal rods across the top of the tray under the screen, supporting the weight of your wet rockwool. Alternative methods are to fold up the screen edges carefully to give some rigidity or, better yet, just get a larger screen and cut it to fit, leaving an inch or so of overlap all around the large tray.
Think about your plants’ spacing and cut your dripper delivery tubing to reach each one easily, but avoid leaving masses of excess tubing to get in the way when the plants are tiny and bunched closer together. Depending on the strain you’re growing, you may need to allow for as much as a 12-inch circumference of space per plant by the time they’re ready to transplant again (in about 10 days).
Now it’s time to install the plants. Place them directly onto the screen and push a dripper stake into each rockwool cube. It’s easiest to work from the one closest to the pump outward. If you’re working with seedlings, they are still absolutely tiny at this stage, so you can bunch up the cubes to make the best use of your light coverage, then space them out as they grow so that none of the plants ever touch each other at this early stage. If young plants feel restricted, they won’t develop good lateral branching.
Optimizing Your Feeding Schedule
Make a full-spectrum vegetative-stage nutrient solution with NPK plus micronutrients and root booster. We still need to keep the solution light at this stage, so we mix until we measure 1.1 EC for seedlings, 1.2 EC for cuttings. Tip this into your tray, which conveniently acts as your tank as well. Test that the pump and dripper are working as they should be, with an even flow from all the dripper stakes.
The nutrient solution should fill each cube and drip through back into the reservoir from multiple points at the base of the cube. Also, make sure the dripper tubing isn’t pulling the stake back into the plastic wrapper on the rockwool or you’ll risk some of the nutrient solution running down the outside and missing the young plant altogether.
If growing from seed, increase the nutrient strength to an EC of 1.2 after the plants have been in the rockwool for three days, and keep it there until transplanting next week.
Often, when people use dripper systems, they use a very fast timer to replace only a small amount of nutrient solution per feed. This approach will lead to inaccurate pH measurements, since as the plant grows, the pH inside the cube rises too -- and by only replacing tiny amounts of nutrient solution, you’re simply compounding that problem!
But by running the pump for 15 minutes at a time, you allow the fresh nutes to permeate every part of the cube, pushing out the old solution. You should see it dripping out from different points across the base.
When the plants are first installed in the rockwool, the roots will be minuscule inside the peat pellets, so we only run the pump once a day for 15 minutes in the morning, since we want the cube to dry out slightly over the day to stimulate root growth. As soon as you see the first roots coming out of the base of the rockwool cube, run the pump twice
a day, in the morning and early afternoon. When these first protruding roots have withered and died back and you see the reactive cluster that follows leaping out of the base, you know the system has worked. Keep the feed strength at 1.2 EC, the pH at 5.5 and feed this four times a day, 15 minutes each time. Have the last feed about two hours before lights out.
As the plants grow, you will see the most outrageous root system emerge. Allow the roots at the bottom of the cube to die repeatedly and hold your nerve -- keep them on the screen for about another week, until the cube is carpeted in fresh, vibrant roots. Increase the number of feedings per day gradually over the week, judging by how long it takes for the cubes to feel lighter. By the time the plants are ready to move on, you will need to feed them about eight times per day (in an 18-hour veg “day”), since there are too many roots to fit in the cube and the plants will be thirsty and dry out fast. This is why the extra water-retentive properties of the peat pellet work in our favor now, by holding a little extra moisture for longer right at the core.
Peek down the side of the plastic wrapper and you should see a mass of pure, healthy white roots. The plants are now ready to transplant into their final home. Enjoy your massive yield!