Oxygen is an essential plant nutrient – plant root systems require oxygen for aerobic respiration, an essential plant process that releases energy for root growth and nutrient uptake. In many ‘solution culture’ hydroponic systems, the oxygen supplied for plant root uptake is provided mostly as dissolved oxygen (DO) held in the nutrient solution. If depletion of this dissolved oxygen in the root system occurs, then growth of plants, water and mineral uptake are reduced.
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While there are a number of methods that can be used to introduce oxygen into a nutrient solution, many of these, such as ozone treatment, are expensive and not often used by smaller growers. One of the most practical and inexpensive, yet efficient ways of getting more dissolved oxygen into a plants root system is through forcing air into the nutrient. Air pumps are widely available in a range of sizes, from very small up to very large with capacity to run from one to many `air stones’ each introducing hundreds of tiny bubbles of fresh, oxygen rich air into the nutrient solution.