6 Types Of Hydroponic Systems And How To Choose The Right One

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If you’ve been considering a hydroponic system for your garden, you may be feeling overwhelmed with the number of options available to you.

In this article, we’ll clarify and define each of the top six hydroponic systems so you can choose the perfect solution for your garden.

Hydroponics 101

“Hydroponics” refers to a soil-less growing system at either a commercial or residential level. These systems help plants grow by providing water and nutrients through a non-soil growing medium. Typical growing media include:

  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Coconut coir
  • Rockwool/stonewool
  • Clay pellets
  • Sand/gravel/sawdust
  • Peat moss 

Hydroponics removes the barriers between the plant and its nutrients. This provides the roots with direct access to water, oxygen, and nutrients that it needs to grow and survive. Because there’s no soil, there is also no need for harmful pesticides or chemicals. There’s also a lower risk of plant disease or exposure to external elements.

There are six main types of hydroponic systems to consider for your garden: wicking, deep water culture (DWC), nutrient film technique (NFT), ebb and flow, aeroponics, and drip systems.

6 Types Of Hydroponic Systems And How To Choose The Right One

1. Wicking systems

The wick system is the most basic type of hydroponic process, also called “the training wheels of the hydroponic world.” This kind of growth has actually been used for thousands of years, even before the term “hydroponic” was considered. This is the type of system you’ll see in kids’ science classes.

In a wick system, the nutrients and water are transported to the plants’ roots using a wick, like a rope or a piece of felt. The plants are suspended in some sort of growing medium, like coconut coir or perlite. Below the growing tank is a reservoir of water and nutrient solution. One end of the wick is in the solution and the other end of the wick is in the growing media. This allows the wick to transport the water and nutrients at the same rate that the plants’ roots require the nutrients. Whenever the roots are ready to absorb, they’ll take in the nutrients from the wick. 

Wick systems are “passive hydroponics” because they don’t require air or water pumps. This makes them low-cost and easy to maintain, especially for beginner growers.

Read: How To Build An At-Home Hydroponics Garden

Pros:

  • The wick system is great for smaller plants.
  • Once implemented, it’s an easy and hands-off growing process.
  • It’s a good option for beginners or children gardeners.
  • Wick is one of the lowest cost systems to implement.

Cons:

  • Wicking is not effective for larger plants or extensive gardens.
  • Failure to set up properly or maintain the integrity of the wick can kill the plants.

You need:

6 Types Of Hydroponic Systems And How To Choose The Right One deep water culture

2. Deep Water Culture (DWC) 

The deep water culture (DWC) is the easiest system to maintain for most growers.

A DWC consists of a reservoir filled with water and nutrient solution. The plants are suspended over the reservoir using a net pot and growing media. The roots themselves are submerged in the reservoir, so they have a constant supply of water and nutrients.

Plant roots need oxygen or they can “drown.” Thus, you need to use an air pump with air stone to pump bubbles in the reservoir to continuously oxygenate the water and deliver necessary oxygen to the roots.

Pros:

  • DWC is inexpensive and low-cost to maintain.
  • Upkeep is low and only requires a reservoir, suspension system, and basic air pumps.
  • It’s a recirculating process, which means less waste and greater cost savings.

Cons:

  • DWC doesn’t usually work for larger plants or those with a longer growing period.
  • If not properly managed, plant roots can suffocate in solution.

You need:

  • Reservoir
  • Net pots
  • Growing medium
  • Air pump & air stone
  • Nutrient solution
  • Distilled water

3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The nutrient film technique (NFT) supplies the plans’ roots with a thin film of nutrients. 

The water and nutrient solution is held in a large reservoir, which has an air pump and air stone to stay oxygenated (like a DWC system). However, unlike the submerged roots of a DWC, NFT-system plants are grown in a nearby channel (in net pots).

A water pump, set on a timer, pushes water through the channel. This delivers a thin film of nutrients and water to the plants, where the roots are not completely submerged. At the end of the channel, the solution drops back into the main reservoir to be reused in the system.

Pros:

  • NFT is a low-waste recirculating system.
  • The film ensures you don’t suffocate your roots.
  • There is minimal to no growing media needed.

Cons:

  • A malfunction in the pumps can ruin the crop.
  • Roots can overgrow and intertwine along the channel.
  • The recirculating system can clog the pipes and channels if the water isn’t properly balanced.

You need:

  • Reservoir
  • Air pump & air stone
  • Plant channel
  • Water pump
  • Timer
  • Net pots
  • Nutrient solution
  • Distilled water

6 Types Of Hydroponic Systems And How To Choose The Right One

4. Ebb and Flow

An ebb and flow system, also called “flood and drain,” floods your plants with nutrients on a cycle. This is a less common practice because it’s not as flexible to your plants’ needs. Some growers like this system, though, because it doesn’t continuously expose the plant roots to the nutrient solution. 

You fill a tray with a growing medium to house the plants. A timed pump will “flood” the tray with nutrient solution on a cyclic schedule. The cycle of flooding depends on the type of plants, water testing, the air temperature, the growth cycle, and more.

After flooding the tray, gravity drains the solution back into the reservoir to be reused. An air pump should oxygenate the water in the reservoir as it waits for the next flood cycle.

This system can work well if you have strong monitoring processes to understand your plants’ growth intake of nutrients.

Pros:

  • An ebb and flow system doesn’t expose your plants to constant water. This can help improve growth and yield if appropriately cycled.
  • Ebb and flow are recirculating systems that are an efficient use of water and energy. 

Cons:

  • If not balanced or timed properly, the system may over-saturate your plants or dry them out.
  • Ebb and flow requires consistent monitoring, especially of environmental factors like water pH.

You Need:

  • Reservoir
  • Tray
  • Growing medium
  • Water pump
  • Timer
  • Air pump
  • Nutrient solution
  • Distilled water

5. Aeroponics

Aeroponic systems are the most high-tech and usually more expensive, but they’re also one of the most effective systems.

In an aeroponic system, the plants and roots are suspended in air. The reservoir (with oxygenating air pump) has misters, which spray a fine spray over the plant roots. 

Some growers will use a nonstop, fine mist while others will mist on a cycle. The cycle of misting is shorter than the flood and drain model with only a few minutes between each cycle. This allows the roots to continuously have nutrients without oversaturation or submersion. It also naturally allows the roots greater exposure to oxygen, which is critical for growth and development. 

Pros:

  • The roots are exposed to more oxygen.
  • There is less likelihood of oversaturation or under-saturation of roots.
  • Aeroponic systems are generally the easiest to maintain and monitor. 

Cons:

  • This is one of the more expensive systems.
  • A failure of a pump or mist nozzle can have dire effects on plants. 

You Need:

  • Reservoir
  • Air pump
  • Timer
  • Suspension pots
  • Mist nozzles
  • Timer
  • Nutrient solution
  • Distilled water

6 Types Of Hydroponic Systems And How To Choose The Right One aeroponic system

6. Drip Systems

Drip systems are usually found in commercial settings as opposed to residential because they’re better implemented on a large scale.

These are similar to NFT systems, where the plants are held in a separate channel. The plants are suspended in net pots over a thin layer of water and nutrient solution. A pump continuously moves the water throughout the channel to improve oxygenation and nutrient uptake. Leftover solution flows back into the reservoir to be reused. 

Pros:

  • Drip systems offer greater control over the schedule of feeding.
  • For commercial spaces, these can be inexpensive and highly effective.

Cons:

  • These systems require a lot of moving parts, which could be overkill for home gardens.
  • You have to be highly aware of monitoring pH and nutrient levels.
  • These don’t recirculate all solution, which can lead to high level of waste.

You Need:

  • Reservoir
  • Water pump
  • Timer
  • Net pots
  • Growing medium
  • Channel
  • Pump system
  • Nutrient solution
  • Distilled water 

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right system is critical to your hydroponic gardening success. If you want something low-cost and relatively low-maintenance, especially for new growers, consider a wicking system, DWC, or NFT. If you are a more advanced grower looking for greater yield with stronger monitoring processes, consider ebb and flow or aeroponics.

There are a number of variables to consider when choosing your hydroponic system. From price to plants to waste, it’s important to research the perfect hydroponics system for your garden.

Contact HydroPros now for a free hydroponics system consultation!

We’ll go through all the variables to find the system that will work best with your gardening needs. 

Don’t wait—give us a call right now!


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