Choosing the Right Kind of Hydroponics Systems for your Plants


Many of us are passionate about growing plants at our homes, but some of us feel constrained by the lack of space. If you’ve got limited space in your apartment but love the greens, hydroponics is the ideal solution. It is a sophisticated greenhouse system that doesn’t use any soil and saves space for growing herbs and plants. No wonder, it attracts a huge number of worshippers, especially in the urban setting!

Some indoor grow rooms use hydroponics to grow high-value herbs, vegetables, and other plants on a commercial basis. A simple hydroponics set-up may cost you around $50-200.

Hydroponics systems offer a great amount of flexibility, which you can adjust according to your plant types, needs and knowledge. But did you know that there are six different types of Hydroponics systems? Discover what these are and know what they’re used for.

Six Types of Hydroponics Systems

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced, you can choose from any of these types of hydroponics systems based on the variety of plants you’re going to cultivate:

Wick Hydroponics Systems

Best for: Beginners and children since it is the most basic type of hydroponics system. Also known as ‘passive hydroponics’, it works well for smaller plants that can thrive with minimal water and nutrient supply.

This method doesn’t need water pumps; you just need a wick to move water and nutrients into the plants’ area and a growing medium that transports them. A cotton rope or a piece of felt can be used as a wick, while you can use cocopeat, perlite, and vermiculite as your growing media. You can check with hydroponics system specialists such as Acorn Horticulture, to get the right material you need.

This wick hydroponics system has four major components: a grow tray or container, a reservoir, an aeration system, and a wick for each plant. It’ll probably cost you almost nothing to build one. You can use two buckets, one as a grow tray and another as a reservoir. You can use a cotton thread or a reused candle wick to do the job, too.

You may only have to purchase perlite, which costs around $5 for an 8-quart bag or an 8-quart brick of compressed coconut coir for $7 as your growing medium. However, type of hydroponics system is not suited for large, high-maintenance, and water-thirsty plants. It is also considered less efficient in delivering nutrients to plants.

Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponics Systems

Best for: smaller plants that don’t take much time to grow. In a DWC system, the plant’s roots are suspended in a nutrient solution inside a reservoir in order to get a continuous supply of its basic needs to make it grow, including water, nutrients, and oxygen. The air pump and an air stone pump up bubbles into the nutrient solution placed in the reservoir. The air pump allows oxygen to go through your plants without drowning them.

To complete the set-up, arrange net pots in a foam board or on top of the reservoir. Add some growing medium into your pots, including coconut coir, vermiculite, and perlite, as mentioned earlier. To recap, the main components of DWC include a reservoir, an air pump, air stone, tubing, net pots, and growing media. These materials are priced at around $50 in total.

Word of caution: In small DWC systems, it could be difficult to maintain constant levels of temperature, water, and nutrients. Further, if power is interrupted, your air pump would stop working, causing your plants to drown.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Hydroponics Systems

Best for: These systems are typically used to cultivate leafy green plants such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and certain herbs with a short growth period.

In this method, plants are cultivated in such a way that nutrient solutions are constantly pumped as a thin film along a channel at the bottom. When nutrients reach the end of the channel, they drop back into the main reservoir which are then recirculated. This is similar to that of the DWC hydroponics system, but unlike DWC, plants’ roots aren’t entirely dipped in this technique.

This NFT hydroponics system requires a reservoir or container, growing tubes, a submersible pump, tubing, starter cubes, and growing media. You need to use net pots filled with a growing medium to place your plants. Check your plants regularly as the air pump could damage your plant and look out for overgrown roots as they can clog the system.

Since the system doesn’t leave enough room for large roots to develop, this isn’t ideal for large and heavy plants. If you want to use the NFT system, stick to growing leafy greens and herbs.

Flood & Drain Hydroponics Systems

Best for: growers who need flexibility and puts them in better control of plant roots. This hydroponics system is also known as an ‘ebb & flow system’ that requires equipments such as a container for growing plants, another container to hold the nutrient solution, a submersible pump, tubing, a timer, an overflow tube set, and a growing media.

This system does not expose plant roots to a nutrient solution on a regular basis. Instead, a tray filled with the growing medium is used to put your plants into. This tray is regularly filled or flooded with nutrient solutions depending on the plants’ size, water requirements, ambient air temperature, and at which stage your plant is in its growing cycle.

The flooding process is achieved by using a water pump, a reservoir located below the tray, and a timer to monitor the flooding process. After the flooding process, the nutrient solution goes back down towards the reservoir, where is supplied with oxygen by an air pump and an air stone. This process of flooding and draining is repeated numerous times, as necessary.

However, this system is prone to pumping machine breakdowns and unstable pH levels that may be harmful to plants. If done incorrectly, it can flood your plants and drown them as well.

Aeroponic Systems

Best for: advanced hydroponics enthusiasts who grow vine plants, leafy greens, herbs using this hydroponics technique. Aeroponic systems are the most advanced hydroponic setups that you can build, which isn’t surprising knowing its origins. In the 1980s, NASA researchers developed this new method of growing plants, flowers, and vegetables, using an air mist environment even with the absence of soil.

Just like an NFT system, the plant’s roots are mostly suspended in air in an aeroponic system, but here you just have to regularly mist the root area with a nutrient solution instead of a thin film. This misting works similar to flood and drain systems, where you ‘mist’ the plants on a cycle. A simple model can cost you less than $100 to buy PVC pipes and connectors, sprinklers or misters, tubing, a submersible pump, timer, and net pits with foam lids.

The downside of this method is you have to be meticulous in every step since aeroponics requires regular misting and a well-maintained nutrient concentration mixture. The misting system relies on electrical power to work, and the misting tools need regular cleaning to prevent clogging.

Drip Systems

Best for: Commercial operations as they’re easier to set up and operate on a large-scale basis. Spinach, lettuce, kale, and other greens, as well as large plants that take up huge root space, can be grown using these methods.

In a drip hydroponics system, water and nutrients are supplied to plants through drip irrigation. The drip system either feeds water from the surface above the growing media or below it. This system allows water and nutrients to seep in slowly, keeping the plants moist and reducing water evaporation. It ensures better control over how much water needs to be supplied to the plant.

This type of hydroponics system needs materials such as: reservoirs, water pumps, pipes, fittings, mesh pots, and a growing medium. Drip systems may be relatively cheap and sturdy, but the system is prone to clogging and microbial growth, thus requiring regular cleaning. If you need more help, get inspired with these easy D-I-Y hydroponic system projects.

Final Thoughts

Whichever system you choose, a hydroponics system doesn’t remove the fact that your plants need tender, loving care in order to grow properly.


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