Since there are many different options when it comes to hydroponic systems, it can be hard to decide what method may work best for your hydroponic garden. Some hydroponic systems work better than others depending on the plant our growing and the spaces you have. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different types of hydroponic systems.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
With NFT hydroponic systems, the nutrient solution is pumped into channels that can hold a varied amount of plants. The channels are slightly sloped, so the nutrient solution flows through the channel, over the plant’s roots dangling roots, and back into the hydroponic reservoir. NFT hydroponic systems don’t often use grow medium and foam net pot inserts are typically used to secure the plant.
Due to the size of the channels, NFT hydroponic systems work best for plants that have a small root system, like leafy greens.
Of the different kinds of hydroponic systems, NFT hydroponic systems are the most scalable. The simple concept makes it easy to set up a system to grow a lot of plants, which makes it one of the go-to methods for commercial growers.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
With DWC hydroponic systems, the plant’s roots are suspended in the nutrient solution and the air is provided directly to the roots with an air stone or diffuser. Plants are placed in net pots with grow medium to help secure them. Because plant are sitting in nutrients and being supplied with unlimited oxygen, they grow like crazy.
Deep water culture works great for almost all plants but works especially well for large plants with big root systems or ones that grow an abundance of fruit. You’ll be amazed at how big the root system gets and how quickly it happens!
The hydroponic bucket also called a bubble bucket, is an excellent example of a DWC hydroponic system. You can also check out this article on How To Make A 5 Gallon Bubble Bucket. Plastic totes are also used frequently instead of buckets.
The wick system is the most simplistic type of hydroponic system requiring no electricity, pumps, or aerators. Among the different types of hydroponic systems, it’s the only one that can be a completely passive system, meaning no electricity is needed.
In most systems, plants are placed in an absorbent grow medium like coco coir, vermiculite or perlite, with a nylon “wick” running from the plants into a reservoir of nutrient solution.
Since wick hydroponic systems don’t supply the plant with a lot of nutrient solution, these systems only work well for small houseplants and herbs. Plants that don’t require much water grow well in wick systems.
Ebb & Flow/Flood & Drain System
Ebb and flow hydroponic systems (also called flood and drain), are popular with many home hydroponic gardeners. In ebb and flow systems, plants are placed in large grow beds filled with grow medium. The grow bed is flooded with nutrient solution until it reaches a certain point. A drain allows the water to only get a few inches below the top of the grow medium, so it doesn’t overflow. Power to the water pump is controlled by a timer. After running for a predetermined amount of time, the timer shuts off the pump which allows the water to run back down through the pump, draining the grow bed completely.
Ebb and flow hydroponic systems can also be set up to drain with an automatic drain, removing the need for the pump to be set up with a timer. Automatic drains allow you to flood and drain the system quicker and more frequently, increasing nutrients, oxygen, and growth.
Ebb and flow hydroponic systems work great for almost all types of plants including some root vegetables. Though its possible and they would grow well, I wouldn’t recommend growing plants that get really large in ebb and flow systems just because of the real estate they take up. In addition to the grow bed space, you also have to account for the depth of the grow bed for a larger plants root system and the grow medium/water it will take to fill it.
Ebb and flow hydroponic systems are popular with hobby hydroponic grower because they work so well and are also customizable. I built a small ebb and flow system in my garage to grow lettuce.
Drip hydroponic systems are easy to use, set up, and can be tailored in several ways making it ideal for those who are commonly making changes. With these systems, the nutrient solution is pumped through tubes directly to the base of the plant. At the end of the tubes are drip emitters that allow the nutrient solution to drip at an adjustable flow, saturating the grow medium.
Drip hydroponic systems can be non-circulating or circulating systems. Non circulating systems drip slowly to provide the plant with enough nutrients at a consistent rate. Circulating system drip more often, with excess nutrients flowing back into the reservoir like in the image below.
Drip hydroponics systems work great for a variety of different plants. With the ability to tailor both the system setup and flow rate, drip hydroponics can be set up to work with whatever plant you want to grow.
Aeroponics isn’t the easiest methods of hydroponic gardening, but it’s a simple concept. Plants are suspended in the air and nutrient solution is sprayed over the plant’s root system.
The nutrient solution is pumped into piping that’s fitted with mist nozzles. As the pressure builds the misters spray the plant’s roots and the solution falls back into the reservoir. You could have a system that looks similar to the one below which looks similar to a DWC tote hydroponic system, but instead of an air stone in the reservoir, you have a water pump. The smaller the solution particle size, the faster the absorption by the plant’s roots.
With the right setup, aeroponic hydroponic systems can grow just about any types of plant. The difficulty lies with making sure the mist nozzles are able to spray the entire root systems. Plants with larger root systems can make this difficult.
Choosing your hydroponic systems is an important decision. Remember to take into consideration the type of plant your growing, the amount of space you have and how much customizing you would like to do. All of the different types of hydroponic systems can grow amazing plants, just make sure to do a little research to find which one will work best for your next hydroponic garden.