Hydroponics Systems

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution rather than soil. If you are on the fence about starting a hydroponics system, read this blog to learn the benefits of each.  

There are six basic designs of hydroponic systems, and each allows for creative expression and experimentation. Hybrid systems are appreciated, even failure is viewed as one more step towards success and a more sustainable way of life. The following are the fundamentals for each type of system. Even enthusiasts who have endured cycles of success and failure still encounter a decision or two. It is the nature of hydroponics to experiment and push boundaries. So, pause and take a deep breath. Save time and money, do your research and avoid pitfalls only the unprepared succumb to. And, most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. 


The Wick System  

The Wick System is the most basic design of the six options. With no moving parts, the system uses a wick to soak up the nutrient solution from the reservoir into the growing medium (Vermiculite, Perlite, Pro-Mix and Coconut Fiber are typically used). Note: Plants that require more water may use the nutrient solution faster than the wick can supply it, a risk that may outweigh the reward of this simplistic design. 

The Water Culture System  

The Water Culture System is also relatively simple. Plant roots are submerged in nutrient solution and held atop water with Styrofoam.  An air pump connected to air stones, via tubing, creates air bubbles with life-giving oxygen that are delivered to plant roots. Dissolved oxygen in the water also nourishes plants. For smaller bubbles, switch out air stones for a soaker hose.

The Ebb & Flow System 

The Ebb & Flow (aka Flood & Drain) system works by temporarily flooding the grow tray with nutrient solution, then draining the solution back into the reservoir. Typically done with a submerged pump, a timer turns on throughout the day. Frequency? It depends on numerous factors: the size and number of plants, humidity, et cetera. The Ebb and Flow is a flexible system. It can be designed to hold plants in separate pots. It can use a variety of growing mediums: grow rocks, gravel, granular rock. 

To choose a water pump for an Ebb and Flow system, calculate the number of gallons your container will hold. This will give you the water volume needed. 

With the water volume determined, now figure out the height the pump will need to pump the water above the water line in the reservoir. For this, determine the position of both the system and reservoir. How high the water will need to be pumped from the reservoir is a critical factor in choosing a water pump. 

Drip Systems 

Drip Systems are the most popular design. A timer activates a submersible pump and nutrient solution is dripped onto individual plants by a drip line. With two types of drip systems, recovery and non-recovery, this design offers options. In a recovery drip system, the runoff nutrient solution is collected in the reservoir for reuse. The non-recovery does not collect runoff. It requires minimal maintenance; excess nutrient solution isn’t recycled so nutrient strength and pH don’t need to be adjusted. 

Two determiners, water volume and the height the water will need to be pumped, will help narrow down which water pump is most suited for the job. Soaking time can be easily adjusted with a timer. 

To identify the correct water pump for a drip system, calculate the water pressure. The more plants and drippers, the more water pressure you’ll require. Submersible pumps don’t provide pressure ratings (psi), only gallons per hour (GPH) and head height, the maximum height the water can be pumped. The higher the head height the more water pressure the pump will have.

The Nutrient Film System 

This system is quintessential hydroponics. With a submersible pump and nutrient solution, nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray, flows over the roots and drains into the reservoir. This design hosts no growing medium, so air does the trick. Each plant is housed in a plastic pot, with roots dangling into nutrient solution. 

The water depth of an NFT system is shallow and does not require a large volume of water to be pumped through it but does require a constant flow. This system is constructed with long tubes, angled so the water flows downhill. The tube’s angle and the speed in which the water flows will dictate water depth. The pump should keep up with the water flowing from the tubes.  

The Aeroponic System 

The Aeroponic system is a tech-driven design with air serving as the growing medium. Roots hang in the air, misted every few minutes. Because the roots are exposed to air, an interruption to the misting cycles should be avoided. A timer controls the nutrient pump. It’s on a short cycle that runs a few seconds every couple of minutes. 


Hydroponic enthusiasts recommend that whichever pump you choose, pick a pump that moves twice the water than the minimum GPH of what is necessary for your system. This allows flexibility in set-up and future adjustments. Water flow can be reduced if needed—most pumps have a built-in flow control. 

Selecting the ideal hydroponic system hinges on various factors like space availability, budget, and personal preference. Whether you opt for the simplicity of a wick system or the precision of aeroponics, each method offers unique benefits and challenges. By carefully considering your needs and objectives, you can cultivate thriving crops year-round, harnessing the efficiency and sustainability of hydroponic gardening. Embrace experimentation, stay informed, and let your green thumb flourish in the exciting world of soilless cultivation. Happy growing!