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Types of Hydroponic Systems & What’s the Best Method

types of hydroponic systems

If you’re just starting to learn about hydroponic systems, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. There are a few different types of hydroponic systems, and it can be hard to know which one is right for you. Depending on your hydroponic gardening plans, one system may be better than another. For instance, hydroponic farming and growing cannabis plants are two very different hydroponic growing system setups and will require different types of equipment and care.

Therefore, it’s important to understand what type of hydroponic plants you’re working with, and what your goals are before you can choose the best hydroponic method. In this article, we will explain the different types of systems, so you can find the right fit for your crop and budget.  

Types of Hydroponic Systems  

Hydroponic systems offer several advantages over traditional soil-based gardening, including improved water efficiency, reduced risk of pests and diseases, and accelerated growth rates. There are a few different types of hydroponic growing systems, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks.  

Wick System  

The wick system is passive hydroponics in operation. There are no pumps and no moving components, which makes it the most basic form of hydroponic system. This is an ideal setup for newer hydroponic growers, or for those who want a low-maintenance hydroponic cultivation system.

The wick system works by channeling nutrients from a water reservoir to the plants through capillary movement. It uses a growing medium, such as vermiculite or coco coir, that is saturated with a nutrient solution.  

The wick is placed in the growing medium on one end and into the nutrient solution on the other. The absorbent rope or fiber used to make the wick absorb nutrients quickly while delivering them steadily to plant roots.  

Pros:  
  • Hands-off system  
  • One of the most basic types of hydroponics systems to set up and operate.  
  • Easy for both beginners and children  
  • Ideal for smaller plants and non-fruiting plants  
Cons:  
  • It may not be suitable for large plants or crops  
  • Not very efficient – can be wasteful of nutrients and water  
  • Not the most effective – In some cases, the system may over-water the growing medium. The plant roots’ oxygen absorbing activities become more difficult when there is too much moisture.  
  • Mistakes with wick placement can result in the plants’ rapid death.  
  • Because the soil is constantly wet and humid, it is more vulnerable to fungal disease and root rot.  

What it’s best for: small plants & herbs  

Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)  

The ebb and flow system, also known as the flood and drain method, is simple to set up and can be easily automated.  

The ebb and flow system works by flooding the roots with nutrient rich water and then draining it back into the reservoir.  

Plants are cultivated in a grow tray or container with a nutrient rich growing medium. Water is forced through the tube and into the main portion of the system using a pump.  

After the growing tray or container is filled (flooded) with nutrient rich water and saturates the plant roots at predetermined intervals, gravity drains the solution back down into the reservoir automatically. The tray is flooded numerous times a day by a timer and a water pump, depending on the size and type of crop, as well as other factors.  

Depending on the desired results, a variety of growing media can be utilized in this system, such as gravel, granular Rockwool, grow rocks, perlite, and so on.  

Pros:  
  • It encourages efficient nutrient, water, and energy use  
  • Ensures sufficient oxygenation of the roots  
  • Promotes healthy root development  
  • Good for water-craving plants like lettuces and spinaches  
Cons:  
  • Uses large quantities of growing medium  
  • Roots can quickly dry out and die if the pumps or timers stop due to a power failure  
  • Unfavorable environmental conditions (such as too much heat, dryness, or cold) can also dry out the roots.  
  • Use a lot of growing media. As a result, you’ll need considerable expertise.  

What it’s best for: vegetables such as tomatoes, kale, cucumber, lettuce  

Drip System  

Drip systems come in two forms: active recovery or non-recovery. They are one of the most prevalent types of hydroponic systems worldwide, especially among commercial growers.  

Recovery drip system: Excess nutrient solution from the plants is collected and returned to the original nutrient solution tank or reservoir. This option necessitates more monitoring because any excess nutrient solution may affect the pH of the nutrient reservoir solution. As a result, you’d need to check and adjust the pH levels on a regular basis.  

Non-recovery drip system: The excess nutrient solution is allowed to flow, resulting in less upkeep than the recovery technique. However, to control runoff, the pump must be operated with precision.  

A drip system works by using a timer to schedule when the submerged pump will turn on. When the timer is on, the nutrient solution will be pumped out and dripped onto the plants’ base through a small drip line. This line emitter will help you adjust the amount of solution per plant.  

Pros:  
  • It’s easier to control nutrients and water delivery.  
  • The set-up and maintenance of this product is relatively cheap.  
Cons:  
  • Regular pH testing and correction (recovery option) are required.  
  • Proneness to waste nutrients (non-recovery option).  

What it’s best for: row crops such as vegetables and soft fruit, tree, and vine crops  

Aeroponic System  

An aeroponic system grows plants in an air or mist environment without the use of a growing medium. The roots are suspended in the air, and a nutrient solution is periodically sprayed onto them. A timer is used to regulate the nutrient pump, but the cycle is far shorter than that of other hydroponic systems.  

To work with this method, growers will require specialized atomization nozzles along with other specific hydroponic equipment.  

Pros:  
  • The roots are more oxygenated than those completely immersed in water.  
  • Yields and growth rates may be greater than in other hydroponics systems.  
  • There is little to no growing medium in the mix.  
Cons:  
  • Can be an expensive set up  
  • The nutrient solution nozzles must be observed to avoid failure and root drying out.  
  • Due to the extra complexity of this system, it’s typically not suggested for beginners  
  • More prone to drying as a result of the power outages.  

What it’s best for: Lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach, and similar crops  

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)  

The NFT system is one of the most straightforward types of hydroponics. It involves a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients necessary for hydroponic plant growth. The water is pumped from the reservoir and circulates through a network of plastic channels.  

The pump constantly pushes nutrient solution over the plants, which is then drained back to the reservoir via the slightly downward channel. Thus, there’s no need for a timer.  

Since there is no growing medium used, plants are usually held in a grow basket or a supporting collar. The roots hanging above the water level are always moist and receive a steady supply of oxygen from the air around them. To provide oxygen in the water, the grow tube, air stones or capillary matting must be placed in the reservoir. It also aids in the system’s continuing operation without requiring you to check it manually and frequently.  

Pros:  

  • Little to no growing medium necessary  
  • Recirculating and water-saving  
  • Because much of the root mass will be exposed to air, there will be fewer issues with oxygenation.  

Cons:  

  • Susceptible to pump failure and power outages  
  • Not suitable for large, heavy plants.  
  • The solution must be monitored on a regular basis to ensure that it is delivered properly. The crop can be ruined if any of the pumps or timers fail.  
  • When roots grow unchecked, they can block the nutrient channels.  

What it’s best for: leafy green plants with a short growth period  

Deep Water Culture (DWC)  

Deep Water Culture is an active recovery hydroponics system. In a DWC hydroponic system, the plant’s root system is suspended in nutrient rich solution while air is directly provided to the roots via air stones or a diffuser.  

Pros:  
  • Minimal maintenance.  
  • This hydroponics system is less complex than some others, making it an excellent choice for beginners or those who are less experienced with growing plants.  
  • This appliance can be small and compact, making it perfect for people who have limited space.  
Cons:  
  • Not ideal for larger plants or plants with a long growing cycle.  
  • If your air pump fails, your plants will die due to a lack of root oxygenation.  
  • It is important to place your plants correctly to avoid problems. If the plant is too low in the water, the stem will rot. If the plant is too high, it will not get enough water and nutrients.  

What it’s best for: small and lightweight plants  

What’s the Best Hydroponic Method?  

When choosing a hydroponic system, you must first identify what types of plants you want to grow. Some types of hydroponic systems are better suited for certain types of plants than others. For example, lettuce and other leafy greens do well in a nutrient film technique (NFT) system, while small and lightweight plants do well in a deep water culture (DWC) system. Once you have identified what types of plants you want to grow, you can then choose the hydroponic system that is best suited for those types of plants.  

If you are a beginner, it is important to choose a hydroponic system that is relatively simple and easy to set up and maintain. The nutrient film technique (NFT) and the deep water culture (DWC) systems are both good choices for beginners. These systems are low maintenance and do not require a lot of hands-on care.

However, if you have more experience with hydroponics, you may want to choose a more complex system, such as the ebb and flow system or the drip system. These systems require more frequent monitoring and maintenance, but they can provide a higher yield. 

If you are unsure of which hydroponic system to choose, it is important to consider the following factors:  

  • the size and weight of your plants  
  • the length of the growth cycle for your plants  
  • how often you are able to check on your garden  
  • whether you have experience in gardening  

By considering these factors, you will be able to choose the best hydroponic system for your needs.

Once you feel confident in your choice of hydroponic system, you can begin your adventure into general hydroponic gardening or the cultivation of the perfect cannabis plant. Get started on building your grow kit today!

HRG Brands Offer Top Tier Hydroponics Growing Supplies Brands for Various Types of Hydroponic Systems

No matter what types of plants you want to grow or what level of experience you have, there is a hydroponic system that is right for you. By choosing the best hydroponic system for your needs, you can ensure that you will have a successful garden. If you are looking for a high-quality hydroponic system, be sure to check out the offerings from HRG Brands.  

We provide top-of-the-line hydroponic equipment that will meet your needs and exceed your expectations. HRG supplies exclusive hydroponic product lines you need for the highest yields. Find our products locally.