6 Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems

Author: Robin Horton  

There are 6 basic types of hydroponic systems; Wick, Water Culture, Ebb and Flow (Flood & Drain), Drip (recovery or non-recovery), N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique)      and Aeroponic. There are hundreds of variations on these basic types of systems, but all hydroponic methods are a variation (or combination) of these six. Scroll down  this page (or click on the system names) to see drawings and a description of each type of hydroponic system.



6 Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems




The Wick system is by far the simplest type of hydroponic system. This is a passive system, which means there are no moving parts. The nutrient solution is drawn into the growing medium from the reservoir with a wick. Free plans for a simple wick system are available (click here for plans).

This system can use a variety of growing medium. Perlite, Vermiculite, Pro-Mix and Coconut Fiber are among the most popular.

The biggest drawback of this system is that plants that are large or use large amounts of water may use up the nutrient solution faster than the wick(s) can supply it.



The water culture system is the simplest of all active hydroponic systems. The platform that holds the plants is usually made of Styrofoam and floats directly on the nutrient solution. An air pump supplies air to the air stone that bubbles the nutrient solution and supplies oxygen to the roots of the plants.

Water culture is the system of choice for growing leaf lettuce, which is fast growing water loving plants, making them an ideal choice for this type of hydroponic system. Very few plants other than lettuce will do well in this type of system.

This type of hydroponic system is great for the classroom and is popular with teachers. A very inexpensive system can be made out of an old aquarium or other water tight container. We have free plans and instructions for a simple water culture system (click here for free plans).

The biggest drawback of this kind of system is that it doesn't work well with large plants or with long-term plants.



6 Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems



The Ebb and Flow system works by temporarily flooding the grow tray with nutrient solution and then draining the solution back into the reservoir. This action is normally done with a submerged pump that is connected to a timer.

When the timer turns the pump on a nutrient solution is pumped into the grow tray. When the timer shuts the pump off the nutrient solution flows back into the reservoir. The Timer is set to come on several times a day, depending on the size and type of plants, temperature and humidity and the type of growing medium used.

The Ebb & Flow is a versatile system that can be used with a variety of growing mediums. The entire grow tray can be filled with Grow Rocks, gravel or granular Rockwool. Many people like to use individual pots filled with growing medium, this makes it easier to move plants around or even move them in or out of the system. The main disadvantage of this type of system is that with some types of growing medium (Gravel, Grow rocks, Perlite), there is a vulnerability to power outages as well as pump and timer failures. The roots can dry out quickly when the watering cycles are interrupted. This problem can be relieved somewhat by using growing media that retains more water (Rockwool, Vermiculite, coconut fiber or a good soilless mix like Pro-mix or Faffard's).



6 Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems



Drip systems are probably the most widely used type of hydroponic system in the world. Operation is simple, a timer controls a submersed pump. The timer turns the pump on and nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of each plant by a small drip line. In a Recovery Drip System, the excess nutrient solution that runs off is collected back in the reservoir for re-use. The Non-Recovery System does not collect the runoff.

A recovery system uses nutrient solution a bit more efficiently, as an excess solution is reused, this also allows for the use of a more inexpensive timer because a recovery system doesn't require precise control of the watering cycles. The non-recovery system needs to have a more precise timer so that watering cycles can be adjusted to ensure that the plants get enough nutrient solution and the runoff is kept to a minimum.

The non-recovery system requires less maintenance due to the fact that the excess nutrient solution isn't recycled back into the reservoir, so the nutrient strength and pH of the reservoir will not vary. This means that you can fill the reservoir with pH adjusted nutrient solution and then forget it until you need to mix more. A recovery system can have large shifts in the pH and nutrient strength levels that require periodic checking and adjusting.



6 Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems



(Nutrient Film Technique)

This is the kind of hydroponic system most people think of when they think about hydroponics. N.F.T. systems have a constant flow of nutrient solution so no timer required for the submersible pump. The nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray (usually a tube) and flows over the roots of the plants, and then drains back into the reservoir.

There is usually no growing medium used other than air, which saves the expense of replacing the growing medium after every crop. Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution.

N.F.T. systems are very susceptible to power outages and pump failures. The roots dry out very rapidly when the flow of nutrient solution is interrupted.



6 Basic Types of Hydroponic Systems




The aeroponic system is probably the most high-tech type of hydroponic gardening. Like the N.F.T. system above the growing medium is primarily air. The roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient solution. The listings are usually done every few minutes. Because the roots are exposed to the air like the N.F.T. system, the roots will dry out rapidly if the misting cycles are interrupted.

A timer controls the nutrient pump much like other types of hydroponic systems, except the aeroponic system needs a short cycle timer that runs the pump for a few seconds every couple of minutes.





Date Posted: 31 May 2017  

EBB & FLOW system The ebb and flow hydroponic system (also called flood and drain) is the classic hydroponic setup. It is easy to understand, build and maintain. It's versatile and can accommodate pots of any size, or even rockwool blocks. Individual potted plants are arranged on a drain table or "growing bed" which can hold a ...

Date Posted: 31 May 2017  

Basic Wick Systems Introduction Pro & Con Here we're going to cover the basics of wick systems which are designed for simple hydroponic growing. As a passive method, they do not have moving parts, making it easier to understand and maintain than other active systems. Wick systems are the simplest method of g ...

Comment (1)

NFT System Today, we will go over the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system. The NFT is a popular hydroponics system for home growers and is usually used to grow small, fast-growing plants such as lettuce. Commercial growers also often use NFT systems to grow various kinds of herbs and baby greens. The advantage of an ...

While aeroponic systems are simple in concept, they are the most technical of the hydroponic systems. Even still, it is possible to build an aeroponic system in your home with relative ease. Aeroponic systems are unique because they do not usually need growing medium of any kind; the air acts the growing medium. The advantage to this type of system is that it provides roots with more oxygen than any oth ...

Drip System Drip systems are widely used by different growers because they are very effective for growing hydroponically, low maintenance and produce little waste. How It Works The drip system works by constantly dripping nutrient solution onto your growing medium. The ...

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How It Works In water culture systems, the plant is suspended in pots, baskets, or cups above the reservoir filled with nutrient solution. The roots hang down and are constantly submerged into the nutrient solution. This system uses an air pump to ensure that the roots get the oxygen they need so they don’t suffocate. The best water culture sy ...

Comments (1)


29 August 2016
I've always been curious about different kinds of hydroponic systems. I think it's interesting that wick systems don't require moving parts! It makes sense that you would want one that is passive like that.

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