Hydroponic Systems: What’s The Right For Your Indoor Garden

Hydroponic systems have been around for centuries, but they’ve gained renewed attention in recent years due to concerns about water usage and the environmental impact of traditional farming methods. It will also save you the time spent driving to the supermarket.

However, as more people become interested in hydroponics, it’s important to continue exploring new and innovative ways to improve these systems and make them more sustainable and efficient. By pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, we can unlock even more potential for this exciting and rapidly evolving field.

While there are many different types of hydroponic systems available, they all share the common goal of providing plants with the nutrients they need to grow without relying on soil. However, every system has distinct pros and cons (and price tag). Some hydroponic systems work better than others, depending on plants’ growth size and available space.

This article offers a thorough look at the six types of hydroponic systems. We want to make it easy for you to determine which system is ideal for growing your plants.

What is hydroponics?

6 types of hydroponics systems

Indoor gardening has become increasingly popular in recent years, and with it, hydroponic systems have also gained traction.

Hydroponics, in simple terms, is the process of growing plants without soil. A hydroponic system is filled with a sterile, nutrient-rich liquid that provides all the necessary nutrients for plant growth.

When you plant in soil, the plant’s roots constantly ask for nutrients. In hydroponics, the plant root system is exposed directly to water and a nutrient solution, requiring no energy to sustain itself. The energy the roots use to gain food is converted to improve their maturation. 

Many pieces of research suggest that with hydroponics, plants can grow 20% faster and produce 25% higher than soil plants. 

While hydroponics is not a new concept, recent research has focused on improving the efficiency and sustainability of these systems.

For example, studies have explored using alternative energy sources, such as solar power, to reduce the carbon footprint of hydroponic operations. Additionally, new materials and designs have been developed to increase the lifespan and durability of hydroponic components, ultimately improving their overall performance.

As the indoor gardening industry continues to grow, we will likely see even more innovative research and development in the field of hydroponics

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6 Types of Hydroponic Systems Explained

There are primarily 6 types of hydroponic systems that you can choose to utilize for your hydroponic gardening:

  1. wicking system
  2. Deep water culture (DWC hydroponic system)
  3. Nutrient film technique (NFT)
  4. ebb and flow systems
  5. aeroponic irrigation
  6. drip systems

Quick Comparison

Hydroponic SystemCostEase of SetupSpace RequirementBest PlantsYield Potential
Wick SystemLowEasySmallLeafy Vegetables, Herbs, Salad GreensModerate
Deep Water CultureLow-MediumEasyLargeLeafy Vegetables, Herbs, Salad GreensHigh
Nutrient Film TechniqueMedium-HighMediumMedium-LargeLettuce, Strawberries, Tomatoes, Peppers, CucumbersHigh
Ebb and FlowMedium-HighEasy-MediumMedium-LargeTomatoes, Peas, Beans, Cucumbers, Carrots, PeppersHigh
AeroponicHighMediumSmall-MediumVegetables, HerbsHigh
Drip SystemsLowEasySmall-LargeHerbs, Leafy GreensModerate-High

1. Wick Systems

The wick system is the most basic hydroponic system, also called the “training wheels” of the hydroponics world.

It works like this:

wick system

The grower plants the seeds in water-proof containers filled with hydroponic growing media and then hangs them over a container of nutrient solution that has been wick-dipped into from below, ensuring steady contact between the plant’s roots and nutrients. 

The wick soaks up the liquid as it drips downwards through the growing medium. It continues to drip until it reaches another container or, more typically, just run off onto the floor where a drainage mat collects it.

A simple wick system is passive hydroponics, meaning there are no mechanical machines for pump functions, like aerators, pumps, or electricity. Instead, nylon wicks are positioned about plants before getting directly into the water. This doesn’t dictate that you can’t utilize any kind of machine, though. Rather, it just describes the basic functioning of the system. These simplest of all hydroponics systems often include a pump to aerate the nutrient solution, but it’s not required for the system to work. The capillary action delivers the liquid to the roots all by itself.

Potting materials like coconut, perlite and vermiculite are ideal growth media. Vermiculite also is pH neutral and highly porous, making it perfect for wicking systems. 


  • Wick systems are ideal for small garden plants and herb plants
  • it’s great for plants that need extra oxygen, like lettuce and spinach;
  • This hydroponic method is designed to be low maintenance while still producing high yields.


  • Water and nutrition can’t be absorbed fully. This will result in a buildup of toxic salts. Ensure you always flush any extra nutrients with fresh water once/every 1-2 weeks.
  • Another reason this hydroponic system can be ineffective is if the plant roots are deprived of oxygen. This can happen when hydroponic systems are overstocked or when the system is only partially flooded.

Which plants thrive in this system?

  • While this system is excellent for smaller plants, you should avoid growing plants like peppers and tomatoes. 
  • Plants suited best for this type: leafy vegetables, herbs, salad greens.


  • The wick system is low-cost, easy to operate, and not difficult to use, especially if you are a beginner.

2. Deep Water Culture

Deep water culture, or in short DWC system, is the most straightforward and popular method on the market and one of the easiest hydroponic systems to use.

It works like this:

deep water culture system

DWC systems consist of a reservoir that is populated with water and nutrient solution. The plants sit on top of the reservoir using net pots and a growing medium. The roots are completely submerged in the reservoir and provide a constant supply of water and nutrients. An air pump is used to move pump bubbles into water to oxygenate. This prevents plants from drowning in water.

An air stone is used to provide an air supply for supplying dissolved oxygen to the plants.

Deep water culture systems usually include everything you need. Like growing media + nutrient solution + light source and fans, so there isn’t much more required if you do not already have these things at home!

We recommend using reverse osmosis ‘water’ to get you started with a blank slate. When not doing so, your plants sit within hard water already rich in calcium. Many nutrient blends also contain calcium which promotes crop formation. As a result, the calcium found in our hard water may result in nutritional imbalances.


  • Dwc is inexpensive and easy to set up and maintain.
  • The best aspects of this water culture system are that it makes it very easy to build and works well with any plant.
  • Even plants with larger root systems will grow with this procedure quickly.
  • Installing a dwc system in a classroom at home or without expensive equipment seems possible


  • The only possibility associated with this hydroponic method is the growth of root diseases caused by dirty grow conditions.
  • Plus, this is an expensive system, and you will need a large space for it (at least 200 square feet).
  • Because plants need oxygen, they will require daily pruning.

Which plants thrive in this system?

  • Plants suited best for this type: leafy vegetables, herbs, salad greens
  • Most suitable crops for DWC systems include Lettuce, Kale, Chard Bok Choy Basil, and Parsley


  • Costs vary depending on what kind of deep water culture system you buy but expect to pay around $200-$500+ (It looks like pricing could vary greatly)

3. NFT Systems (Nutrient Film technique)

The NFT system has a simple design but is widely used (typically for commercial growers, but recently, many are adopting it indoors. This is because it can scale to a large size (100 ft long). 

This method mimics how plants grow using natural soil. It gives roots access to moisture-laden air that encourages root growth while also supplying them with nutrients and hydroponic style.

It works like this:

Nutrient film technique

A thin stream of hydroponic solution (nutrient rich water) is constantly pumped into the top of an irrigation channel. This solution then trickles down through channels in the hydroponics tray. It is collected at the bottom, flowing to another irrigated system or reservoir for recycling back into the hydroponic system.

You have many different options in this hydro system when allocating space for your garden, including shelves, vertical systems, etc… 


  • NFT is a low-waste recirculating system.
  • It is relatively low-cost and can be scaled up easily by increasing flow rates, making it ideal for large commercial applications.
  • It works well with some types of plant matter as they do not dry out quickly like in other hydroponic systems because there is always a hydroponic solution.


  • The system can get clogged with roots which are not good because it restricts the flow of nutrient solution through the channels in the tray.

Which plants thrive in this system?

  • NFT hydroponics systems are generally more suited to roots than others. This includes lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes, but you can also grow hydroponic systems with plants such as peppers and cucumbers.


  • NFT hydroponic growing systems have different starting price points depending on how many trays or channels the kit contains. The least expensive are usually NFT hydroponics kits which start at $100 for one tray and go up according to your needs. Commercial-grade hydroponics kits range in price between $500 – $2500 USD.

4. Ebb and flow systems (Flood and Drain systems)

The ebb and flow system is another hydroponic system primarily used by home gardeners.

It works like this:

ebb and flow system

It is a hydroponic system that uses a reservoir to supply water and nutrients to plants. The tray of plant roots is located above this “reservoir,” which floods with a fresh solution during each cycle, upending the plant’s root system for maximum exposure. Then gravity drains the solution back into the reservoir.

The pump that inundates the grow bed is equipped with a timed switch that switches the pump off at a specific time.

The air pump can oxygenate the reservoir as the pump waits for the next flood cycle. The cycle of flooding depends on the nature of the plant, water sampler weathering, air temperature, the growth cycle, and more. 

Grow rock, and expandable clay pebbles are some ebb and flow-based growing media used. 

It is intermediate level in difficulty, relatively low-cost to set up, and highly versatile.


  • This system tends to be cheaper than other options. It doesn’t require expensive equipment or air pumps; you can get everything at your local home improvement store like Home Depot.
  • Some growers find the system beneficial because it never continually exposes roots to nutrient solutions


  • A significant issue with this system is pump controller failure. It will halt its operation until air pump is repaired. 
  • Less widespread as it is not flexible with plants’ needs. 
  • This system works well if monitoring plant nutrition intake.
  • There will be periods when oxygen levels in hydroponics tanks may become too low because all air bubbles have been removed from.

Which plants thrive in this system?

  • Ebb and flow hydroponic systems work great for almost all types of plants, including some root vegetables. 
  • It is recommended not to grow large plants.
  • Tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, carrots, and peppers are among the most common vegetables planted in hydroponics. 


  • Ebb and flow systems are generally more expensive than other hydroponic systems because they require more equipment. A system can range from $500 to $1500.

5. Aeroponic Systems

In an aeroponic system, the plants are suspended in the air. Aeroponic plants are never placed into water.

Aeroponic research led by NASA took off in the 1980s and has since shown that this method works well with various plants. 

It works like this:

aeroponics system

In an aeroponics system, plant cuttings or seeds are suspended mid-air in a growing chamber. A mist of nutrient-laden water is continuously sprayed on the plant’s roots. 

Aeroponics systems are often used in a protected environment like grow tents, where environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity can be regulated. Sunlight is the primary light source, with some supplemental lighting.


  • More efficient than other systems. Growing crops aeroponically takes 95% less water than in irrigated fields. 
  • Perfect for growing herbs, as they need less light & water.
  • Aeroponics systems usually run on timers so you can control when your plant gets sprayed with nutrients.
  • No need to worry about water spills because the hydroponic system does not contact soil or water.


  • The water reservoir will need depth if you intend to grow much bigger plants.
  • Aeroponics allows greater flexibility and reproducibility within confined space.
  • Tend to be more expensive than other types of hydroponics units. This system has high initial investment costs

Which plants thrive in this system?

  • Nearly any plant can be successfully grown using aeroponics, especially vegetables.


  • Aeroponics systems are more expensive than others as it uses electricity and an automated air pump. It’s possible to spend upwards of $500 just on parts alone!
  • A home aeroponic system can cost $200 to $1500, whether you prefer to build your own or buy a Ready-to-Grow system and avoid the learning curve.
  • A typical starter kit will cost around $200-$400

6. Drip Systems

A drip system is a hydroponics at its most simplistic. 

It is an easy-to-use hydroponics system that can be easily transformed for various plant species. These are systems that could be small or large, circulating or non-circulating systems.

A drip system utilizes a hydroponic nutrient solution, water pump, and timer to provide plants with the proper dosage of nutrients without any human assistance required.

It works like this:

drip system

In hydroponic drip systems, water and nutrient solution flow directly to the base of your plants using a specialized emitter nozzle. The constant dripping prevents the plant’s roots from drying while reducing water usage and wasteful evaporation.

It has an overflow tray that catches any excess water and then returns it to the hydroponics tank (usually called a reservoir)

A timer will turn on for set periods at regular intervals to spew out more hydroponic nutrients into your planting container whenever they are needed. This ensures a consistent supply of hydroponic nutrients equals better plant growth over time.


  • Drip systems are great for beginners who don’t want to have any input over how much nutrients go on which plant as long as everyone gets what they need;
  • Low initial cost
  • Low-maintenance method to grow plants. You can go away for two weeks without anyone having to help irrigate these plants because everything is automated from start to finish.


  • The hydroponic environment must remain humid all the time. If not maintained adequately, this type of hydroponic setup will negatively affect your plant’s health by causing ‘root rot.’
  • You have to be highly aware of monitoring pH and nutrient levels.

Which plants thrive in this system?

  • This type is best for growing herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, mint, and leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale. Anything more


  • This hydroponic system is the most affordable option. You can buy a hydroponics kit for about $350-$1000+, and it will last you 20 years or more, depending on how often you use it.

What’s the best Type of hydroponic system for indoor Gardeners?

The best hydroponics system is different for each producer. Hydroponic systems may be housed inside a grow room, grow tent kits or grow cabinet. You can also find micro hydroponics. In addition, you have to consider the system extension and accessory that goes along with those systems.

In general, we strongly advocate a DWC system. They are considered the most straightforward hydro systems to use, even for beginners.

The hydroponic system that fits your individual needs the best will depend on how much space you have available and what types of plants you’re growing. Each hydroponic technique has its own strengths and weaknesses regarding water efficiency, ease-of-maintenance, nutrient delivery rate, crop yields, etc. So it’s worth researching each one before deciding which hydroponics techniques are proper for you!


There are many hydroponic systems available for hydroponic gardening. The type that is right for you will depend on the size of your operation and budget and which plants you prefer to grow. One thing is sure, though – these hydroponics systems produce leafy greens more efficiently than traditional farming methods and with less water usage!

All hydroponic systems can have spectacular plants. Remaining based on the variety of plants you plant, the area to grow, and the size of the plant. Please check some research before selecting the best solution that works for your indoor garden. 

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Passionate about urban gardening, indoor growing solutions, and sustainability. Believes in growing our own food and eat fresh and better food by getting back to basics, growing a fruit and vegetable garden, and cooking from scratch.

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