Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without actually using soil. If you are tired of your usual garden and are looking for a high-yield opportunity even though you have a small space, you should consider investing in a hydroponics system. It delivers nutrients to the roots of your plants in a water-based solution, which is more effective than the plants getting nutrients they need from the soil.
There are a lot of advantages that come with using hydroponic systems to grow your plants. For starters, you don’t have to deal with messy soil or pests. Hydroponic plants require less water than other plants and the fact that these systems come all the tools you need makes them cost-effective.
Before you purchase any of these systems, it is important that you understand everything there is to know about them. What is hydroponics? What do you need to grow hydroponic plants? What are the different types of hydroponic systems? In this post, we tackle all of the above issues and more.
Reviews of Best Hydroponic Systems
Back to the Roots Water Garden
Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponic Bucket Kit 5 Gallon, 6 inch
AeroGarden Extra (LED) with Gourmet Herb Seed Pod Kit
HTG Supply Bubble Brothers 6-Site DWC Hydroponic System
Hydroponics Grower Kit, PATHONOR 11 Pods 3.5 Gal Self Watering DIY Planting Cloner Kit
Viagrow Complete Ebb & Flow Hydroponics System (O.D. 41.3” length x 41.3” wide x 25” high)
Hydrofarm Active Aqua Grow Flow Ebb & Gro 12 Site 2 Gal Hydroponic Sytem| GFO7KT
General Hydroponics Waterfarm Complete Hydroponic System Grow Kit | GH4120
General Hydroponics RainForest 66 Aeroponic System for Medium to Large Size Plants
This is a one-of-a-kind hydroponics system that utilizes fish to fertilize plants and the plants as a filter to clean the water for the fish. The system comes with everything you need to get started including a three gallon fish tank, fish, as well as organic wheatgrass and radish sprout seeds. You also get growstones, natural fertilizer and a quiet pump. Back to the Roots even offers educational information about aquaponics to help you get started or incorporate this system into the school curriculum. Once set up, this system is very compact and will fit in almost any space.
- Does not have a foul fishy smell
- Compact enough to fit in any space
- Quiet pump
- Organic and unique growing
- Rocks and vegetables may become moldy
The Deep Water Culture Hydroponic Bucket Kit is an excellent choice for larger plants. It takes up more space and comes with an FDA approved food safe bucket that has a 5-gallon capacity. You also get an air pump, tubing, basket lid, and air stone. The kit uses Rockwool plugs as a growing medium. What we love most about this kit is that it has a bucket drain and water level markers. This kit can also be purchased in four or eight bucket systems to suit different projects.
- Comes with FDA approved 5-gallon bucket
- Includes 44 GPH air pump, growing medium and everything you need
- Backed by 1-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Super easy to set up and use
- The bucket has been known to leak
This is a smart countertop garden that allows you to grow salad greens, fresh vegetables, flowers, herbs and more. It can be used to grow seven plants at the same time. What makes it popular is that it helps simplify hydroponics. The kit comes with a high performance, full spectrum, 30-watt LED lighting system that helps maximize photosynthesis and leads to abundant harvests. There is an easy-to-use control panel that alerts you when it is time to add nutrient solution and water. The lights turn on and off automatically. Also included in this kit is a 7-pod gourmet herb seed kit.
- High quality LED panel
- Quiet pump
- Foolproof display panel
- Buttons are rather clunky
This hydroponic system comes with six buckets that serve as the water and nutrient reservoir. You get a premium air stones, a commercial air pump that has a six-way divider as well as air tubing. There is also an electrical air pump, a ten liter bag of high quality clay pebble growing medium. It is everything you would want in your hydroponic system and more. The tubing is of very high quality and the air pump does its job well. You will also love the big aerator stones as they ensure that oxygen gets to the roots of your crop.
- Pump is very efficient
- Cost-effective since it includes everything you need to get started
- Buckets are of high quality
- Air pump is a little loud
This is another great hydroponic system that is highly rated among customers. Its planting basket and basin cover do a great job of adopting dark materials, thus getting rid of any light that enters the basin and reducing the green algae growth. There is a chug cylinder on each side of the basic cover that you can use when the air bubble stone tracheal passage pumps the trachea into the basin. The Pathonor Indoor Hydroponics Kit has a very classy look and is perfect for multiple plan operations. This low profile cloner allows you to clone up to five cuttings.
- Effective low profile system
- Easy to install and use
- Classy look
- Unit is rather small
The Viagrow Complete Ebb & Flow Hydroponics System is a four by four system that comes complete potting medium, tray and stand, tubing, timer and pump. You get 25 boxes, each of which has a 1-gallon capacity. The best thing about this is that you can replace them with larger pots. The company also sells smaller setups, which comes handy in jurisdictions where there are limits on how much cannabis can be grown. Build quality of this system is very high, and the table tubing is made from welded metal and not plastic as one would presume.
- 20 gallon reservoir
- Freedom to replace pots with larger ones
- Table tubing made from welded metal
- Includes everything you need to get started
- Not ideal where vertical space isn’t at a premium
This is a very unique hydroponic system that comes with 12 pots, but this can be expanded to 48 depending on your needs. The individual pots or modules make it very easy to move or relocate plants. Additionally, each of the controllers can control 6-48 plants, thus giving you plenty of room for expansion. What really sets this system apart is that its ongoing flood and drain cycles increase the oxygen levels of the plants. You don’t have to place the reservoir under the plants and the system uses two pumps and gravity to flood your plants. All of the hoses and fittings are of high quality so you don’t have to worry about leakages.
- Good for growing big vegetation
- Has a controller for controlling the functions and pumps
- Doesn’t require a lot of attention after assembly
- High quality fittings and hoses that don’t leak
- There’s always standing water
The General Hydroponics Waterfarm is a very simple and affordable hydro system that is perfect for beginners. You can link each of the units to make a larger configuration for growing more plants at the same time. Due to their square shape, you will not find it hard to pack the units together in tight grow tight spaces. The inclusion of a top feed to a hydro pot allows for an excellent grow burst. This system comes with a 2-gallon reservoir, clay pellets, air pump, tubing, drip feed, smaller basket container, an air stone, and nutrients.
- Built with high-impact plastic for longevity
- Ability to create large high density installations
- Large water capacity and low water requirements for increased efficiency
- Offers affordability without sacrificing performance or quality
- One has to keep an eye on PH
This is a four pot watering system that doesn’t require any electricity, pumps or timers. It is a great option for gardeners and growers of all growing abilities and experience. You can easily extend the system and include more pots. What’s even better is that you don’t need to watch over the system once you put water and liquid feed in. Everything is automated including being able to adjust to new conditions. This makes it a good hydroponic system for someone who is busy but wants to watch their plants grow.
- Easy to assemble and set up
- Comes with an automated watering system
- Cost effective and efficient
- Tubing has to be replaced every few months
This hydroponic system has the ability to hold up to six medium sized plants, allowing you to grow a variety of plants. It comes with a Vortex sprayer that lifts and oxygenates the nutrient solution before distributing it gently over the root systems. You need everything you need to get started with a hydroponic system including 6” plastic cups, 3-part Flora kit, 6” lid inserts, Coco Tek liners, and a lid.
- Cuts the cost of purchasing produce in a store
- Easy to set up and use
- Great for growing plants
- Fitting for the drain hose leaks
Types of Hydroponic Systems and How They Work
There are six main types of hydroponic systems i.e.
Ebb & flow
Nutrient film technique
This is the simplest type of hydroponic system of all the six, mainly because it doesn’t have any moving parts. It doesn’t require use of electricity or pumps, but some people like to use an optional air pump. Wick hydroponic systems are common in classrooms where teachers use them as experiments for kids. They use a wick to deliver nutrient solution to the plants using capillary action. The best wick systems have at least two wicks for supplying the nutrient solution. They also have a container or bucket with plants in it that sits above the reservoir.
The main downside of wick systems is that they are suitable for growing large plants. While easy to build and use, these systems are the least efficient when it comes to delivering nutrients. Another disadvantage is that wicks are incapable of distributing water and nutrients evenly or even telling what kind of nutrients the plants need.
Otherwise known as flood and drain system, this is one of the most popular hydroponic systems and can be constructed with minimal technical knowledge. It is capable of accommodating a variety of plants in different pots with ease. It works by flooding the plants’ roots periodically multiple times a day. This allows the system to meet the nutrient demands of your plants and the periodic flooding ensures the plant roots dry out, hence avoiding rotting problems. Basic components of an ebb & flow system include a reservoir with nutrients in it, timer, plant tray, and submersible pump.
The main concerns of a flood and drain system include the fact that they are completely dependent on everything working properly. A pipe blockage or pump malfunction can ruin your entire crop. Large amounts of growing medium may be required if not using pots, and this can prove costly.
This system sets a steady flow of nutrients for your plants so you don’t have to worry about setting a timer for the submersible pump. The nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray before flowing directly over the roots and draining back into the reservoir. Because this system doesn’t use any other growing media other than air, it saves you a lot of time and money in replacing the media after every crop. The main downside is that NFT systems are susceptible to power outages and pump failures. As a result, the roots dry out quickly if the flow isn’t solid.
This hydroponic system uses Styrofoam as the platform for growing plants. The platform floats directly over the nutrient reservoir and an air pump supplies air to the air stone, which bubbles the solution to transmit oxygen to the roots. This is a great system for growing short term plants like leaf lettuce. It is also a great alternative to growing medicinal herbs indoors like cannabis. The downside is that water culture cannot be used for large or long-term plants.
Also known as recovery or non-recovery, drip systems are widely used across the globe by hydroponic developers due their ease of use. All you have to do is set a timer for the submersible pump and the system will take over. The timer activates the pump, which dips the nutrient solution into the base of every plant base using a drip line. The recovery version collects the unused nutrient solution in the reservoir for reuse. With the non-recovery drip system, excess nutrients aren’t reused.
This is the most advanced hydroponic system and is similar to the NFT in many ways. The roots hang in the area and are misted with nutrient solution. It mainly uses air as the growing media and misting is done every few minutes. Due to the fact that roots hang in the air, they dry out quickly once the misting cycle is interrupted. Other elements of this system include a timer that monitors the pump.
Growing Mediums for Hydroponic Systems
There are many mediums that you can instead of real dirt to grow your plants. Keep reading to learn more about the common options at your disposal.
Peat: The low cost of peat and high mineral content makes it a popular base for hydroponic systems. The most common types are peat humus and moss. It is important to note that some growers prefer a neutral substrate to ensure precise PH and nutrient control.
Coco coir: It is made from shredded coconut husk and is occasionally formed into croutons. The main advantage of coco coir over other mediums is that it retains water very well and is super-absorbent.
Hardened expanded clay: While HEC doesn’t have any nutritional value, it drains well and allows your crop to get oxygen. In addition, it is heavy enough to ensure that the plants stay in place during watering.
Growstones: These are pellets of recycled glass that are highly porous, thus allowing a great balance between aeration and moisture retention. They hold up to three times more water and 12% more air than clay pebble.
Sphagnum moss: It is lightweight, holds plenty of water and more expensive than peat since it is more effective for hydroponics.
Rockwool: Also known as mineral wool, this growing medium is spun into fibers then formed into slabs or cubes. It lets in air to penetrate the roots and holds water. Because it is alkaline in nature, it is important that one treat Rockwool before use.
Vermiculite: Is a mineral that’s used as an additive for soil-less mixes. It’s an absorbent additive that holds nutrients well and is often mixed with peat or coco coir. - Find out what the difference between vermiculite vs perlite