Hydroponic Grow Systems

Hydroponic gardening offers a wide array of benefits. By choosing to garden without soil, your plants can grow faster. Plus, it can save you both space and water. Understanding the various hydroponic grow systems with their different techniques will allow you to choose the option that works best for you.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

deep water culture

Deep Water Culture systems are some of the most common. Often referred to as DWC, the systems are easy to use. It involves suspending a plant’s roots in a nutrient-rich water solution. An air pump oxygenates the water. In place of soil, you use a growing medium such as Vermiculite. Due to the use of an air pump, people sometimes call this system bubbleponics.

The best plants for the DWC system: a number of annual vegetables, such as chili peppers and tomatoes. Lettuce is another popular option.

Pros of Deep Water Culture

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to make home
  • Less waste thanks to recirculation

Cons of Deep Water Culture

  • Not suitable for large plants
  • Doesn’t work well with plants with a long growing period

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The Nutrient Film Technique involves a film that goes across the tank, preventing the roots from completely submerging in the water. A water channel will allow nutrient-rich water to flow through the plant’s roots periodically. The plants stand in a water channel, often using net pots.

The best plants for the NFT system: green, leafy plants, including basil (and other herbs) and cucumber plants.

Pros of Nutrient Film Technique

  • Small amount of growing medium needed
  • Less waste because of the recirculation
  • Less chance of root rot, because the roots aren’t fully underwater

Cons of Nutrient Film Technique

  • The roots may overgrow, clogging the channels
  • A pump failure can ruin your entire crop

You can encounter a number of variations in hydroponic grow systems. We list some of the most common ones below. While hydroponics focus on water-based systems, keep in mind that geoponics are soil-based systems.



Aquaponics takes the idea of hydroponics and makes it more sustainable. There’s more water in the system, allowing for the introduction of aquatic life, including fish and snails. Their waste provides organic hydroponic nutrients to all of the growing plants. The plants help to clean the water, too, so there’s a symbiotic relationship forming inside of the ecosystem. Teachers use the systems commonly to educate students about sustainability and ecosystems. You can start with aquaponics by combining a fish tank with a hydroponic aquarium.

The best plants for an aquaponic grow system: many different plants can thrive in an aquaponics system. If you have a properly stocked and well-established system, you can use plants that have higher nutritional demands. This includes cauliflower, broccoli, beans, squash, peas, peppers, and tomatoes.

Pros of Aquaponics

  • Less water consumption
  • Higher production of plants
  • Less pest occurrence
  • It adapts to any climate zone

Cons of Aquaponics

  • Having to heat the greenhouse during colder months
  • A significant learning curve to help with the overall success
  • The need for electric energy to keep everything running, though some people choose to invest in solar panels


An aeroponic system is similar to NFT because the roots are suspended in the air rather than the roots being fully submerged. The main difference is that the root zone is misted with a nutrient solution regularly instead of using a water channel.

The best plants for aeroponics: strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, mint, and basil.

Pros of Aeroponics

  • Plants can grow even quicker
  • They’re also getting more oxygen using this system

Cons of Aeroponics

  • Not very cheap to set up
  • The high-pressure nozzles can fail, causing roots to dry out


Anthroponics is an organic system of hydroponics, utilizing human waste, including urine, to provide the nutrient source to the plants. The solutions of urine, which are commonly stored over extended periods of time, are pushed through a biofilter before being introduced to the system. The plants, then, absorb the water, cleaning the water at the same time. It has also been given the nickname, ‘peeponics.’

The best plants for Anthroponics: tomatoes, though it’s also possible to use leafy, green plants.

Pros of Anthroponics

  • All of the nutrients are supplied organically, eliminating the need for store-bought nutrients

Cons of Anthroponics

  • The need to collect human waste
  • Constant pH testing to ensure that it is providing all of the necessary nutrients


Cocoponics is a cross between hydroponics and geoponics. The plants grow in coco (coconut peat) with the help of hydroponics.

The best plants for Cocoponics: Cannabis is the most successful plant that has been tested using this system.

Pros of Cocoponics

  • It is an organic substrate
  • It’s able to help grow healthy plants due to the high level of nutrients in the peat

Cons of Cocoponics

  • It’s a very new system, so there isn’t a lot of research about it

Hydroponic Guide Sections

To learn more about other aspects of hydroponic gardening, see the following sections of our guide.