10/29/2019 | Hydroponics | 9 MINUTE READ

6 Types of Hydroponic Systems Explained

plant in water vase

Hydroponics is an increasingly popular method of growing plants that uses a nutrient-rich solution with a water base, which means that soil isn’t used at all in a hydroponics system. Instead, the roots of the plants are supported by such substances as peat moss, clay pellets, perlite, and rockwool. When you’re looking to create or use a hydroponic system to grow plants, there are hundreds of variations of hydroponic systems available for you to use. However, there are only six types of hydroponic systems under which all variations are situated.

Each type of hydroponic system works in a different way, which means that all six hydroponic systems have their own distinct pros and cons for you to consider. When you’re getting ready to use a hydroponic system for growing plants, you should know how each system works to fully understand how to use the one that you select. The following offers an extensive and thorough look at the six types of hydroponic systems, which should make it easier for you to determine which system is right for you.

The Basics of Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponics is an effective method for growing plants that places the plants in a water solution that’s rich in nutrients. Instead of using soil to grow the plants, the roots of the plants come into direct contact with the nutrient-rich solution. The plants will also have access to a substantial amount of oxygen, which helps to facilitate growth. The primary advantage of using hydroponics to grow plants is that it allows for a much quicker growth rate.

If you create the right hydroponic system and keep the water free from impurities with the sensors mentioned in the Water Treatment of Hydroponic Systems article, the growth rate can be up to 30 percent faster than soil-based planting methods. There are six separate types of hydroponic systems that you can use, which include the following:

  1. Wick System
  2. Water Culture
  3. Ebb and Flow
  4. Drip
  5. N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technology)
  6. Aeroponic systems

1. Wick System

wick system plants

The wick system is easily the simplest type of hydroponic system that you can use to grow plants, which means that it can be used by practically anyone. The wick system is notable for not using aerators, pumps, or electricity. In fact, it’s the only hydroponic system that doesn’t require the use of electricity. With the majority of wick systems, the plants are placed directly within an absorbent substance like perlite or vermiculite. Nylon wicks are positioned around the plants before being sent straight down into the nutrient solution.

If you’re thinking about using a wick hydroponic system to grow plants, the simple nature of this system means that the plants are unable to obtain a significant amount of nutrients. As such, the system is ideal for small garden plants and herbs. Any plant that doesn’t require a substantial amount of water will grow well in this specific system. While this system is fantastic for smaller plants, you’ll want to avoid growing plants like peppers and tomatoes. These plants are considered to be heavy-feeding plants, which means that they require more nutrients than the wick system will be able to provide. Another negative aspect of this growing system is that water and nutrients aren’t absorbed evenly, which could lead to the buildup of toxic mineral salts. When you use this system, make sure that you flush any extra nutrients with fresh water every 1-2 weeks.

2. Water Culture

plant roots in botanical garden

A water culture system is another highly simplistic type of hydroponic system that places the roots of the plant directly into the nutrient solution. While the wick system places certain materials between the plants and the water, the water culture system bypasses this barrier. The oxygen that the plants need to survive is sent into the water by a diffuser or air stone. When you use this system, keep in mind that the plants should be secured into their proper position with net pots.

The best aspect of the water culture system is that the plant roots are placed directly into the nutrient system, which means that the nutrients can be easily absorbed by the plants. Because of the direct access to nutrients and oxygen, plants that are grown with the water culture method will grow very quickly. The best aspects of the water culture system is that it’s very easy to make and works well with any kind of plant. Even large plants with sizable foot systems will grow quickly with this method. the only potential issue with this hydroponic system is the development of root diseases, which is caused by dirty growing conditions.

3. Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)

The ebb and flow system is another popular hydroponic system that’s mainly used among home gardeners. With this type of system, the plants are positioned in a spacious grow bed that’s packed with a grow medium like rockwool or perlite. Once the plants are carefully planted, the grow bed will be flooded with a nutrient-rich solution until the water reaches a couple inches below the top layer of the grow medium, which ensures that the solution doesn’t overflow.

The water pump that floods the grow bed is outfitted with a timer that will switch the pump off after a certain amount of time. When this occurs, the water will be drained from the grow bed and sent back into the pump. The ebb and flow system has been found to be effective at growing nearly all types of plants, which includes certain root vegetables like carrots and radishes. However, it’s recommended that you don’t use particularly large plants with this system. Because of how much space these plants will require, you may not be able to fit enough of the grow medium and nutrient solution into the grow bed with larger plants. The main issue with the ebb and flow system is that the pump controller can malfunction, which halts operation until the pump is fixed or replaced.

4. Drip Systems

plant leaves

A drip system is an easy-to-use hydroponic system that can be quickly altered for different types of plants, which makes this a great system for any grower who plans to make regular changes. The nutrient solution that’s used with a drip system is pumped into a tube that sends the solution straight to the plant base. At the end of each tube is a drip emitter that controls how much solution is placed into the plant. You can adjust the flow to meet the needs of each individual plant.

These systems can be as small or large as you want them to be. They can also be circulating or non-circulating systems. A circulating system will drip almost constantly. Any extra nutrients will be sent back into the tank that holds the nutrient solution. Since you can readily alter the size and flow rate of this hydroponic system, it can be used to grow practically any plant. If you decide to use a circulating system, the main problem that you’ll run into is that you’ll need to consistently maintain the fluctuating nutrient and pH levels that occur when the solution is recirculated.

5. N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technology)

The N.F.T. system has a simple design but is widely used because of how well it scales to a variety of different applications. When you use one of these systems, the nutrient solution is placed into a large reservoir. From here, the solution is pumped into sloped channels that allow the excess nutrients to flow back into the reservoir. When the nutrient solution is sent into the channel, it flows down the slope and over the roots of each plant to provide the right amount of nutrients.

It’s highly recommended that you use net pots with this type of hydroponic system. In most cases, the N.F.T. system won’t make use of a growing medium. Since the channels that are used with this system are relatively small, it’s recommended that you pair them with plants that have smaller roots. Even though this system can’t readily accommodate larger plants, it does scale well, which means that you can alter it to allow for the growth of a large number of plants at the same time. Since it scales well, this system is commonly used by commercial growers alongside home growers.

6. Aeroponic Systems

Aeroponic systems are easy-to-understand but somewhat difficult to build. With this type of system, the plants that you wish to grow will be suspended in air. A couple of mist nozzles are positioned below the plants. These nozzles will spray the nutrient solution onto the roots of each plant, which has proven to be a very effective hydroponic method. The mist nozzles are connected directly to the water pump. When the pressure increases in the pump, the solution is sprayed with any excess falling down into the reservoir below.

As long as you use the right dimensions for the reservoir, you can grow nearly all types of plants in an aeroponic system. However, the reservoir will need to be very deep if you plan on growing larger plants. Otherwise, mist nozzles may not be able to reach all of the roots. Since plants with an aeroponic system are suspended in air, they get all the oxygen that they need. This system also uses less water than any other hydroponic system, which is great for efficiency. However, there are a couple of issues with this system. For one, they can be costly to build. The nozzles that spray the nutrients might also become clogged from time to time, which can be frustrating to clean.

Determining The Best Method for You

In order to determine which of these hydroponic systems is right for you, it’s important that you know the features of each and have identified what your hydroponic needs are. For instance, if you’re a home grower and want to be able to use a simplistic system that requires very little setup, you should definitely consider using the wick or water culture systems. If you want to grow a wide variety or large number of plants, the drip system or N.F.T. system may be right for you. Take a look at the pros and cons of each hydroponic system to determine what the best method is.

If you need help with your hydroponic system or would like to look at the many different sensors that we offer, contact Sensorex today! The sensors that are available at Sensorex include every type of sensor that you would need for water treatment and measurement, which extend to pH sensors, TDS sensors, dissolved oxygen sensors, and ORP sensors.

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Posted by Dominic O'Donnell on October 29, 2019

Sensorex is a global leader in the design and manufacture of quality sensors for water quality and process applications. The company offers more than 2000 sensor packages for pH, ORP, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, free chlorine, chlorine dioxide, UV transmittance and other specialty measurements, as well as a full line of sensor accessories and transmitters. Its expert technical support engineers solve analytical sensor challenges with custom designs and off the shelf products.

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