A Caveat and Affiliates

First off, a little caveat: within my articles you will find affiliate links, meaning if you buy them, I get a small commission. Your cost is not affected. In addition, I am an Amazon Associate and I earn from qualifying purchases on Amazon.

And yes, if I say that I recommend a product here, it means I truly believe it is a good product. I refuse to recommend any product that I have not researched and believe to be a good value.

Even better, I provide you with a very clear picture of the product, it’s use, and the probable value.

Earning your trust is important to me. I run this website myself and the commissions and donations help support the site.

Sound reasonable and fair enough? Let’s continue to the article.


Types of Hydroponics Systems for a Backyard

Grow 10 acres of produce on each acre of land? Yes, on our small family farm, we easily attained a rate of ten times (10X) yield per acre. We accomplished this using different types of hydroponics systems.

In Florida, we enjoy two growing seasons, but often fight bugs and disease from growing in the ground. Our family chose to use hydroponics and found it so much better than fighting the heat and diseases. In this article and future ones, I’ll be offering some useful advice for those who would like to try this type of growing system. It’s a little work to get started, but can be done in your spare time and with a small indoor or outdoor area. Are you ready? Let’s delve into the basic types of hydroponics systems for a backyard!

  • What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics comes from the Latin words hydro (water) and ponos (labor). It is the method of growing plants in water with a liquid nutrient solution. This solution helps the plants grow and develop, same as how plants need soil nutrients to grow fully. 

Hydroponics is different due to the direct application of liquid nutrient solutions to the particular plants produced. There are six types of hydroponics systems. Every one of them will either use mists, dripping water, or other devices and tubing into the artificial medium used.

Another thing that sets apart Hydroponics is that it does not use soil. The artificial medium used by some hydroponic systems refers to alternative soil mediums. 

Mediums refer to where the plants are grown and placed.

It is commonly known that plants usually grow in soil or land. However, it is a common misconception that the soil itself is the essential factor in plant growth. In fact, with these types of hydroponics systems, the soil is not needed.

The soil itself is unnecessary for plant growth. However, what plant growth actually needs are nutrients and the water found in the soil. This concept was initially pointed out and proven by nutritionist William Frederick Gericke from the University of California in 1936. He said that plants could grow more effectively in a solution of water and nutrients instead of soil. He proved this by growing tomato vines with big yields. Further research was done, and today, soil substitutes have become more popular than actual soil. Here are some of what people often use as artificial mediums in easy hydroponics systems:

Types of Mediums

  1. Expanded clay aggregate – which is natural and organic, tiny clay balls;
  2. Vermiculite – a mineral in the form of glossy flakes which is commonly mixed in soil to improve its quality; 
  3. Brick shards – made from crushed bricks and have a similar effect when using gravel.
  4. Polystyrene packing peanuts – often used in deliveries to have packages arrive safely and intact;
  5. Coco Coir – made from ground coconut husks, and; 
  6. Wood fiber – which is simply bits and pieces of organic wood. 


  • Main requirements of plant roots

A quick refresher of what plants need would remind us that they mainly need nutrients, sunlight, and Carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is a colorless gas released by us and used by plants in generating food for themselves. However, in a hydroponic system, the focus is mainly, but not only on, the plant roots. The plant roots need three things:

  1. Water/moisture – which refers to the humidity and relative acidity or alkalinity. Acidity is critical in whether a specific nutrient will be most available for plants to consume. Alkalinity is essential as well since it determines the capability of the water to change depending on the nutrients added to it. A balance needs to be achieved between these two so that the plant grows more efficiently.
  2. Oxygen – is absorbed rapidly by the plant’s roots. Oxygen is needed so that the roots will not drown in the liquid solution used. In fact, all of the systems that I’ll be discussing later give the exposed roots plenty of access to oxygen. 
  3. Nutrients – are critical to a plant’s growth and development.


  • Essential Nutrients

There are seventeen essential nutrients that plants need so that they can grow and develop properly. These seventeen can be categorized into macronutrients and micronutrients. The main difference between the two is the amount required by the plants grown. Plants need more macronutrients, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need micronutrients as well.

Another thing to note is that nutrients interact with one another. Usually, if nutrient levels are equal, then the plants will take in relatively identical amounts. However, if one of the nutrient levels is higher, the plant will take up more at the expense of another nutrient. This fact is important to note but is not worrying since most ready-made or bought nutrient solutions already have specific balances for specific growth targets. 


  • Main Characteristics

Experts categorize the types of hydroponics systems with four main characteristics, namely active or passive and recovery or non-recovery.

Active vs. Passive

  • Active systems rely on the pumps or other instruments to move the liquid nutrient solution from the box or chamber, or precisely the reservoir, to the plant roots. Meaning, the liquid nutrient solutions will be carried actively and result in better nutrient intake by the plans. You can also add timers and other devices that can time the release. However, since there are more devices involved, maintenance is a must.
  • Passive systems typically rely on wicks or small tubes called capillaries to distribute the liquid nutrient solution to the plants. Passive systems are simpler than active systems. However, you would have to change the water more frequently since algae and other pesky or unwanted foreign substances may grow or soil the water quality. 


Recovery vs. Non-recovery

  • Recovery simply means that the liquid nutrient solution will be reused. This act results in more efficient use of resources. The excess solution and the nutrients that the plants could not absorb goes back to the reservoir.
  • In non-recovery, the liquid nutrient solution that is applied to the alternative soil medium is not reused. However, the solution requires less maintenance since the excess fluids are not recovered or recycled into the reservoir.


What are the benefits of using Hydroponics?

  • It will increase the growth rate of plants. 

Since the nutrients needed for plants to grow are directly applied to the roots, there won’t be any other elements like weeds or pests to take away the much-needed nutrients. There won’t be competition for nutrients between the plants grown since the liquid nutrient solution is applied evenly between each plant root.

  • Increased yield.

It is because of the controlled environment that hydroponic systems have. Also, the mixture and levels of the essential nutrients in the liquid nutrient solutions help in improving yield. In our farm system, we achieved over ten times the yield per acre of ground-grown plants.

  • Less work and effort to grow the plants.

After the initial setup, which you can buy pre-made, you can sit back and relax as the plants grow by themselves. Easy hydroponics systems have minimal maintenance since the parts involve readily available devices. A broken pump can easily be bought and replaced. The same goes for the set of pipes, wick, or even the liquid nutrient solution itself.

  • No need to worry about seasonal climate changes.

Since hydroponic systems are generally indoors, the temperatures needed are regulated. Meaning it does not depend on the outside weather or season. You can still grow plants even in the middle of a long winter.

  • Eco-Friendly.

The method is eco-friendly since it reduces water spending by repeatedly reusing and effectively recycling water. 

  • Weeds and other pests are significantly, if not entirely, eliminated. This is because hydroponics systems have controlled environments. Even if pests or diseases do show up, the damage would be minimal at best since the plants can quickly be inspected and taken out or replaced in the worst-case scenario. 

Six Main or Core Types of Hydroponic Systems

Main differences in these systems

The main difference between the six types of hydroponics systems is how they deliver water/moisture, nutrients, and oxygen to plant roots. Most of them are easy hydroponics systems. The rest are a bit complicated at first but are easy to understand.

Wick System

The Wick system is considered one of the easy hydroponics systems. It is because of how basic and how easy it is to set up. The wick system is what a teacher or an expert in the types of hydroponics systems often introduce to beginners since it requires little maintenance and is relatively simple. 

    • How does it work?

The wick system is a passive system. It is because, traditionally, it does not have any active or moving parts. The plants are put in a growing medium which is in a growing tray or individual pots. They are placed on top of a reservoir where the water and nutrient solution can be found. Two or more wicks are then placed and travel from the reservoir to the growing tray or pots. The materials are often from simple household items like garden rope, thick yarn strings, or felt. 

The wick system works by having the wick absorb the water from the reservoir like a sponge and then transfers it to the growing medium. This method of delivery is called capillary action. The plants are then able to feed on the water and nutrients. 

There are three main parts in a standard or traditional wick system: the tray or pot where the plants are grown, the reservoir, and the wick. However, modern ones often use an additional aeration system as well. What is commonly used is an air stone and pump, similar to those found in aquariums. The purpose is to have the air stone pump tiny bubbles in the water since oxygen, as mentioned before, is essential to having healthy plant roots. 

    • Pros in using the Wick system
      • Budget-Friendly and Easy to use.

It is the simplest and cheapest option out of the six types of hydroponics systems.

      • Initial setup is easy.

The initial setup time is easy and minimal since traditional wick systems do not even use pumps. Even modern ones that use aeration systems will only involve an air stone and a simple pump. 

      • The quantity of water and nutrients are automatically regulated. 

The whole setup responds automatically with how much the plant grown actually eats or needs. 

      • The nutrient solution is recycled.

The water and nutrients needed, linger in the medium where the plants are located. The wick will not transport anymore until the ones brought up are used and automatically transfer the excess into the reservoir. 

      • Low upkeep.

Because the traditional wick system does not use anything that needs electricity, even the modern wick system merely uses electricity to fire up the pump used.

      • The low effort needed to maintain. 

It is because the wick system is self-sufficient. The wick automatically balances the amount of water and nutrients in the tray or pot medium with the reservoir.  

    • Cons in using the Wick system
      • The wick system is only efficient in some plants

The more plants a tray medium has, the more wicks, water, and nutrients needed to efficiently use the wick system. 

      • You cannot have big plants.

Aside from the impracticality of having big heavy plants on tray mediums, the wicks also determine the amount of water and nutrients given to the growing plants. Big plants need more, much more than what wicks can generally deliver.

      • Algae and bacteria problems.

Algae and bacteria may grow over time on the wicks and even in the box or chamber for the reservoir. 

      • It can be very unforgiving.

If the wick is poorly placed or displaced for any reason, it will cause the rapid death of the plants grown.


Deep Water Culture (DWC)

The DWC system is also considered an easy hydroponics system. It started in 1870 by J. Knop and J. von Sachs. They were German biologists who studied plants raised in an aquatic nutrient medium. Usually, the plants that are grown through this hydroponic system have significant yields. 

  • How does it work?

The DWC system uses net pots that are held together by a floating platform above the same reservoir. The plant roots are relatively free because of the net pots and are submerged in the water and nutrient solution. An aeration system is also present with an air stone and pump.

 Having the roots completely submerged results in a constant supply of the main requirements for plant root development: water, oxygen, and nutrients. The critical aspect here is the aeration system. It is very easy to lose plants using this method if the aeration system is lacking. The plant roots badly need oxygen to survive.

 Pros in using DWC systems
    • It is affordable and straightforward. 

Compared to the other types of hydroponics systems, the DWC system has cheap components and is easy to set up.

    • The initial setup time is not only easy but minimal. 

It is because the DWC systems only have a few components.

    • The quantity of water and nutrients are automatically circulated.

The roots are directly submerged in the water and nutrient solution because the system does not use any wicks, tubes, or pipes. Making nutrients easy to absorb.

    • There is less waste. 

There will be less water and nutrient solutions wasted since there won’t be any unused nutrients in the alternative soil mediums. 

    • Low upkeep.

The DWC system merely uses electricity to fire up the pump used for its aeration system. Not only that, but since there are only a few components, damage to any one of them would be easy to replace.

    • Low maintenance. 

It is because you can just top up or add more nutrient solution or water to the reservoir when you feel that it looks a bit empty or less than ideal. 

Cons in using DWC systems
    • You cannot have big plants 

Since it would be hard to have big and heavy plants float by relying on the netted pots and floating platforms.

    • Algae and bacteria problems

Algae and bacteria may grow over time in the box or chamber for the reservoir or even in the water. This is because the water and nutrient solution is still or unmoving. 

    • It can be very unforgiving. 

If the aeration system is poorly placed or fails to function correctly for any reason, it would cause the rapid death of the plants grown due to insufficient oxygen.

Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)

The Ebb and flow system is also widely known. It is not as easy as the wick or the DWC. However, the cost to set up is relatively low and is more versatile than most other types of hydroponics systems. 

  • How does it work?

The ebb and flow system works by temporarily flooding the plants, sufficiently submerging their roots with a water and nutrient solution, and then bringing them back into the reservoir through gravity.

The plants are placed on net pots or sometimes even on an alternative soil medium. The tray is then connected to the reservoir through tubes. One of which is responsible for pumping the water and nutrient solution from the reservoir up to the grow tray. The water pump activates through a timer and turns it off as well. The other tube acts as a simple drain. It acts as an overflow system for the plant tray. The way it works is that after the flooding of the plant tray, the water and nutrient solution will be drained by gravity back into the reservoir. 


Pros in using the Ebb and flow system
    • Most plants will thrive using this system. 

The temporary flooding is enough for the plants to absorb the required water and nutrients. Since the roots are not constantly submerged, it can accommodate plants that need dry spells or root crops.

    • It provides excellent aeration

The need for a separate aeration system is not needed. The roots receive sufficient oxygen when the plant tray is not temporarily flooded.

    • Little to no algae or bacteria problems. 

This is because the water and nutrient solution are not stagnant. The water and nutrient solution gets pumped up into the plant tray and then drained back into the reservoir in intervals. The reservoir contents are kept active.


Cons in using the Ebb and flow system
    • Difficult to set up. 

The number of components is more than other types of hydroponics systems. An easy hydroponics system does not need timers, pipe irrigation systems, and a good reversible pump for the bigger ebb and flow setups. 

    • More upkeep and maintenance. 

Because more components are involved, you will deal with many problems if one of them breaks. The system is interconnected, and if one fails, the whole system will most likely malfunction or break.

    • Requires additional knowledge. 

This con is important to note since you will have to know the sufficient amount of water and nutrient solution needed for the plants you choose. If the timer goes on too often or too scarcely, then the plants will die. 


Drip Systems

The Drip system was developed from the drip irrigation system. This particular irrigation system was used frequently during ancient times. Modern drip irrigation started in 1860 Germany. Today, it has become one of the world’s most valued agricultural innovations and is famous for commercial growers. 

  • How does it work?

A timer turns on a pump responsible for dripping water and nutrient solution onto the base of each plant grown. The plants are placed on an alternative soil medium in a net pot. A recovery drip system will require you to put the net pots in a tray or channel. It will collect the excess liquids, and having a drain will serve to have it go back to the reservoir. A non-recovery drip system will not need it since the excess liquids runoff or drip out the net pots. 

Pros in using Drip systems
    • Suitable for almost every plant. 

You can even use the drip system on medium-sized trees. This is because the system does not necessarily need to circulate the water and nutrient solution. The critical thing to note is that the plant is placed in a soil alternative growing medium and the consistent dripping of the water and nutrients. 

    • Suitable for big gardens or commercial purposes. 

The setups using a drip system can be done vertically. You can essentially plant more per floor space of your garden. 

    • Little to no algae or bacteria problems. 

The water and nutrient solution are not stagnant. An active system is less prone to algae growth and bacteria or disease problems. Also, the plants themselves are separated by their pots, so in non-recovery drop systems, the spread of any sickness or problems to other plants is almost impossible.


Cons in using Drip systems
    • Numerous pipes and hoses. 

It often results in difficulty regarding repairs. Finding a specific leak is important since the longer the leak exists, the more water and nutrient solutions are wasted. 

    • Complicated setup. 

Drip systems are usually straightforward. However, you will need some experience or help in setting the automation process with the timer. The complexity also depends on whether you will choose recovery or non-recovery drop systems.

    • Requires additional knowledge from the planter. 

This is important since you will have to know the sufficient amount of water and nutrient solution needed for the plants you chose. Suppose the timer goes on too often or too scarcely, then the plants will die. You also need to take note of both the pH and nutrient levels in the reservoir.


Nutrient Film Technology (NFT)

The NFT system was initiated by the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute back in 1965. The system is generally meant for expert gardeners. It is because of the required intricate arrangements needed for it to be effective. Also, typically they are used in very secure environments like glasshouses.

    • How does it work?

The NFT system uses pots placed in net pots secured in holes or “channels” on a slight incline or slope. Water with nutrients is present underneath. The water and nutrients constantly flow in the direction of the angle. Because of this, the plant roots are given sufficient supplies of water, oxygen, and nutrients. 

The liquid nutrient solution is pumped from the higher point of the incline. The water and nutrients travel across the channel, feeding the plants by having the lower tips of their roots submerged. Recovery NFT systems have a gutter or pipe at the end of the incline that will connect back to the reservoir containing the water and nutrients.  


Pros in using the NFT system
    • Smaller reservoir. 

This is because the NFT system uses only a little water and nutrient solution. 

    • Less waste of resources. 

Water and nutrient solutions are circulated through the system. The plants absorb only what they need, and the excess won’t be lost since it is circulated back into the reservoir. 

    • Ample oxygen for the roots. 

The running water only partially submerges the plant roots in an NFT system. The other parts are well exposed to oxygen.

    • Perfect for large-scale planting. 

Besides the fact that it uses fewer resources, NFT systems are easy to expand since multiple channel setups are quick and easy. 

    • Low upkeep.

Since the NFT system only uses electricity to fire up the water pump. Not only that, but since there are only a few components, damage to any one of them would be easy to replace.

    • Low effort needed to maintain.

You can just add more water or nutrient solution to the reservoir if you think it needs more. 

Cons in using the NFT system
    • It is a bit difficult to set up. 

This is because aside from the fact that the number of components is more than other types of hydroponics systems, the channel needs to be inclined at a specific and optimized angle for the NFT system to work correctly. 

    • It is not suitable for large plants.

Aside from the fact that large plants would also require large channels to hold them, their roots systems may block the flow of the water and nutrient solution inside the channel. 

    • It is not suitable for tuberous plants or specific root systems. 

This is because the water and nutrient solution circulated might not be enough to feed the said plants. Also, being exposed to liquids for too long will cause root vegetables like carrots or turnips to rot. 

    • Requires constant monitoring.

The whole system is dependent on the water pump and the channel. If any of them fails or gets damaged, then the plants are sure to die. You also need to look at the length of the root systems and adjust plant spacing as required. Overcrowding may lead to plants at the bottom of the channel dying since they cannot get the needed water and nutrients to survive.

Aeroponic Systems

The aeroponics system was developed by the Cabot Foundation Laboratories back in 1973-1974. The system was designed as a method for studying root nodules on peas. Improvements and changes have been made throughout the years, and the result is the method we know of today. 

  • How does it work?

The aeroponics system may sound complicated at first, but it is pretty simple. It works by having plants grow with their roots exposed constantly to a nutrient mist. The box where the plants are grown is generally lined with two layers of polyethylene sheeting and a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil to reflect and keep light from building up in the reservoir. Plants are then inserted at specific intervals. 

Ready-made aeroponic kits have specific measurements of where the plants are placed. The plants are inserted into holes with flexible rubber collars where the spacing is optimized for specific plants. It is because plants should not be placed too near depending on the number of roots they have. They might end up not receiving enough mist to sustain growth. 

The motor with the attached spinner can be found inside the box and is responsible for spraying mist on the roots. A special support holds it in place so that the motor’s vibration is not transferred to the plants. There are two pressure systems involved, the high- and low-pressure systems. The difference between the two is that the high-pressure system will have short irrigation cycles instead of low-pressure systems. 

Pros in using the Aeroponic system
    • Plants grow well and faster in general because of the aerobic environment. 
    • Infections, diseases, pests, or wilting because of malnutrition is almost impossible.
    • Plant yield is significantly more compared to other systems
    • Water and nutrients are used and recycled efficiently 
    • The box or chamber used can be in any shape or size, depending on preference and convenience.
    • Easy Hydroponics Option

Considered an easy hydroponics system because of the relative ease in the monitoring of the plants and maintenance.


Cons in using the Aeroponic system
    • Difficulty in keeping stable humidity, temperature, and ventilation levels. 
    • Aeroponic setups are not suitable for outdoor spaces but may take more space compared to other methods.
    • Aeroponics is not compatible with a wide and low garden since the box or chamber needs a lot of empty space.
    • The costs of materials, electricity and maintenance are a bit higher than other systems. 



types of hydroponics systems for a backyard




Which one to choose?

Rather than focusing on the types of hydroponics systems and their pros/cons, it is important to focus on the specific plant you want growing in your backyard. In fact, some types of hydroponics systems seem less forgiving than traditional soil-based systems. A small mistake or a bad mixture of the important elements in the nutrient solution or a lapse in the required regular monitoring is dangerous since it could lead to the certain death of the plants. Again, there are six different types of hydroponics systems. Before choosing from among them, conduct the proper research to choose the best one for the plant. Always remember that what is important is knowing what you want to plant and researching the best hydroponics system for those types of plants.. 


Read More