What’s the most difficult thing to deal with when growing plants indoors? – Mess, watering, adding enough nutrients, and of course achieving equal growth.
This can easily be solved if you were to use a hydroponic system. These systems are designed to work without soil but also to deliver optimum amounts of nutrient solution to the plant roots via various delivery methods.
If you’re looking for the best hydroponic system for your home, we may have more than one solution. It all comes down to what exactly you want to grow, and how much you’re looking to get come harvest time. We cover a choice of the best hydroponic system - complete reviews and comparisons are examined.
Best Hydroponic System Reviews
1. Back to The Roots Water Garden
This is a small but efficient indoor aquaponic system. It uses fish waste to fertilize your plants while they in turn help clean the water for the fish tank. It’s a win-win situation for plants and aquatic creatures.
The growth medium in this aquaponic system is made of growstones. It provides a solid anchoring point for the plants and allows plenty of access for the roots to get as much nutrient as they need from the bottom fish tank.
The tank is not too big. It has a 3-gallon capacity. It can hold one or two fish, three may be stretching it.
Aesthetically speaking, this aquaponics system can look very cool in any home or office. It’s pretty solid so it can support both bushy and tall plants.
What's to like about the Back to The Roots Water Garden
What is interesting is that this system comes with some plant seeds already. If you’re new to aquaponics or hydroponics in general, this is an excellent starter kit.
What's not to like about the Back to The Roots Water Garden
Although a beautiful idea, this is not a good solution for growing weed. The tank is too small to house enough fish. Therefore, the plants won’t get enough nutrients to produce a decent harvest.
2. AeroGarden Harvest
This is a miniature DWC (deep water culture) hydroponic system which allows you to grow plants up to 12” tall. It features a compact design and an automated 20W LED lighting system.
The grow lights stay on for 15 hours every day. You also get a small reminder every now and then to resupply the water with nutrients.
Given the small tank size, you may want to change the water inside it every week or so to prevent having to go through much thorough maintenance and cleaning.
The plant roots are fully submerged in water. This means they get a constant supply of nutrients and oxygen from the pump.
Though designed mostly for growing herbs, this system can also work for several strains of weed that grow under 12” in height.
What's to like about the AeroGarden Harvest
The built-in LED lighting is the main highlight of this product. You can go straight to planting as soon as you unpack the hydroponic system and you don’t have to waste extra time shopping for grow lights.
What's not to like about the AeroGarden Harvest
The reminder to add nutrients is not always accurate. That’s because the computer is programmed for your basic garden variety herbs.
3. PowerGrow DWC Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit
This is one of the most interesting home DWC kits you’ll find on the market. It’s compact, customizable, and complete with everything but plant seeds.
If you want to talk flexibility, this is the product. This DWC kit comes with an air pump and four separate containers. Each one can be used to grow a different herb, vegetable, plant, or strain of weed.
Each bucket has a 5-gallon capacity which means that you only have to change the water every two weeks. The oxygen pump is not very powerful but it is good enough to supply oxygen to four mature plants.
Another cool feature is the discreet packaging. If you don’t want the neighbors to see what you’ve bought, you don’t have to worry. PowerGrow packages this DWC system in a blank cardboard box with no labeling.
What's to like about the PowerGrow DWC Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit
The adjustability of this system is what makes it stand out. Unlike most DWC systems, this one has four containers that are not attached to each other, just connected via air tubes. This is what allows you to place them in any arrangement that saves you the most space.
What's not to like about the PowerGrow DWC Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit
If you want this system solely for growing weed, you’ll need to spring some cash for a lighting system.
4. HTG Supply Bubble Brothers DWC Hydroponic System
Yet another DWC system on this list, this one has more pots but at a higher cost and with fewer options to customize the setup.
There are six buckets of 3.5 gallons each in the package. Each one also has lids that provide a solid anchoring point for the plants.
The containers aren’t connected to each other so there is some wiggle room when it comes to positioning them on the ground or on shelves. However, it’s best to keep them leveled if you want optimum airflow.
The pump taking care of all the oxygen needs is a 41W air pump, which is pretty decent for these six small containers.
What's to like about the HTG Supply Bubble Brothers DWC Hydroponic System
What’s really nice is that this DWC system also comes with a 22lbs bag of clay pebble grow medium. This provides a solid anchoring point and also guarantees that no medium ends up in the reservoir.
What's not to like about the HTG Supply Bubble Brothers DWC Hydroponic System
The 6-way air pump divider is not very long. Also, instead of feeding the oxygen through the side of the containers, it does so by going in over the top and through the grow medium. It makes it harder to check for issues at the ends once the system is fully assembled.
5. Hydrofarm GH4120 Hydroponics WaterFarm
This is another budget-friendly and beginner-friendly solution for anyone that wants to start learning about growing plants indoors.
The GH4120 is another DWC hydroponic system. The container is made from high-impact plastic which gives it above average durability and also reduces the price tag.
Given the open-space design of the container, you can grow several small, medium, and large plants in any configuration you want. Of course, as long as you give the roots enough separation underneath the anchor point.
You can also split the container into a big one and a smaller one if you have plants with different water requirements. The air pump is not very powerful but since it doesn’t have to deal with a divider like the ones in modular DWC systems, it does a great job of keeping the roots oxygenated through various stages of growth.
What's to like about the Hydrofarm GH4120 Hydroponics WaterFarm
The semi-modular design of this unit is very interesting. It allows you to use either one or two containers based on your needs – i.e. how long the roots are.
What's not to like about the Hydrofarm GH4120 Hydroponics WaterFarm
This system requires proper care and knowledge of your plant’s needs and DWC systems in general. You don’t have any alerts for refilling the tank with nutrients, topping it off with water, or anything of that sort.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
The drip system works off a very simple principle. This method of hydroponically growing plants involves dripping nutrient solution at a slow pace into the hydroponic medium. This could be coconut coir, peat moss, or rockwool – as they are known to be slow draining mediums.
The drip system is easy to control but it is hard to keep clean. It has a tendency to clog because particles of nutrients will eventually build up in the emitters or drippers. This happens a lot more often when using organic nutrients.
Ebb & Flow
This is also referred to as a flood and drain system. The principle behind this design calls for flooding the growth area with nutrient solution at set intervals. The plants take what they need during this process and the remaining nutrient solution slowly drains back into its reservoir.
This system uses a pump with a timer to push the nutrient at the desired interval. This can be a highly efficient hydroponic system when trying to grow plants that need plenty of dry time too. Or better put, they work great in combination with plants that like to expand their roots.
When the roots expand looking for moisture, they can absorb even more nutrients. Thus, the plants tend to flourish.
Wicking is a very interesting concept. This type of system essentially uses a wick material, most often cotton, and surrounds it with growing medium. At one end, the wick material is enriched with nutrient solution.
Then, over time, the solution is wicked to the roots of the plants. This will also work without a wick material. It could just use a grow medium capable of wicking the nutrient solution on its own – the most common mediums are vermiculite and perlite.
This system doesn’t use the same growth medium as drip systems because they take in too much nutrient and could end up suffocating the plants.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
NFT features a continuous flow of nutrient solution running through the plant roots. This design involves a tilted tray or container so that the solution’s flow is determined by gravity. What’s also interesting and very efficient about this setup is that the roots get to absorb more oxygen.
This happens because only the tips of the roots are exposed to the nutrient solution. Therefore, the rest of the roots are able to take in more oxygen. More oxygen equals faster crop growth rates.
Aeroponics is a hydroponic system or method that doesn’t involve using a growth medium, nor a liquid nutrient solution. Instead, the system relies on aerosolized nutrients to feed the plants. Because the roots are suspended in the air, they’re always in contact with oxygen. They also have a faster absorption rate when the nutrient solution is turned into a mist and sprayed directly on them.
An aeroponics system may be automatic or manual, depending on the containers and the size of the crop. It is very versatile but perhaps not the cheapest setup.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
DWC uses a reservoir. In this type of hydroponic system, the roots of the plants are always suspended in the nutrient solution. A pump is used inside the reservoir to pump oxygen so that the roots of the plants don’t drown.
This is a very efficient system when properly built and maintained. It doesn’t succumb to clogs like drip or spray systems. This makes it really good to pair with organic nutrients. However, there is one risk.
If you let light penetrate the reservoir then you’re inviting algae to grow and flourish. This will damage your crops or maybe even kill them entirely.
Aquaponic systems are also known as hybrid systems. They combine an aquatic animal-raising system with a hydroponic system. The water from the aquatic animal tanks is rich in nitrifying bacteria which can reach toxic levels if left unchecked.
Therefore, an Aquaponics system breaks down the bacteria into nitrites and then into nitrates which can be used to feed the plants. The clean water is then pumped back into the animal tank to start the process all over again.
These are a bit more difficult to set up and maintain because they require very close monitoring of temperature, pest management, etc. But they can be very efficient since they allow you to grow both aquatic animals and crops using a single automated system.
The size and weight of hydroponic systems vary greatly from one type to another. Of course, they also depend on how big of a crop you want to grow. The weight of the system shouldn’t really matter unless you want to suspend it.
NFT systems should be weighted before installation because they’re not only heavy but very long, and they need to stay elevated as well as flat. That’s so that the gravity-feeding container can work at maximum efficiency.
Ease of Use
The ease of use is closely tied to the maintenance process. However, we’ll discuss that in another section. For now, let’s focus on the ease of use as in actual monitoring and the amount of manual work you need to put in.
Automatic systems are better for growing weed. They can maintain a constant supply of nutrients to each plant in your farm. Pretty much any system will work wonders and require very little of you except for wicking systems and aquaponic systems.
At the end of the day, the easiest system you can use is probably a DWC system. As far as installation and maintenance are concerned, a DWC system requires very little of you. You just have to anchor the plants, fill the container, and make sure no light reaches the water.
All types of hydroponic systems need regular maintenance whether they’re automated or manual. You need to carefully regulate the water temperature (below 72 degrees) and constantly check for root damage. This doesn’t mean that some systems don’t require less maintenance.
Aeroponic systems don’t have issues with clogging whereas drip systems clog very often. DWC systems tend to be the safest, but you can’t see inside them easily so it’s hard to spot any algae growth.
It’s also important to maintain the pH levels between 5.5 and 6.5 if you want your weed to live long and prosper. Gravity flow systems make it a lot easier to check and adjust pH levels.
You may also want to consider investing in a hygrometer. This will allow you to monitor the moisture levels of your weed plants. This is important because you have to water them differently when they’re young and when they’re flourishing. They need watering a few times a day in the beginning but no more than once a day when they’re flowering.
Whichever way you look at it, you can’t expect to set up a hydroponic weed farm and not perform regular maintenance. It just depends on how much maintenance you can fit in your schedule before deciding on a specific system.
The flexibility of a hydroponic system can be best described as adjustability or customization. It’s not always about how many plants you can fit in a single container. Rather than making this the main focus, manufacturers and growers refer to hydroponic systems as flexible when they are modular or semi-modular.
As a general rule, DWC systems tend to be the most flexible because they can be constructed of multiple individual containers that are only connected via air tubing. The flexibility can determine how you can stack or separate the containers to save maximum space or to optimize the airflow.
Hydroponic System FAQ
How does hydroponics work?
Although there are six different types of hydroponic systems and a variety of hybrid systems, they all work off the same basic principle – Using a soilless medium to grow plants. In order to do this, plants are first anchored through an inert matter in individual containers or long trays.
They are then fed nutrients through a solution that is being pumped directly onto the roots of the plants. In some cases, the plant roots may simply dangle in the water or in the air.
There are also subcategories. There’s a passive system which feeds the nutrient solution through gravity. And there’s the active system which relies on electricity and a pump to feed the nutrient and send it into a holding tank.
How to grow marijuana hydroponically?
You can grow marijuana using several hydroponic systems with one clear exception – wicking systems. Out of all the types of systems available, the Ebb & Flow system is the easiest to get started. It is easy to use, fairly low maintenance, and has the potential to grow rich crops.
Now, regardless of which system you decide to use, there are a few key things to consider. For one, the reservoir holds the water and nutrients that the plants need. Get a reservoir big enough to supply the plants with what they need for about two weeks.
The reservoir also needs a lid to prevent water evaporation. At the same time, make sure the lid is not transparent. You don’t want to spark the growth of algae if you’re using a DWC system.
Insulate the reservoir to control the temperature (around 72 degrees, no more). If you use an Ebb & Flow system, then your job is simple. Place the plants in a soilless medium to anchor the roots. Then place the tray over the reservoir with the nutrient solution. The automatic release pump takes care of the periodic flushes.
How to set up a hydroponic system?
Because there are many different types of hydroponic systems and even more combination systems, setting up a hydroponic system differs from one case to another. It’s not even necessary that two models of the same system have the same setup.
There are, however, a few things you need to worry about regardless of design or type:
- Proximity to a water source
- The ability to control room temperature
- The ability to control the amount of light
- Humidity control
- Proper ventilation
- Always having spare nutrients to make your nutrient solution
Once you have those things covered, the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific hydroponic system should be enough to guide you.
How often should you change the water in a hydroponic system?
As a general rule of thumb, the nutrient water in your reservoir should be changed at intervals of two weeks at the most. However, you should also keep adding pH nutrient water (0.25% strength) from time to time to keep the reservoir full.
That’s because the nutrient water is absorbed by the roots and evaporates in small quantities on a daily basis. Topping it off keeps the water at optimum levels and ensures that the roots have plenty of access to it.
This interval is good enough for most cannabis strains when they’re in their vegetative stage. However, once they begin developing flowers, you’ll want to change the water once a week to make sure the plants get what they need.
What’s the best hydroponic system? – It depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. Some swear by DWC systems as being the most carefree and efficient. Others enjoy using aquaponics as they can kill two birds with one stone.
Whichever the case may be, the hydroponic systems that we reviewed have a lot of potential both as an educational system and a serious cultivation system for the semi-professional grower. As long as you make sure your plant has enough room to breathe and gets enough light, any one of them should help you grow something green all year round.