The Essential Guide to Hydroponic Systems For Marijuana (& Other Plants)
While growing in soil is an easy and straightforward process…
Growing hydroponically is a cultivation method that is bound to fail without the right knowledge and preparation.
But once you have the knowledge and take the right preparation steps, there are some amazing benefits:
- Quicker harvest cycles
- Increased yields
- Easier to get higher quality or more potent yields
- Higher density planting leading to increased yields per square foot
- An easier time controlling the whole growing process
Which is why in today’s post we’ll look at the different hydroponic grow systems that you can use and give examples of some amazing complete hydroponic grow system kits which you can essentially just ‘plug and play’.
But first a quick explanation on what hydroponic growing exactly is…
What Is Hydroponic Growing?
For your plants to grow they need nutrients, water and light.
In nature, these nutrients are provided by the soil in which the plant is rooted.
But for the plant it doesn’t really matter where it gets its nutrients from…
It might as well get them through a different source like…water.
And that’s exactly what hydroponic growing is:
Hydroponic growing is the cultivation of plants in nutrient-enriched and oxygenated water, usually mechanically supported by an inert medium like pebbles, rockwool or coco coir.
Cultivating your plants in this way does bring some challenges with it…and if you’re a beginning grower, you have to realize starting with soil probably is a better idea.
Because growing a hydroponic system is less forgiving for beginning growers.
Especially mistakes like:
- Getting the wrong mix of nutrients
- Unbalancing the temperature, pH or strength of your nutrient solution
- Growing in too high or too low humidity-levels…
…can mess up your crop in a very short period of time.
Soil is also quite a bit cheaper to start with…although hydroponic growing can earn its high initial captial cost back over time through increased yields and an increase in harvest cycles.
But even though it’s a harder growing process than soil…
Once you get through its learning curve…
Hydroponic growing is an extremely rewarding way to grow your plants…and you’ll probably fall in love with it once you’ve got the basics down.
The Different Hydroponic Growing Systems
Although ‘hydroponic growing’ is the general term used for growing in water instead of soil…
There are different types of hydroponic growing systems all with their own pros and cons.
It’s important you really understand the differences well, so you can make the right choice for your space, specific setup and personal requirements (do you have the time to be on top of your grow project daily, or do you only have time to check up on your project every few days for example).
Deep Water Culture (aka DWC or the Bubbler): Cheap & Easy
This is the cheapest, yet simplest to set-up hydroponic system for a beginner to grow on a small scale.
Here’s how it works:
- You have bucket(s) full of nutrient-rich and oxygenated water;
- Your plants are seated at the top of the bucket and held in place with an inert medium like clay pebbles;
- The roots of your plants hang in the nutrient-rich and oxygenated water for 24/7.
Your plants having access to nutrient-rich and oxygenated water for 24/7 obviously means your plants are going to grow extremely quick.
They’ll grow faster than in most other hydroponic system because it’s a continues flow system.
A continues flow system means that the roots of your plants are constantly exposed to nutrients, which sets the stage for a powerful growth curve.
Getting bigger plants is also easier because of this growth acceleration.
It’s not all roses though…
The main downside of DWC is temperature regulation.
In any hydroponic system, it’s important to keep your nutrient solution cool (70°F), this is to keep oxygen levels at an optimal level…
But in a DWC system this is ESPECIALLY important, since your plants are exposed to the nutrient solution 24/7…and this can be a problem if you’re living in a warmer climate.
Another downside is that maintenance can be a bitch:
- The water must be changed periodically to provide fresh nutrients and water for your plants and you need to do this manually.
- To prevent malnutrition of your plants, it’s also important to check pH value of the water often…and if you really want to put all the odds in your favor, to check the nutrient strength/profile with a PPM meter…and more importantly adjust the pH and/or nutrient strength profile when things are out of balance.
But even with these downsides, DWC probably is the best hydroponic system to start with if you’re a beginner and you’re just going to grow 2-6 plants.
Great, I want to grow with a DWC system…where to start?
Although you can build your own DWC system…
There are some high quality and ready-made ‘plug and play’ DWC systems available which will save you a good amount of time and which I highly recommend:
If you want to save yourself some time maintaining your system I recommend checking out a Recirculating Deep Water Culture System like this one:
In a system like this you don’t have to check each individual bucket for pH or ppm values, because there’s a single control bucket from which the nutrient solution flows. And this will definitely save you some time.
Each bucket can hold a single plant. So get as many buckets as the number of plants you’re going to grow.
Next up we have another hydroponic system which is well suited towards beginners…
Ebb and Flow (aka Flood and Drain): Simple but Effective
Ebb and Flow is another GREAT hydroponic system for beginners.
It’s easier to maintain and a bit more forgiving than a DWC system in case you mess up the temperature, pH or nutrient profile.
The downside is that it’s a bit more expensive to start with and if you’re into ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY), it’s a bit harder to setup than a simple DWC system.
Here’s how it works:
- Your plants are sitting in a pot, supported by an inert medium like rockwool or pebbles.
- There’s a nutrient reservoir from which nutrient-rich water gets pumped to your plants roots and then back into the nutrient reservoir, at set interval periods.
This means an Ebb and Flow system is not a continues flow system like DWC where your plants are submerged in the nutrient-rich and oxygenated water 24/7.
Your plants only get exposed to the nutrient-rich water during the ‘flow’ period, which is a few times a day. The rest of the time they’re left to ‘air out’…and this is exactly what makes Ebb and Flow a much more forgiving system than DWC.
Even if the temperature, pH or strength of your nutrient solution is too high/out of balance, a few of these ‘out of balance’ flows to the roots of your plants won’t completely destroy your crop.
If you interfere on time and restore the temperature or balance of your nutrient solution, your grow will be fine.
Great, I want to grow with an Ebb and Flow system…where to start?
Just like with a DWC system it’s doable to build a ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY) Ebb and Flow system…
But if you want to save yourself the hassle check out these pre-made systems:
Next up we have one of the more sophisticated hydroponic systems…
Drip Irrigation (aka Drip, Dripper, Top Feed Drip System or Recirculating Top Feed)
Although drip irrigation systems are still relatively simple in how they work…
If you’re a complete beginner to hydroponics, the sophistication of this system makes its setup and maintenance less simple than the previous systems. But more on that later.
Here’s how it works:
- Your plants are sitting in a pot, supported by an inert medium like rockwool or pebbles.
- Nutrient-rich water gets pumped from the nutrient reservoir to the top of your growing medium.
- Then slowly the nutrient-rich water drips from a network of pipes/tubes and emitters to the roots of your plants
A drip irrigation system is a continues flow system, which means it’s easier to get your plants growing FAST.
But if you’re a beginner, you really need to understand the things that can go wrong in a system like this…and prepare carefully.
For starters, if you’re into DIY, setting up a drip irrigation system takes more time and care to setup than the previous systems (Ebb and Flow or DWC).
Then there’s the danger of emitters clogging up and potentially ruining your grow…if you don’t keep your water and/or emitters free of nutrient build-up.
You also need to find the perfect balance on how much you expose the roots of your plants to the drip/flow. Dripping too much can easily lead to root rot or fungus…while too little can result in stunted growth.
Lastly, if your power goes off for whatever reason and your pump stops dripping, you basically have only a few hours to notice or else…you’re screwed.
OK, so why would I want to go for a drip system then…?
Drip irrigation systems are way more efficient than the previous systems (Ebb and Flow and DWC). A properly setup drip system will need less water and less nutrients than Ebb and Flow or DWC…
But this benefit only really starts showing when you grow on a larger scale.
If you want to grow on a larger scale (10+ plants), and efficiency is important to you…by all means go for a drip system.
I wouldn’t recommend setting up a drip irrigation system yourself (DIY) if you’re new to hydroponics.
Instead, check out one of these pre-made systems:
Next up we have the most sophisticated hydroponic system in our list…
Aeroponic System: Highest Risk, Highest Reward
If you’re a complete beginner…
Skip aeroponics and choose one of the earlier ones.
If you have some practical experience, let’s continue.
Aeroponic systems are the most sophisticated hydroponic systems.
If you get everything right, it’s also the system with will give the largest rewards in terms of yields and is the most efficient in terms of water- and nutrient-use.
Here’s how it works:
- Your plant’s roots are sitting in a closed dark chamber (pot)
- Tiny drops of atomized nutrient solution get periodically sprayed over your plant’s roots while they sit in this closed and dark chamber
Just like the drip irrigation and DWC systems, this also is a continues flow system. And because the oxygen levels are so high in an aeroponic system…
It has to potential to outgrow and out-yield any other hydroponic system.
But this potential comes with a price…literally:
Aeroponic systems are the most expensive hydroponic systems, they’re harder to maintain and unforgiving in case of mistakes.
Just like with the drip irrigation system, with an aeroponic system, it’s extremely important that you keep the sprayers from clogging up.
A few hours of blocked sprayers can completely kill your crop.
How to keep an aeroponic system clean?
Just keep EVERYTHING through which your nutrient solution passes clean: filters, tubes, pumps, etc.
PLUS get some high quality nutrients like those from General Hydroponics. Low quality nutrients can leave a lot of undissolved salt residue behind, which is bad news for your sprayers.
It’s also extremely important that you keep the temperature of your nutrient solution and humidity in the root-chamber at optimal levels:
- Nutrient solution: 64°F
- Humidity in the root zone: 100%
- Humidity in the growth zone during veg stage : 60-70%
- Humidity in the growth zone during flower stage : 30-40%
If you don’t keep your temperature and humidity levels in check, you risk things as root rot, algae and stunting the growth of your plants in general.
As you can see an aeroponic system is one of the harder hydroponic systems to maintain properly, you really need to be on top of your grow and constantly check your system.
But once you get through the learning curve and don’t mind the constant maintenance…
It’s the most rewarding hydroponic system there is.
The bottom line is:
Even though an aeroponic system is the riskiest and least suited hydroponic system for beginners in our list…
It’s also the highest yielding system with the quickest harvest cycles.
If you do decide to go for an aeroponic system, I would really advice to start with a pre-made system like the:
There are just so many things that can go wrong with building one yourself. But hey, if you like a challenge…go for it.
One Last Word…
Even though you’ve learned the basics of each hydroponic system in this list…
There are some general principles you need to keep in mind when growing hydroponically
First of all, always keep a close eye on the growth of your plants. Specifically check whether there’s any slowdown in their growth or whether they look like they’re suffering in any way.
And when it looks like they’re losing strength or suffering in any other way…
Always first check your growing environment:
- Nutrients-strength (ppm)
- pH values of your nutrient solution
Then check for diseases like root rot and/or pests. But always start with the growing environment. Because that’s usually the cause.
Secondly, if you’re serious about growing hydroponically, I would really recommend investing in a quality PPM + pH meter so you can actually objectively check your growing environment.
High quality PPM + pH meters can get pricey, but they’ll last you a long time, are easy to use (calibrate) and extremely reliable in measuring values.
This is the one I recommend:
The Bluelab Guardian Monitor will last you a LONG time and is easy to calibrate…which means you’ll have an easier time keeping your plants happy and increase yields.
For a cheap back-up meter I would recommend this one:
Get to know 4 hydroponic systems that will maximize the potency, quality and yield of your plants. Get started with growing hydroponically today.
Best Hydroponic System for Growing Cannabis [2020 Update]
There’s a long-standing debate among marijuana growers about whether not hydroponics or soil is the best way to grow plants. Regardless of where you stand, it’s undeniable that hydroponic systems have their benefits.
Soil provides support for plants because it develops a physical structure for the roots to hold on. But hydroponic systems are hugely popular for growers who want to have more control over the growth process. In a hydroponic grow system, the physical support provided by soil can easily be replaced.
There are quite a few different types of hydroponic systems on the market, making it challenging to know which one is right for you. To make the decision easier, we’ve narrowed down our top picks for the top five hydroponics systems preferred by cannabis growers.
Last updated: March 23, 2020
|PRODUCT||HYDROPONIC TECHNIQUE||# OF GROW SITES||PRICE|
|Bubble Boy||1||View on Amazon|
|Waterfarm||1||View on Amazon|
|SavvyGrow DWC||6||View on Amazon|
|AeroGarden||7||View on Amazon|
|PowerGrow||4||View on Amazon|
Top 5 Hydroponic Systems for Growing Weed Indoors
#1 Bubble Boy (DWC) Hydroponic Bucket System
The Bubble Boy DWC bucket system is a practical and affordable way to grow plants hydroponically. The Bubble Boy system uses what is known as deep water culture (DWC). In DWC systems, the roots are suspended in highly oxygenated, nutrient-rich water.
Using high-quality hydroponic fertilizers, the plant’s roots don’t have to convert nutrients for the plants to use. This allows your plants to grow faster and more abundant. Aeration is an essential feature of a DWC system, which is why the manufacturer has included a sizeable dual outlet air pump within this system as well as an air stone.
The air pump and the air stone provide better diffusion and increased oxygenation. This combination guarantees the production of healthy plants in a short period. The Bubble Boy system is also equipped with a durable black reservoir as well as factory-pressed basket lids. The lid helps to protect the plants against algal growth.
- The system is highly oxygenated and nutrient-rich
- Comes with hydroponic fertilizers for fast growth
- Superior aeration allows for better diffusion
- Factory-pressed lid protects plants against algal growth
- Large bucket capacity
- Bucket may leak
- Does not have enough hydro stone for some larger grows
#2 General Hydroponics Waterfarm Complete Hydroponic System Grow Kit
The Waterfarm by General Hydroponic features a unique four-sided construction that allows you to pack modules closely together to create large, as well as high-density installations.
This growing system is one of a kind. It will grow plants of all sizes and is flexible enough to provide all the characteristics of larger systems at a reasonable cost. The hydrofarm, as a complete unit, is engineered to be a standalone system. It features a classic single plug and uses a bucket system. It incorporates an NFT system utilizing a nutrient film technique.
The Waterfarm Hydroponics System utilizes a pump to carry nutrient-rich water from the reservoir upwards to a drip system. The drip watering system distributes the solution to the growing chamber.
You can add a small piece of air stone into the reservoir to improve oxygenation. This helps the plants to grow at a steady pace.
- The four-sided net pots allow for high-density installations
- It is a plug and plays design that is easy to use
- Drip ring uses a nutrient film technique (NFT) effectively
- Large gallon reservoir capacity
- 1-year warranty
- The pump is a bit noisy
#3 SavvyGrow DWC Hydroponics Growing System
SavvyGrow DWC hydroponic system provides you with a unique deep water culture hydroponic system, which allows you to grow plants faster, cleaner, and with no pesticides.
This top-rated hydroponic system is perfect for beginners and is a good starter kit for indoor growing. This hydroponic system is a sizeable grow tent that measures 16 inches long and 10.8 inches wide. It has six plant holes, and each hole is 5.5 inches deep and 2 inches in diameter.
The package comes with a sachet of hydroton clay balls, which acts as the growing media for the plants. There is also an air pump that runs at the bottom of the reservoir.
With this system, you’ll also get two air stones, which provide plenty of air bubbles, providing adequate oxygen for your plants. The reservoir is very sturdy and thick for durability. The unit has a locking lid that ensures the inside of the tank is dark and also prevents algal growth.
- A complete kit that is low maintenance, easy to set up and use
- Three to five times faster compared to soil media
- Deepwater culture distributes nutrients effectively
- Reliable air stone provides sufficient oxygen
- No chemical pesticides or toxic fertilizers used
- Vague DIY instruction manual
- Reservoir may leak
#4 AeroGarden Ultra with Gourmet Herb Seed Pod Kit
The AeroGarden is a top-of-the-line indoor hydroponic system, which is highly resourceful for growing fresh flowers, salad greens, vegetables, and herbs.
The system uses deep water culture to distribute nutrients naturally without the presence of GMOs, pesticides, or herbicides. The unit measures 17.25 by 11.25 inches. It is fitted with seven plant sites. The system has a growing area of 4.5 to 24 inches high.
The system comes installed with an LED grow light, which is tuned to a precise spectrum. The spectrum promotes photosynthesis, allowing the plants to grow naturally and rapidly.
The LED lighting has red LEDs for bloom/flora, blue LEDs for larger yields, and white LEDs for expedited growth.
The AeroGarden comes with a user-friendly control panel with an interactive LCD display. The panel has simple prompts that are super easy to maneuver. The LCD shows you the number of days the plants are planted when to add nutrients, and the new tip available.
- Grows flowers, salad greens, vegetables, or fresh herbs
- Can grow up to seven plants at a time
- Full-spectrum LED grow light maximize plant growth
- The interactive LCD is easy to maneuver
- Seven-pod seed kit for full season growth
- LED panel may start flashing
#5 PowerGrow Deep Water Culture Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit
The PowerGrow Bubbler Hydroponic Bucket Kit is an easy and inexpensive way to grow your plants hydroponically. This system distributes nutrients through deep water culture, which is super easy to use. The deepwater culture allows for fast growth with little effort.
In this system, the roots of the plants are submerged in a nutrient-rich and oxygen-infused water. The enriched solution promotes faster and healthier plant growth. The four identical, 5-gallon buckets are controlled by a single air pump, which does a great job of managing the four grow buckets.
- Highly effective deep water culture
- Grow buckets are FDA approved
- Each bucket is equipped with a water level indicator
- Comes with a high performing air pump
- Adjusting pH may be problematic
What to Look for in a Hydroponic System
There are several things you have to look for when shopping for the best hydroponic system, including the hydroponic method and the growing mediums you want to use.
There are several hydroponic methods or techniques you can consider. Before choosing a system, make sure that you know which way feels the most comfortable for you to use.
- Aeroponic System
This is the most advanced hydroponic technique on the market. It uses a small amount of growing medium, which can save you money in the long run. With aeroponic systems, the plant roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient water. This method is ideal for growing smaller plants and herbs.
This technique does not easily support bigger plants due to the lack of substrate. Usually, the roots are held by a contraption with large plants.
Most systems that use this technique are equipped with a timer that is connected to a water pump that automatically mists the roots. Aeroponics systems are remarkably lightweight because they barely use a potting medium. These grow systems are suitable for small spaces.
- Deep Water Culture (DWC)
The aeroponics technique is considered the most advanced, but the deep water culture is the most popular technique for indoor cannabis growers.
Deepwater culture systems are usually fitted with plant sites/holes and a reservoir. The roots are supported by a growing medium, such as hydroton clay pebbles. With DWC systems, it’s essential to use a growing medium that does not retain moisture since the plant roots are always submerged in the solution.
DWC is probably the most straightforward system to set up, making it a suitable choice for inexperienced growers. You can even build your own deep water culture unit.
- Drip Ring Technique
The Drip Ring Technique is a simple technique that uses a timer which controls a submersible pump. Usually, the pump is connected to small pipes that are dipped to the roots of the plant. Typically, the pipes are fitted with sprayers that are easy to adjust to control the amount of water.
The pump is automatically turned on by the timer to provide a measured amount of the nutrient-rich solution to the plant. With this technique, you are advised to use a soilless mix to prevent water from accumulating, which can cause the roots to rot.
In most cases, drip ring systems use rocks to support the plant. The amount of water required for this method is minimal, making it the most cost-efficient technique.
- Ebb and Flow System
Ebb and Flow is essentially a sub-irrigation technique. The nutrient solution is pumped into a shallow growing bed to a depth of around an inch for about twenty minutes and allowed to drain back to the tank.
If you are a first-time gardener, then this is the ideal choice for you because it is easy to set up. The number of times the pump is switched on depends on the specific plant needs. The ebb and flow technique uses a loose growing medium, which can easily get stuck in the pump, causing power outages.
The second most important consideration when choosing a hydroponic system is the growing medium. The ideal growing medium is supposed to hold oxygen, water, and nutrients, and support the root system. The most popular and reliable hydroponics growing media are:
Hydroton is made from blends of different clay pellets fired in an open furnace to get rid of heavy metals as well as other contaminants. Hydroton pellets have excellent water retention and pH level sustainability that protects the plants against excess acidity. Some of the top-rated hydroponic growing systems use hydroton, and they usually have few insect problems, but may suffer from green algae.
You can use different types of gravel or stones as your grow medium. This is by far the most economical grow medium. Some of the best rock materials to use include river rock, lava rock, and pea gravel. Rocks are highly aerated.
- Coco Coir
This is a relatively newer growing medium made of fibers from the husks of coconuts. Coco coir can vary from one manufacturer to another. Coco coir has good water to air ratio and is capable of holding water for quite a while between watering. It also has good pH sustainability and slower drainage and drying rate. The only problem is that coco coir is vulnerable to insect infestation.
This medium is made from natural rocks that have been melted down and blown into mineral fibers with unparalleled water to air ratio. Rockwool has superior pH sustainability and remarkable water retention. Its extreme porosity makes it drain better than other mediums.
Rockwool is available in different sizes, mats, and plugs for propagation. The alkaline nature and porosity of Rockwool make it subject to the aggressive growth of mildews, molds, and algae.
For people who want to grow marijuana indoors, soil can be messy and too hands-on for indoor grow spaces. Hydroponic systems offer the potential for faster crop growth and more seamless growth cycles since they feed roots with a precise blend of essential nutrients with a balance of oxygen and water.
Hydroponics also use less water because you may reuse any irrigation water not directly consumed by the crop. With a hydroponic system, no need for weeding or herbicides. Therefore, your plants will never suffer the effects of harmful herbicides.
We hope this article gave you some insight into the benefits of hydroponics systems and whether or not hydro is the right medium for your grow style.
Which hydroponic system is right for you? Check out our in-depth reviews of the best hydroponics systems for growing cannabis before you buy.