6 DIY Hydroponic Systems

Aeroponic system with different plants placed on top lid for hydroponic growing

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

If you would like to grow your own food but space and soil are lacking, try adding a hydroponic garden. This method of gardening was in place more than 2,000 years ago. Yet, it's innovative and forward-thinking since it allows for gardening in highly urbanized environments.

What Are Hydroponic Gardens

Hydroponic gardens use nutrient-rich water to bathe the plants' root bases. With a hydroponic garden, you can grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs indoors or outdoors. No soil is needed and maintenance is kept to a minimum since pest and weed control are less of a problem compared to soil-based gardens.

Depending on your needs and available space, you have a choice of several types of DIY hydroponic gardens, ranging from the simple wick and water culture systems, to more ambitious NFT (Nutrient Film Technology) and drip hydroponic systems.

If you're already familiar with water pumps (from garden ponds or aquariums) and tubing, consider that a plus as all but one of these gardens relies on electrically-recirculated water.

Depending on your needs and available space, you have a choice of several types of DIY hydroponic gardens, ranging from the simple wick and water culture systems, to more ambitious NFT (Nutrient Film Technology) and drip hydroponic systems.

If you're already familiar with water pumps (from garden ponds or aquariums) and tubing, consider that a plus as all but one of these gardens relies on electrically-recirculated water.

Tip

Unless your hydroponic system is located outdoors, you will need a lighting system to mimic natural growing conditions. Factor lighting into your budget and space restrictions.

  • 01 of 06

    Wick Hydroponic System

    Wick hydroponic system with plants under grow light

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Wick hydroponic systems rely on absorbent materials such as perlite or vermiculite packed around the roots of the plants. Nylon wicks help to draw the nutrient-rich water up to the plants.

    For the easiest and lowest cost entry point into hydroponic gardening, the wick system is often the best way to go. Materials are inexpensive and the build is simple. It's also a great type of hydroponic system for DIYers who are averse to dealing with pumps and electronics.

    Wick-style hydroponic systems are best for smaller plants like herbs rather than tomatoes or peppers, which require more nutrients than the wicks can often supply.

    1:47

    Click Play to Learn All About the Wick System

  • 02 of 06

    Water Culture Hydroponic System

    Water culture hydroponic system with plants lifted in large storage bin

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    If wick-style hydroponic gardens are basic, water culture systems, often called the lettuce raft method, go even farther back to the basics. Water culture hydroponic systems remove all of the barriers between the plants and the nutrient-bearing water. Water lily growth is one common type of water culture hydroponic gardens that already occurs in nature.

    Net pots encase the roots of the plants. But that's just to prevent the plants from wandering. Otherwise, the plants are in direct contact with the water.

  • 03 of 06

    Ebb and Flow Hydroponic System

    Grow light hovering over potted plants in ebb and flow hydroponic system

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    The ebb and flow style of a hydroponic garden relies on the calculated flooding and draining of the growing medium such as perlite. The water in its flooded state always remains an inch or two below the top of the growing medium to prevent wash-out.

    Ebb and flow hydroponic systems are usually larger than other systems to allow for a mini flood-plain to be created. The advantage is that larger plants, even root vegetables like carrots, can be grown in this type of system.

  • 04 of 06

    Drip Hydroponic System

    Potted plants with clay growing medium inserted into drip hydroponic system

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Drip hydroponic systems operate via a network of thin hoses that drip water directly onto the plants' root bases. Drip systems are highly dependable and are a popular form of hydroponic systems.

    The nutrient-laden water is moved by an electric pump through tubes to the top surface of the growing medium. The water then slowly drips around the roots, then drains down to the bottom of the container.

    Drip systems can be either recirculating or non-recirculating. Recirculating systems move unused nutrient-rich water back up to the growing surface. Non-recirculating systems discharge unused water.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Nutrient Film Technology (NFT) Hydroponic System

    Long grow light hovering over NFT hydroponic system with growing medium

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    While the name nutrient film technology (NFT) hydroponic system may sound complex, it's quite simple. The film refers to the thin layer of water that passes through and around the plants' root systems as the water courses down a growing channel. Water is collected at the bottom and then cycled back up to the top again with a pumping system.

    The plants do not rest in the growing channels. Rather, they are suspended above the channels, with the roots draping down into the water.

    Do-it-yourself builders of NFT systems often use rain gutters as pre-built channels. The size and shape of the gutters are ideal for many types of plants that are grown with this method.  

  • 06 of 06

    Aeroponic Hydroponic System

    Plants inserted into round aeroponic hydroponic system with grow light above

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Aeroponic systems just might be the most elegant and pure type of DIY hydroponic system. Imagine plants suspended in air, with nutrient-rich misted water bathing the roots of the plants—that's the aeroponic system. Excess water then drips into a collection tray, where pumps pick it up again, send it through tubes, and mist it.

    With aeroponic systems, the plants are suspended in baskets or foam containers. The roots drape down from these containers so that they can be misted.

    Aeroponic systems are best for do-it-yourselfers with previous skills in building hydroponic gardens due to the complexity of the pump, tube, and misting system.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Small-scale Hydroponics. University of Minnesota Extension

  2. Hydroponic, Aquaponic, Aeroponic Gardening. University of Georgia Extension