Maven Gardening

Hydroponic Gardening: Basic Systems Simplified

We’re glad you learned about hydroponics basics. Whether you’re an experienced gardener looking for creative ideas or a beginner eager to cultivate plants without dirt, you’ve come to the right place.

This soilless method feeds plants a nutrient-rich water solution, which helps them grow faster, use less water, and garden without taking up space outside.

We will review the basics of hydroponic planting together to make it easier for you and set you up for success.

Understanding Hydroponics Basics

Hydroponic gardening is about improving plant growth, accessibility, and quality. Hydroponics is better than traditional gardening in several ways. It gets nutrients directly to plants’ roots through water, so dirt is unnecessary.

But before we get into how to set up your first hydroponic system, let’s go over some basic information to help you understand this new way of growing.

Why Choose Hydroponics?

Faster Growth Rates: Hydroponic systems often grow faster than dirt because they directly access nutrients.

Water Efficiency: Since the water in the system is recycled, hydroponics can use up to 90% less water than regular gardening.

Year-Round Gardening: Plants are grown indoors with hydroponic systems independent of the seasons so that you can enjoy fresh food all year.

Space-saving: Since hydroponic systems do not require dirt, they can be set up in smaller areas, making them suitable for city dwellers.

The Science Behind Hydroponics

For hydroponics to work, plants need a well-balanced solution complete with nutrients. This solution has all the macro and micro-nutrients plants typically get from the earth. Plants need minerals, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow healthy. Hydroponic gardeners can improve plant health and output by controlling light exposure, water pH, and nutrient concentration.

Hydroponic plants with visible roots hang above a water tank.
Hydroponic plants suspended above a nutrient-rich water tank.

Types of Basic Hydroponic Systems

As you learn more about hydroponic gardening, you’ll come across different methods, each with its setup and benefits. The right system depends on your space, income, and maintenance level. Let’s look at the most popular systems so that you can choose the one that perfectly fits your gardening needs.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

One of the most accessible and affordable ways to grow plants hydroponically is with DWC. Plants float in a mix of nutrients; their roots sink into the water. An air pump supplies oxygen to the solution to ensure the roots get enough.

Best For: Beginners or those who want a system that requires little maintenance. It works great for herbs and leafy veggies like lettuce.

Wick System

Wick hydroponic systems are passive and do not contain any moving parts. This system keeps the soil moist by pulling water into the growing medium.

Best For: Small plants and herbs do best. It is excellent for people who want a system that only requires occasional maintenance.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

An NFT system’s thin layer of nutrient solution holds plant roots in channels. This method ensures plants always have access to air and nutrients.

Best For: Gardeners who want to grow their business. It works for many veggies.

Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)

This method periodically floods the grow tray with a nutrient solution and drains it back into the reservoir. A regular cycle of flooding and draining gives the roots oxygen and ensures they can absorb nutrients.

Best For: It works well for many plants, including ornamentals and big fruiting veggies. It’s suitable for people who already know hydroponics.


In aeroponics, fertilizer solutions are misted over the roots of the plants. The roots hang in the air in a closed or partially closed space, letting them take in as much oxygen as possible.

Best For: experienced growers who want fast, healthy growth. Suitable for growing herbs, leafy veggies, and small fruit plants.

People have different needs and wants regarding hydroponic gardening, so each method differs. Whether you like how simple a DWC setup is or how effective an NFT system is, it is essential to start simple, learn the basics, and slowly grow your hydroponic garden as you get better.

Starting Your First Hydroponic Garden

So, now that you know what hydroponics is and the different types of systems you can use, let’s build your first hydroponic garden. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t worry; it’s easier than you think to start.

Select Your Setup

Assess Your Space: Decide whether to put your hydroponic garden outside or inside. Consider things like the available room, light exposure, and temperature control.

Choose Your System: Pick a hydroponic system that works for you based on your room and gardening goals. People should start with a simple DWC or the Wick system.

Gather Your Supplies

Grow lights: You must buy grow lights to ensure your plants get enough light for photosynthesis if you’re growing indoors or in a place with low light.

Growing Medium: Based on the method you choose, you may need a growing medium like perlite, rock wool, vermiculite, or coco coir to keep your plant’s roots stable.

Nutrient Solution: Buy an excellent hydroponic solution formulated for your plant’s growth stage.

EC and pH Meters: Get EC and pH meters to monitor how acidic and full of nutrients your water solution is, ensuring it’s suitable for plant growth.

Setting Up Your System

Follow the Instructions: Read and follow the instructions carefully to set up your chosen hydroponic system. Be careful with the water level, nutrients, and where lights are placed.

Install Grow Lights: If you use grow lights, put them where they are most effective. Most vegetables and leafy greens need 12 to 16 hours of light daily.

Mix Nutrient Solution: Follow the directions on the bottle to ensure you get the right amount of nutrients for your plants’ growth stage.

Choosing Your Plants

Start with Seedlings: It’s often better to start with plants than seeds. Pick healthy and disease-free seedlings from your neighborhood garden center or nursery.

Select Suitable Varieties: Choose plants that do well in hydroponics, like herbs, leafy greens, and fruiting veggies like peppers and tomatoes.

Consider Space Requirements: Consider how large the plants you want to grow will be when they’re fully developed, and ensure your hydroponic system has enough room for them to grow.

Maintaining Your Garden

Monitor pH and EC Levels: Use a meter to check your water solution’s pH and nutrient levels regularly. Make changes as needed to keep plant growth conditions at their peak.

Check Water Levels: Keep an eye on the water level in your reservoir and add more water as needed to ensure your plant’s roots stay submerged.

Prune and Harvest: As your plants grow, you should prune them often to keep them healthy and avoid crowding them. Early harvesting of fully grown vegetables will help them continue to produce.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Yellowing Leaves: When leaves turn yellow, it could mean the plant isn’t getting enough nutrients or its pH level is abnormal. Make the necessary changes to your nutrient mix and pH levels.

Algae Growth: Algae growth in your tank could mean it is getting too much light or nutrients. Protect your tank from light and lower its nutrients to stop algae from growing.

Root Rot: Brown and mushy roots signify root rot, typically resulting from excessive water or poor water flow. Adjust your watering schedule and ensure proper system aeration.

By following these steps and keeping an eye on and taking care of your hydroponic garden, you’ll soon enjoy a large harvest of fresh, local food.

Basic hydroponic system with plants in blue pipes.
Green plants thrive in a basic hydroponic system.

Nutrients and Water Quality Management

You need the right mix of nutrients and water for your plants to make hydroponic gardening work. In a regular soil garden, the nutrients are already present, but in a hydroponic garden, the plant depends on the supplied nutrient solution.

Let’s discuss how to check your water gardening system’s nutrients and water quality.

Understanding Nutrient Requirements

Micro and macro-nutrients: For successful growth, hydroponic plants need the right amount of micro-nutrients (calcium, magnesium, and iron) and macro-nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).

Nutrient Solution Formulation: When mixing nutrient solutions, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the appropriate nutrients for your plant’s growth stage.

EC (Electrical Conductivity): Check your nutrient solution’s EC level often to ensure it’s in the proper range. To keep the EC level constant, change the nutrient concentration as needed.

pH Management

pH Balance: Use a pH meter to check the pH of the daily nutrient solution. Hydroponic plants have pH ranges between 5.5 and 6.5, which is acidic.

pH Adjustment: If the pH moves out of the ideal range, you can fix it by adding up-or-down solutions. To avoid nutrient lockouts and deficiencies, keep your pH constant.

Water Quality

Source of Water: To keep your plants healthy and avoid contamination, use clean, filtered water in your hydroponic system.

Water Temperature: Keep the water at the right temperature for your plants, usually between 65°F and 75°F (18°C and 24°C), so they can absorb nutrients and avoid root rot.


Aeration: Make sure your nutrient solution has enough air so it doesn’t stay still and your plant’s roots can absorb more oxygen. Air stones or air pumps can add oxygen to your tank water.

Regular Maintenance

Water Changes: To keep your plants healthy and avoid nitrogen imbalances, change your nutrient solution every one to two weeks.

Reservoir Cleaning: A clean reservoir is essential. Ensure you clean your reservoir often to eliminate algae or other waste that may have accumulated. Then, you will keep the area clean and healthy for your plants.

Suppose you carefully control hydroponic nutrients and water quality. In that case, you will create the most suitable environment for plants, resulting in healthy growth and many harvests.

Lighting Solutions for Hydroponic Gardening

Hydroponic systems use light to stimulate plant growth. Artificial grow lights give plants the light energy they need for photosynthesis when indoors or in places with little light. Let’s discuss the different kinds of grow lights used in hydroponic gardening and how to pick the right one for your needs.

Types of Grow Lights

LED (Light Emitting Diode): LED grow lights use relatively low energy and don’t produce much heat, so they’re perfect for indoor hydroponic setups. They come in different spectrums that are suitable for other times of growth.

High-Intensity Discharge (HID): HID lights such as metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) are both powerful and effective. However, they produce more heat and use more electricity than LEDs.

Fluorescent: Grow lights that use fluorescent light, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and T5 light tubes, are cheap and can be used in small hydroponic systems. They aren’t as bright as HID or LED lights but are suitable for seedlings and vegetative growth.

Choosing the Right Lighting Setup

Light Spectrum: Consider what light your plants need at this growth stage. Blue light (400–500 nm) helps plants grow leaves and stems, and red light (600–700 nm) helps plants flower and produce fruit.

Light Intensity: Ensure your grow lights give your plants enough light intensity. Lighting requirements vary by plant type; determine how much light your plants need.

Light Duration: Most plants need 12 to 16 hours of light daily to grow at their peak. Set a timer to automatically turn your lights on and off and ensure your plants always get the same amount of light.

Placement and Coverage

Distance from Plants: Make sure your grow lights are far enough away from your plants so they don’t get too much or too little light. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the most effective light coverage and intensity.

Uniform Distribution: Set up your grow lights so all plants in your hydroponic system get the same light. Use objects that reflect light or light movers to let more light in.

Energy Efficiency and Cost

Energy Consumption:  When selecting grow lights, consider how much energy they use, as well as how much they will cost you in the long run. LED lights use less energy than HID or electric lights.

Initial Investment: LED grow lights may cost more initially, but they often save money on energy costs and last longer, so they are a better choice in the long run.

Supplementary lighting

Natural Light: Use natural sunlight along with your fake grow lights to give your plants a more comprehensive range of light and save money on energy costs.

Light Meters: To ensure your plants get enough light for healthy growth, use light meters to measure how bright the light is.

By choosing the right lighting option and making sure it is placed and covers the plants fully, you can give them the right conditions to grow. It will help the plants grow well and give you lots of food.

Potted lettuce plants on floating platforms in water.
Floating platforms displaying a blend of agriculture and aquaculture.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Hydroponic gardening has many benefits but also problems. Here are some common issues with your hydroponic garden, ranging from insufficient nutrients to pests. We will also show you how to talk to them well.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Symptoms: Lack of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium can cause yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and sour fruit development.

Solution: Fix the mismatch in your nutrient solution so your plants get all the nutrients they need to thrive. You should use a complete hydroponic fertilizer to give your plants a balanced nutrition.

pH Imbalances

Symptoms: Plants cannot get nutrients from fluctuating pH levels.

Solution: Check and change the pH of your nutrient solution regularly to keep it in the proper range for your plants. Use pH up-and-down treatments to fix imbalances.

Pest Infestations

Symptoms: Aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies are common hydroponic pests. Plants suffer from them, and their output is reduced.

Solution: Use integrated pest management (IPM) methods to eliminate pests without hurting your plants. For example, bring in helpful insects, use insecticidal soaps, or put neem oil on the plants.

Algae Growth

Signs: Growing algae in your tank can stop plants from taking in nutrients and make your hydroponic system unattractive.

Solution: Keep algae from growing by blocking light from your tank, lowering the amount of nutrients in it, and making sure the water flows freely and oxygenates it.

Temperature Fluctuations

Signs: Water temperatures that change often can stress plants and make them less productive and able to grow.

Solution: Use a water chiller or insulate your reservoir against temperature changes to keep the water temperature fixed and in the proper range for your plants.

You can keep your hydroponic garden healthy and thriving by watching for and caring for these common problems. This way, you can enjoy fresh, local food all year.


You may have many questions and doubts as you learn about hydroponic farming. If you want to learn more about hydroponics, here are some commonly asked questions that should help you:

Which is the most accessible hydroponic system to use for beginners?

Many people think that Deep Water Culture (DWC) is one of the easiest and most beginner-friendly ways to grow plants hydroponically. DWC is an excellent choice for people new to this innovative farming because it is easy to set up and doesn’t need much care.

Is tap water suitable for hydroponics?

Yes, but you must pay attention to some aspects of water. Tap water might have chlorine, chloramines, or other harmful chemicals that can hurt your plants or make it difficult for them to absorb nutrients. To keep your hydroponic garden healthy, use drained or cleaned water.

When should I change my nutrient solution in a hydroponic system?

It is usually suggested that you change the nutrient solution in your hydroponic system every one to two weeks. It is to keep water quality high and avoid nutritional imbalances. Keep an eye on your nutrient solution’s pH and EC levels and make changes as needed to give your plants the right growth conditions.

Are hydroponic plants faster growing than soil-planted ones?

Yes, because they have direct access to nutrients and better growth conditions. If well cared for, hydroponic gardens can produce more crops than soil gardens.

What are the most suitable plants for beginners to grow in a hydroponic system?

Leafy greens, herbs, and small fruiting veggies like peppers and tomatoes suit hydroponic gardening beginners. They are simple to grow, fast-growing, and do best in a hydroponic setup.

Hydroponic lettuce growing on a vertical farm rack indoors.
Lettuce thrives in an indoor, hydroponic vertical garden.


You did a great job finishing your hydroponics basics course! You can start your adventure now that you know what hydroponic farming is. Remember that it is more than just a way to garden; it’s a way to learn, try various things, and grow.

Explore, learn, and change based on your plants’ needs as you learn more about hydroponics. Plants can be grown in many ways, from small herbs on your kitchen table to a full-on water-based farm. You’ll soon enjoy your work’s fruits if you’re patient, dedicated, and have a green thumb.

Ensure your plants are well cared for, and watch your hydroponic garden flourish. Enjoy growing!

Don’t wait to act.

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