One of the most significant decisions in hydroponics is what kind of system you want, need, or will have to install. There are pros and cons to all of them, but with some research and know-how, you can definitely find one that suits most of your needs.
If you're looking for the "done for you" kits for your home, see our guide here: Best Indoor Hydroponic Grow Systems Reviewed
Below, we provide a hydroponic system buying guide and reviews of some of the best and most popular hydroponic systems.
Quick glance at the best hydroponic systems:
- Active Aqua Ebb and Flow 12 Pack
- Hydrofarm MGSYS Hydroponic Megagarden
- WEPLANT Hydroponic NFT System
- VIVOSUN Hydroponic NFT Grow Kit
- Hydrofarm Root Spa
- VIVOSUN DWC Hydroponics
- Superponics - 8
- Diivoo Automatic Drip System
- Best Hydroponic Systems Reviewed
- What Are the Different Types of Hydroponics Systems?
- How to Choose a Hydroponic System
- What Are the Pros and Cons of Hydroponics?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What Types of Plants Can You Grow with Hydroponics?
- What’s the Best Hydroponics System for Beginners?
- What’s the Best Commercial Hydroponic System?
- What Is the Most Popular Hydroponic Method?
- How Do You Aerate Hydroponics?
- Do I Need to Test the pH of My Nutrient Solution?
- How Do I Adjust the pH in My Hydroponic System?
- Do I Need to Clean My Hydroponics System?
- Are Indoor Hydroponic Gardens Worth it?
- Final Thoughts
Best Hydroponic Systems Reviewed
Ebb and Flow
Available here: Hydrobuilder
This all-inclusive package from Active Aqua is an expandible pack with a 55-gallon reservoir and built-in timer.
The construction of this system doesn’t lend itself to the more recognizable ebb and flow system, rather, its pots have a concave bottom that allows for multiple drainage holes and to connect to the piping.
Also, with its submersible pump and unique design, the reservoir doesn’t need to be placed below the system.
The system is also easy to assemble and can have chillers attached if needed. It also has an excellent safety feature that prevents overflowing. And a significant benefit is the inclusion of FloraMicro, FloraGro, and FloraBloom.
- Easy to install
- Loads of extras
- Piping can leak if not installed properly
Compact and easy to use, this ebb and flow system from Hydrofarm is designed to be functional. Its simple design guarantees that your plants can access exactly what they need from your nutrient mixture, and includes stable pots with potting medium.
The size is one of the best features, as the compact unit only takes up 22” x 22” x 10”, and in that space, you can grow a small and productive garden. Included in the package are 15 five-inch plastic pots. These pots can be filled with lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA), which is conveniently included in the package.
While they state on their Amazon write-up that you can use soil, we’d highly recommend you don’t unless you want your plants to suffer from root rot.
The package includes a submersible pump with a timer, ensuring that flooding occurs on time.
Other items included in the package are germination cubes, nutrients, and a pH testing kit.
- Easy to use
- Pots are separate
- Indoor or outdoor use
- Only for use with a smaller garden setup
Nutrient Film Techinque (NFT)
With space for 36 plants, the WEPLANT system is by no means a small unit and needs to be erected outdoors, unless you have a lot of space indoors. But at 40 inches tall and wide, this will be a tricky fit.
This system is an excellent start for those looking to explore cultivating a grow wall space. The entire system is crafted from food-safe PVC piping and WEPLANT says that this system is sturdy enough to take a knock or two.
The system also comes with its own square net pots. These pots have been designed to ensure that they snap into place firmly. WEPLANT also says this is great for all the growth stages, from sprouting seedlings to fully grown plants.
It also comes with a brushless submersible pump and timer.
- Easy to install
- Nice extras like the net pots and sponges
- Not compact enough for smaller spaces | Outdoor use only
- Crop choice is limited
The VIVOSUN system allows for the easy inclusion of an LED grow light. It is made from food-grade PVC-U piping, and its dimensions are 20,5” wide by 38,6” long, and once you’ve added the feet it’s 14,6” tall.
It was designed with urban, indoor growers in mind, containing 36 sites for square net pots but it can be easily set up outside. It is marketed as the perfect indoor NFT system, but at its size, you’d have to be a keen gardener to sacrifice this much space in your house.
The system is easy to set up and will be ready to go as soon as you are. Included in the package is a water pump, timer, square net pots with sponges, tweezers, as well as three sets of instructions. So, no need to Google how to assemble it, set the timer, or how to plant seedlings into the system.
There are also loads of other configurations to choose from, but we think the standard with 36 plants will be sufficient for most growers.
- Easy to install
- Wide range of extras to include
- Great extras like growing tips
- Not convinced about its indoor use
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
This is arguably the best DWC by virtue of being the most straightforward setup. With water-tight grommets in place, the water level and air pipe feed is a genius method of completing the job.
The net pot is also large at 8”, allowing larger plants to be cultivated. And the net pot comes with a solid rim, which stops evaporation from lowering the nutrient solution.
With its 5-gallon reservoir, there’s plenty of room for root growth. The entry-level package comes with a solid little air pump, but you can spring for a larger ActiveAUQA air pump with four outlets.
One of the best features is how easy it is to expand this setup. This does not come with a growing medium, but general LECA will work just fine.
- Easy expand
- Large net pot
- Very basic package at entry level
This DWC setup differs from the usual arrangement by including a drip system around the rim of the 8” net pot. The drip irrigation works via a recirculating system where the air pump forces water to the rim.
With this system in place, there’s no need to worry about new seedlings not being unable to reach the water supply with their smaller roots. If you don’t want this in place, it’s a disconnect to get rid of it.
The net pot is also 8”, but the lip isn’t as prominent as the previously reviewed system. The system also has a water level indicator, includes LECA pellets, and more connection pieces to customize your setup, as well as instructions.
- New features in the DWC category
- Nice extras included
- Expensive for a DWC
- Pump can become overwhelmed with new functions
A blend of systems like the VIVOSUN’s DWC system, the Superponics - 8 offers ample root space in its large reservoir. Its top feeding drip system is accompanied by two medium-sized air stones.
It also possesses an extra-long drainage tube for more accessible water changes. And we think offering a three-year warranty on the system is pretty unique.
Built from quality plastics, it will also come with eight large net pots.
- Good quality
- Large reservoir
While not technically an entire hydroponic system, we think that this little drip system has loads to offer.
It’s designed for the indoor plant market. All you have to do is sit your net pots into a drainage tray and this little device will be able to water 10 plants. It has two methods of powering itself, which means it will never miss watering time.
You can program it to start a watering cycle or activate it manually. And if the reservoir does dry up, it will notify you via its app. We also love the deep watering barbs that ensure that water reaches the roots.
The Diivoo range is extensive, and if you need something for your system, we’re pretty sure you can find it on their Amazon store.
- Good quality
- Does not include pots or the entire system
Side Note: Diivoo offers indoor herb gardens for the kitchen as well.
What Are the Different Types of Hydroponics Systems?
One of the hardest parts of getting started in hydroponics is choosing the right method. Each type of hydroponic growing system has separate pros and cons.
Most systems involve placing seeds in a growing medium suspended above a source of water. Nutrients are added to the water, which feeds the roots of the plants.
However, some systems are small and require minimal maintenance while others are complex and come with a steeper learning curve. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular hydroponic growing methods (or the most common hydroponic systems).
Ebb and Flow
Ebb and flow systems, also called "flood and drain", typically require the use of a growing medium with plants resting in a tray. Ebb and flow hydroponics involves flooding the plant roots with a nutrient solution at a set interval, such as every few hours.
The nutrient-rich water drains into a reservoir instead of having the roots continuously sit in water (Often referred to as a flood and drain cycle).
As the water drains, oxygen is sucked into the grow medium, creating an oxygen-rich environment. These systems are efficient, but often difficult for beginners to set up and maintain due to the extra steps involved.
A wicking bed is a type of irrigation system designed for use in arid regions with limited access to water. It is also a convenient way to grow vegetables at home.
With a wicking bed, the plants are placed in soil or a soilless grow medium. As with ebb and flow systems, a water reservoir sits below the plants. However, instead of flooding the plants, the roots use a wick system to suck water up.
A small wicking bed may include a nylon rope. Larger setups require layers of fabric sandwiched between a soilless grow medium and soil or compost.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The nutrient film technique (NFT) is often used for commercial growing but may be set up for in-home use. The plants are placed side by side in a long channel, which is typically made from PVC piping. A pump circulates the nutrient solution through the channel.
An NFT system may include one or more channels. Large commercial systems may include a winding maze of interconnected pipes. This method takes up less space compared to other commercial approaches and delivers consistent water flow.
Quick takeaway: The NFT method does not work well with certain types of plants, including plants with long root systems and plants that require lots of support.
Drip irrigation is another hydroponics method commonly used for large-scale commercial operations. It is also an affordable system to set up at home but requires more space compared to other in-home options.
As with most hydroponic systems, the plants sit in pots or containers with soilless growing media. A drip nozzle connected to a tube is positioned above each plant.
A water pump drip system allows the nutrient solution to gradually drip through the nozzle and over the plant. The excess solution is collected and recycled through the pump.
Quick takeaway: The drip system is cost-efficient but requires extra maintenance and monitoring to ensure the proper distribution of nutrients and water.
An aeroponic system uses a hydroponics method adopted by many of the in-home countertop kits, such as the AeroGarden.
The plants sit in pots suspended above a water reservoir. Depending on the design, nozzles deliver water over each plant or spray the roots with the nutrient solution.
As the plants are suspended in air, they are naturally aerated. This creates an oxygen-rich environment that allows the plants to thrive. The roots eventually grow down into the water reservoir where they soak up the nutrients as with other hydroponic systems.
Quick takeaway: Aeroponics systems are often compact, easy to operate and allow you to grow many small plants in tiny spaces.
The Kratky Method is a type of passive hydroponics. With passive hydroponics, you do not use an industrial air pump or any kind of pump to circulate water. The nutrient solution sits in a water reservoir below the plants.
The water level starts high, allowing it to saturate the growing medium containing seeds. As the seeds sprout and roots grow, they soak up more water. The water level gradually decreases as the roots grow and extend down into the reservoir, maintaining an air gap between the water level and the plant.
You do not replace the water or add nutrients during the growth cycle. By the time that the water is fully depleted, the plants should be ready to harvest.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
A deep water culture system is comparable to nutrient film technique (NFT) systems. Both methods involve placing the root system directly into the water.
The main difference between DWC and NFT is the configuration. With the DWC system, instead of placing the plants in a row in a channel, the plants are suspended in a container. The container may include multiple plants. Tubing connects the water pump to each container.
Quick takeaway: Deep water culture systems are simple to set up, as they do not use cycles of flooding and draining the nutrient solution. The water flows continuously. The drawback is that disease can quickly spread from one plant to the next.
A bottle hydroponics system is a type of passive hydroponics, as it does not require a water pump. It involves suspending a plant in a bottle partially filled with water and nutrients.
A wick system may be used to draw water up to the grow media during seed germination. The roots eventually grow down through the media and to the water below.
Bottle hydroponics is a popular choice, as bottles take up less space and you do not need any extra equipment. There are no moving parts to deal with, but bottle hydroponics does require frequent maintenance.
As bottle hydroponics do not typically use water pumps, you need to replace the water about once per week. A straw may also be needed to manually blow air bubbles for proper oxygenation.
How to Choose a Hydroponic System
The price may be a primary concern when choosing a hydroponic growing system. Luckily, most of the systems discussed are available to fit any budget. Other considerations include the types and number of plants you want to grow.
If you just want to grow a few herbs, you can start with one of the basic countertop hydroponic grow systems. If you want to grow enough veggies to feed a family throughout the year, you will require one of the larger setups with space for taller, fuller plants.
After you consider your budget and the types of plants you want to grow, think about your experience level, available space, temperature, and the needs of your plants. Here’s what you should know to make the right choice.
Your Experience Level
If you are new to hydroponics and indoor grow systems, you should start with a simple system. A large-scale commercial hydroponic growing system includes a lot of components and requires frequent monitoring of nutrient levels. Any mistakes could result in dead plants.
Luckily, several of our hydroponics system recommendations are incredibly easy to use. The compact indoor kits, such as the AeroGarden or the Farmstand, allow anyone to start growing.
Think about where you plan on setting up the hydroponic system. If you only have a little bit of space on a counter or desk, consider using a compact hydroponic kit.
For those with more space, you may set up a larger system. Hydroponic systems can be set up in areas measuring a few feet wide and deep or covering an entire basement.
The Ideal Temperature
The ideal water temperature for a hydroponics growing system is between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not typically a problem for in-home systems, as the temperature in most homes is within the same range.
Yet, if you plan on placing the system in your basement, or if you live in a cold region, you may need to use a water heater to maintain the best temperature.
Substrates and Nutrients Required
Hydroponic systems require substrate to hold the plants. Most in-home systems use a type of soilless substrate, such as coco coir, peat moss, organic sponges, or perlite.
A liquid fertilizer is added to the water to supply the roots with nutrients. If you want a simple setup, consider using a countertop system that comes with a bottle of plant food and coir plugs for germinating the seeds.
If you are the type of person who tends to lose interest in projects over time, choose a hydroponic system that requires minimal maintenance.
You typically need to clean out the entire system at least once a month to remove calcium and iron buildup. Small units may only need an occasional wiping with a damp rag and a thorough cleaning between crops.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hydroponics?
There are several things you need to consider before thinking about setting up an entire solution of your own or choosing from one of the best hydroponic systems above.
- Plants grow faster compared to growing in soil, as the roots uptake more nutrients
- A hydroponics growing system reduces the need to deal with pests that live inside soil
- You can grow more plants in less space using a hydroponic system
- You can grow plants indoors year-round in almost any environment
- Setting up a hydroponic system often involves higher upfront costs
- Hydroponic systems tend to require more maintenance compared to outdoor gardening
- First-time growers often find that hydroponics involves a steeper learning curve
- Plant disease and parasites can quickly spread from one plant to all others in the system
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions that people have.
What Types of Plants Can You Grow with Hydroponics?
Countertop hydroponics kits are often used for growing common kitchen herbs, such as cilantro, oregano, parsley, and basil. Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, are also good for first-time growers. With experience, almost anything you grow outdoors can be grown indoors with a hydroponic system.
What’s the Best Hydroponics System for Beginners?
A compact all-in-one countertop hydroponics system is the best choice for beginners. The AeroGarden Harvest is a common recommendation. You simply add water, seeds, and plant food. LED indicators let you know when the system needs more water or plant food.
What’s the Best Commercial Hydroponic System?
The drip system and the deep-water culture (DWC) method are two of the most used hydroponic systems for commercial applications. These methods often involve lower costs and less frequent maintenance, making them well-suited for large-scale growing.
What Is the Most Popular Hydroponic Method?
The drip system stands out as the most popular commercial hydroponics method due to its efficiency. It tends to cost less and involves less work compared to most other hydroponics approaches. The setup includes fewer components, which means there are fewer things that can go wrong. However, the aeroponic method is commonly used for in-home kits.
How Do You Aerate Hydroponics?
Aeration is required to provide oxygen to the roots. The easiest method for aeration is to suspend the plants above the nutrient solution to prevent the roots from sitting in water. Air stone and air diffusers may also be used to aerate hydroponic systems. An air stone and diffuser release bubbles in the water to supply oxygen.
Do I Need to Test the pH of My Nutrient Solution?
Monitoring the water culture is necessary for maintaining a healthy environment for the roots. A high pH level means that the water is more alkaline, which reduces nutrient uptake. A low pH level can also inhibit growth. The ideal pH level for a nutrient solution is between 5 and 6.
How Do I Adjust the pH in My Hydroponic System?
Test the pH level after adding the hydroponic nutrients. Adding one teaspoon of baking soda per five gallons of liquid can help raise the pH level. A small amount of white vinegar or citric acid can help lower the pH level.
Along with household items, you can buy commercial products designed specifically for raising or lowering pH levels.
Do I Need to Clean My Hydroponics System?
Algae, bacteria, and calcium buildup can accumulate around nozzles, filters, and pumps. You should change out the water or flush the nutrient solution about every 7 to 10 days. You may also need to clean or replace nozzles and filters.
Are Indoor Hydroponic Gardens Worth it?
Indoor hydroponic gardens are worth it for those without the space or interest in growing plants outdoors. You can grow almost anything using a hydroponic system. Small countertop hydroponic systems are affordable and easy to use. A large-scale drip system is cost-efficient but requires more experience and space.
While all these systems are fantastic, the truth is none of them will fully accommodate your needs at your home. Everyone’s garden is a separate biosphere, and the best we can do is to adjust it to suit the plant's needs best we can.
The most comprehensive route would be to build your own system. First, you would decide what crop you wanted to grow it in first, then construct the system to meet its needs.
But if you can’t DIY, these pre-built systems will help you get a head start. If you need to tailor your set, go with a brand that offers a wide variety of products to help you create the perfect system.
But if all of these systems are too complex, you can always start with a Kratky Method, which only needs a net pot and reservoir. There are loads of Kratky potting solutions on Amazon as well.
And when selecting a Kratky attachment, make sure it is as long as possible to allow the roots to take.
But as always, it is totally up to you to make a choice about what system suits you best.