What Is The Ebb And Flow Hydroponic System?

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By Jeff Hale

When growing vegetables, herbs, or flowers hydroponically, Ebb and flow is one of the best methods to use.

With this method, you don’t need a lot of space for your plants because it uses recirculating water which means no standing water from overwatering.

It also makes it easier to grow smaller plants since there is less root competition. In this guide, we’ll talk about how to set up an ebb and flow system as well as cost breakdowns so that you can have a successful harvest!

Related: Types of Hydroponic Systems

What is an ebb and flow hydroponics system?

The Ebb and Flow system is a hydroponic method where you grow plants in an inert or growing media, like water.

It requires the use of two containers for your plant’s roots to sit in: one that holds the nutrients (e.g., water) called the flood tank; another that contains just plain water where the plant’s roots are not submerged, called the drain tank.

How does ebb and flow hydroponics work?

It works by filling the flood tank with nutrient water then allowing it to drain out into the other container, where your plant’s roots are.

When this happens, an internal pump is activated which activates a timer that measures how much time has passed before draining occurs again.

Basic components and setup

This system basically runs with two main components. If you get these right, the rest is easy.


The reservoir is where you place the nutrient water for your plant to sit in. It sits underneath the drain tank which is where all of this takes place.

  • Nutrient solution reservoir – It’s important to use a high-quality nutrient-rich solution mixed with distilled water so that your plants have the best chance of survival.
  • Submersible pump – You’ll need to use a robust submersible pump to get the water from one container, up through the tube, and into your plants before draining it back down.
  • Timer – You’ll need a timer that attaches to your external power source so that you can control how long the pump runs before shutting off automatically. Timers are really useful in order to maintain a regular water cycle and prevent overwatering.

That’s the reservoir taken care of, now let’s look at the second most important part.

Grow tray

The grow tray is used to store the plants’ roots. This sits on top of the drain tank and is where your plant’s roots will be while it grows during its life cycle.

  • Container – You can use a variety of different containers for this, but it’s best to find one with a grow tray insert. It’s also important that the container is shallow and wide enough so you have space for your plants’ roots to be throughout their entire life cycle.
  • Tubing – This is the pipe that transports nutrient water from one container to another. It’s perfect for this task because it has a large diameter and is flexible enough so you can easily move around or adjust your system as needed.
  • Overflow tube – This tube is connected to the grow tray and sits at the top of it. It will drain water from your system back into another container or reservoir if you have one, preventing overflow.
  • Growing media – Your plant’s roots will sit in the tray. You’ll need to find growing media that can be reused, like clay pellets or Rockwool cubes.

Advantages and disadvantages with ebb and flow

As with any hydroponics system, there will always be the good and the bad. So let’s break them down:

The advantages

  • Easy to build and use – You can build this system in a matter of minutes and it doesn’t take up much space. It’s also great for beginners since you don’t need to worry about getting confused with wiring or any complicated components.
  • Nutrients are abundant – Perfect for beginners because the nutrient solution reservoir will always be full of nutrients so you can keep your plants alive.
  • Low cost – Very cheap to set up and maintain. You can even make your own parts if needed which will save you money too.

The disadvantages

  • Breaks-downs occur – It relies on the pump working every time you use it. If something happens to this, your plants will die because there won’t be any nutrients in the solution being pumped up from one container to another.
  • Unstable pH levels – pH levels will change a lot when you have two containers being filled and drained in this system. Your plants’ roots are going to be sitting in the nutrient solution for an extended period of time, which means they’ll take up nutrients from it too. This will make your pH level unstable which can affect growth rates and leave your plant’s roots unhealthy.

Different types of Ebb and flow hydroponics

Let’s look at the 5 common types of Ebb and flow:

  • Flood tray design – This design is the most common type of Ebb and flow that you’ll find. It’s great for growing medium-sized plants with large root structures because it has a larger drain tank underneath to hold more water.
  • Containers in series design – This system is similar to the previous one, but instead of having just one container with a growing tray in it, you’ll have two. The first will hold your nutrient solution and provide water for up to 24 hours until it drains into another tank below that holds more nutrients. This means there won’t be any times where plants go without being watered.
  • The overflow tube height system – Here you’ll have one container that holds the nutrient solution and another below it, which will drain into separate tanks. The first tank contains a tray with a grow medium on top of it to hold your plant’s roots in place.
  • The surge tank Ebb & flow – The surge tank holds half of your nutrient solution. The pump will push this up into another container where plants’ roots sit for about 30 seconds before draining back down into the storage tank beneath both containers.
  • The dutch bucket – Made up of two plastic buckets, one with a hole in the bottom which sits inside another one. The bucket that has the water level will sit on top so it can drain back down into the lower container where your plant roots are located.

How much does an ebb and flow hydroponic system cost?

The cost can vary but the average cost for a basic setup is around $100. You can get all of the components you need at your local hydro store, or if that’s not an option for you then online should be just fine too.

It really depends on the quality of the kit you use and how much your budget can stretch. Obviously, it goes without saying that buying quality parts will take you much further.

Is ebb and flow better than DWC?

The ebb and flow system is generally good for the propagation of plants and usually great for beginners. So if you’re just starting out, you should use this method.

However, if you have more time and money to spend, then DWC is also a great way to go.

Conclusion: The important stuff

Start small and build up to growing more plants and maintaining a bigger system. A budget of $100 to $200 will yield you a small crop that can you try your new skills out on.