There are many variations of hydroponic systems that indoor gardeners or “hydro-farmers” can use. Every systems is developed and based upon similar foundational concepts, but still unique in their own ways. This article will provide the most basic breakdown of each type of hydroponic system, and we will also seek to provide a basic understanding of which hydroponic system various plants respond to better.

Ebb & Flow System

The Ebb & Flow system requires a growing medium, also referred to as grow media sometimes, that acts like soil typically would for a plant, offering stability for the plant’s root system. Some popular grow mediums are both Perlite and Rockwool. The grow medium is strictly there for the plants stability, it offers no nutritional value to your plants.

The ebb & flow hydroponics system comes with a tray to hold the medium that your plants will get placed into. Underneath this tray will be a separate compartment or container that will hold your nutrient-rich water solution. This nutrient-water solution will get pumped from the bottom compartment to the top container that holds your plants at varying periods controlled by your pump timer. This mineral solution floods your top tray where your plants reside with plenty of water and nutritious minerals to allow for proper, healthy plant growth. After your plants soak up the water and nutrients, this growing solution will slowly drain back into the lower reservoir which allows your plants to have a ready-made, recycled nutrient rich water solution available for the next timed feeding.

The ebb & flow system is typically the preferred choice for smaller, home hydroponic setups, and provide the best results to small house plants like herbs, small vegetables and flowers.

Top Feed Drip System

The top feed drip technique is a very similar hydroponic system to the ebb & flow system. The main difference is that instead of the water flooding into the root container area of your plants, it runs up through many smaller tubes and drains onto the tops of each individual plant.

This is a great method for growing plants that have not established a strong root system yet, and similar to the flood and drain technique of an ebb & flow system, works best with the small plants such as herbs, vegetables or flowers. Plants like lettuce, basil, or indoor house plants will work fantastic in this style of system.


Aeroponics systems do not require a growing medium for plants to thrive under this hydroponic technique. You will find that most schools and research facilities, places like NASA, will typically operate their gardens using Aeroponics, as it gives the grower the most control of the nutrient-rich water distribution, but it also provides the maximum level of oxygen as water has a ceiling of how much oxygen can be distributed through water. Aeroponics also produces greater yields and uses much less water. research has shown that depending on the aeroponics system, your garden could use 65%-99% less water to grow more nutritious and larger vegetables.

The aeroponic system works by suspending your plants on a tray with the plants root system dangling freely below. Then the whole tray is placed inside of a box that has a minimal amount of your nutrient-rich water solution down at the bottom of the box, but ensuring the plant roots are not immersed in this mineral solution. Just like the other hydroponic growing system, the plant food or nutrient fertilizer that’s mixed in with the water gets pumped to the top of the system where it then sprays a fine mist of nutrient-rich water over the entire plant and root system continuously. This is considered one of the most difficult and time consuming systems to master, however, it is ideal for commercial production and scientific study.

Wick Systems

The wick system is a hydroponics system that will require the use of a grow medium such as Perlite or Rockwool. With this method, your plants are placed into a tray containing the Perlite or Rockwool grow medium. At the base of each of your plants root systems, a nylon rope is positioned stemming down and beyond the bottom area of the tray. This entire tray is then placed above a nutrient-rich water filled reservoir, allowing the nylon ropes to remain dipped in the mineral and water solution. These ropes then wick the water and nutrients up to your plant’s roots for accelerated plant growth.

The wick system is one of the more desirable grow systems because you can avoid the use of pumps and timer completely, thus allowing for lower start up costs. Typically flowers and house plants will thrive using a wick hydroponic system.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The Nutrient Film Technique is a water-based hydroponic system that work without the use of grow mediums or soil. This system will have a sloping type of pipe system, typically some sort of polyethylene chamber, where the water gets pumped to the upper are of the sloping tubes, and then slowly flows past your plants root system on its way down the .5″ – 1″ slope that’s typically used. Along this downward sloping system, you will have your plants such as cucumbers or tomatoes growing at the tops of these polyethylene tubes, and the nutrient-rich water solution flows downward past the plant’s root system, coating the roots with a nutrient-film. This is where we get the term ‘Nutrient Film Technique’.

This technique is a more difficult technique to use and is best used under commercial hydroponic situations. Only plants that already have a large and established root system will thrive under this type of hydroponic system.