Deep Water Culture For Plants: How To Build A Deep Water Culture System


Have you heard about deep water culture for plants? It’s also referred to as hydroponics. Maybe you have a gist of what it is and how it can be used but really, what is deep water hydroponics? Is it possible to build a deep water culture system of your own?

What is Deep Water Hydroponics?

As mentioned, deep water culture for plants (DWC) is also called hydroponics. Simply put, it is a method for growing plants without a substrate media. The roots of the plants are encased in a net pot or grow cup that is suspended from a lid with roots dangling in a liquid nutrient solutions.

The deep water culture nutrients are high in oxygen, but how? Oxygen is pumped into the reservoir through an air pump and then pushed through an air stone. The oxygen allows the plant to uptake the maximum amount of nutrition, resulting in accelerated, prolific plant growth.

The air pump is crucial to the entire process. It must be on 24 hours a day or the roots will suffer. Once the plant has established a robust root system, the amount of water is lowered in the reservoir, often a bucket.

Advantages of Deep Water Culture for Plants

The upside to DWC, as mentioned, is the accelerated growth resulting from superior uptake of nutrients and oxygen. Aerating the roots improves water absorption as well resulting in improved cell growth within the plants. Also, there is no need for much fertilizer because the plants are suspended in the deep water culture nutrients.

Lastly, DWC hydroponics systems are simple in their design and require little maintenance. There are no nozzles, feeder lines or water pumps to clog. Interested? Then I bet you wonder if you could build a deep water culture system of your own.

Disadvantages of Deep Water Culture

Before we look at a DIY hydroponic deep water culture system, we should consider the disadvantages. First of all, the water temperature is difficult to maintain if you are using a non-recirculating DWC system; the water tends to get too hot.

Also, if the air pump goes kaput, there is a very small window for replacing it. If left without a viable air pump for too long, the plants will rapidly decline.

The pH and nutrient levels can vary a great deal. Therefore, in multiple bucket systems, each must be tested individually. All in all though, the benefits greatly outweigh any negative factors and, really, any type of gardening requires maintenance.

DIY Hydroponic Deep Water Culture

A DIY hydroponic DWC is very easy to design. All you need is a 3 ½ gallon (13 l.) bucket, 10-inch (25 cm.) net pot, an air pump, air tubing, an air stone, some rockwool, and some expanding clay growing medium or the growing media of your choice. All of this can be found at the local hydroponics or gardening supply store or online.

Begin by filling the reservoir (bucket) with hydroponic nutrient solution at a level that is just above the base of the net pot. Connect the air tubing to the air stone and place it in the bucket. Place your plant with visible roots growing out of the rockwool into the reservoir. Surround the plant with either your choice of growing medium or the aforementioned expanded clay pellets. Turn on the air pump.

Initially, when the plant is still young, the rockwool needs to be in contact with the nutrient solution so it can wick the nutrients and water up to the plant. As the plant matures, the root system will grow and the level of the nutrient solution can be reduced.

Every 1-2 weeks, remove the plant from the bucket and replace and refresh the hydroponic nutrient solution, then place the plant back in the bucket. You can add more buckets to the system, ergo more plants. If you add many buckets, you may need to add or upgrade the air pump.


Deep Water Culture (DWC) Nutrients Guide: A Detailed Look

Deep Water Culture (DWC) is a form of hydroponics where plant roots are completely submerged in a highly oxygenated, sanitary, nutrient solution reservoir.

Table of Contents:

These systems are one of the many hydroponic techniques that utilize an air pump to circulate nutrient solution mixture to plant roots.

An airline is connected to the pump and the plant roots are usually nested in a netted pot.

Hydroponic systems can vary drastically:

TechniqueDifficultyAverage PriceOverall Score
1. Aeroponics2/10$98%
2. Deep Water Culture4/10$93%
3. Drip6/10$$91%
4. Ebb & Flow8/10$93%
5. Nutrient Film8/10$$90%
  1. Aeroponics utilizes either a sprayer or fogger to provide suspended plant roots a constant supply of tiny nutrient solution water droplets that range from 5 – 100 microns in average size.
  2. Deep Water Culture – the topic of this article – utilizes an air pump and an airline to distribute nutrient solution to submerged plant roots.
  3. DripHydroponicsystems utilize an airline and an air pump to distribute nutrient solution to plant roots from above.
  4. Ebb and Flow systems use an air pump to direct a consistent flow of nutrient solution to plant roots.
  5. Nutrient Film Technique uses an air pump and a solution tank to recycle nutrient solution to plant roots continuously.

For a detailed look at these systems, check out our comprehensive guide to the best hydroponic systems.

Because hydroponic systems differ so drastically in how they deliver and dispense nutrients to plant roots, it makes sense that nutrient solution requirements also differ between systems.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that these differences aren’t massive – in fact, there is a lot of overlap, after all, hydroponics is simply growing plants with nutrient solution as opposed to soil – but finding the optimal nutrient solution for your hydroponic system should be a top priority.

So, with that being said, let’s take a detailed look at the best nutrient solutions for Deep Water Culture systems. We’ll also touch on growing media, electrical conductivity rating, and pH measurements.


What Is Hydroponics?

Before we get started, let’s actually define what we are talking about here …

What is hydroponic farming anyways?

Wikipedia actually has the perfect definition because it’s so simple:

“Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture and is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral solution only, or in an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel. The nutrients in hydroponics can be from fish waste, normal nutrients, or duck manure.”

So basically, we’re looking to grow plants without actually having to plant them in the ground. That means we can grow them indoors if we choose!

Eljay from the YouTube series “How To Hydro” has a great explanation for why we want to do indoor gardening. He says, “Indoor growing is all about creating perfect Sundays, every day, for all your plants”:


Types of Hydroponic Systems

There are six main types of hydroponic systems to choose from:

  • Wick Systems
  • Deep Water Culture (DWC)
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT).
  • Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
  • Aeroponics
  • Drip Systems

Wicking Systems

A wicking system is the most basic type of hydro system you can build. It’s been used for thousands of years, though it wasn’t considered a hydroponic system back then.

The inner workings of the wick system. source

It’s what’s known as passive hydroponics, meaning that you don’t need any air pumps or water pumps to use it.

Nutrients and water are moved into a plant’s root zone via a wick, which is often something as simple as a rope or piece of felt.

One key to success with a wicking system is to use a growing media that transports water and nutrients well. Good choices include coconut coir, perlite, or vermiculite.

Wick systems are good for smaller plants that don’t use up a lot of water or nutrients. Larger plants may have a hard time getting enough of either via a simple wick system.

Benefits of Wick Systems

  • Truly “hands off” if you set it up correctly
  • Fantastic for small plants, beginner gardeners, and children

Downsides of Wick Systems

  • Not good for larger plants
  • Incorrect wick placement or material can mean death for your plants

To learn even more, learn how to build a two liter bottle garden or watch my video tutorial:

Deep Water Culture (DWC) Systems

Deep water culture, which I will refer to as DWC from here on out, is hands-down the easiest type of hydro system to use.​

How a Deep Water Culture (DWC) system works.

In a DWC system, you use a reservoir to hold a nutrient solution. The roots of your plants are suspended in that solution so they get a constant supply of water, oxygen, and nutrients.

To oxygenate the water, you use an air pump with an air stone to pump bubbles into the nutrient solution. This prevents your roots from drowning in the water — a weird thing to think about, but it can (and does) happen to many beginner hydroponic gardeners.

Your plants are typically housed in net pots that are placed in a foam board or into the top of the container that you’re using for your reservoir. With some hydroponic growing media added into your net pots, they provide a home for the very beginning of your root system and plant stems.​​

Benefits of Deep Water Culture

  • Very inexpensive and easy to make at home
  • Extremely low-maintenance
  • Recirculating, so less wasted inputs

Downsides of Deep Water Culture

  • Does not work well for large plants
  • Does not work well for plants with long growing period

To learn even more:

  • Check out the in-depth deep water culture guide or watch my video tutorial:
  • Check out my video tutorial below:

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Systems

The Nutrient Film Technique, which I will refer to as NFT, is a popular commercial hydroponic system.​

The simplest way to set up a NFT system.

Plants are grown in channels that have a nutrient solution pumping through them and constantly running along the bottom of the channel. When the solution reaches the end of the channel, it drops back into a main reservoir and is sent back to the beginning of the system again. This makes it a recirculating system, just like deep water culture.

Unlike deep water culture, your plants roots are not completely submerged in a NFT system — hence the “film” part of the system’s name.

Plants are placed in these channels using net pots and growing medium and can be replaced or harvested on a one-by-one basis. ​

Benefits of Nutrient Film Technique

  • Minimal growing medium needed
  • Recirculating system means less waste

Downsides of Nutrient Film Technique

  • Pump failure of any kind can completely ruin your crop
  • Roots can become overgrown and clog the channels

To learn more, check out my in-depth nutrient film technique guide or watch my video tutorial:

Ebb and Flow / Flood and Drain Systems

Ebb and Flow systems, which are also known by the name Flood and Drain, are a less-commonly seen system. But they’re still quite effective and can be the best choice depending on your situation.

An example of a commercial flood and drain system. source

Unlike the previous two hydro systems we have covered, an ebb and flow system does not expose the roots of your plants to nutrient solution on a constant basis.

Instead, you grow in a tray filled with a growing medium. The tray is “flooded” with your nutrient solution a few times per day, depending on factors like:

  • The size of your plants
  • The water requirement of your plants
  • The air temperature
  • Where your plants are in their growth cycle
  • …And many more

Flooding is accomplished by using a reservoir below the tray, a water pump, and a timer to schedule the flooding cycle.

After the tray is flooded, gravity drains the solution back down into the reservoir, where it is being oxygenated by an air pump and air stone. It sits there waiting for the next flood cycle, and the process goes on.

Hydroponic growers choose ebb and flow systems for their flexibility. Most of them will fill the tray with a growing medium of their choice and also add net pots to organize their plants and control the roots a bit more.

Benefits of Ebb and Flow

  • Efficient use of water and energy
  • Highly customizable to your specific needs

Downsides of Ebb and Flow

  • Roots can dry out quickly if environmental conditions are off or the pump or timer fails
  • Uses a lot of growing medium

To learn more, check out my in-depth ebb and flow system guide or watch my video tutorial:

Aeroponics Systems

Aeroponic systems are the most “high-tech” hydroponic setups that you can build. But they’re not that complex once you understand how they work.​

A simple aeroponic system you can build at home.

An aeroponic system is similar to a NFT system in that the roots are mostly suspended in air. The difference is that an aeroponic system achieves this by misting the root zone with a nutrient solution constantly instead of running a thin film of nutrient solution along a channel.

Some growers prefer to mist on a cycle like an ebb and flow system, but the cycle is much shorter, typically only waiting a few minutes between each misting. It’s also possible to mist on a continual basis and use a finer sprayer to ensure more oxygen gets to the root zone.

Aeroponic systems have been shown to grow plants even quicker than some of the simpler systems like deep water culture, but this has not been verified to be true in all cases. If you want to experiment with this system, you will need specialized spray nozzles to atomize the nutrient solution.

Benefits of Aeroponics

  • Roots often are exposed to more oxygen than submerged-root systems

Downsides of Aeroponics

  • High-pressure nozzles can fail and roots can dry out
  • Not as cheap or easy to set up as other methods

To learn more, check out the video tutorial:

Drip Systems

Drip systems are extremely common in commercial operations, but less common in recreational gardens. This is because they’re simple to operate a a large scale, but slightly overkill for a smaller garden. Regardless, they’re a great way to grow hydroponically that you should consider.​

A basic hydroponic drip system.

Benefits of Drip Systems

  • High level of control over feeding and watering schedule
  • Less likely to break
  • Relatively cheap

Downsides of Drip Systems

  • May be overkill for a smaller garden
  • Fluctuating pH and nutrient levels (if using recirculating system)
  • High waste (if using waste system)

To learn more, check out the video tutorial:

Well, there you have it. The six major types of hydroponic systems, how they work, and the ups and downs of each one.

No matter which one you choose, your plants will grow fast and big provided you care for them properly. Hydroponics offers amazing flexibility, so even if you’re experiencing some troubles, you should have no problem correcting them and getting your plants back on track.


How to get started

To start your deep water culture system you will need to have about $50 to spend on equipment. This equipment will include a reservoir, which can simply be a plastic tote tub, an air pump, and air stone, tubing for the air pump, hydroton, and net pots. Now, you can use a 5 gallon bucket for your reservoir and you will be fine. The main elements which you cannot skimp on are the hydroton and the net pots.

To set up the system:

1. Connect the air pump to the tubing and then connect the tubing to the airstone. This will ensure that you get the circulation and the aeration of the water done properly.

2. Put your plants into the netpots. It’s easiest to start with aeroponic clones. If you only have seeds, the best medium to get those rooted and into hydro will be to start the seeds in Rock Wool. Once the seed has visibly sprouted you can easily add the seedling’s Rock Wool cube into the Netpot and surround it with Hydroton.

Once the roots start to grow, they will expand into the water and will draw upon the nutrients in the water. Immediately your seedling gets needed nutrients, plenty of water and you will see rapid growth.

3. Keep the roots below water at the seedling stage. So long as the water is above the roots, the plant will survive. Once it’s older and the root mass has developed, it’s okay that the top part of the roots are periodically a few inches above the water.

The roots will simply wick water upwards. Once your plant is in full growth, there will be days that you have rapid water uptake, so it’s important to keep an eye on the reservoir levels.


Making a Homemade Hydroponics System that Works

A homemade hydroponics system does not have to be complicated or expensive to build. Each type of hydroponics system has its own special things you must consider. Before building your own system, you should be familiar with common problems that often trouble various hydroponic systems. Below is a list of systems that are the easiest to put together and that you can still get great results from. These hydroponic system types are.

Once you have a system, check out the sections on hydroponic feeding tips and organic hydroponics for some plant feeding ideas. Or, put together the perfect environment to keep your hydroponic system in at garden design.

The Hand Watering Method

This is the lowest cost, lowest maintenance system. You can fill 50 cent grow bags with a soilless mix (like equal parts vermiculite/perlite/coconut coir) and you are all set to grow.

With this method, it is important to make the medium slow draining . This is accomplished by using the vermiculite and coconut coir, both of which retain water. The goal is to have the bags retain the nutrient solution (and stay moist) for about the same amount of time as a soil mix would. All of this is very easy to accomplish. Simply water every day or two using whatever feeding plan you like.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Also known as the reservoir method, this homemade hydroponics system is also very easy. To duplicate a deep water culture system homemade, all you need is a cheap plastic storage tote, a regular fish aquarium air pump, and a couple of air stones. Alternately, water can be pumped up into pipes or grow tubes above and flow back to the hydroponic reservoir below.

An effort should be made to keep light out of the nutrient solution. This will prevent algae growth, which will prevent the appearance of fungus gnats. Square containers fit together nicely to make the most of your space, and also to block light. As another option, holes can be cut in the lid of the storage tote to accommodate several plant containers, keeping in mind the importance of blocking the light from the nutrient solution.

The Flood and Drain Method(aka ebb and flow)

For a homemade hydroponics flood and drain system, you will need two sturdy plastic storage totes, an aquarium air pump, an aquarium water pump, a timer, a set of flood and drain fittings, and a short length of plastic tubing. The parts are all easy to get, except the flood and drain fittings can be a little tricky to find sometimes. I found an affordable set on Amazon.

First, one tote will be your nutrient reservoir. Pick a dark colored tote to keep light out (this will prevent algae growth). The air pump should go to a couple of air stones, which will be kept bubbling in the nutrient reservoir. The water pump goes there as well.

The other tote will go on top of the nutrient reservoir and hold the plant containers. Somewhere in the bottom of this container (out of the way of the plants) you will cut two 3/4 inch holes and install the flood and drain fitting and the overflow fitting.

Finish it off by running a short piece of tubing from the water pump to the flood and drain fitting (which is the shorter of the two). All you have left to do is plug the water pump into the timer, set your timer for your flood and drain cycle, and fill the nutrient reservoir with about ten gallons.

When the pump kicks on, the top container will fill with water (but never higher than the overflow). When the pump kicks off, the nutrient solution will drain back down the shorter fitting, leaving the plant roots and growing medium wet with nutrient solution.

The flood and drain is the homemade hydroponics system I first started out using. The function of the system is so simple. The results are consistently very good. The system is so easy to put together. there is no reason to ever purchase an expensive hydroponic setup!

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

To build a homemade hydroponics NFT system, you will need plastic gutters, PVC pipe, or any flat container a few inches deep. You will need a cheap plastic tote for a nutrient reservoir, and an air pump to keep it Oxygenated. You will also need a water pump to move the nutrient solution, and some capillary mat.

In this homemade hydroponics example, the gardener uses one line from the pump to feed the top PVC pipe. Gravity then pulls the water back and forth until it is back at the nutrient reservoir.

In this setup, each row is being fed constantly from a line off the pump. Each row drains back into a collection pipe, which drains back to the nutrient reservoir. This setup would require a much stronger water pump, but a low pressure pump could still be used. An affordable version of this system can be made from PVC pipe or fence post.

The key to a successful homemade Nutrient Film Technique system is the capillary mat in the bottom of every gutter, pipe, and tray. Also, make sure to pitch your pipes just a little to keep the water flowing in the right direction.

Homemade Hydroponics Wick System

For this homemade hydroponics setup you will need two cheap storage totes, some square plant containers, and several feet of 1/2 nylon rope. You will also need an air pump to keep the nutrient solution Oxygenated. The hydroponic system above has been fitted with drip emitters for top feeding. With the reservoir positioned directly below the plants, this system could very easily be made into a wick system (or a hybrid system).

One storage tote will become the nutrient reservoir on the bottom. The nutrient reservoir always gets the air stones from the air pump. The top tote will hold the plant containers. 1/2 inch holes are drilled beneath each plant container to allow the nylon rope to hang down into the nutrient solution. Each rope must be long enough to be buried through most of a planting container, yet still be able to hang down into the nutrient solution.

Finally, you want to fill the plant containers with a medium that will pull water from the nylon wick into the plant container. A 50/50 mix of perlite/vermiculite should work well. Perlite and coconut coir would also work well.


DIY Hydroponic Raft System

Hydroponic Raft System is a DIY system that is one of the Deep Water Culture systems available. The plants are suspended from the lid of the container. The container acts as a reservoir. It is easy to assemble and is very compact. It comes with 12 plant spaces.

Price: 2600 INR (incl GST 18%)

Hydroponic Raft System is a type of a Deep Water Culture system in which the plant's roots are suspended in a nutrient rich solution that is continuously bubbled using an Aquarium Air Pump. The DIY kit contains the following

  • A reservoir ( 20 Ltr capacity)
  • Lid with 12 plant spaces ( Holes of 3" dia)
  • Nutrients salts for making upto 100 litres of final solution
  • Jiffy Plugs 15 nos
  • Netpots 15 nos
  • Aquarium pump 1nos
  • Expanded Clay (Leca)
  • Seeds ( 3 packets)
  • Instruction manual

If you follow this step by step guide for setting up raft system, you will get bountiful harvests.

Please download our Installation manual here. For more info check our blog article:

How to grow basil in a Hydroponic Raft system

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Hydroponic Raft System is a DIY system that is one of the Deep Water Culture systems available. The plants are suspended from the lid of the container. The container acts as a reservoir. It is easy to assemble and is very compact. It comes with 12 plant spaces.

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Watch the video: How To Make a Deep Water Culture DWC Hydroponics System: Cannabasics #105


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