There are a lot of options out there when it comes to maintaining an indoor garden. A hydroponic system is definitely a great way to go, but how do you know which system will work best for your grow tent or grow room?
The truth is, it can be pretty time-consuming trying to do research so you can find the perfect hydro system for your growing needs. That’s why we’re here to lend a helping hand!
Table of Contents
- What Is an Ebb and Flow System?
- What Is a Deep Water Culture (DWC) System?
- Advantages of Each Hydroponic System
- Comparing Ebb and Flow and DWC Systems: A Point-by-Point Breakdown
- The Best Hydroponic System For You: Ebb and Flow vs. DWC
Below, we’ll look at two different types of hydroponic systems: ebb and flow and deep water culture (DWC). Here we’ll compare the advantages of each to help you determine which one is the best fit for your indoor garden.
An ebb and flow hydroponic system, such as the Greentree Hydroponics Ebb and Flow System, involves flooding and draining your plants with a nutrient solution — just like the “ebb and flow” of the sea tide.
To use an ebb and flow system, you need two containers:
- Growing Tray — This is where you’ll place your plants, seedlings, or seeds.
- Reservoir — This is where the nutrient solution that’s going to feed your plants is held.
An ebb and flow system also includes a water pump and an overflow regulator, and the process is carried out automatically using a timer. Here’s how the process works:
The growing tray is situated above the reservoir that holds the nutrient solution for your plants, and the pump goes from the reservoir to the tray, pumping the solution into the tray when it’s time for your plants to be flooded.
- Note: The timer that comes with an ebb and flow system will make sure your plants are flooded at the right time, which will be based on a cyclic schedule. The exact schedule depends on your plants and the environment of your grow room.
- The nutrient solution will fill the growing tray until it reaches the top of the overflow regulator, which will ensure that the plants are not fully submerged in water. This will prevent oxygen from being depleted.
After your plants’ grow medium absorbs the amount of solution it needs to get the proper nutrients, the water will then drain out through the overflow regulator and back into the reservoir. This will allow the roots to dry out and aerate. However, a thin film of moisture will remain around the roots to keep them hydrated.
- Allowing roots to dry out rather than being permanently submerged in water will protect them from pathogens that can lead to disease.
Ebb and flow hydroponics is a fairly simple, cost-efficient process. It’s a great option for any plants that need to experience a dry environment at times.
A deep water culture hydroponic system like the Root Spa System is made up of a reservoir — which is typically about 8 to 10 inches deep, depending on the size of your plants, and holds most of the nutrient solution — and connected buckets that the solution circulates through. A DWC system also includes a pump, but rather than using a water pump like the ebb and flow system, it uses an air pump. Here’s how DWC systems work:
- The air pump distributes oxygen into your plants’ nutrient solution, which their roots will be completely submerged in.
- The plants are suspended over the solution, held in place by styrofoam or plastic. This is sometimes called a raft system, because the plants float on top of the water like a raft would.
- The buckets are filled with growing medium (typically rockwool, coco fiber, or hydroton) and the plants are situated inside.
- These buckets are topped with pot lids that the roots of your plants grow through and contain what are called air stones, which help to properly oxygenate the roots.
- Unlike the ebb and flow system, in which plants are only momentarily submerged in water, plant roots in a deep water culture system are submerged in the nutrient solution for their entire lifetime.
- Plants receive oxygen through the system’s air pumps. This oxygen intake helps the plants get more nutrients out of the solution their roots are submerged in so that they can grow healthily.
Both ebb and flow and deep water culture hydroponic systems are great for indoor growing and offer unique advantages. The best one for you to use will come down to factors like the environment of your grow room and the types of plants you want to grow.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of each hydroponic system that you should consider when you’re trying to choose between the two.
Pros of Ebb and Flow
An ebb and flow hydroponic system is pretty simple to use and fairly beginner-friendly. It’s easy to set up, thanks to the fact that it doesn’t require many parts to get the job done. It’s also very easy to maintain — the timer does practically all of the work!
Plus, the ebb and flow system is flexible: It can work with any type of grow medium you choose, and it can be as simple or complex as you’d like it to be. It’s also economical due to the fact that your nutrient solution will be reused continuously.
Ebb and flow is especially ideal for plants that have a low tolerance for water exposure since it allows the roots to dry out for a period of time. This helps with root expansion as the roots will be seeking out water that they aren’t continuously exposed to — so this system is also a good option if you’re looking to allow larger root systems to form so that your plants can absorb more nutrients.
Ebb and flow hydroponic systems can also promote larger yields. Strawberries, tomatoes, beans, spinach, and carrots are all likely to do well in an ebb and flow system, and it’s a good option for any sort of organic plants. Plus, it’s fairly cost effective!
Pros of DWC
Since deep water culture systems involve submerging plant roots in water for their entire life cycle, it’s perfect for plants that grow quickly and love water.
If you plan on growing lots of greens like lettuce or cabbage, DWC can be an ideal system for your grow room. It’s also perfect for small grow rooms if you’re tight on space since it’s a pretty adaptable and compact system — this is also why it’s super flexible for plant sites of all different sizes.
If you’re only planning on growing a few types of plants but want them to have large yields, DWC is probably your best bet. Plus, it’s great for the environment (and your bills) since it reuses water.
One of the biggest benefits is how beginner-friendly this system is — not only is it super cost-effective, but it’s also really simple to build and use. In fact, it’s often the system of choice for teachers to use in their classrooms when they teach students about hydroponics. It’s also perfect for small organic growers.
Now that you know what ebb and flow and DWC hydroponic systems are, as well as the advantages they both offer, you may still be wondering exactly what makes them different.
While both hydroponic systems can have fairly similar advantages, there are subtleties that differentiate the type of grow rooms they are best suited for, as well as the results you’ll get from each. The best grow system for your personal grow room will depend on exactly what types of results you’re looking for and what your priorities are.
Below, we’ll compare two hydroponic systems using some of the factors you should consider when choosing between ebb and flow and DWC hydroponics. The two systems we’ll be comparing are:
- Better plant growth
- Larger root systems
- Easier to feed and change out water
- Easier to expand and reduce sites
- Flexible (works with any medium)
- More difficult to set up
- Higher potential to waste water
- Takes up more space
Root Spa 5 Gal 8 DWC Bucket System (Price: $199.95)
- Saves more water
- Easier to set up
- Takes up less space (perfect for small grow rooms)
- Smaller plants
- Harder to feed and change out water
- Harder to expand and reduce sites
Now that you have a general idea of what both ebb and flow and deep water culture hydroponic systems have to offer, let's dive deeper so that you can make the most informed decision when making a selection.
1. Plant Growth (Advantage: Greentree Hydroponics Ebb and Flow System)
Obviously both of these systems are fantastic at growing plants — that’s exactly what they were specifically designed to do, and they both do a great job of it! That said, an ebb and flow system will ultimately allow for larger root networks.
Unlike a DWC system, an ebb and flow system allows the roots to go through periods of dryness in which they are not submerged in water. This causes the plants’ root systems to expand in search of more water and nutrients.
In the case of both systems, plant size does hinge on the size of the buckets you’re using. A larger bucket means more room for roots and therefore a larger plant. But in buckets of the same size, an ebb and flow system will allow your plants to grow larger than a DWC system will every time.
2. Water Usage (Advantage: Root Spa DWC System)
If saving water is a big priority for you, you’ll probably want to consider using a DWC system. While both systems allow you to reuse your water and nutrient solution, a DWC system will be slightly more economical when it comes to water usage.
This is because while an ebb and flow system holds water in a large, 60-gallon reservoir, the DWC system requires 8 individual 5-gallon buckets, which is equal to a total of 40 gallons. A larger reservoir means more potential water and nutrients wasted.
Since a DWC uses limited modular pots with water in them, it will waste at least 20 gallons less than an ebb and flow system.
3. Ease of Feeding and Changing Out Water (Advantage: Greentree Hydroponics Ebb and Flow System)
The ebb and flow system is the winner when it comes to this feeding your plants and changing water. This is due to the fact that ebb and flow systems only involve filling and draining a single reservoir.
Even though it contains more water than a DWC system, it’s a lot easier to maintain 1 reservoir than it is to fill and drain 8 separate buckets. Even more importantly, DWCs are in constant danger of root and plant damage in the periods between feedings due to the fact that your plants sit in damp buckets with little to no nutrition or oxygen circulation.
While plants grown in ebb and flow systems also go long periods without water or nutrition, they’re better equipped to survive these periods between feedings because the system trains them that way.
4. Ease of Setup (Advantage: Root Spa DWC System)
While both ebb and flow and DWC hydroponic systems are fairly simple and beginner-friendly, if you’re looking to take the absolute easiest route, a deep water culture system is the way to go.
Ebb and flow systems require you to size thick, heavy-duty lengths of hose that can be a lot tougher to size than the thinner ones required by DWCs. Plus, DWCs have less components involved overall, and setup is typically a breeze: Just connect the bubbler to the buckets and fill the buckets with your medium and water. It’s as simple as that!
Meanwhile, ebb and flow hydro systems involve connecting multiple hoses to each bucket and to a controller, which itself connects to the reservoir. This is a more involved, more time-consuming process — plus, it takes up a lot more space than a DWC does.
5. Ease of Expansion (Advantage: Greentree Hydroponics Ebb and Flow System)
When it comes to changing the number of sites you’re working with (whether that’s expanding or limiting them), both ebb and flow and DWC systems will pose unique challenges.
To expand a DWC system, you’ll typically have to swap out the bubbler and controller in order to suit the number of sites you’re switching to. Meanwhile, ebb and flow systems will require you to add a length of hose and a new bucket in order to expand your number of sites. This is pretty simple, but it’s worth noting that if you add more sites to an ebb and flow system, you’ll also need a stronger controller.
Ebb and flow is ultimately the simpler option.
You should have a pretty good idea of how ebb and flow and DWC hydroponic systems work, as well as their distinct advantages. Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing between an ebb and flow and DWC system. Both of these hydroponic systems are great options for anyone looking to use hydro in their grow tent or grow room.
- If you want a system that will give you a large number of strong plants and is easily customizable, the Greentree Hydroponic 12 Site Ebb and Flow is the way to go.
- If you want something that’s super easy to set up and manage, and that also lets you save water, the Root Spa 8 Site DWC System is your best bet!
If you're not looking to grow too many plants, or your grow room doesn't have the space for a lot of plants, there are still some good options for you. And the best thing is, even if you go smaller, you'll still get all the benefits of either ebb and flow or deep water culture hydroponics. We recommend the following:
- Greentree Hydroponics Multi Flow 6 Site Ebb and Flow Hydroponic System (Price: $529.95)
- Root Spa 5 Gal 4 DWC Bucket System (Price: $119.95)
Now that you know more about both types of systems, all that’s left is for you to make a decision and start growing with either an ebb and flow or DWC hydroponic system!