What is Deep Water Culture? A Practical Breakdown

Deep Water Culture

It is a hydroponic system of growing plants, which is very easy to assemble and manage. Plants’ roots are dipped in a solution containing oxygen-rich nutrients. The more nutrients you have, the more stability you create for your plants’ growth. This means reduced monitoring, giving you time to focus on other things.

In most cases, the solution is kept aerated using stones and an air pump. The air pump directs the oxygen into the reservoir through the stones. This is done consistently without ceasing. This process makes the plants absorb sufficient oxygen and nutrients, leading to fast and productive plant growth.


DWC roots
Deep Water Culture roots, Source


How does Deep Water Culture work?


Scientists discovered many decades ago that plants only used the soil as an anchor. This meant that if you could stabilize the plant, there was no need for the soil to be used. And so the idea was born – The Deep Water Culture Method. You only need to ensure a sufficient supply of nutrients and oxygen to the plants.

This consistent supply of oxygen and nutrients ensures a fast growth rate, as the pots hold the suspended plants. The more oxygen and nutrients these plants absorb, the more efficient their growth is. This leads to quick and abundant harvests.

Deep Water Culture Styrofoam
Deep Water Culture Styrofoam, Source




What are the different Deep water culture system setups?


Standard (Traditional) Deep Water Culture (DWC) method

Medium size DWC system
Medium size Deep Water Culture system, Source


This method is achieved in a few easy steps.

  • Connect the tubing to the pump.
  • Attach the air-stone to the tubing.
  • Place the air-stone in the container/pot.
  • Fill the container with a suitable solution.
  • Start the seeds.

The seeds will germinate, and the roots will hit the solution. If you set everything right, there will be quick growth, and you’ll notice how efficient this method is compared to growing your seeds in the soil.



Kratky Method

Kratky System
Kratky System, Source


Use this method if you do not want to invest so much in the setup. The method resembles a standard Deep Water Culture (DWC) system but lacks air stones and an air pump. The nutrient solution remains untouched all through the growing period. This results in the water level dropping in the reservoir as the plants grow. This forms an air space in the area around the roots, giving them access to more oxygen, as the root tips are still dipped in the solution.

By the time the solution is completely used, the plants are always ready for harvesting.



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Recirculating Deep Water Culture (DWC)

Recirculate Deep-Water-Culture,
Recirculate Deep-Water-Culture,


In this method, multiple containers are connected to the main reservoir. The reservoir supplies the nutrient solution across the containers. The water moves from container to container through spray nozzles. The force of the water agitates the water, hence oxygenating it.


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Buckets Prepped for Bubbleponics
Buckets Prepped for Bubbleponics, Source


This method is more like the standard or traditional Deep Water Culture (DWC) system – only that instead of waiting for the seedlings to germinate and the roots to hit the solution, the nutrient solution is top-fed for a few weeks.

This modification speeds up the growth process, leading to a faster harvest. A water pump is added to the drip system, with drip lines going to the containers that have the plants.


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What are the Deep Water Culture’s Pros and Cons?


Here are the Pros and Cons of using a Deep Water Culture (DWC) system.



  • Plants grow very fast, leading to quick harvests. This is due to having their roots in contact with sufficient nutrients and oxygen.
  • There is minimal risk of plant diseases.
  • It is cost-efficient. You can set up a Deep Water Culture (DWC) system with a minimal budget. There is also no need for much fertilizer.
  • It is straightforward to assemble.



  • You may require high manual labor when creating large Deep Water Culture (DWC) setups.
  • For small systems, you can easily under or over calibrate.
  • PH, nutrients concentration, and the water level may keep fluctuating. You have to keep checking regularly.



What Grows Best with Deep Water Culture?

Some plants do extremely well in Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems, while others don’t. Here are a couple of factors to consider before setting up your Deep Water Culture (DWC) system.


Factors to consider when choosing Deep Water Culture Plants


Size and Weight

Small and medium-sized plants such as lettuce do extremely well in Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems. Without enough anchoring, large and heavy plants can easily break their stems and fall.

Water-loving plants

Plants that grow in dry areas such as rosemary don’t do well in Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems. On the other hand, very thirsty plants, e.g. lettuces, do very well. 

Space and landscape

Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems are too heavy and sometimes consume a lot of space. They also need to be placed on a horizontal plane to utilize supplied water and nutrients. Examine your area to know if it’s best suited for this method.


Hybrid plants tend to do well in Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems compared to traditional selectively bred plants.


4 best plants to grow in Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems.



  • Growth period:  Approximately 30 days
  • pH: 6 – 7
  • Options:  Boston, Iceberg, Bibb, Romaine, Buttercrunch

Bell Peppers

  • Growth period:  Approximately 100 days
  • pH: 6 – 6.5
  • Options: California Wonder, Yolo Wonder, Ace, Vidi


  • Growth period:  Approximately 45 days
  • pH: 6 – 8
  • Options:  Bloomsdale, Smooth Leafed, Catalina, Savoy, Regiment


  • Growth period:  Approximately two months
  • pH: 5.5 – 6.5
  • Options: Chandler, Red Gauntlet, Tioga, Douglass, Brighton



How Should you Maintain/ and Clean Deep Water Culture Systems?

The health of plants and everyone involved is critical. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain the best operational levels for your Deep Water Culture (DWC) system. Here are some measurements that you can take to ensure this.



The Growing medium

For recirculating deep water culture systems, the growing medium should be inert. You can shade the surface to prevent algae from growing excessively. Besides, you can use mechanical filtration such as mesh to prevent algae from entering the reservoir.



Water Variation

Depending on where you get your irrigation water from, it may affect the plants’ ability to absorb nutrients. For example, tap water may have a high concentration of calcium, limiting the plants’ to absorb other ions.



It is important to clean all parts of the system, including water filters. The wastewater should then be disposed of efficiently. You can dispose of the water through floor drains or manually using buckets. This water can then be recycled, e.g., in a garden.

Once this is done, it is recommendable to clean, rinse and disinfect all the parts such as pumps, reservoir, and hoses. Finally, mix a fresh nutrient solution.


Maintenance of the reservoir

It would be best if you were keen to block light from the reservoir to reduce algae growth. Mechanical filtration cannot control pathogens. Therefore, you must install biological filters such as slow-sand-filtration


Electrical Conductivity (EC) and pH  status

Use an EC and pH meter to manage the nutrient solution and monitor the changes. Ensure that the pH is between 3.0 and 6.0 for best results.

Add acids to lower the pH and Alkaline solutions to increase the pH. You can increase the EC by topping off with nutrients and decrease it by topping the solution with plain water.

For water temperature, you should maintain it in the range of 65°F -72°F. These conditions allow optimal oxygen absorption and prevent any growth of pathogens.


Final Thoughts: Deep Water Culture Systems

Deep Water Culture is a straightforward yet very effective method of growing plants. Deep Water Culture systems are easy to assemble and maintain, yet they support a large variety of plants that can be grown.  These benefits make Deep Water Culture a prevalent method of growing plants. If you’re into growing plants, you need to give this method a try. As the saying goes, it is never too late to start something.



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I'm Dani, I come from a long history of migrant farmers. In high school I wrote a paper about how my father brought us over the Texas border to give us a better life. During college, I worked part time with him in the farming industry. After receiving a degree in Urbanism from Columbia University, I started to realize how important the role of the food chain was to urban inner cities. I began studying different types of Indoor and vertical faming solutions. I started designing and building my own hydroponic systems and have never looked back.