My No-Fail Method for Deep Water Culture Hydroponics DIY: A Step-By-Step Tutorial for Growing Greens With No Experience

According to Jeff, “With a bit of patience and the right materials, building your own deep water culture hydroponics system is quite straightforward.” 

Deep water culture hydroponics allows indoor gardeners to grow plants without soil, using a reservoir of nutrient-rich water to suspend roots instead. 

This hydroponic technique mimics the soil environment indoors and makes it possible to cultivate greens year-round in small spaces. 

With the right materials and patience, anyone can try this simple method.

Key Takeaway

  • DWC uses a static nutrient solution so it’s the easiest hydroponic system for beginners to set up. All you need is a reservoir, air pump, and pots for the plants.
  • Building your own DWC system can be done for under $50 using a storage tub, net cups, an air stone, and a basic nutrient formula. Videos online make the assembly process straightforward.
  • With DWC, roots are submerged so it’s ideal for greens that like their roots wet, like lettuce and herbs. Expect multiple harvests per season with minimal effort beyond checking pH and water levels.

What is Deep Water Culture Hydroponics?

Deep water culture hydroponics DIY

Deep Water Culture systems, or DWC systems, is one of the simplest hydroponic systems for growing plants without soil.

It works by suspending the roots of plants in small net pot or cup just above a static reservoir of nutrient-rich water. 

An air pump is also used to oxygenate the water and facilitate healthy root growth.

DWC allows roots stay consistently supplied with water and oxygen while mimicking the natural soil environment (1). This makes it ideal for beginners and a very forgiving technique. 

Only basic materials are needed like the water reservoir, net pots, air pump, air stones, and standard nutrient mix. 

Plants such as lettuces, herbs, and peppers do well with DWC, thriving from the uninterrupted access to water and minerals. 

With just a bit of monitoring, DWC results in fast growth and bountiful harvests even in small spaces.

Choosing the Right DWC System for You

After years of trying different hydroponic systems, I’ve learned that choosing the right Deep Water Culture (DWC) setup is important for success. 

The main DWC options are listed below in a table format along with their key features.

TypeDescriptionGrow MediaWater LevelGrow LightsGrowth Rate
Regular DWCPlants sit in net cups with roots submerged in the nutrient solution. No circulation or aeration of the solution.Roots are suspended directly in the solution.Solution fills the lower portion of the net cup.Provides lighting above the net cups.Slower growth versus systems with water movement.
Kratky MethodSimilar to regular DWC but without water circulation or air stones. Plants rely on dissolved oxygen in the solution.Same net cup setup as regular DWC.Fills the bottom of the net cup.Same lighting as other DWC types.Shortest duration but easy grow method.
RDWCUses an aquarium pump to recirculate and aerate the nutrient solution continuously.Roots remain in net cups with strong water movement.Maintains consistent water level with pump.Lights are typical for indoor DWC grows.Fastest growth period of all options.
BubbleponicsLike RDWC with an air stone bubbling oxygen to roots.Roots suspended in net cups bubbled by the air stone.Water pumps maintain an optimal depth.Needs bright grow lights for best growth.Between regular DWC and RDWC rates.

When choosing a system, consider your grow skill level, maintenance requirements, and grow duration goals. 

All DWC styles are inexpensive and effective grow sites for vegetables, herbs and more. With the right equipment like air stones, a water pump can make your crop flourish fast! 

Building Your DWC System

Deep water culture hydroponics DIY

Getting started with a DWC hydroponic system is quite simple once you have the right materials. 

DWC hydroponics is known for its fast plant growth rates thanks to an oxygen rich environment underwater. 

Here is a detailed overview of the key items needed along with step-by-step instructions for assembly:

Materials Needed

Water reservoirA plastic storage bin, tote, or bucket to hold the nutrient solution.
DWC net potsNetted plastic cups that suspend plant roots in the solution.
Growing mediumExpanded clay pebbles (LECA) or rockwool to support plants in net pots.
Air pumpAdds oxygen to solution for healthy root growth.
Air tubingTransports air from pump to solution.
Air stoneporous stone attached to tubing releases air bubbles into solution.
Nutrient solutionCommercial formula mixed with water per instructions.

Construction Steps

  1. Make holes in the reservoir lid or use pre-cut net pots for a tight seal.
  2. Place the lid on the clean, empty reservoir.
  3. Fill reservoir with chilled, aerated water and mix in nutrients.
  4. Add growing medium to net pots, packing lightly around edges.
  5. Remove seedlings from propagators and place in net pots carefully.
  6. Position air stone near bottom and run tubing from it to air pump.
  7. Monitor and maintain solution at an optimal level for roots.

That covers the basics! With simple tools like these, your plants’ roots will thrive underwater in no time. Just be sure to keep nutrients and pH balanced for best results. 

YouTube video

Credit : Hydro How-To

Optimizing Your DWC System

Factors that Influence Growth

LightIntensity and photoperiod affect plant growth.Adjust lighting based on growth stage and plants grown.
TemperaturesPlants thrive within certain warmth parameters.Monitor temperatures – especially at roots.
pHCrucial to nutrient availability and uptake.Adjust the pH of water solution daily.
NutrientsProvide macro/micronutrients for metabolic functions.Add nutrients according to schedule and EC levels.

Troubleshooting Issues

Root rotSoft, slimy roots cause wilting and death.Ensure good aeration and water quality/movement.
Algae growthGreen scum develops easily in still conditions.Add beneficial bacteria or increase water changes.

Maximizing Harvests

  • Pruning off low foliage and branches allows more energy to edible parts.
  • Low-stress training (LST) redirects growth evenly for larger leafy greens yields.
  • Upgrading with oxygenating air stones or an air pump boosts overall growth rates over time.

After trying different DWC systems over the years, I’ve found that optimizing a setup’s conditions is key for maximizing harvests. 

Careful monitoring of factors like light, temperature, pH and nutrients will allow for healthy plants grown to their fullest potential (2). 

By addressing any issues like algae growth or root rot early, your leafy greens and other crops will flourish. 

Implementing techniques such as pruning and LST training directs the plants’ energy upwards. 

With some simple adjustments like modifying water levels or the frequency of pH and nutrient additions, every DWC hydroponic growing system can thrive. 

Whether you’re just starting out or upgrading an established system, I hope these optimization tips help increase your yields. 


How do I create an air gap in my DIY deep water culture system?

A small air gap is necessary in a deep water culture system to keep the plant’s roots above the water and nutrient solution. 

Common ways to create an air gap include using an air hose, air pumps, and aquarium air tubing connected to air pumps which bubble air into the water underneath the grow cups or clay pebbles where the plant’s roots grow.

How do I know if my pH is in the proper range for hydroponics?

Checking the pH is important for hydroponics because most nutrients are only available to plants within a certain pH range, usually between 5.5-6.5 (3). 

A pH meter is an essential DIY tool for deep water culture and other hydroponics systems to measure the pH of the water and nutrient solution. 

Adjusting pH if needed helps ensure the plant roots have access to all the oxygenated nutrient elements they need for healthy growth.

What are some common materials used for grow cups in a DIY DWC system?

Popular grow cup options include net pots, plastic cups with cut air holes, or clay pebbles. Net pots are inexpensive and easy to find. Plastic cups require using a drill bit to cut holes around the sides below the rim. 

Clay pebbles or clay pellets are also common hydroponic grow media and provide stability and structure for plant roots to grow in while suspended in the nutrient solution.

How do I set up an air pump and air tubing for my DIY deep water culture system?

Most DIY DWC setups use an aquarium air pump placed outside the grow area to pump air through air tubing into the bucket or tote holding the water and nutrient solution. 

Air tubing can be connected to air stones, ceramic diffusers, or directly into the solution. It’s important to use check valves in the lines to prevent draining of the reservoir. 

Air pumps should run continuously to oxygenate the rich water solution with air for healthy root mass growth.

What is the best container to use for a DIY DWC reservoir and how large should it be?

Gallon-sized totes or buckets are commonly used as inexpensive reservoirs that can hold enough hydroponic nutrients and water for multiple plants’ root systems.

Five-gallon buckets work well for one or two plants. Larger totes or storage bins can be used for larger scale grows or more plants. 

As long as the container is clean, food-grade plastic, and holds enough water and nutrients for the plants’ long term growth, it will work well as an unpump reservoir in a DIY deep water culture system.

What type of light should I use for a DIY DWC indoor grow area?

Just like soil growing, plants need proper lighting to thrive in a DIY hydroponics system. A variety of grow lights can work depending on the scale and plants being grown. 

Fluorescent shop lights, LED strips, and Full-Spectrum LED grow lights are common options that provide the right mixture of wavelengths for photosynthesis. 

When choosing lighting, consider factors like the number of plants, growth area size, desired light intensity, and photoperiod needed by the types of plants. Proper lighting is important for healthy growth and maximum harvest yields.


In closing, after many seasons of growing greens and veggies through the DWC method, I cannot say enough good things about its ease and effectiveness. 

Though simple in design, this hydroponic system time and again yields lush plants fully utilizing the nutrient water solution. 

For anyone looking to start their journey in indoor gardening or expand their harvests, look no further than a personalized DWC setup.

Whether you decide on the traditional deep water design or one featuring extra oxygenation, the results will surely please. 

And with some diligent care of water levels, pH, and other conditions outlined here, your crops will flourish. 

I’ve found great joy in nurturing new seedlings up from propagators through to ripe foods ready for eating. 

If you too give DWC a try, or have your own successful experiences to share, do not hesitate to leave a comment. I enjoy connecting with fellow hydroponic growers!



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