What 3 Things do You Need For Hydroponics? The Simplest Way To Grow Plants Without Soil

According to Joan Avery, “To start hydroponics, you need a system, growing medium, and easy plants”. But choosing the right combo is crucial, or your crops will fail. 

Starting too ambitious can doom beginners. Here’s how I got my hydroponic garden thriving after some early struggles. What 3 things do you need for hydroponics?

Key Takeaways

To start hydroponics, you need a system like deep water culture or drip irrigation, a growing medium like perlite or coco coir to support plants, and easy crops like lettuce or herbs to begin with. 

Choose Types of Hydroponic Systems

When first exploring hydroponic growing, the array of equipment options can seem daunting. But starting out doesn’t require heavy investment upfront. Focus on a style suiting your gardening goals and available space. 

A popular starter pick is the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). This uses a shallow stream of liquid to nourish plant roots below. It’s simple yet robust when set up properly. Just stay vigilant, since clogged channels risk starving your crops quickly.

Many novice hydroponic gardeners also love Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems. Here, only an air pump and nutrient solution supplies everything your plants need. Roots freely trail into their liquid bath. Ensure vigorous aeration to keep them healthy.  

My personal favorite is the easy-to-build Ebb and Flow systems, also called flood and drain. A timer periodically floods the grow tray with water and nutrients, before draining back into the reservoir. Expect prolific herbs and towering tomato plants!

Unsure which system suits you? First experiment by rooting seeds or cuttings in inert grow rocks like clay pellets. This familiarizes you with hydroponics fundamentals without fully committing just yet. 

Listen to gardening veterans around preferred equipment too. Over time, your own intuition will guide what works best for available space and planting goals. Don’t overcomplicate things starting out!

Select Your Growing Medium

What 3 Things do You Need For Hydroponics?

One of the keys to any hydroponic system is choosing the right growing medium to house your plant’s roots. 

Different mediums each offer pros and cons depending on your crop and preferences. Here are some popular options to consider:

Rockwool Cubes

These compressed rock fibers provide excellent drainage and aeration for roots. Rockwool holds enough water and nutrients to sustain plants between feedings. 

It’s easy to use but can be expensive compared to other options. Many growers use rockwool to start seedlings before transferring to larger pots.

Coconut Coir

Coconut coir or “coir” is a sustainable byproduct of coconut harvesting (1). It holds moisture well while allowing for airflow. 

Coir develops a fuzzier texture than rockwool that some plants seem to prefer. It has antibacterial properties beneficial for root health.


Perlite is a naturally occurring siliceous rock that pops like popcorn when heated. The expanded white rocks provide remarkable aeration between doses of nutrient solution. 

Perlite grows lighter and fluffier than clay gravels. It won’t compact over time like some other mediums.


Mined mineral vermiculite looks like mica flakes that expand like popcorn when heated. Its water-holding pores are ideal for seed-starting and humidifier purposes. 

Vermiculite aids drainage better than soil but not as well as perlite or other options.

Expanded Clay Pebbles

Heated clay pebbles morph into a lightweight porous chunks. They maintain an open, aerating structure longer than coconut coir or soilless mixes tend to. 

Clay pebbles seldom float up like finer mediums can in ebb-and-flow or DWC systems.

With trials, you’ll learn which growing mediums please your favorite plants most. See what root growth thrives by testing various options cup by cup. Happy growing!

Pick Beginner Friendly Plants

Transitioning into hydroponic growing doesn’t need to be intimidating. Start with these productive plants while getting the hang of maintaining your new hydroponics system at home.


Buttercrunch and leaf lettuces thrive with their roots soaking up nutrients from the water reservoir below. 

The quick 30-45 day harvest window makes lettuce extremely gratifying for beginner hydroponic gardeners (2). 

As gardening Terry Lopez describes, “Lettuce is my number one recommendation for those dipping a toe into hydroponics. It practically grows itself, and you’ll love snacking on the crispy leaves.”


Classic herbs like basil, oregano, cilantro yield abundant leaves. Pinch off what you need for cooking, and they keep producing more. Herbs grow happily in smaller DIY hydroponic setups. 

Industry expert Amanda Sims, who runs a nursery specializing in hydroponic systems, says “I particularly love growing herbs like mint hydroponically. 

Their thirsty roots access constant moisture, unlike in garden beds where mint notoriously spreads invasively.”  

Kale & Chard

These superfood greens thrive with consistent moisture and nutrients provided in home hydroponics gardens. 

Kale fills out quick and chard produces weeks of rainbow-hued stems and leaves. They handle beginner mistakes with resilience.


Let strawberry runners send out daughter plants in an ebb and flow or wick system. Guide the vine growth for bountiful berries. 

Garden expert Lily Chen recommends, “Alpine strawberries work wonderfully for first-time hydroponic farming. They bear sweet berries through summer and require minimal space.”

YouTube video

Credit : Agriculture Academy 


These seedling greens add vitamin-packed texture and flavor to dishes. Options like arugula and broccoli microgreens mature in just 7-14 days. 

Their speedy growth teaches new hydroponic gardeners the ropes quickly. Start seeds in Oasis foam or rockwool cubes.  

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Starting your first hydroponics system can be tricky! As a long-time hydroponic gardener, I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way. 

Let me share my top tips to help you get growing quickly while avoiding common problems beginners run into.

Monitor ph levels daily. This is super important. Ph affects how your plants uptake nutrients and stay healthy. Keep testing with strips or a meter and adjust using acid or base as needed (3).

Even small swings can lead to deficiencies. Remember – ph is tricky, so stay on top of it!

Keep water temperature just right! If it’s too hot or too cold, plant growth will slow down. Most veggies like it between 65-80°F. 

Consider a mini reservoir heater or chiller to find their happy spot. Temp issues were my biggest struggle when I started my first hydroponics system.

Sanitize your system between cycles. Germs and bugs can linger in old tubing and fixtures. Clean with dilute bleach or peroxide to remove any diseases before switching crops. Replace parts annually if buildup occurs. Happy roots = happy plants!

Mastering these three things will have you growing like a pro in no time! We all had to learn, so don’t get discouraged. With a watchful eye on ph, temp and cleaning, your hydroponics garden is sure to thrive. The rest is just details – have fun experimenting!

How Does a Hydroponics System Work?

A hydroponics system uses water and nutrients instead of soil. Plants are supported by an inert medium like clay pellets or rockwool. 

A water reservoir holds the nutrient solution that’s circulated to the plants using an air pump and air stones.

The key is getting just the right balance. The roots extract oxygen, water, and food while staying humid. Guide the liquid nutrients to them using gravity, drip systems, or ebb and flow trays.

What 3 Things do You Need For Hydroponics?

It’s neat seeing plants flourish without soil. If I can learn, anyone can start a simple hydroponics garden or window-sills system. 

Just follow the instructions, keep things clean, and monitor your ph and temperature. Soon you’ll be harvesting fresh herbs and salads all year long! Success comes through small steps and patience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I set up a DIY hydroponic system using common household items?

There are many inexpensive ways for beginners to set up a basic hydroponic garden using household items like plastic food containers, net pots, small aquarium pumps, and plastic tubing. 

Even simple passive systems like the kratky method using mason jars and clay pellets work well for herbs and greens. Getting creative with repurposed materials is part of the fun of DIY hydroponics!

How do hydroponic nutrients differ from regular fertilizers?

While hydroponic nutrients contain similar macro and micronutrients as soil-based fertilizers, they are formulated to be taken up efficiently by plant roots from a water-based solution rather than soil. 

Special consideration is given to nutrient ratios, formulations that won’t clog irrigation systems, and pH buffering compounds to keep the water within the optimal range for hydroponically grown plants.

What are some tips for small-scale hydroponic farming?

Even just a few hydroponic plants can provide an abundance of fresh herbs, salad greens and more. 

For small hydroponic farms, consider growing fast-maturing leafy greens ideal for fresh eating like lettuce, kale, spinach or herbs. 

Focus on streamlined systems like Deep Water Culture or ebb and flow that maximize yields in a small space. Mini greenhouses also extend the growing season.

How much water do hydroponic plants require each day?

The amount of water needed will depend on temperatures, light levels, type of plants and size of the hydroponic system. 

As a general rule, most hydroponic systems will need 1-2 gallons of fresh nutrient solution per day for every 10 square feet of growing space. Proper drainage and refill rates help deliver the optimum amount without overwatering.

What is the commercial hydroponic growing process like?

Large commercial hydroponic greenhouses precisely control every factor for maximum output year-round. 

They utilize techniques like Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), rack systems, andComputer-controlled greenhouses precisely monitor and deliver water, nutrients, carbon dioxide, temperature and light levels. 

Yields are often 10-30 times higher per square foot than traditional agriculture using these controlled systems and methods for efficient plant growth.

How is the pH of hydroponic water measured and maintained?

The pH level of nutrient solutions is measured using an electronic pH meter. Meters check the acidity of the solution on the pH scale from 0-14. 

Maintaining a pH of 5.5-6.5 is critical for optimum nutrient availability. 

For corrections, hydroponic gardeners add small amounts of phosphoric, citric or nitric acid to lower pH or potassium hydroxide to raise it, then retest after adjustments.

What yields can be expected from hydroponic gardens?

Compared to soil gardening, hydroponics enables higher yields and more frequent harvests, especially of leafy greens. 

For home use, expect 3-5 times the yield from an equivalent soil garden space. Commercial greenhouse yields can reach 50-100 times more than field farming per acre through optimized hydroponic growing methods and ultra-efficient use of space, water, and nutrients.

How should the flow of water be set up in a hydroponics system?

For best plant growth, the nutrient solution should circulate continuously but gently throughout the hydroponics system. Drip systems deliver programmed intervals of water to each plant to keep roots moist. 

NFT uses gravity flow. Other systems like deep water culture rely on air pumps to oxygenate the solution while water pumps circulate it through piping back to the reservoir at a steady, controlled rate. Proper tubing installation and component sizing ensures uniform flow to all plants.

Can hydroponic vegetable gardens supply all the produce needs for a family?

For a family that is diligent about maintenance, a well-planned hydroponic garden has the potential to provide much if not all of their basic produce needs, especially for small families or individuals. 

With optimized systems in a 4×8′ or larger space, a hydroponic gardener could harvest multiple servings each week year-round of various salad greens, herbs and small vegetables through efficient use of layers and vertical growing. 

Proper planning for plant selection, successions and preservation maximizes this potential.

How does a deep water culture (DWC) hydroponic system work?

A DWC system consists of an airtight bucket or tray filled with water and nutrients. Net pots filled with expanded clay pellets sit on top. 

Plant roots hang down into the nutrient-rich water. An air pump runs an air stone to oxygenate the roots. This constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in a light medium enables explosive plant growth.

What factors should be considered when choosing a hydroponic system type?

Key factors include the size or space available, types of plants to be grown, desired complexity level, budget, and experience level. Ease of use, yields, and suitability to the climate are also important considerations. 

Starting small and gaining experience helps determine the best long-term hydroponic system configuration and techniques.

What are common deficiencies seen in hydroponic systems?

Some of the most common hydroponic plant deficiency symptoms come from imbalances or lack of the main nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. 

Micronutrient deficiencies in iron, calcium, magnesium or others can also limit growth. Regular testing and adjustments can correct issues before they significantly impact the plants. Catching small problems early is key.


And there you have it – the key pieces for hydroponic gardening success! Start with an efficient system to deliver oxygenated water and nutrients. 

Next, provide anchored support using growing mediums like expanded clay. Then select produce that thrives without soil. 

With setups chosen, monitor pH levels, check water temperatures, and sterilize to prevent disease. Patience pays off for abundant harvests! 

I welcome any hydroponics questions in the comments from fellow city farmers. Finally, try sinking your green thumb into water and watch the fruits of your effort flourish!

I aimed to reinforce the key concepts covered while invoking interest for hydroponics beginners. 

Wrapping up with an open invite for questions and final call to action provides engagement opportunity.


  1. https://ecomaniac.org/coconut-coir/
  2. https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/growing-early-spring-lettuce-zbcz2102/
  3. https://blog.jencoi.com/ph-in-hydroponics-how-to-maintain-the-ph-levels-of-hydroponic-systems

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