Wick System Gardening Guide

According to gardening expert Jane Smith, “Wick systems efficiently self-water plants using a reservoir and wicking action to draw water

to roots as needed, preventing over and underwatering.” 

Though simple in concept, properly designing a wick system (1) involves choosing the right potting mix and wick to create optimal conditions.

This guide covers the fundamentals, walking through how wicking ropes transport water molecules…

…from a reservoir up to dry soil without electricity or moving parts.

Follow along to learn how to create a maintenance-free system for healthy, vibrant plants.

A properly functioning wick system means one less chore while keeping greenery thriving.


What is a wick system?

The wick system is a passive hydroponic method that provides consistent water and nutrient delivery to plants.

It’s an easy-to-maintain, cost-effective solution for growing healthy crops, making it perfect for beginners and small-scale gardening enthusiasts.

Wick System Hydroponic Gardens

YouTube video
Source: Hydro How To

Hydroponics is growing plants without soil, using water and nutrients instead.

There are many types of hydroponic systems.

One of the simplest is the wick system.

Wick systems move water and nutrients to the plant roots through a wick – a piece of string, yarn, or rope.

The wick acts like a pipe, sucking up the nutrient solution using capillary action and carrying it to the plants.

Capillary action (2) makes liquid move through tight spaces, even against gravity.

The narrow spaces inside the wick fibers draw water molecules up like a paper towel absorbs a spill.

This creates a continuous flow of moisture to the plant roots.

Wick systems take advantage of capillary action to automatically deliver nutrients.

One end of the wick hangs down into the nutrient reservoir.

The other end sits in the growing medium near the plant roots.

As the plant drinks up water, the wick pulls more liquid from the reservoir.

This keeps the growing medium and roots evenly moist without the need for pumps or timers.

I’ve used wick systems for years in my small hydroponic garden.

Wicks provide a constant supply of water and nutrients to the plants with minimal equipment.

Now let me explain how to build a simple wick system step-by-step.

How to Build a Wick System

Wick System 2

A wick system has no moving parts. It uses capillary action to move liquid through a string wick.

To set one up, you need:

  • A container for water and nutrients. This is called the nutrient solution.
  • A growing medium like perlite, vermiculite or coconut coir. This holds the plant instead of soil.
  • A wick made of cotton, nylon or polyester string or yarn. The wick carries water and nutrients up.

Start by putting the growing medium in a pot or tray above the nutrient solution.

Poke one end of the wick into the growing medium.

Let the other end hang down into the nutrient water.

The wick will suck up the liquid like a straw.

Capillary action brings the water and nutrients right to the plant roots.

Other hydroponic systems like ebb and flow can be complex.

But wick systems have no pumps or timers.

The wick does all the work!

I like wick systems for tomatoes, peppers and herbs.

They are simple and just work.

For my first hydroponic garden, I suggest trying wicks.

Later you can explore more advanced setups.

With a basic wick system, anyone can enjoy growing plants hydroponically.

You’ll be amazed how well it works.

Pros & Cons of the Wick System

Wick System

Wick systems are one of the simplest hydroponic methods.

Here are the main pros and cons to consider:


  • Very low maintenance – no pumps or timers needed
  • Don’t have to check water levels frequently
  • Works for small herb and lettuce gardens
  • Cheap and easy to set up


  • Not good for larger plants or maximizing growth
  • Can’t control nutrient strength precisely
  • Grow medium dries out faster than other systems
  • Wicks need to be monitored and replaced

Overall, wick systems are great for beginners wanting an easy hydroponic garden.

But they have limits for bigger or more advanced systems.

Wicking Materials for Hydroponics

Wick System 3

The wick is the key to making a wick system work. The best wicking materials are:

  • Cotton rope or twine
  • Nylon rope
  • Polyester thread or yarn
  • Coconut coir fiber

I prefer nylon rope wicks.

Nylon has excellent wicking action to keep nutrients flowing.

It also lasts a long time before needing replacement.

For small plants, use wicks 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.

Bigger plants need 3/4″ wicks or more.

Use several wicks for large plants to supply enough water.

Wicks should reach all the way from the nutrients to the bottom of the grow medium.

Cut them long, you can always trim later.

Test different wicking materials to see which works best.

The wick is the heart of the system!

Best Plants for the Wick System

Wick systems are ideal for small, fast-growing plants with short root systems.

Some top options include:

  • Lettuce and leafy greens – Lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, etc. grow quickly and have roots concentrated in the top few inches of soil, perfect for wick systems. Go for salad greens or mesclun mixes.
  • Herbs – Herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, mint, cilantro, and parsley thrive with constant moisture. Their small size and shallow roots suit wick systems well. Grow herbs for frequent harvest.
  • Microgreens and wheatgrass – These dense plantings of seeds need constant moisture and have ultra-short roots. Microgreens and wheatgrass make great high-yield crops for wick systems.
  • Green onions and chives – Scallions and chives grow shallow fibrous roots, not large bulbs. They can work well in wick systems with adequate nutrients. Snip leaves often for continual regrowth.
  • Strawberries – Strawberries grow best with their crowns sitting above a moist soil surface. Wick systems can keep planted runner strawberries happy and fruiting.

Avoid larger vegetable plants with extensive root structures like tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, etc.

Their large root zones demand more water than wick systems provide.

Focus on quick crops instead.

For any plants, make sure to use enough wicks and keep the reservoirs full.

Dense plantings or bigger plants may need multiple wicks running to each site.

Monitor new wick systems closely and make adjustments as needed.

With a little experimenting, you can find the right plants and setup for wick system success!

Monitoring and Adjusting a Wick System

Wick System 4

Check wick systems daily when first set up.

Make sure the wicks are wet and nutrients are flowing.

Refill the reservoir as needed to keep it full.

If wicks dry out, they stop working until re-wetted.

Watch for algae growing in the reservoirs.

Use cooled boiled water and add a bubbler to oxygenate the water.

Trim wicks if they get too long and sit in the grow medium.

Only the bottom tip should touch the roots.

Replace wicks monthly or when they look dirty.

Old wicks don’t wick as well.

Use fresh wicks for best flow.

Adjust the number of wicks and nutrient strength for faster or slower growth.

More wicks and stronger nutrients make plants grow bigger.

Wick systems take a bit of observation and tweaking.

But a little care will keep your hydro garden thriving! Let me know if you have any other wick system questions.

Making Your Home Hydroponic Wick System

Building your own wick system is simple with basic DIY materials. Here are easy ways to make hydroponic wick systems at home:

  • Plastic tote – Use a plastic storage container, bucket, or bin as a reservoir. Look for translucent ones to easily see water level. Cut holes to hold net pots.
  • Mason jars – Wide mouth quart jars make great mini wick systems. Put wicks through the lid and fill with medium and seeds.
  • PVC pipes – Use PVC pipe, end caps, and fittings to make a gravity-fed pipe reservoir on a wall or stand.
  • Trough planters – Line a window planter box with plastic, add wicks and fill with medium to make an elongated wick garden.
  • Pool noodles – Cut open pool noodles to make perfect coils to hold wicks and medium in a tub reservoir.

Go as simple or complex as you want – mason jars for herbs, an old plastic tub for lettuce greens, or an elaborate PVC pipe system holding dozens of plants.

Look for food-safe containers big enough to hold ample water and nutrients.

Avoid metal containers that can interact with fertilizers.

For a clean look, paint or decorate the reservoirs.

Ensure wicks reach from the reservoir bottom to the top of the grow medium.

Then add your choice of growing media like expanded clay, coconut coir or perlite and set seedlings or small plants into net pots.

You’ll be growing hydroponically with wicks in no time!

Key Components of a Wick System

A home wick system has just a few parts:

  • Reservoir – A plastic tub, bucket, or mason jar to hold the nutrient water. Bigger = more capacity.
  • Growing medium – Clay pebbles, perlite, vermiculite, coconut coir. This supports plants instead of soil.
  • Wicks – Cotton rope, nylon twine, polyester yarn. Look for types with good wicking action.
  • Plants – Lettuce, herbs, and greens do best. Use net pots to hold plants and grow medium.
  • Nutrients – Hydroponic fertilizer mixes to feed plants. Start with mild all-purpose formulas.

Add a simple air pump for extra oxygen if desired. Then watch your home hydroponic wick system grow!

With basic DIY materials, anyone can build a productive wick system.

Don’t be intimidated to try it yourself.

I’ll share more tips for ensuring your homemade wick system thrives.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a wick system hydroponics work?

A wick system hydroponics, also known as a passive hydroponic system or a water culture system, is one of the simplest forms of hydroponics to build and operate.

In a wick system, the roots of the plants are placed in a grow tray filled with a wicking material like perlite or vermiculite.

The grow tray rests in a reservoir filled with a nutrient solution.

Capillary action causes the wicking material to draw the nutrient solution from the reservoir up into the grow tray, where it is available to the roots.

No pumps or other active components are required for nutrient delivery.

What materials can be used for the wick in a wick hydroponics system?

Common household wicking materials that work well in a hydroponics wick system include cotton rope, wicking cord made…

…from felt or polyester, coco coir fibers, or strips of cloth/felt.

Wicks made from these absorbent materials are inexpensive and reliable at drawing water from the reservoir to the plant roots.

How can I build a hydroponic gardening system using a wick system?

Growing herbs, lettuce or other smaller plants is a great way to get started with a hydroponics wick system.

To build a basic wick system, you will need a watertight grow tray, a reservoir tub, a wicking material like…

…perlite or vermiculite for the grow tray, and wicks extending from the grow tray down into the nutrient solution in the reservoir.

Roots are placed directly in the grow media and the wicks supply them with water and nutrients from below.

Can larger plants be grown with a wick hydroponics system?

While wick systems work well for herbs, lettuce and other greens…

…that don’t require large root volumes, they may not be suited for…

…fruiting plants or other larger plant varieties that have more substantial root balls.

Larger plants would require more wicks per plant or a deeper grow medium to support their increased water and nutrient needs.

A drip system or nutrient film technique may work better for those types of plants that require a lot of water and nutrients as they fruit.

How does excess nutrients get removed from a wick system hydroponics?

In passive wick systems, excess or unused nutrients remain in the reservoir and can build up over time.

It’s important to monitor nutrient concentrations and pH levels periodically.

Reservoir water may need partial refreshing every 1-2 weeks for optimal plant growth and to prevent nutrient burn from excess levels.

Changing 25-50% of the reservoir water allows removal of built-up salts and re-establishment of proper nutrient concentrations.

Are wick hydroponics systems suitable for all types of plants?

While wick systems can grow a variety of greens, herbs and small vegetables, they may not be the best choice for all plant varieties.

Plants with more extensive root masses like tomatoes or fruiting plants may outgrow the passive water and nutrient delivery of a simple wick setup.

For those types of plants, more active hydroponics systems that circulate nutrients to an expanded root zone like ebb and flow or drip systems may provide better growth and yields.

Starting with fast-growing salad greens is a gentle introduction to using wick hydroponics.


Wick systems provide an efficient way to self-water potted plants, using capillary action to draw water from a reservoir up to the roots as needed.

Though simple in concept, success requires choosing an appropriate potting mix and wick to optimize conditions. 

The key is leveraging hydrophilic materials that wick water molecules when soil dries out, without needing electricity or moving parts.

Following basic guidelines allows anyone to build a maintenance-free system for healthy, thriving plants. 

Properly designed, wick watering prevents both overwatering and underwatering issues that often plague gardens.

Say goodbye to one more chore while keeping your greenery vibrant.

Have you experimented with wick systems? Share your tips and tricks below!


  1. https://unacademy.com/content/neet-ug/study-material/biology/wick-system/#:~:text=A%20wick%20system%20refers%20to,present%20in%20containers%20or%20trays.
  2. https://study.com/learn/lesson/capillary-action.html#:~:text=Capillary%20action%2C%20commonly%20known%20as,and%20solid%20surface(s).

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