Growing plants can be tricky.
There’s a lot to think about, like water and sunlight.
But one secret makes it much easier – the wick system. (1)
I’ve used wicks for years in my own garden.
Let me share how this cool trick works!
Wicks are cheap pieces of string or yarn.
Simply put one end in a tray of water and the other in the soil by your plant.
The wick soaks up water like a straw and brings it right to the roots.
No more worrying about over or under-watering!
With wicks, anyone can grow healthy plants.
They save time and effort.
I’ll explain step-by-step how to set up wicks in your pots or garden beds.
You’ll be amazed how well they work.
Let’s get started!
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
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
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 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
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
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 do I choose a good wick material for a hydroponic wick system?
Some top wick materials are cotton rope, nylon rope, polyester yarn, and coco coir.
Look for strings with very fine fibers and good capillary action to pull up water well.
Nylon rope is a popular choice for durability and wicking ability.
Why are wick systems considered low maintenance?
Wick systems are passive hydroponic systems with no pumps or timers.
Once set up, the wicks automatically bring water and nutrients to the plants as needed.
This makes wick systems simple to operate and maintain.
What types of plants and hydroponic gardens work well with wick systems?
Wick systems are ideal for herbs, lettuces, leafy greens, and other small plants with shallow root systems.
They provide a constant supply of moisture well suited to starting “training wheels” hydroponic gardens.
How much water do wick systems need?
Make sure to keep the reservoir filled for continuous wicking.
The reservoir size and number of wicks affects how quickly water is used.
Larger plants or many wicks draw a lot of water.
Check levels daily when starting out.
How do I control plant growth in a wick system?
Use more wicks and stronger nutrient mixes to accelerate growth.
For slower growth, reduce wicks and lower nutrient strength.
Match the number of wicks and nutrients to your desired plant growth rate.
What type of hydroponic growing medium should I use in a wick system?
Perlite, vermiculite, expanded clay pellets, and coco coir all work well to hold roots.
Avoid dense mediums that resist wicking like soil.
Test different mediums to see which you prefer.
How many wicks should I use per plant?
One 1/2″ wick is usually sufficient for each small herb or lettuce plant.
Use 3-4 wicks for larger plants like tomatoes and peppers.
Go by the root mass size, using enough wicks reach all roots.
Do wick systems need air stones?
Air stones are optional, but adding a simple air pump and stone will oxygenate the nutrient water.
This promotes healthy roots and plant growth.
What size grow tray or reservoir do I need?
Bigger reservoirs hold more water and nutrients between refills.
Make sure the reservoir is large enough to supply the number of wicks drawing from it.
For small starter systems, even a mason jar can work.
The wick system takes the guesswork out of watering plants.
With a few pieces of string, you can keep roots perfectly moist.
Wicks prevent droughts and floods.
Now your plants can thrive with less work.
But we’ve only scratched the surface of wick tips and tricks.
Before you go, watch for my next article, “3 Pro Wick Setup Secrets For Your Garden.” I’ll share expert techniques to get the most out of wicks.
With these pro tips, you’ll get faster growth and bigger blooms!
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Crystal Erickson is an agriculture enthusiast and writer with a passion for sustainable farming practices and community development. Growing up on a family farm in rural Iowa, Crystal developed a love for the land and a deep appreciation for the hard work and dedication required to make a farm successful.
After completing a degree in Agriculture and Environmental Science from Iowa State University, Crystal began her career as an agricultural journalist, covering stories and issues related to modern farming practices, crop management, and livestock production. She quickly established herself as a respected voice in the industry, known for her insightful reporting and thoughtful analysis.
Over the years, Crystal has written for a variety of publications, including Farm Journal, Successful Farming, and Modern Farmer, as well as contributing to several academic journals focused on sustainable agriculture and community development. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Achievement Award and the National Association of Farm Broadcasting’s Farm Broadcaster of the Year.