What is Hydroponics?: Understanding Indoor Growing

What is hydroponics? This question is often asked by those looking to get into this type of gardening. Simply put, hydroponics refers to the process of growing plants without soil. This method has been used for centuries and can be applied in various settings. In this article, we'll explore the basics of general hydroponics and provide an overview of the many applications for this type of gardening.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics can be defined as a method of growing plants using only water and nutrients. The word "hydroponics" comes from the Greek words "hydro," meaning water, and "ponos," meaning labor. This type of gardening has been used by ancient civilizations such as the Babylonians and Aztecs, only coming into the modern day in the 1930s with William Frederick Gericke becoming known as the "Father of Hydroponics." However, this type of gardening has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

There are many reasons why people choose to garden hydroponically. One of the most common reasons is that it allows for year-round growth, as plants can be grown indoors under controlled conditions. This type of gardening is also very efficient in terms of water and nutrient usage, as there is little to no wastage.

Additionally, hydroponic gardens can be set up in a variety of spaces, making it an excellent option for those with limited outdoor space. From those in small inner city New York apartments to those in drought-ridden California, hydroponics can provide a viable option for fresh produce. Likewise, those who live in colder climates can use this type of gardening to grow their produce year-round.

Components of a Hydroponic Garden

There are a few key components that are necessary for a successful hydroponic garden: 

  • Hydroponic systems: These can be either active or passive and can be as simple as a mason jar with some plants roots exposed to water or as complex as a large-scale commercial operation.

  • Growing media: This is what the plant's roots will actually be in contact with and can range from perlite to coco coir to vermiculite.  

  • Nutrients: For plants to grow, they need access to certain nutrients. These can be sourced from commercial fertilizers or homemade compost.  

  • Water: The most essential aspect of hydroponics is having a consistent source of clean water.  

While these are only the core essentials for hydroponics, a variety of other components can be added to create a more complex system.  

How does Hydroponic Growing Work?

Now that we've gone over some basics let's take a closer look at how hydroponics works.

As we mentioned before, hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil. So, what takes the place of soil? In most cases, it's a growing medium such as perlite, coco coir, or peat moss. This medium supports the plant's root system and holds on to nutrients that the plants need to grow. 

The plants are then placed in a watertight container with nutrient-rich water. The water circulates using a pump, and the roots of the plants come into contact with the water. This allows the plants to absorb the necessary nutrients for growth. Oxygen is also essential for plant growth, and most hydroponic systems have some form of aeration built in. This can be as simple as a bubbler or an air stone, introducing air bubbles into the water. The bubbles help to aerate the water and oxygenate the plants' roots.  

These basic principles are what make up the majority of hydroponic systems. There are, of course, variations in this basic setup, but the principles remain the same.  

Types of Hydroponic Systems

With an understanding of the core components of a hydroponic system, we can now take a closer look at the two main types of systems: passive and active.  

Passive Hydroponic Systems  

This is the simplest type of system to set up and maintain. Passive systems rely on gravity to circulate the nutrient rich solution and water through the system. The plants are placed in a container filled with growing medium, and the reservoir sits above the plants. The water is then allowed to gravity-feed through the system and back into the reservoir. These systems are typically for smaller plants that don't require a lot of water or nutrients.  

Active Hydroponic Systems  

On the other hand, active hydroponic systems use pumps to circulate the water through the system. This allows for greater control over the amount of water and nutrients the plants receive. Active systems are typically used for larger plants that require a constant supply of nutrients. These types of systems are more complex and require more maintenance than passive systems. 

Likewise, hydroponic gardening systems can be open or closed systems. Open systems simply mean water is allowed to evaporate and must be replenished manually. Closed systems recirculate the water so that evaporation is not an issue.  

Popular Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic gardening setups aren't all the same. There are many different types of hydroponic systems to choose from. The type of system you choose will depend on several factors, including the plants you're growing, the amount of space you have and your budget. 

These systems include:  

  • Wick systems

  • Drip systems

  • Aeroponics

  • Ebb and Flow

  • Deep Water Culture (DWC)

  • Nutrient Film Technique 

Each system consists of different components and offers different benefits.  

Hydroponic Equipment

To break it down even further, let's look at what equipment is necessary for a basic hydroponic setup.  

While the specific equipment you'll need will depend on the type of hydroponic system you choose, there are a few key components that are essential for all systems:  

  • A watertight container: This can be anything from a gallon bucket to a grow tank. The container size will depend on the number of plants you want to grow.  

  • Reservoir and tanks: Reservoir and tanks hold the nutrient solution and water that circulates through the system.  

  • Growing media: As we mentioned before, the growing media supports the plant's roots and holds on to nutrients. Some common options include coco coir, perlite, rock wool, and vermiculite.  

  • Grow lights: If you're growing indoors, you'll need to provide your plants with a source of light. Grow lights are specially designed to mimic the sunlight that plants need for growth.  

  • A water pump: Water pumps circulate nutrient rich water throughout the hydro system.  

  • Air pumps or stones: Air pumps and air stones help to aerate the water and provide oxygen to the roots of the plants.  

  • A timer: Hydroponic timers help to automate the watering and nutrient feeding processes. They ensure that your plants get the right nutrition at the right time.  

  • Meters and dosers: Meters and dosers help you to monitor and adjust the nutrient levels in the water.  

These are just a few pieces of equipment you'll need for a basic hydroponic setup. Of course, many other options are available, and you can always add on to your system as you grow.  

Hydroponics Pros and Cons

As with any gardening method, hydroponics has pros and cons. Its important to consider both before you start to invest in hydroponic gear. 

Benefits of Hydroponic Growing

In this section, we'll look at some of the main benefits of hydroponic gardening.  

  • Space efficient: Hydroponic systems aren't confined to traditional garden spaces. They can be set up anywhere and don't require much room to grow.  

  • Portable system: Hydroponic systems are mobile, meaning they can be moved indoors or outdoors as needed.  

  • Water efficiency: Hydroponic systems use less water than traditional gardening methods because the water is recirculated and reused or scheduled watering times. Sometimes this saves as much as ten times the amount of traditional methods.  

  • Weed-free: Since hydroponic systems don't use soil, there is no need to worry about weeds taking over your garden.  

  • Pest control: Hydroponic gardens are less likely to be affected by pests and diseases because the growing environment is highly controlled.  

  • High yields: Hydroponic systems can produce higher yields in a shorter time than traditional gardening methods.  

  • Consistent quality: Hydroponically grown plants are typical of a higher quality because they receive the perfect amount of nutrients, water and light.  

  • Clean gardening: Since hydroponic systems don't use soil, they are much cleaner than traditional gardening methods.  

With so many benefits, it's no wonder hydroponics is becoming a popular gardening method. However, hydroponic setups are not always easy to maintain and can be expensive to set up. In the next section, we'll explore some of the main disadvantages of hydroponic gardening.  

Drawbacks of Hydroponic Growing

Just as there are many benefits to hydroponic gardening, there are also some disadvantages.  

  • High initial investment: Hydroponic setups can be expensive compared to traditional gardening, especially if you choose an automated system. 

  • Complexity: Hydroponic systems can be complex and require regular maintenance. If something goes wrong with the system, it can be challenging to troubleshoot.  

  • High electricity usage: Hydroponic systems often require pumps and other equipment that use a lot of electricity. This can increase your energy costs.  

  • Temperature fluctuations: Without the right temperature, humidity, and ventilation, plants can suffer.  

  • System vulnerability: Hydroponic systems can be vulnerable to power outages and other disruptions.  

Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether this gardening method suits you. However, if you have the time and resources to invest in a hydroponic system, you may be rewarded with high-quality plants that grow quickly and efficiently.  

Hydroponics FAQs

Naturally, with any new gardening method, there are bound to be some questions. This section will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about hydroponics.  

Is hydroponic gardening difficult?  

No, hydroponic growing is not difficult. On the contrary, it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. That being said, doing your research before getting started is essential to ensure you understand the basics.  

What kind of plants can I grow with hydroponics?  

Just about any plant can be grown with hydroponics, including fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. So, no matter if you want to grow leafy greens or hydroponic flowers, hydroponic food production and gardening is an option! 

What is hydroponic farming? 

Hydroponic farming is essentially the same as hydroponic gardening but on a larger scale. Hydroponic farmers typically use automated systems to grow plants commercially. 

How much does it cost to get started with hydroponics?  

The cost of starting hydroponics will vary depending on the type of system you choose and the components you need. Generally speaking, it's not a very expensive hobby, but it is an investment.  

Do I need a green thumb to be successful?  

No, you don't need a green thumb to be successful at hydroponic plants. Anyone can do it if you're willing to learn and put in the effort.  

Start Your Hydroponic Garden Today  

We hope this article answers some of your questions about "what is hydroponics" and how it works. No matter what type of system you choose, starting a hydroponic garden is a fun and rewarding experience. And with so many benefits, it's worth considering if you're looking for a new gardening method.  


To get started, check out Grow Generation's complete hydroponic systems. These systems have everything you need to get started from the comfort of your own home. With various options available, we are sure to have the perfect system for your needs. So, what are you waiting for? Get started in hydroponics today! 

Share: