What is a Deep Water Culture System(DWC)?

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In a deep water culture system, plant roots are suspended in a nutrient-rich water solution while being supported by floating rafts or net pots. The roots have direct access to oxygen through the air pump and air stones, which oxygenate the water and prevent root suffocation.

DWC systems typically require a reservoir to hold the nutrient solution, an air pump to provide oxygenation, air stones or diffusers to disperse the oxygen, and a means to support the plants above the water.

The nutrient solution in a deep water culture system needs to be properly balanced with essential macro and micronutrients to support plant growth. Monitoring and adjusting the nutrient levels regularly is important to ensure optimal plant health and productivity. They are relatively simple to set up and maintain, making them suitable for both beginner and experienced hydroponic growers. They are also scalable, allowing for the cultivation of a few plants or large commercial operations.

Hydroponics vs. Deep Water Culture

Hydroponics is a general term referring to various methods of growing plants without soil, including deep water culture. Other common hydroponic systems include nutrient film technique (NFT), aeroponics, drip irrigation, and ebb and flow.

If you want to know more about hydroponic gardening, read our Beginner’s Guide.

Deep water culture is a specific type of hydroponic system that relies on suspending plant roots in a nutrient-rich water solution. It is favored for its simplicity, effectiveness, and suitability for certain types of crops.

The choice between different hydroponic systems depends on factors such as plant type, available space, available resources, and grower preferences. Each system has its own advantages and considerations.

Advantages of Hydroponics

Hydroponics, including deep water culture, offers several advantages over traditional soil-based cultivation:

  • Efficient resource utilization: Hydroponics uses water and nutrients more efficiently compared to soil-based systems. The controlled environment allows for precise delivery of nutrients, reducing waste and environmental impact.
  • Faster growth and higher yields: Plants in hydroponic systems often grow faster and produce higher yields due to optimized nutrient availability and oxygenation.
  • Year-round cultivation: Hydroponics allows for year-round cultivation regardless of external weather conditions, making it suitable for indoor and greenhouse production.
  • Space efficiency: Hydroponic systems can be designed for vertical farming, maximizing space utilization and enabling higher plant densities.
  • Reduced pest and disease risks: By eliminating soil, hydroponics reduces the risk of soil-borne pests and diseases, resulting in healthier plants.

Disadvantages of Deep Water Culture

While deep water culture has numerous benefits, it also has a few potential drawbacks:

  • Initial setup costs: Setting up a DWC system can require investment in equipment such as air pumps, air stones, water pumps, and reservoirs.
  • Dependence on electricity: DWC systems rely on electricity to power aerators and water pumps. Power outages can disrupt oxygenation and nutrient circulation.
  • System failures: If the air pump or water pump fails, the lack of oxygenation or nutrient circulation can harm the plants.
  • Risk of root rot: If the roots are not adequately oxygenated or if the water becomes stagnant, the risk of root diseases such as root rot increases.

Recirculating Deep Water Culture (RDWC)

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RDWC systems are an advanced version of traditional DWC. In RDWC, the nutrient solution is continuously recirculated through the system, ensuring a constant supply of fresh nutrients and oxygen to the plants. These systems usually consist of multiple interconnected containers or buckets, with the nutrient solution flowing from one container to the next. This recirculation helps maintain consistent nutrient levels and oxygenation throughout the system.

The recirculation in RDWC systems can enhance plant growth and yield compared to standard DWC by providing a more stable and controlled environment for the roots. It also allows for better nutrient absorption and prevents nutrient imbalances. Here’s how the recirculation process works and its benefits:

  • System Setup: RDWC systems typically consist of multiple interconnected containers or buckets, each containing the plants and their root systems. These containers are connected through piping or tubing, allowing the nutrient solution to flow from one container to the next.
  • Nutrient Solution Flow: The nutrient solution is usually pumped from a central reservoir and delivered to the first container in the system. From there, it flows through each container, passing by the roots of the plants before reaching the next container. This process continues until the nutrient solution returns to the reservoir.
  • Oxygenation: RDWC systems incorporate air pumps, air stones, or diffusers to introduce oxygen into the nutrient solution as it flows through the system. The air stones or diffusers release small bubbles of air, which increases the dissolved oxygen levels in the water. Adequate oxygenation is crucial for healthy root development and prevents root suffocation.

Benefits of RDWC Systems

  • Consistent Nutrient Supply: The recirculation of the nutrient solution ensures a consistent supply of fresh nutrients to the plants. As the solution flows through the system, it replenishes any nutrients that have been absorbed by the roots, maintaining optimal nutrient concentrations. This consistent supply helps prevent nutrient imbalances and deficiencies, promoting healthy plant growth.
  • Enhanced Oxygenation: The continuous flow of the nutrient solution in an RDWC system facilitates better oxygenation of the root zone. The air stones or diffusers introduce oxygen into the circulating solution, ensuring that the roots receive a constant supply of oxygen. This high oxygen availability promotes vigorous growth, improves nutrient uptake, and reduces the risk of root diseases.
  • Improved pH and EC Stability: The recirculation of the nutrient solution in RDWC systems contributes to better pH and Electrical Conductivity (EC) stability. As the solution circulates, any fluctuations in pH or EC levels are quickly equalized throughout the system, resulting in a more stable and consistent growing environment. This stability helps maintain optimal nutrient uptake and minimizes stress on the plants.
  • Increased Efficiency and Yield Potential: RDWC systems provide an optimized environment for plant growth, maximizing nutrient uptake, and oxygenation. The consistent nutrient supply, oxygenation, and stability contribute to faster growth rates and potentially higher yields compared to traditional DWC systems. The controlled environment of RDWC allows plants to allocate more energy towards growth and development, leading to improved productivity.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: RDWC systems can be designed to accommodate various plant capacities, ranging from small-scale setups to large commercial operations. The modular nature of the system allows for easy expansion or modification based on specific needs. This scalability and flexibility make RDWC systems adaptable to different growing spaces and requirements.

What to Measure and How?

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The recirculation process in a Recirculating Deep Water Culture (RDWC) system can have an impact on the pH and Electrical Conductivity (EC) levels of the nutrient solution. Here’s how the recirculation process affects these parameters.

The pH level refers to the acidity or alkalinity of the nutrient solution. In an RDWC system, the recirculation process can help stabilize the pH levels throughout the system. Here’s how it works:

  • pH Buffering: As the nutrient solution flows through the system, any fluctuations in pH levels tend to be equalized or buffered due to the mixing and recirculation process. If the pH in one container becomes too high or too low, it will mix with the solution from other containers, leading to a more stable and consistent pH throughout the system.
  • pH Monitoring and Adjustment: Despite the buffering effect, it’s important to monitor the pH levels regularly in an RDWC system. Factors such as plant uptake, nutrient additions, and environmental conditions can still cause gradual shifts in pH. If the pH deviates from the desired range, adjustments can be made by adding pH-up or pH-down solutions to the central reservoir, which will eventually distribute through the recirculating system.

EC Levels, or Electrical Conductivity (EC) is a measure of the nutrient concentration in the nutrient solution. The recirculation process in an RDWC system can help maintain stable EC levels. Here’s how it works:

  • Nutrient Uptake and Replenishment: As the nutrient solution flows through the system, the plants absorb the essential elements they need for growth, resulting in a decrease in nutrient concentration (lower EC levels). However, as the solution continues to circulate, it passes through the central reservoir, which contains a concentrated nutrient solution. This replenishes the depleted nutrients and helps maintain a stable EC level throughout the system.
  • Nutrient Monitoring and Adjustment: Regular monitoring of the EC levels is crucial in an RDWC system to ensure that the nutrient concentration remains within the desired range for optimal plant growth. If the EC levels are too low, indicating nutrient deficiencies, additional nutrients can be added to the central reservoir. Conversely, if the EC levels are too high, indicating nutrient excess, the nutrient solution can be diluted by adding fresh water to the reservoir.

It’s important to regularly monitor and adjust these parameters as needed to ensure that the nutrient solution remains within the optimal range for plant growth.

The frequency of monitoring and adjusting pH and EC levels in a Recirculating Deep Water Culture (RDWC) system can vary depending on several factors such as plant type, growth stage, environmental conditions, and nutrient solution stability. However, here are some general guidelines to consider:

pH Monitoring and Adjustment

  • Daily Monitoring: It is recommended to check the pH levels of the nutrient solution daily, preferably at the same time each day. This allows you to catch any significant pH fluctuations early on and take corrective measures promptly.
  • Ideal pH Range: The optimal pH range for most plants in hydroponic systems is typically between 5.5 and 6.5. However, specific plants may have slightly different preferences, so it’s essential to research the ideal pH range for the crops you are growing.
  • Adjusting pH: If the pH deviates from the desired range, adjustments can be made by adding pH-up (usually a base solution) to raise the pH or pH-down (usually an acid solution) to lower the pH. It’s important to make gradual adjustments and recheck the pH after each addition to avoid overcorrection.

EC Monitoring and Adjustment

  • Regular Monitoring: The EC levels of the nutrient solution should be monitored regularly to ensure that the nutrient concentration remains within the desired range for optimal plant growth. The frequency of monitoring can vary depending on factors such as plant growth stage and nutrient solution stability.
  • Growth Stage Considerations: During different growth stages, plants have varying nutrient requirements. For example, seedlings or young plants may require lower EC levels, while mature plants in the flowering or fruiting stage may require higher EC levels. Adjustments should be made accordingly.
  • Nutrient Solution Stability: If the nutrient solution is stable and there are no significant fluctuations in EC levels, monitoring every 3-4 days may be sufficient. However, if you notice rapid changes or signs of nutrient deficiencies/toxicity in the plants, more frequent monitoring and adjustments may be necessary.
  • Adjusting EC: To adjust EC levels, you can either add more concentrated nutrient solution to increase the EC or dilute the nutrient solution with fresh water to lower the EC. Keep in mind that gradual adjustments are typically recommended to avoid shocking the plants with sudden changes in nutrient concentration.

These are general guidelines, and it’s important to closely observe your plants and monitor the pH and EC levels regularly to ensure optimal growth. Factors such as plant response, water quality, nutrient formulations, and environmental conditions can influence the frequency and extent of pH and EC adjustments. Adjustments should be made based on the specific needs and requirements of your plants within the context of your RDWC system.

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The right Tools

There are several pH and EC meters available in the market that can be used to monitor pH and EC levels in an RDWC system. Here are a few popular and reliable options:

Apera Instruments AI311 Premium Series PH60 pH Meter 
This is a reliable and affordable pH meter with a replaceable probe. It offers accuracy and ease of use, making it suitable for RDWC systems.
Apera Instruments PH700 Benchtop Lab pH
This pH meter has a 3-in-1 combination pH electrode for measuring pH and temperature, with advanced auto-calibration and self-diagnosis modes. It has an IP54 rating, making it spill-proof and dust-proof. It can store up to 50 groups of data. This one is on the pricey side.
Bluelab pH Pen
Bluelab is known for producing high-quality meters, and their pH Pen is a popular choice. It provides accurate pH measurements and features a replaceable probe. The ATC will provide consistent readings regardless of any fluctuations in temperature.
Apera Instruments PC60 5-in-1 pH/EC
This is a versatile meter that measures pH, EC, TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), and salinity. It offers accuracy and a user-friendly interface.
Bluelab Guardian Monitor Connect
This meter provides continuous monitoring of pH, EC, temperature, and TDS comes with Data Logging and it offers Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to access real-time data through a mobile application. And receive alerts when your solution is outside of the given parameters. 

When selecting pH and EC meters, consider the following factors:

  • Accuracy and reliability: Look for meters that provide accurate and consistent readings.
  • Calibration: Ensure that the meter is easy to calibrate and comes with calibration solutions.
  • Probe quality: The quality and durability of the pH and EC probes are important for long-term use. Replaceable probes are advantageous since they can be easily replaced when needed.
  • User-friendly features: Consider meters with clear displays, intuitive interfaces, and additional features like automatic temperature compensation (ATC) for more accurate readings.

It’s worth noting that regular calibration and maintenance of pH and EC meters are essential to ensure accurate measurements. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper usage, calibration, and maintenance of the meters you choose.

Additionally, it can be helpful to read reviews, seek recommendations from experienced growers, and consider purchasing from reputable suppliers to ensure you get a reliable and suitable pH and EC meter for your RDWC system.


What grows best in deep water culture?

  • Deep water culture (DWC) is particularly well-suited for growing leafy greens and herbs such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and basil. These types of plants tend to thrive in DWC systems due to the high levels of oxygen and nutrient availability in the water.

What is the best DWC grow medium?

  • In traditional DWC systems, the most commonly used grow medium is inert and provides support for the plant roots while allowing the nutrient solution to circulate freely. Expanded clay pebbles (also known as hydroton) are a popular choice due to their lightweight, porous structure, which promotes oxygenation and prevents waterlogged roots. Other alternatives include perlite, rockwool cubes, and coconut coir.

How often do you change your DWC?

  • In a deep water culture (DWC) system, it is generally recommended to change the nutrient solution every one to two weeks. Regularly refreshing the nutrient solution helps maintain optimal nutrient levels and prevents the accumulation of waste products. However, the frequency may vary depending on factors such as plant growth stage, water quality, and nutrient consumption rate.

Do plants grow faster in DWC?

  • Yes, plants tend to grow faster in deep water culture (DWC) systems compared to traditional soil-based cultivation. DWC provides direct access to nutrients and oxygen, allowing plants to allocate more energy towards growth and development rather than searching for resources. The controlled environment of hydroponics also eliminates certain environmental limitations, resulting in faster growth rates.

Does DWC increase yield?

  • Yes, deep water culture (DWC) systems have the potential to increase yield compared to traditional soil-based cultivation methods. The optimized nutrient delivery and oxygenation in DWC promote healthy root development and efficient nutrient uptake, resulting in robust plant growth and higher yields. However, it’s important to note that other factors such as light, temperature, and plant variety also play a significant role in determining yield.