DWC Hydroponics: How it Works (Shopping List and Video Guide)
Several gardeners, including me, can attest that deep water culture (DWC) hydroponics is one of the easiest hydroponic systems best for beginners. One of the first questions I asked was: how does DWC work? You know what? I am glad I invested time and effort to actually learn how.
Deep water culture (DWC) hydroponics makes use of oxygen and nutrient-enriched water to grow herbs and veggies. The plant roots are suspended in water containing the nutrient solution where they get essential minerals and oxygen necessary for their growth and development.
You may be asking: Where should I start? What are the materials needed? What are the advantages of DWC? Does it have any disadvantages? All of these questions will be answered moving forward.
3 Components Working in Deep Water Culture Hydroponics
Water, oxygen, and nutrients are the three major components of DWC. For us to have a better understanding on how DWC works, let us discuss them one by one.
Deep water culture (DWC) uses water, as a substitute for soil, to grow plants.
To give you a clearer illustration, consider this method as gardening in soil but constantly watering your plants. Instead of physically watering them using your hose, sprinkler, or watering can this system replaces the soil itself with water.
This is actually one of the many advantages of growing hydroponically. You don’t have to ‘water’ your plants every day because the plant is already suspended in water.
Water itself does not contain all of the minerals that plants need. This is the reason why hydroponic nutrients are necessary for deep water culture (DWC.
In hydroponic gardening, we try to imitate the conditions of growing plants in soil. Since we have already replaced soil with water as the medium, we also need to provide the reason why plants thrive in soil—the available macronutrients and micronutrients.
When nutrients are added to the water, it becomes a viable source of nutrients that can help your veggies and herbs flourish.
Roots need oxygen to start biological processes for growth and development. Since the roots are suspended in water in deep water culture, providing them with oxygen is needed.
Aside from the nutrients, we also need to copy the soil structure which has gaps and holes where air can move and escape.
Since the plant roots are immersed in water, the water should have an adequate amount of oxygen to prevent your plant from drowning. Yes, you read that right! Plants can also drown because of a lack of oxygen!
At this point, you may be wondering how you can provide these components to my hydroponic veggies and herbs. I got you!
4 Materials Needed for Deep Water Culture Hydroponics
A deep water culture hydroponic system needs a 1) reservoir (bucket), 2) nutrient solution, 3) air pump, and 4) growing medium (clay pebbles).
The bucket serves as the reservoir which will house the hydroponic nutrient solution. Most of the time, deep water culture (DWC) buckets come with a net pot, air hose, check valve, 3 seal rings, 2 elbow connectors, an airstone, and a water level tube.
Here is one of the DWC buckets available on Amazon.
The nutrient solution will be the source of essential minerals the plant needs. Both dry and liquid hydroponic nutrients can be used for deep water culture (DWC).
In conventional gardening, excellent soil includes all of the micro and macro elements that a plant requires to survive and grow. However, in this system, we do not use soil. Thus, we need to add nutrients to our water.
You have the choice between dry and liquid nutrients for your hydroponic system. Here are some of the available hydroponic nutrients on Amazon.
Learn more about the difference between liquid and dry nutrients in our article about the 3 hydroponic nutrients you’ll need (where to find them).
Air pumps provide dissolved oxygen necessary for proper growth and development of the plant grown using a deep water culture (DWC) hydroponic system.
When your nutrient solution is abundant in oxygen, your plants can mobilize the available nutrients and ultimately use them for their growth.
Below is a quiet air pump you can find on Amazon.
Lightweight expanded clay aggregates (LECA), also known as clay pebbles, are recommended as growing mediums for deep water culture (DWC) hydroponics. They function as a support to the plant while growing.
Choosing your growing medium is also one of the initial tasks in hydroponic gardening. But usually, DWC buckets on Amazon are already packaged with clay pebbles.
This is a wise choice for DWC hydroponics because it is highly porous, which means it provides enough space. How is this helpful?
Remember that in this hydroponic system, your plant roots are submerged in water. Therefore, if we use a growing medium that clumps together, then there is a possibility that your roots will not have a space to breathe.
But in the case of clay pebbles, it can provide your plant with many spaces where air can move and escape.
How to Set Up Your Deep Water Culture (Video Guide)
If you are using this deep water culture (DWC) Bucket on Amazon, follow these easy steps!
1. Place the seal rings in the bucket’s three openings.
2. Cut your air hose in half and attach the check valve in the middle.
3. Link the air hose to the air pump and put the other end in the bucket’s hole.
4. Fix the air hose to the water reservoir’s air stone.
5. Connect the water level tube and the two elbow tubes together.
6. Insert the two elbow connections into the two holes in your bucket.
7. Fill your bucket with enough nutrient water until it reaches the net pot’s base.
8. Put the lid on your bucket and insert the net pot in the hole.
9. Locate your plant in the middle of the net pot and put clay pebbles as a growing medium.
10. Turn your air pump on 24/7.
Pros and Cons of Deep Water Culture
The major advantage of deep water culture (DWC) hydroponics is that it is a low maintenance system that produces harvest quickly. However, drawbacks include the initial and operating costs which cover the materials and electricity consumption, respectively.
For you to have an easier comparison, I have summarized the pros and cons of DWC hydroponics in the table below.
|Low maintenance||High initial cost for the reservoir, air pumps, |
nutrients, and growing medium
|Produces harvest faster than conventional gardening||Prone to algae and root rot|
|Uses lesser space||High operation cost if done indoors|
(need for LED grow lights and air pumps)
|Can be done in places where there is |
|Choosing a location might be complex|
because there is a need to consider temperature
|Can be done indoors or outdoors|
|Less incidence of insect pests|
|Compatible with veggies, herbs, and |
How much water is needed in DWC?
Most commercially-available DWC buckets on Amazon can hold 5 to 10 liters of water. However, it is important to note that these buckets should not be filled fully because if the whole root system is submerged, algae and root rot can develop. To prevent these, there must be a distance of 1.5” between the roots and the water surface.
How often should I change the water in DWC?
Using the DWC hydroponics, the nutrient-rich water must be changed every 1-3 weeks. Topping off is also healthy for DWC. This means you need to add water until you reach the original water level every 2-3 days to replace the lost water due to evaporation, transpiration, and plant absorption.
Summary of How Does DWC Hydroponics Work
Deep Water Culture (DWC) is a way of growing plants hydroponically wherein the roots are suspended in a well-oxygenated nutrient solution.
The deep water culture (DWC) hydroponics system is composed of 4 essential parts, which are the 1) reservoir, 2) nutrient solution, 3) air pump, and 4) growing medium.
Being a low-maintenance system is the biggest advantage of deep water culture (DWC). Additionally, using this system results in the capability to harvest herbs, fruiting, and leafy veggies quicker than conventional gardening. However, the high initial and operating costs pose a drawback for DWC hydroponics.
- “Hydroponics: Deep Water Culture (DWC) Method” by Communiversity Gardens Project in Northern Illinois University
- “Complete Guide for Growing Plants Hydroponically” by Jones Jr., J.B. in CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group