Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

There’s no denying that some hydroponic setups can get pretty complicated, but if you’re looking for something basic and easy to run, a hydroponic wick system is definitely worth considering.

It can be set up with just a few everyday items that you probably already have lying around your home, and doesn’t require any electricity or moving parts.

Let’s see how these people build a wicking hydroponic system:

What is the Wick System?

The wick system is usually the first type of hydroponic system that people get started with, simply because it’s extremely simple and easy to set up. Since it doesn’t require machinery, pumps, or motors, it’s considered to be a passive hydroponics system that works best with plants that don’t require too much maintenance.

The wick system relies on a natural process called capillary action – this is basically when liquids are able to travel against the flow of gravity because they are being lifted through a piece of cloth. In this case, that cloth is the wick, and the power that’s needed to lift the water through the wick is provided by the plants themselves.

How Does the Wick System Work?

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

The wick does most of the work in a wick system. One end of the wick is submerged into a nutrient solution, and the other end of the wick sits level with the roots of your plants, which will be in a soil-less growing medium.

The wick carries the nutrient solution from a container below your plants up to the plant roots. Your plants are then able to absorb as much water and nutrients as they need.

Since your plants will be in close proximity to the container with the nutrient solution, the wick doesn’t need to carry the water too far, which is why this system is so effective.

Which Plants Grow Best With the Wick System?

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

Although effective at providing plants with water and nutrients, the rate at which a wick system does this is quite slow. The wicks are only able to absorb and transport a low volume of water – this is enough for some plants, but won’t suffice for others.

Generally, plants that don’t require too much water or nutrients will thrive in a wick system, such as:

If you plan on growing a thirsty plant that can also get quite large, such as tomatoes, then a different hydroponic setup would be best.

Pros and Cons of the Wick System

Pros:

  • Doesn’t require electricity to run, which means that you can locate your system somewhere where your plants will be able to receive plenty of natural light.
  • A wick system is highly efficient in terms of water and nutrients – it uses much less than other hydroponic systems.
  • Makes use of soil-less growing mediums, which reduces the risk of pests and diseases developing on your plants.
  • The wick system only supplies your plants with the amount of water that they actually need, meaning that you don’t need to worry about over-watering.
  • It’s easy to set up – many often already have the required materials at home.
  • A wick system doesn’t require much maintenance.

Cons:

Not adaptable to bigger plants that need lots of water and nutrients, or plants that require a high level of maintenance.

  • Most growing mediums end up retaining certain nutrients, which could be toxic for your plants over a long period of time. However, this can be rectified by regularly flushing your growing medium.
  • Since the water in the reservoir isn’t being circulated by a pump, it can end up stagnant.
  • You will need to keep testing the pH level of your nutrient solution to ensure it remains suitable for your plants.
  • It takes some trial and error to get a wick system working in the way that you want it to.

Let’s find out this comparison:

How to Build a Wick System

Before setting up your wick growing system, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got all of the right materials…

What You Need to Build a Wick System

Being such a basic system, you only need a few components to get started with wick gardening:

A wick

This is the most important part of your system, as it directly impacts how quickly water is able to be delivered to your plants, as well as how much water can be carried over each time – the thicker the wick, the more water it can absorb.

You can either purchase a special hydroponics wick, or use household items, such as a string from a mop head, some cotton thread, a pice of nylon rope, or even an old item of clothing that has been cut into a strip.

You will usually need at least 2 wicks for each plant – this depends on how absorbent your wick material is.

Growing medium:

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

Pick a growing medium that’s good at absorbing and holding moisture, as this increases the amount of water available to your plants.

However, the medium you choose shouldn’t end up feeling soggy either – this will prevent the roots of your plants from absorbing oxygen, which will suffocate and kill them.

Some of the best growing mediums to consider for a wick system are coco coir, perlite, or vermiculite.

A growing tray

This is where you’ll be placing both your plants as well as your growing medium, so it needs to be large enough to accommodate this.

Don’t forget to take into account how much extra space will be needed as your plants grow.

A reservoir

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

This is a container in which you’ll be placing your water and nutrients. It doesn’t need to be complicated – a bucket or an empty soda bottle with the top cut off will work just fine.

However, try to choose something made from an opaque material – this prevents light from entering into your nutrient solution, which could trigger algae growth. Make sure that your container won’t leak either, and isn’t made from a material that could react with your nutrient solution.

If you want to take things a step further, you could also invest in an air pump. This isn’t a necessity, but some growers like to use one as it keeps the water constantly circulating within the reservoir. This helps to oxygenate the water, and also prevents waterborne diseases from arising.

The downside to using an air pump is that it makes the system a little more complex, and also requires the use of electricity.

Setting Up a Wick System

Choose a location for your wick system that allows your plants to receive lots of natural light. The location you pick should also be easy for you to access, especially when it comes to the reservoir, so that you can easily keep water levels topped up.

To start with, you’ll need to fill your reservoir with your chosen nutrient solution.

Then, make a small hole in the center of your growing tray – it only needs to be large enough for two wicks to fit through.

Wash your wicks before using them, as this helps to increase how absorbent they are.

Place your wicks in through the holes of your growing tray so that they can reach down into your reservoir, making sure that you’ve cut them long enough to be able to reach both your nutrient solution and the roots of your plants. You may need to adjust this a few times until you’ve found the perfect length.

Then, give your growing medium a good soak and place this, as well as your plants, into your growing tray.

Set the growing tray over the top of the reservoir – it helps if your growing tray is slightly larger than the reservoir, so that it can easily balance on top.

Then, sit back and watch your plants thrive!

How to Maintain a Wick System

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

Although the wick system is generally quite low-maintenance, there are still a few things that you will need to do to keep everything running optimally.

Topping Up the Water Level

Since your plants will be constantly absorbing water from the wick, the level of water in your reservoir will soon drop.

It’s important to keep this topped up – you never want the water level to be lower than the end of your wick, otherwise your plants will no longer be able to access water and nutrients.

How often you will need to top up your reservoir can vary depending on everything from the size of your reservoir to environmental conditions to how thirsty your plants are. Check the water level every day to begin with, until you’re able to develop a topping up schedule.

Checking Plant Moisture

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

Even if you’re using two wicks, your plants may still not be receiving enough moisture, making it important that you regularly check on this. Make sure that your growing medium is constantly moist, and check each plant too to ensure that they aren’t showing any signs of being thirsty.

If you think that your plants aren’t getting enough moisture, there are a few things that you can do:

  • Add in more wicks.
  • Choose a more absorbent material to use for your wicks.
  • Use a more absorbent growing material.
  • Adjust environmental conditions so that air temperature is lower but humidity is higher.

Flushing Your Growing Medium

Over time, certain nutrients will start building up in your chosen growing medium, and this could prove to be toxic for your plants. This is normal – your plants will often need more of one nutrient than another, leaving the excess to sit in your growing medium.

This is why it’s important to regularly flush your growing medium, as the flushing process washes out excess nutrients.

All you need to do is thoroughly wash your growing medium with fresh, distilled water every one to two weeks, before placing it back into your wick system.

Changing Your Water and Cleaning Your Reservoir

It doesn’t take long for algae and microorganisms to start forming in the water in your reservoir, especially if you aren’t using an air pump.

To keep things clean and sterile, you’ll need to completely replace the water in your reservoir every couple of weeks. While you’re doing this, give your reservoir a good clean too – sterilizing it with a water and 15% bleach solution does the job well.

The Use of Air Stones and Pumps

Hydroponic Wick System Garden Guide

Air stones are porous stones that connect to a pump and diffuse air/oxygen into water. In a wick system, they can be placed into the reservoir, where they will create tiny bubbles that oxygenate the water.

If you find that the water in your reservoir is going stagnant too quickly, then air stones can help to rectify the problem.

Summary

Although a wick system is very easy to set up and simple to run, it will require quite a bit of experimentation to start with – it takes some time to truly master this system. Everything from the length and material of your wick to the potency of your nutrient solution will affect how well your system works, and it takes some experimentation to really get a good grasp on this.

However, once you’ve managed to establish optimum conditions, you’ll find that your hydroponic wick system is extremely efficient, and it won’t be long before you notice growth and vitality improving in all of your plants.

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Jill Sandy

Jill Sandy

Jill is a sustainable focus gardener. She loves decorating her home backyard with beautiful landscape design and creative garden care techniques she develops herself. You can reach her at [email protected]

Chanh Ho (MD, MPH)

Chanh Ho (MD, MPH)

Chanh is our Head of Medical Review. He is a research physician at Oxford University Clinical Research Unit. After accomplishing the program of level 1 sub-specialty in Pediatrics, he was awarded the Chevening Scholarship for his Master’s degree of Public Health in the University of Edinburgh in 2019

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