Deep Water Culture

photo: Ivan Karpov / shutterstock

A week or two back, I posted about the differences between aeroponics and hydroponics. This week, I am going to expand the category of hydroponics once more, divulging with you the secrets of the deep water culture system for growing cannabis.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponic describes a group of soil-free methods for growing plants that utilize a growing medium to hold the plant while the roots are suspended. In many hydroponic set-ups, the purpose is to allow the root system access to a nutrient-rich reservoir of water and plenty of oxygen. In doing so, the plant can use less energy to get the nutrients necessary to grow– greatly increasing the speed the plant grows.

Among the various methods of hydroponically cultivating cannabis, the deep water culture system is definitely one of the easiest for new growers and the green-thumbed veterans. Deep water culture nutrients are held within the reservoir, making it easy to both check and adjust your nutrients and PH. While deep water culture DIY is common, you’ll want to know three things before you head to the grow store.

  1. How many plants you are growing
  2. How much space you have
  3. How much your equipment budget is

Three Types of Deep Water Culture Systems

Deep Water Culture Systems

Before I go and lay out how to build a deep water culture DIY or where to find the perfect mix of deep water culture nutrients, you should probably be informed on the subsets of deep water culture systems. Actually, allow me to slow us down just once more and, in so doing, present you with the formal definition of deep water culture systems:

Deep Water Culture is a hydroponic method of growing plants, in which the plant is suspended within a medium over an oxygenated water-filled reservoir of plant-loving nutrients. The use of an air pump into the nutrient solution to oxygenate the solution is the main distinguishing difference of this subset of hydroponic growing methods.

Simple Deep Water Culture System

I call this the simple DWCS. It is among the easiest hydroponic cultivation techniques and deep water culture DIY systems to make, though if you want, there are cost-effective pre-built systems available. The general idea is that the deep water culture nutrients in solution maintain a constant temperature and pH level while the roots grow. These systems are perfect if you are looking to only produce a plant at a time.

The set-up requires six things aside from germinated seeds, water, lighting, and nutrients.

Air Pump Air Stone(s)
Five Gallon Bucket Growing Medium
Net Pot(s) pH Testers


This deep water culture DIY allows the entire plant to be contained in a single bucket. A good rule of thumb is a watt per gallon, so be sure to purchase an air pump that will meet your growing needs. The seedlings are placed into the net-pot, which has been filled with the growing medium and fitted within the hole carved out of the bucket lid.

In doing this, the root system should dangle into the deep water culture nutrients mix. The air stone should be placed within the reservoir and is to be running 24/7. Think about it: if your plants are just dangling in water with no air flowing, it is a good way to inspire root rot among fledgling marijuana plants.

Recirculating Deep Water Culture System

If your ambitions exist outside the limitation of a single plant, deep water culture diy set-ups can be expanded to accommodate any number of plants– given you have space for it. Of course, expanding your grow operation does come with some degree of increased costs, but that is entirely too variable to necessitate further commentary.

Just know that the opportunity costs of producing more plants are dependent upon the space you have to grow it, lest the lighting situation.

In a recirculating DWC, the deep water culture nutrients mix is circulated via pumps from the main reservoir to each bucket. Each bucket, of course, is equipped with both an air pump and air stone of adequate wattage to oxygenate the volume being pumped into the individual bucket(s). The benefit to this is greater control of adjustments in deep water culture nutrients and pH, as well as allowing the grower consistency among plant growth times.

As the simple deep water culture system requires you to remove the bucket lid to check nutrient levels, even adding a second bucket to function as the reservoir, allowing easy access to adjustment and allows the roots to stay in the water.

Bubbleponics, or Top-Feed Deep Water Culture System

Though requiring additional pumps and temperature regulators, bubbleponics is a deep water culture DIY that increases nutrient absorption— oh whoops, I nearly forgot to recommend the nutrients.

Earlier this month, we posted a beginners guide to growing your own weed. Feel free to reference that for additional information on nutrients, although — to be completely honest — I usually just buy Pure Blend® Pro Grow 3-2-4 from our buddies at Way to Grow. It’s just perfectly balanced in all the right deep water culture nutrients you need and works for all manners of hydroponic set-ups.

Now that that is out of the way, bubbleponics requires additional hoses be hooked up to the growth medium, allowing the water/ nutrient solution to run down the root system as the air stone gives oxygen to the root system; resulting in hyper-growth under proper light conditions.

As much as you may be able to tell from reading this, none of the deep water culture diy systems require an intensive (or extensive) knowledge of plant horticulture, rather they exist with a vibrant simplicity — only gaining complexity with more volume and use of different, additional techniques.

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Joey is a freelance writer and digital marketer based out of Denver, Colorado. He has been a contributing writer in the cannabis industry for nearly two years. In his time in the cannabis space, he has written on economics, taxes, regulations, law, and medical or scientific research.