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Tips for Growing Plants in a Hydroponic Wick System

By Chris Bond
Published: November 8, 2017 | Last updated: April 29, 2021
Key Takeaways

If you’ve ever had a wet backside from sitting on a moist towel, you’ve experienced a basic wick system at work. On the hydroponic side of things, wick systems are cheap and easy to set up, but they can take a lifetime to master. Here are a few tips.

Wick hydroponic systems are, in principle, the easiest of all hydroponic systems to create and operate, and they are usually cheapest to set up. So long as capillary action can be triggered, a working wick system can be accomplished. Like a good game though, a wick system takes a moment to learn but can take a lifetime to master.

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The Basics of a Wick System

A working wick hydroponic system can have as few as four components (including the plants). The first thing needed is a reservoir containing water or a nutrient solution. Then, any material that is capable of wicking moisture. This could be strips of old towels, old clothes, sponges, or rope of natural fiber; anything that can absorb water is suitable.

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Next, a suitable media for growing plants and supporting roots. This could be traditional potting soil, vermiculite, sand, gravel, coir, or any material that can sustain plant life. Finally, plants that are suitable for growing in a wick system. The plants that usually work best for wick systems are those that don’t produce fruit, such as greens or herbs.

Tips for Growing in a Wick System

Once you have the rudiments in place, the trick is to get everything set up in proper proportions. The reservoir needs to be big enough to hold all the water or nutrients the selected plants need.

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The water also needs to be able to turn over or oxygenate. Some growers insert a pump or an air stone into their wick systems to address this issue. The reservoir should also not be exposed to light to avoid the development of algae or other unwanted aquatic growth.

Next, the wick needs to be of sufficient size to absorb and deliver enough moisture to the root zone of your plants in the media. This may take some trial and error to figure out. Second, the wick shouldn’t be too long.

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The closer the reservoir and the media are, the easier it will be to keep the media sufficiently moist. Also, it is advisable to have as closed a system as possible. That way the wick doesn’t dry out altogether.

For grow media, select one that is capable of absorbing and holding moisture. Sand, vermiculite, and coir are good choices for beginners. However, growers using wick systems need to strike the correct balance between a wick that can deliver enough moisture and a media that can retain it. If your wick material is super-efficient at drawing up moisture, adding some larger media like gravel or perlite may be required.

Of all the hydroponic systems to choose from, wick systems are by far the easiest to maintain. Like any hydro system, though, they require some amount of maintenance and tweaking to operate at their peak efficiency.

Still, they are great entry-level projects into the world of hydroponics, and they also make for an easy demonstration that educators can show to their classes or small businesses can show to their customers.

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Written by Chris Bond | Certified Permaculture Designer, Nursery Technician, Nursery Professional

Profile Picture of Chris Bond

Chris Bond’s research interests are with sustainable agriculture, biological pest control, and alternative growing methods. He is a certified permaculture designer and certified nursery technician in Ohio and a certified nursery professional in New York, where he got his start in growing.

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