Less is more.
Most of us have heard of this popular phrase, but does it apply to gardening?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Vertical hydroponics is the practice of hydroponically growing plants in vertically stacked layers, which means you don’t need a lot of ground space to do it.
You can grow plants in your small apartment, your restaurant, your office, and practically anywhere in the world where you have small areas.
How Does Vertical Hydroponics Work?
Vertical hydroponics works like all other hydroponic systems: by exposing the bare roots of plants to a nutrient-rich water solution.
Except in vertical hydroponics, your plants are stacked vertically in layers.
The nutrient solution provides the plant with all the nutrients that it needs. You don’t need any growth media, like soil.
The vertical hydroponics system consists of the following basic components:
- A water reservoir
- A pump
- Vertical grow tubes
- Overhead distribution pipes
- Drainage pipes (optional)
- The system is similar to Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), but here the channels or grow towers are arranged vertically.
- Holes in the channels contain net pots to hold seedlings.
- Nutrient solution all dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is pumped from a reservoir at the bottom to overhead distribution pipes and is delivered to the top layer.
- From there, the nutrient solution drips down with the assistance of gravity past the bare roots of plants at lower layers.
- The solution collects in the reservoir through drainage pipes at the bottom and is recycled.
Vertical Hydroponics Advantages
Vertical hydroponics is advantageous to other systems of plant cultivation mainly due to its capacity to produce a large yield while consuming very little land-area.
Since this can be easily done indoors, your plants don’t have to depend on good weather. Plus, using less space makes vertical hydroponic systems less disruptive to the surrounding flora and fauna, resulting in the conservation of local biodiversity.
The following are the advantages of vertical hydroponics.
- The main advantage of vertical hydroponics is the minimal use of ground space.
- Hydroponic towers use 90% less water than traditional agriculture.
- Vertical hydroponic systems are a form of NFT. This technique ensures adequate supply of oxygen, water, and nutrients leading to high-quality yields.
- May allow for 10 times the crop yield compared to traditional methods.
- Highly increased energy efficiency.
- Can be grown indoors, making them protected from harsh weather conditions.
- Year-round crop production, since the method is independent of outside weather.
Vertical Hydroponics Disadvantages
The only major disadvantages of a vertical hydroponic system are its relative complexity compared to other systems, like deep water culture (DWC), and its general complexity in setting up.
NFT systems rely heavily on technology, meaning an around-the-clock power supply is required. A power failure could mean a loss in production (or your entire crop).
It’s also tougher to construct these systems because of the care needed to set the proper gradient. If your systems slopes too much, your plants don’t get enough water and nutrients. If it doesn’t slope enough, you end up with stagnant puddles of water that introduce the risk of disease and poor nutrient circulation.
Making Your Own DIY Verical Hydriponics System
Most people choose to make their own vertical hydroponic systems, with PVC pipes being the most common material to build the grow towers. Making a system might be easier than you think.
We’ll provide some tips below, but here’s a great video on constructing a DIY vertical hydroponics system. (And check this out for other DIY hydroponics setups.)
Building the grow tower
- Use PVC pipes to make the grow towers.
- Make slits in the PVC pipes to make holes for grow spaces. Then, using a heat gun, push the part above the slits inwards, so that you get holes that face upwards to hold the net pots.
- Make sure that the grow spaces (holes) are adequately distanced from each other to allow for enough room for the plants as they grow.
- If your system isn’t going to be wall-mounted, you might want your grow spaces to face different directions, in a spiral fashion. This way, you can grow more plants on a single tower.
- Your grow tower can be self-supporting if there’s going to be only one tower in your system.
- But if your tower is tall and/or you’re going to integrate more towers into your system, you need a support system to hold the towers. You can mount the system on a wall or hang the towers from an overhead frame.
- When your plants grow, they must have enough space for light and air, so the grow towers must be separated by enough distance from each other.
Building your nutrient reservoir
- You’ll be pumping nutrient solution to the top of the towers from your reservoir. You can place the reservoir directly under the towers so the unused solution (run-off) collects directly in the reservoir to be pumped up again.
- Or you can collect the water from the towers using drain pipes, and then direct it to the reservoir placed somewhere nearby.
- Your reservoir might need a drain pipe to drain the water from the reservoir when it’s time to replace the nutrient solution.
- You need a pump to carry nutrient solution from the reservoir to the top of the towers. From there, the solution must be delivered uniformly to all of the grow towers through the use of hoses or tubing.
- You need to ensure equal delivery of water to all plants in the system. If you have holes in a spiral fashion, the water must flow all over the inside of the pipe in such a way that all plants are adequately watered.
Don’t forget the grow lights
- If your system is outside or in a greenhouse, you may not want a grow light. But as in any hydroponic system, grow lights are important if you’re growing your plants indoors.
Transplanting the seedlings
- After you’ve set your system up, place the net pots in the grow spaces. The net pots must reach deep enough inside the PVC pipe so that the roots of the seedlings are exposed to the dripping water.
- Again, check if the water drips past all of the grow spaces without missing any.
- Now you’re all set to transplant your seedlings. Place the seedlings inside the net pots and wait for your plants to grow.
3 Pre-Constructed Vertical Hydroponics Systems
You can buy vertical systems online as well.
Vertical towers on Amazon relatively hold a smaller number of plants and aren’t meant for mass production unless you buy a lot of them. But still, a single tower can hold from 10-75 plants
1. Mr. Stacky Smart Farm
Mr. Stacky Smart Farm is a self-watering vertical hydroponic tower that can hold 20 plants. It can be used to grow plants either hydroponically or using soil.
- Weight: 11 lbs
- Reservoir: 16 gallons
- Dimensions: 16″ x 16″ x 87″
- Holes: 20 x 1.25″ diameter
- More Info: Click here →
Comes with 5 planters (each containing 4 pots) that can be stacked on top of each other. Also includes a base reservoir, lid, pump, timer, distribution head, plant food, pipes, tubes, adapters, and grow guide.
Basically, it’s everything you need.
If you choose to grow your plants hydroponically, Mr. Stacky recommends you to use a growing medium composed of 75-80% of coco peat and 20-25% perlite, gravel, or Growstone.
The coco peat and other components for the growing medium don’t come with the tower, so you’ll have to buy them separately. (But again, they aren’t required.)
If you’re growing your plants indoors, you need to buy your own LED lights as the Mr. Stacky Smart Farm doesn’t come with any.
Pros of the Mr Stacky Smart Farm
- You can grow pretty much “anything you can think of that makes sense”, from cucumbers and bell peppers to strawberries and watermelons, and even rooted plants such as beets.
- Comes in three attractive colors: stone, black, and terracotta.
Cons of the Mr Stacky Smart Farm
- LED grow lights not included.
2. DreamJoy 4-Layers Vertical Hydroponic System
A zig-zag vertical hydroponic system, the DreamJoy 4 Layers 36 Plant Sites can accommodate up to 36 plants and is simple both to assemble and use.
- Weight: 30 lbs
- Reservoir: 16 gallons
- Dimensions: 19″ x 19″ x 52″
- Pump: 250 gph (submersible)
- More Info: Click here →
It’s made of food-grade PVC-U pipes, which are stacked vertically in 4 layers, each of which can hold 9 plants.
Your kit includes the following:
- A holder and a main pipe
- 36 planting sites and planting sponges
- 1 x 110V water pump
- 1 hose
- Installation instructions
It doesn’t come with its own water reservoir or grow lights.
You have to put the seeds in the sponge and wait for them to sprout before transplanting them with the sponge to the planting holes.
Pros of the DreamJoy Vertical System
- Very easy to assemble (only takes around 20 minutes).
- Great for small, leafy plants.
Cons of the DreamJoy Vertical System
- Doesn’t come with a water reservoir or LED light system.
- Made especially for leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, herb, celery, cabbage, etc.
3. Lettuce Grow 36-Plant Farmstand
If you’re looking for a vertical tower that doesn’t require a growth medium, you might consider the Lettuce Grow 36-Plant Farmstand. This system can hold 36 plants, but you can also choose to buy towers that hold 12, 18, 24 or 30 plants.
- Weight: 23 lbs
- Reservoir: 20.5 gallons
- Dimensions: 13″ x 13″ x 73″
- Holes: 6 layers x 6 plants per layer
- More Info: Click here →
It comes with a water capacity of 20.5 gallons, is very compact, and looks like a flower vase with a sleek and stylish finish.
Though the name may lead you to think this tower is just for growing lettuce, it can be used for growing a wide variety of plants. (Lettuce Grow has 200+ varieties of seedlings. They don’t come in the box, though.)
Pros of the Lettuce Grow 36-Plant Farmstand
- Completely self-watering and self-fertilizing.
- Comes with enough food for 130+ plants.
- Expansion kits with additional layers are sold separately so you can increase your capacity at any time without buying a new kit.
Cons of the Lettuce Grow 36-Plant Farmstand
- One of the most expensive pre-constructed hydroponic systems.
- Heavy and fragile.
Vertical Hydroponics: Final Thoughts
Vertical hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil in vertically stacked layers, without the need for much horizontal space.
The main advantage is the increased crop yield that comes from a very small footprint.
But there are so many other benefits and advantages that go beyond the scope of just an increase in yields, such as improved water and nutrient efficiency and very low rates of disease.
Building a vertical hydroponic system is easy. If you don’t want to DIY a system yourself, there are plenty of pre-assembled systems available online from the super-simple Mr. Stacky Smart Farm to the elegant Lettuce Grow Farmstand.