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Hydroponics Grow Systems - Ebb & Flow (Flood & Drain)

What is an ebb and flow system?

Ebb and flow hydroponic systems, also referred as flood and drain, are some of the more popular systems for indoor growing. These systems are known for its simplicity and great for newbies. But it will be foolish to say that growing in an ebb and flow hydroponics system is easy, as there is still a rather steep learning curve. This is not the easiest to set up and require some efforts but it's not as complex as some advanced forms of Hydroponics, such as the Aeroponics.

Ebb and Flow system involves periodic flooding and draining of the nutrient solutions. Ebb and flow meaning is to "change continuously", hence you find the this system alternating between flooding and draining regularly.

Basically, there are two phases of its operation. The Flood is when the water and nutrients flow the growing areas, flowing over the plants' roots. The drain is when the water drains back to the reservoir. These two actions take turn continuously, and hence their name- flood and drain. Once you get used to the ebb and flow grow system components, with few concepts , ebb and flow hydroponics systems can help cultivate some incredibly strong plants!

There are two main styles of ebb and flow systems you’ll come across - the bucket style, such as the Super Closet Bubble Flow buckets, or a flood table style.

They look very different, but the two styles do exactly the same thing - send a nutrient system into the growth module with a water pump to raise the water level, and then allow it to drain back into the reservoir.

How does an ebb and flow systems work?

Similar to its name, an flood and drain system flood's the root zone with nutrients, and slowly drain back into the reservoir. There is a series of containers (or it can be one container) which the plants stay are arranged on a grow tray (or growing bed). There is a timer which controls the water pumping cycle.

When the timer goes on, the submersible fountain pump starts pumping water and nutrients. The nutrient solutions then flow up to the above container (grow tray), soaking the plants' roots until they reach the water limit. This happens 4-6 times a day, and the roots will soak in the nutrient solution for 10-15 minutes at a time.

While at the set level, there is a continuous circulation of nutrient water in the system for a period. At this point, the overflow tube is instrumental in ensuring the maintenance of the standard water level. 

Moreover, this tube also prevents nutrient water from spilling out of the reservoir during circulation. When the timer goes off, the pump is halted, and nutrient liquid stops flowing in tanks. It begins draining back into the water reservoir via the drainage system.

Ebb and Flow Aeration

While the nutrient solution soaks the root zone during the flood cycle, the plants are not exposed to oxygen. For this reason, it is very important to ensure adequate oxygen in the hydroponic grow media. Some growers prefer getting the air in the nutrient solution from over tube when it falls back to the reservoir. In case of not having enough oxygen in the nutrient reservoir, be sure to provide an air pump. The overflow tube should be more extensive than the water inlet tube. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ebb and Flow System


  • Low cost. The cost of setting up the structure, buying materials, and maintaining the fabric is very affordable for everyone. Especially if you decide to improvise the parts, you may end up saving a lot of money. 
  • Nutrient abundance for plants is present. The system ensures that your plants obtain just enough nutrients. The overflow tube ensures that flooding in the containers is not possible. Therefore, your plants get to grow into maturity and are healthy and nutritious.
  • It is easy to build up the structure. Unlike other expensive and complicated types of hydroponics, flood and drain do not require expert knowledge. Just reading this post, watch a tutorial, you can easily set up a stable and operational structure. 
  • It is easy to use. Once you set up the system, the hard part of the job is over. The rest of the work is straightforward, as it requires minimum supervision and maintenance. The simple tasks are ensuring availability of nutrient solution, and constant checking to confirm functionality. There is little need for technical assistance in using the system.


  • Instances of unstable ph levels: when the structure fails, the water overflows into the containers and thus flooding the plant. The excess nutrients create unbearable PH environment that destroys the farm produce. There is the creation of toxicities that are harmful to the crop; this brings losses to the farmer.
  • Breakdowns are common. Once you decide to improvise the materials and build your structure, you have to be extra careful. Any small mistake in the formation may cause the whole system to break down and stop functioning. Some of the frequent breakdowns happen in the pumping machines.

How to choose the best hydroponic ebb and flow system?

Deciding which hydroponic system you will use will depends on how much money you will spend, what kind of plants you are able to grow, and how successful your garden will be. Therefore, it is imperative that you choose a system that matches your budget, needs, and experience. Hydroponic systems vary in what kind of equipment is required, how the nutrients are delivered, and what media can be successfully used.

The number of plants with the budget, are a big deciding factor to choose a flood and drain system. For Most hobby growers 1-10 plants system will be sufficient. More serious or commercial growers looking to maximize the space of their warehouse or greenhouse can choose a system designed to grow more than 40 plants!

Still not sure which hydroponic system is best for you?

If you still have questions or want help choosing a system, give us a call! Our experts are waiting to help you find a system that gives you the best chance of success. Reach out to us at 1 (800) 351-5283 for further help.

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