Nutrient Film Technique Vs Ebb And Flow (What’s Right For You?)

Hydroponic gardening has become more popular recently, as it’s a great way to grow your own produce with limited space and resources. There are so many different systems to choose from, so you’ll want to read up before you get started.

Two of the most popular methods for beginner to intermediate growers are the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and the Ebb and Flow method. These two methods use relatively similar equipment and principles but have some key differences in the way that they work, and what types of plants they are good for.

This guide will cover all the basics of both the Nutrient Film Technique and the Ebb and Flow method, as well as some pros and cons, and how to know if either of these methods is right for you. 

What Is Ebb And Flow Hydroponics?

The Ebb and Flow hydroponics method is also known as the Flood and Drain method due to the way it uses water cycles. It is one of the most popular hydroponics methods, especially for beginners because it is relatively easy to set up and can grow many different types of plants. 

How Does It Work? 

In an Ebb and Flow system, the plants are placed in a grow tray. The grow tray sits above a reservoir full of water and nutrients. A submersible water pump brings water up out of the reservoir and into the grow tray. The water then drains slowly back into the reservoir through a drain tube. 

In the Ebb and Flow method, the pump brings a large amount of water up at once (the “flood”). The plants’ roots then sit in this water as the excess drains back into the reservoir. These regular cycles are usually run by an electric timer.

What Are The Pros Of Ebb And Flow Hydroponics? 

You Can Grow Most Plants

Unlike some other hydroponics methods, Ebb and flow is very versatile and can be used to grow almost any plant. The only limitation is whether your plants can fit in your grow tray. 

It’s Expandable

This is especially helpful if you’re an intermediate gardener, or a beginner looking to expand your knowledge and your garden over time. By simply adding more grow trays, you can easily expand an ebb and flow system without affecting the system much at all.

You Can Customize The Cycles

If you’re a more experienced gardener, or if you pay attention to the specific plants you’re growing, you can actually customize the water cycles of your ebb and flow system. This can be helpful to do as you see how your garden performs, and what changes you may need to make to it. 

It’s Relatively Easy To Set Up

While Ebb and Flow definitely isn’t the very easiest hydroponic growing method, it’s not too complicated to set up. You’ll be able to find the parts pretty easily (you can even buy premade systems online), and even if you’re building the entire thing yourself, you should be able to do it in an afternoon. 

What Are The Cons Of Ebb And Flow Hydroponics? 

You Have To Clean Your Containers

Since the Ebb and Flow method leaves large amounts of water sitting in your grow tray at a time, your garden can become susceptible to mold, mildew, and other infections. To deal with this, it’s important to clean your containers after each growing season. This can take time, especially if your garden is larger, but it’s an absolute necessity. 

It’s Not The Easiest For Beginners To Put Together

This might not be a con if you’re an experienced grower, but it’s worth saying that if you’re a complete beginner, Ebb and Flow is not the easiest type of hydroponics system out there. It’s not too complicated though, so with just a little time and effort, you should be able to figure it out. 

It’s Reliant On Electricity

The main thing to think about with this is that if your power goes out, you may find yourself with a major problem on your hands. This could also happen if the pump breaks or the timer starts to malfunction. In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s a good idea to just check on your system regularly and make sure everything is in order.

Who Is Ebb And Flow Hydroponics Best Suited For? 

This type of system is perfect for someone who has a bit of experience with hydroponic growing but isn’t necessarily a professional. It allows you to expand your garden over time, and have a bit more control over the size of the garden and how the Ebb and Flow cycles go. 

An Ebb and Flow system is great for growing leafy greens such as lettuce. These plants are well-suited to the water cycles that the Ebb and Flow system uses, so they will grow especially well in this environment. You can also grow a wide variety of other plants, like cucumbers and tomatoes, with this system. 

What Is NFT Hydroponics? 

NFT stands for the Nutrient Film Technique. This is another one of the most popular hydroponics methods. It runs on relatively similar ideas as the Ebb and Flow system, but in this system, the water and nutrients flow over the plants constantly, rather than flooding and draining in cycles. 

How Does It Work? 

In the Nutrient Film Technique, plants are placed in a grow tray. The grow tray sits above a reservoir full of nutrient solution. A submersible water pump then brings water up from the reservoir and into the grow tray.

The key to the Nutrient Film Technique is that the grow tray is placed on an angle so that the water flows from its source downwards into a drain tube. The water then flows consistently back down into the reservoir. In NFT, the water and nutrients are constantly circulating, whereas in Ebb and Flow they circulate in cycles. 

What Are The Pros Of NFT Hydroponics?

Constant Stream Of Water And Nutrients

This is possibly the most important advantage of this system. The defining factor of NFT is that the nutrients and water are constantly flowing over the plants, eliminating the need to adjust the cycles or worry about if your timer goes off. This is great for people looking for something more constant and lower maintenance.

Your Plants Get More Oxygen

Unlike in the Ebb and Flow method, where the plants’ roots stay largely submerged for periods of time, the nutrient solution in NFT only flows over some of the root system. This leaves the top of the roots open, allowing them to receive more oxygen. Many growers still put an air pump in their reservoirs to oxygenate the water, but this is not as necessary in an NFT system. 

Relatively Low Maintenance

The main challenge is to set up your NFT system, but once you’ve done that, it should be good to go. Of course, as with any system, you may need to watch it a bit at first to make sure everything is working correctly, but there are fewer variables in this system to check on than in the Ebb and Flow method. 

What Are The Cons Of NFT Hydroponics? 

Not The Best For Beginners

Like the Ebb and Flow method, NFT is also not the simplest hydroponics method out there. Although it may be easier to maintain than an Ebb and Flow system, an NFT system may be more difficult to set up. The grow tray should be slightly tilted but not too tilted to ensure that water flows downward, but doesn’t go too quickly over the plants. 

Doesn’t Work With All Plants

Since NFT works with a shallower level of water, there is not as much space for heavier plants to be stabilized in their environment. This makes the NFT system best for lighter-weight plants that won’t have its issue and does place some limits on what you can successfully grow in your hydroponic garden. 

Relies On Moving Parts

Similar to the Ebb and Flow system, NFT runs on an electrical water pump. This generally isn’t an issue, but if your power goes out or the pump stops working, it could be a major problem. This is even more true than in the Ebb and Flow system as the water and nutrients around your plants will dry up as soon as the pump stops working. 

Who is NFT Hydroponics Best Suited For?

NFT is great for growers who have some experience with hydroponics already. This is not an absolute limit, but this type of system will be harder to set up if you’re a beginner.

This is also a great system for growers who want to harvest their crops quickly. NFT provides constant nutrients and water to your plants, allowing them to take these in more efficiently and have faster overall growth. 

The system is great for smaller plants, and it is also good for those who don’t have lots of time for maintenance, since it does a very efficient job of constantly circulating the water and nutrients. 

Which Costs More to Set Up? 

NFT: More Readily Available

NFT systems are generally more popular than Ebb and Flow systems, so you’re likely to be able to find a more affordable setup, especially if you’re buying a pre-made system. In general, though, since these systems are relatively similar, you’re not going to find an enormous difference in cost between the two. 

Ebb And Flow: Simpler Set Up

While an Ebb and Flow system may be more difficult to find on the market, it’s simpler to set up on your own, since you don’t have to set up your grow tray on a slope and have the water pump come over the top of the tray. Again, this won’t make an enormous difference, but it’s something to consider. 

Which Is Easier To Build And Why? 

Ebb And Flow: Simpler Build

If you’re going the DIY route, the Ebb and Flow system is easier to build because there is less complexity and precision required. In NFT, you have to make sure to get the angle of the grow tray right, while in Ebb and Flow, this isn’t a problem. 

NFT: More Time Upfront, Less Time Later

The NFT system is more difficult to set up at the beginning since you have to take into account the constant flow of nutrients. However, you can think of this as more of an investment upfront for an easier time later, as this system will require less maintenance in the long run.

Which Produces the Best Yield? 

NFT: More Nutrients For Faster Growth

For plants that are suited to an NFT system, this often promotes faster growth since the nutrients are constantly cycling over the plants’ roots. This is great if you’re looking to grow plants such as herbs or leafy greens and get more yields out of each plant. However, it’s important to remember that NFT isn’t necessarily suited for all types of plants. 

Ebb And Flow: Better For Plants With Longer Growing Periods

If your plants are heavier, you may not have a choice when it comes to NFT vs. Ebb and Flow. Ebb and Flow generally doesn’t have as quick of growing periods as the NFT system, but it can be better for plants that are more used to dry cycles or longer growing periods. 

Which One Takes up Less Space? 

NFT: Best For Varying Sizes

In both of these systems, it will depend on how many plants you decide to grow. Both can accommodate gardens of varying sizes. The NFT may be more space-efficient if you’re looking to expand your garden because you can have multiple NFT trays stacked on top of each other, with water trickling down through the trays.

Ebb And Flow: Simple But Effective

The Ebb and Flow system is simpler than the NFT system, so if you’re looking to expand your garden beyond the basics, this one is likely to take up more space. For a basic garden, though, you can buy or build your system to accommodate the space that you have.

Which is More Prone to Diseases? 

Ebb And Flow: More Sitting Water

The Ebb and Flow system is often more prone to diseases because of the water cycles it uses. In this type of system, a larger amount of water drains slowly, leaving water more stagnant for long periods of time. This can lead to the development of mold or other diseases, especially if not cleaned properly.

NFT: Constant Flow

NFT systems are often better at cleaning themselves due to the constant flow of nutrients over the plants. The plants in this kind of system also get more oxygen, leading to less danger of them suffocating without it. However, diseases can come up no matter what type of system you have, so it’s always something to watch out for. 

Which is Easier to Maintain? 

NFT: No Cycles

This system is easier in terms of regular maintenance because there are no cycles to keep track of since the water and nutrients flow over your plants constantly. Also, there’s no particular need to clean out your system in between grow periods like there is in an Ebb and Flow system. 

Ebb And Flow: Better In An Emergency

An Ebb and Flow system can sometimes take more regular maintenance than an NFT system but in the event that your power went out or the pump stopped working, this system would keep you covered for longer. Even so, you have the extra variable of the timer, though, so it’s difficult to say. 

What’s The Best Hydroponic System To Choose? 


This system comes premade with all the parts you’ll need to set it up. It has space for 72 individual plants, and the system is easy to use and comes with all of the instructions and information you’ll need. 

Ebb And Flow: Hydrofarm Active Aqua Grow 

This system has space for 12 plants and comes with individual pots, allowing you to move and relocate your plants. The system also allows for a smaller reservoir and can accommodate expansions with further supplies. 

Final Tips for Beginners

Research Before You Buy

The best choices for your plants will depend on the specific plants you’re growing, so it’s important to do research on your plants before you grow them. 

Think About Your Goals

This is another important factor in which system to choose, so think about things like whether you’re looking to start hydroponics, or build a larger and more complex garden. 

Stay Adaptable

At the end of the day, all hydroponics are living plants, so there’s no way to know for sure how they will turn out. You’ll have to be prepared for system malfunctions, nutrient imbalances, or any other problems that arise. If things start to go wrong, don’t panic, just try to do your research, understand what the problem is, and how you can solve it. 

Hydroponics can be a great new hobby, and a great way to get fresh food in the comfort of your home. As two of the most popular hydroponic methods, the NFT and Ebb and Flow methods both take some time to learn and understand, but ultimately are great options for your garden. 

When choosing between the two, you’ll need to make your decisions based on your budget, what type of plant you’re looking to grow, as well as how much maintenance and care you’ll be able to devote to your garden.

No matter which system you choose, you’ll learn a lot about hydroponics along the way, and create your own beautiful garden anywhere you choose. Happy growing!

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