Deep Water Culture (DWC): What Is It And How To Get Started

Ed Wike
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What Is Deep Water Culture (DWC)?

Cannabis has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. While not exactly clear, most cannabis historians agree that the plant first appeared in mainland China around 2000 B.C. As it spread to other countries in the region, cannabis was grown in a variety of ways. In India, for example, the plants were grown in fields close together. In Southeast Asia, the plants were hung from trees. In Africa and Latin America, the plants were typically grown indoors.

The earliest known evidence of hydroponic cannabis comes from the U.S. government. In 1880, the USDA reported that hemp farmers were finding success in their new technique of growing their cannabis underwater. This took the cannabis growers from the realm of basement and outdoor growers and changed it to a major industry. A few decades later, cannabis growers would go from growing the plant in shallow pots to growing it in buckets. The following decades brought commercial sized plastic buckets, followed by the invention of the NFT system. Now we are on the verge of the most modern and efficient system for growing cannabis on the planet: DWC.

Benefits of Deep Water Culture

A DWC system has many benefits. As a beginner, it’s simple to set-up, tolerant of mistakes, and forgiving of “bad” water. The main components of the system are the same as in any other hydroponic system, and they are all easily acquired or made on your own.

DWC systems can be made from different materials:

Aerated reservoir: air is bubbled into water in this tub or reservoir which is then delivered to the plants.

An ebb and flow table: reservoir is covered with a plastic sheet on which pump is placed to automatically fill and drain.

An ebb and flow tank: the same as the above but the reservoir is usually drained manually.

DWC systems are usually linked to aeroponics, aquaponics, and submerged hydroponic systems. Basically, all these systems grow plants in the same way, which is by delivering a nutrient solution to the plant roots either from a bottom (submerged) or top (aeroponics). The only difference is the growing medium.

As you can see, DWC is a branch of hydroponics that’s very popular, cost-effective, and beginner-friendly.

Downsides of Deep Water Culture

Deep Water Culture Variations

The Traditional Method

Deep Water Culture has been around for many years and has been popularized in the cannabis industry for its rapid growth rates of high-quality bud. DWC is the most traditional and easiest method when it comes to obtaining the highest yields.

This method of growing is done in very large containers inside of a greenhouse or in an environment which is controlled. However, it can be dangerous if it is not done properly. Therefore, it is important to always ensure that the correct nutrients are being used.

These nutrients are usually liquid and are absorbed by the roots once they are placed in the water. The water you use for producing your plants needs to be pure with a specific pH balance. Without this, a dangerous situation can arise and your plants will begin to die off.

The main and most popular parts of DWC are the bucket, air pump, bubblers, and the water containers. The most important aspect of these containers is that all of them must be sealed tight. However, they still need to be placed in an area where there is an exchange of air.

Pests and other foreign objects are also a leading cause of most of the issues with DWC. Because of these risks, it is important for those looking to employ DWC to build a safe and secure containment unit for their cannabis plants.

Recirculating DWC

Deep water culture (DWC) is a technology for growing plants in a soilless environment. Plants develop their roots in an inert medium, such as perlite, and their stems and leaves are supported by a constantly replenished reservoir of nutrient laden water. When a DWC system is correctly managed, crops of high quality produce can be grown extremely rapidly, and the DWC system can be used to start crop seeds from seed to flower in 2 – 6 weeks.

To build a DWC system, there are two main components; a reservoir tank and a sub-irrigation system. The reservoir tank is simply a plastic, fiberglass or a wooden box and the reservoir is filled with whatever growing medium you prefer.

The sub-irrigation system consists of three components; a pump, a way to get the water from the reservoir to the growing medium, and a timer. There are many types of pumps available and they vary greatly in price and features. Most sub-irrigation systems use a sponge filter, although duckweed can also be used because it is extremely effective at removing the dissolved organics that result from plant growth.


If you've ever been to a retailer that sells hydroponic supplies, you might have noticed that there are basically two main ways to grow plants with hydroponics – NFT and DWC. For beginners, it can be hard to understand what DWC stands for and what it means to the overall concept of hydroponic gardening.

The term "deep water culture" can be confusing because it could mean any number of things. Here is a basic definition of what it is and how it can be used.

What Is DWC?

Deep water culture or DWC is a hydroponic gardening system in which plants are grown with roots suspended in an aerated nutrient solution. The root system is held above a reservoir of nutrient solution and oxygenated either with an air pump or naturally with an air stone.

The DWC system originated from the desire to mimic the conditions of the root system of a typical terrestrial plant. When plant roots are grown in the soil, they are surrounded by water. However in the artificial aquatic environment of hydroponics, they don't have this luxury so they are given the option of growing with the majority of their roots exposed to air. By using an air pump and bubbler, you are making a nutrient rich solution and you are providing your plants with oxygen. Water is replaced as it evaporates.

Common Deep Water Culture Questions (and Answers)

Even with the steady, powerful growth of the hydroponic industry over the past few decades, there are still many growers that are unfamiliar with deep water culture (DWC) growing and the benefits it has to offer. Let’s explore DWC, learn a little bit about how it works, and answer some questions that you might have about DWC systems.

What is Deep Water Culture?

Deep water culture (DWC) is an aqueous based growing medium that uses root zone substrates and a low density nutrient solution. Cannabis plants are placed in net pots, which are then suspended in a nutrient solution that is aerated with an air pump and air stone.

Wait a second, if it’s called Deep Water Culture, why aren’t the roots completely submerged in water?

The name refers to the amount of oxygen that can be dissolved in water. Water will only hold so much oxygen it is a non-renewable resource and will eventually need to be replaced. You have to keep topping up your water or your starter fertilizer with oxygen, because if not enough oxygen is dissolved in your water, you will kill your roots.

DWC is another hydroponic growing technique that is great for getting better flavor from wild yeasted beers or other liquids that are released from your plants while they are in a vegetative state.