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Best Plants Most Suitable For Deep Water Culture DWC Aquaponics

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics

Best Plants for DWC…
Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method aquaponics is a technique that promises effective nutrient delivery and big yields. Due to the configuration of the system, which uses floating rafts to support the plants in net pots, there is a limited number of plant species suitable for DWC aquaponics, but despite these limitations you’ll still find a variety of popular plants, both edible and inedible, that are suited to this method. In this article we’ll take look at how the deep water culture DWC a.k.a. floating raft method works, and what are the best plants for DWC aquaponics, and what fish are suitable for growing with deep water culture aquaponics.

Table of Contents

Different Types of Aquaponics Systems

Aquaponics systems are generally categorized into three different techniques; Media Based Systems, the Nutrient Film Technique NFT, and the Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method.

Aquaponics systems are created by combining hydroponics setups with aquaculture, and utilizing a process called nitrification to convert fish waste into food from the plants. Water is further filtered through a solid separator, then once sufficiently cleaned, is recycled back into the system.

Nitrification refers to conversion of ammonia fish waste into nitrates, then nitrites, which the plants consume as food. The process occurs due to the presence of beneficial bacteria that colonize in the biofilter, and other parts of the system. Nitrification makes up part of the filtration process, also known as the mineralization stage, which also includes the solids separator that removes larger waste particles to purify the water.

The only ‘fuel’ you need to provide for the system is food for the fish to begin the cycle, however aquaponics do require a lot of monitoring and maintenance to ensure essential levels remain stable and within safe ranges.

There are a number of fish species that are suitable for the conditions within aquaponics systems. Since the fish tank largely remains the same regardless of the technique, selecting the species will come down to other factors such as location and personal preference.

Selecting the plants however, is partly dependent on the type of aquaponics technique you employ. DWC aquaponics utilizes floating rafts, that are mainly supported by the buoyancy of the raft on water, therefore smaller, lightweight plants are more suitable for the technique.

Each type of aquaponics setup has its own pros and cons so it’s important to understand each technique so you can make an educated decision which one is best for you.

DWC setups are ideal for small, lightweight plants, ideally fast-growing, such as leafy greens, smaller fruits and vegetables, as well as some flowers. The configuration of DWC setups makes them suitable for home setups, DIY builds, and commercial operations.

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The Best Most Suitable Plants Species for Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method Aquaponics

Deep water culture DWC a.k.a. floating raft method aquaponics is similar to growing with hydroponics, even with the addition of the fish, beneficial bacteria and filtration. Plants are still essentially feed via soilless means with nutrient rich water, it’s just how you adjust and balance these levels that differs from hydroponics.

The DWC aquaponics method was borrowed from hydroponics, which not only means there’s access to lots of parts as well as DIY options, there’s also a lot of documentation on optimizing the system.

DWC aquaponics prefer smaller, lightweight plants such as leafy greens, smaller fruits and vegetables, herb, and some flowers. Despite the weight restrictions you’ll find a number of popular plants species that are suited to the technique, so you shouldn’t have any problems finding the perfect plant/s to suit your tastes.

7 Aquaponics Plant Species Ideal for Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method Aquaponics

Leafy Greens

Also known as leafy vegetable, and even just greens, these lightweight, fast-growing, and relatively low maintenance plants are perfect for NFT aquaponics.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Leafy Greens

Leafy greens great for growing in DWC aquaponics includes lettuce, watercress, and beets.

Brassicaceae Vegetables

Vegetables from the Brassicaceae family are often referred to as leafy greens, however, since they are not compatible as companion plants we thought they deserved their own mention.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Brassicaceae

Brassicaceae vegetables suitable for DWC aquaponics include: kale, broccoli, spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, turnips, cauliflower, and radish.



Brassicaceae vegetables are not great companions for other plants such as strawberries, beans, tomatoes and peppers due to secretions from the roots affecting growth of some neighboring plant species.

Some Herbs

Herbs small, lightweight, and fast-growing, therefore are an ideal choice for deep water culture DWC aquaponics.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Herbs

Herbs best suited to deep water culture DWC a.k.a. floating raft method aquaponics include: basil, coriander, sage, parsley, lemongrass, chives, mint, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

Small Fruiting Plants

Deep Water Culture DWC aquaponics can support smaller species of fruiting plants. Be sure to calculate that your floating rafts are strong enough to stay buoyant once the fruits have reach maturity prior to harvest, and remember to use additional support such as canes, or trestles, where necessary.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Fruits

Fruiting plants suitable for deep water culture DWC includes tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants/zucchini.


Of course, generally classified as a type of fruit, Berries are a smaller fruit that can be suitable for aquaponics. Some varieties can take years before providing ample harvests, however, they’re extremely popular, and tasty, and not always a bad choice for aquaponics.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Berries

Berries suitable for DWC aquaponics includes strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, wolfberry/goji berries.


The roots of raspberries, blackberries, and boysenberries (American Dewberries) are known to grow extremely fast, and can get out of control quickly if not properly prepared for.

Short Flowering Plants

Flowers are another good option for DWC aquaponics, especially the shorter, lightweight, and fast growing varieties.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Flowers

Flowers ideal for DWC aquaponics includes marigolds, roses, water hyacinth, pansies, orchids, and nasturtiums.

Some Spices

Whilst most species aren’t suited to standard aquaponics methods, certain types of chilis are known to thrive in the soilless conditions, and are ideal for warmer climates.

7 Best Plants for DWC Aquaponics Chili

If you’d like to find out more about what types of chili are best for aquaponics then check out our Chili Guide here >>>

Why Choose Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method Aquaponics

The deep water culture DWC a.k.a. floating raft method is a great option for both the homer grower and commercial setups. The larger floating rafts might not be as space saving as NFT options, and instead more comparable to dimensions required by media based systems, the floating rafts are easy to build, setup, and maintain. They’re also easily scalable if/when the time comes.

Advantages of Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method Aquaponics

  • Effective use of water
  • Effective nutrient delivery
  • Natural and effective oxygenation
  • Large yields
  • Minimizes salt build up
  • Easy to build
  • Easy maintain
  • Easy scalability
  • Affordable DIY options

Disadvantages of Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method Aquaponics

  • Larger initial water requirement
  • Larger power requirement
  • Limited plant choices
  • Pump failure offers little time to prevent catastrophic system failure

How to Set Up Your Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method System

When it comes to setting up your NFT aquaponics system there are several key factors you’ll need to consider, these include:

Location: Where you decide to place the setup can and will have an affect on temperature and lighting. You’ll want to consider any temperature changes from day to night, as well as how much gets exposed to the system. Plants typically require at least 6-8 hours of light, but up to 12-14 when fruiting or flowering, and any additional light will promote the growth of algae that can suffocate the system. Utilize careful placement, grow lights, and shading where necessary.

Selecting Grow Media: Plants are placed in net pots that sit within holes in the floating rafts. Net pots typically a grow media such as rockwool, clay pellets, or lava rocks, however it is possible to plant them without a grow media, depending on the species.

Selecting Plants: DWC aquaponics prefer smaller, more lightweight plants that grow fast. You may need to add support if growing smaller fruits, veg, or flowers, so that that into account when testing the strength of your rafts.

Selecting Fish: Selecting your fish doesn’t need to be governed by your choice in aquaponics technique. Instead you can choose one of several species known to thrive in aquaponics, e.g. tilapia, trout, salmon, gold fish, karp, etc. And go with a species that is suited to the climate of your location.

Preparation Cycling: All aquaponics systems require cycling prior to planting fish. This allows enough time for the beneficial bacteria to colonize in sufficient numbers, and typically takes between 4-6 weeks.

If you’d like to about the nitrification process and cycling your system, then check out our article on the Importance of Cycling Your Aquaponics System’ here >>>

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Buy or DIY

  • Buy: Since the DWC technique existed as a hydroponics technique for some time how, there are a number of systems and products on the market can make it easy to put together your own, pre-built but modular system. These professionally made components are a little more costly then the DIY method, however, is still relatively affordable.

  • DIY: DWC aquaponics can be easily constructed using DIY methods built from off-the-shelf components and repurposed parts. This option makes it slightly cheaper than going with professional grade products, and is often the choice for beginners and even experts looking to setup home aquaponics systems. 

How to Maintain & Optimize Your Deep Water Culture DWC a.k.a. Floating Raft Method System For Growing Aquaponics Plants

The key to keeping your aquaponics fish and plants healthy and alive, basically comes down to careful monitoring, good maintenance, and quick action should anything seem amiss.

There are several factors you’ll want ensure you always pay close attention to, as any problems can quickly cause fish and/or plants to die, and before you know it, the whole system can, and will, collapse.

Essential factors for healthy DWC aquaponics include:

Daily monitoring and maintenance
This is perhaps the most important part of keeping the system running. You’ll need to monitor things regularly and act quickly if you see any signs of stress, disease, contamination, or if any vital levels fall out of safe operating ranges.

To monitor the vital parameters of your DWC aquaponics system you can use:

  • 6 in 1 test strip; for nitrates, nitrites, water hardness, chlorine, alkalinity and pH level
  • DO meter/Oximeter: for DO concentrations
  • The colorimetric method and color meter: for DO concentrations
  • Temperature: measure water/air temperature

It’s also possible to get digital versions of these devices can provide consistent monitoring of these levels. These devices have become much more affordable in recent years and are seeing an increased use in aquaponics.

Smooth water flow
DWC water flow typically remains constant and strong. However you’ll need to ensure this is always the case as any blockages large enough to prevent the flow will lead to nutrient deficiencies.

pH scale
All aquaponics systems require pH to keep within certain ranges. The levels will rise and fall as the fish produce more waste, then the beneficial bacteria convert it into nitrates, so keep bear that in mind.

All species will have a certain tolerance to pH levels, however the generally accepted range for aquaponics is between 6.8-7.2.

To raise pH levels add calcium carbonate or potassium carbonate; to lower pH levels add muriatic, phosphoric or nitric.

Dissolved oxygen (DO)
DO is crucial for the survival of the fish and therefore, your plants as well. In setting concentrations safe for the fish your plants will thrive too, and knowing you can never really have too much DO makes this process a little more straightforward.

The accept DO concentration around 3PPM, however many species of fish require more, so be sure to check this value prior to starting.

If you need to increase DO concentrations you can install an air pump and air stone, or build a fountain, waterfall or cascading steps/water feature, that agitate the surface of the water’s to create additional DO.

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Plant health
Regularly check plants for signs of stress, disease and/or pests. Remove any dead leaves as soon as you notice them. Check the roots are receiving sufficient flow of water, as well as nutrients, and remember to act swiftly if any levels rise or fall out of safe ranges.

Fish health
You’ll also want to regularly check the fish for signs of stress, disease and/or pests too. Stick to the advised stocking density, and make sure there’s sufficient amount of water in the tank.

Quickly remove any fish with potential problems, and consider cleaning the system depending on the issues you encounter.

As mentioned where you chose to put your DWC system will have an affect of the natural light, shade and temperature the system is exposed to. It’s a good idea to leverage these factors instead of trying to fight them, this will make it easier to control via the use of grow lights, shading, heating/cooling.

Prevent algae growth
Algae growth can suffocate the system, and any additional light will promote the growth of this single cell organism. To prevent algae from forming limit the amount of light that reaches the system, only let enough light reach the plants and fish and keep it away from other parts of the system using shade and non-opaque building materials.

Prevent pests and disease
In order to prevent contamination, disease and pests, always make sure your hands, and/or any devices touching the system are clean. If you’re setting up outside then you’ll need to consider how you’ll keep birds and pests away. Whilst this is less important indoors, you’ll still need to regularly check for signs of pest and disease when monitoring your system, and again, always act quickly if you spot anything afoot.

You can prevent pest infestations using neem oil or a citrus-based insecticidal oil, however, if you already have an infestation then you can use natural predators such as aphid midges larvae, ladybugs, or lacewigs, to eat and get rid of the pests.

Balance fish to plant ratio
Generally rule of thumb for stocking density is a 1:2 ratio / fish:plant.

How to Prune Your DWC Aquaponics Plants

Pruning your aquaponics plants will differ from species to species, but will typically consist of removing dead leaves, cutting back branches, and pinching tops to stop more vertical growth. Be sure to check what the species requires so you can be prepared for the maintenance.

How to Harvest Your DWC Aquaponic Crops

Harvesting will also vary from crop to crop, however it’s generally done when plants/fruits/flowers reach full maturity, or slightly prior to so they may ripen after being picked. Aquaponics can often speed up the grow process, so again, be sure to research your chosen species so you’ll know what to expect.

In Conclusion

Whether you’re a beginner or expert, home grower or commercial operation, DWC/floating raft aquaponics is a great option for all. Easy to build, maintain and operate, DWC is a great way to get into aquaponics, and whilst there may be limits to the amount of different plant species you can grow, there’s still a great deal of choice so you’ll no doubt be able to grown some of your favorite plants in your man-made ecosystem.

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