how does nft hydroponics work

How Does NFT Hydroponics Work: A Complete Guide

Under the hydroponic nutrient film technique, or NFT in brief, plants are grown in a shallow stream of water which includes all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth. The plant roots are enclosed in growth tanks that are circulated with this water flow. The roots of the plants take up nutrients from the stream, and since the roots are suspended in the air and the water level is shallow, the roots take up oxygen too.

A variety of lettuce and other small, fast-growing plants are grown using the nutrition film method. Commercial gardeners employ this technology not only to grow lettuce but also to raise baby greens, strawberries, and herbs.

The Nutrient Film Technique is a well-known and versatile hydroponic technique that uses identical but rearranged components to the Ebb and Flow system. In this below article, one will get to know the complete information about how NFT hydroponics works and the benefits and challenges associated with it.

Basics of NFT System: How Does NFT Hydroponics Work

NFT Hydroponics System |  How Does NFT Hydroponics Work
NFT Hydroponics System | Image Credits: Proponics

Utilizing pumps, the Nutrient Film Technique is an active hydroponic system that circulates a thin layer of nutrient solution through shallow channels so that the roots of plants dip in and absorb nutrients. Thus, it is a highly efficient system that can significantly lower the usage of water.  A few essential elements of an NFT system are as follows:

Grow Channels/Trays

Because the grow trays in Nutrient Film Technique systems are shallow, the grower is able to adequately feed the plants using little water. assist with the nutrient solution flow, one can also carefully tilt them downwards.

Water-Storage Pump

The nutrient solution gets moved to the grow trays using the water pump from the nutrient reservoir. Since it is a point of vulnerability in the system, the plants might wilt or die as soon as they lack contact with the solution.

Air Pump/Air Stone

The NFT system’s performance relies heavily on the water pump. The main purpose of the air stone is to oxygenate and replenish the nutrient solution. This helps in preventing the harmful root rot and healthy root growth is promoted. Furthermore, the air stone bubbling motion promotes the circulation of the nutrient solution. 

This assures that every root has an equal chance of getting nutrients and prevents water from turning stagnant in a single region, which may end up in the development of serious illnesses.

Nutrient-Based solution

The core component of the Nutrient Film Technique system is the nutrient solution. The plants would lack the resources they need to grow without the nutrient solution. In conventional agriculture, this might be compared to fertilizer. Three essential nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—can be seen as hydroponics’ “special condiment.” The nutrient solution goes back to the reservoir and is available for reuse after it goes through the system.

Designing of the NFT system 

Although NFT systems can be designed in numerous ways, two methods that are commonly employed tend to be considered the most effective and flexible for beginners: a horizontal NFT and a vertical NFT system.

NFT Hydroponics Systems in Vertical Aspect

Vertical NFT Hydroponic System | How Does NFT Hydroponics Work
Vertical NFT Hydroponic System | Image Credits: Linkedin

Vertical NFT systems are compact and perfect for cities. It includes vertical channel stacking, to accommodate more plants into a smaller space. They might prove more challenging to manage overall, however, and also need special attention in water distribution way. 

NFT Systems in the horizontal direction

Horizontal NFT Hydroponics System | How Does NFT Hydroponics Work
Horizontal NFT Hydroponics System | Image Credits: G and N Fortune

Since they are more widely used and easier to build, horizontal NFT technology is perfect for beginners and enthusiasts. In this system, plants are easier to maintain and are under observation. Although it takes up sufficient space, the horizontal arrangement ensures steady water flow.

Working of NFT system of Hydroponics

The nutrient solution and the grow trays are the two primary components of an NFT Hydroponics system, as they’re utilized in many other hydroponic systems. The operation of NFT Hydroponics is based on a particular idea which is given as:

  • The nutritional solution is stored in a reservoir.
  • Water from the reservoir is circulated through the growth tanks.
  • The plants are placed in the grow trays. or grown in containers with slots known as “net cups,” which are pots with holes and contain a growing media.
  • The net cups permit the plant roots to suspend in the water flow, helping the nutrients to be assimilated.
  • The nutritional solution employs a hose to come back to the reservoir after it goes through the roots.

The nutrients that are required by the plants are present in the reservoir. Moreover, oxygen is also added to the solution by the circulation of the mixture, which is helpful for the plant’s roots. Normally, the grow trays should be slanted to allow for optimal flow of water..

To allow for the roots of the plants to reach the water as well as the air, they should be kept in oxygen- and water-permeable containers (net cups, usually).

An NFT system is essentially ideal for vertical farming as well because many growth trays may be installed one on top of the other without any problems. Every plant receives the nutrients it needs, and the water flows through various levels again.

Suitability of NFT Hydroponics

Since there is often little support available and the net pots are just hanging in the growing trays, NFT Hydroponics is more appropriate for smaller plants. On the other hand, larger plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins need a lot of support because their fruits are big. Of course, the grower needs to offer plants the equipment they require to bolster themselves to fix this issue.

How to Build an NFT Hydroponic System

For a beginner, it is viable to establish a successful and effective system by taking some time to evaluate various components. For guidance in developing the hydroponics NFT system objectives, here is a step-by-step guide:

  • Assess Available Space: 

Start by making sure that the NFT system has enough space. For vertical setups, take into consideration both the available height and the actual area. Take care to allow enough room for maintenance and quick accessibility.

  • Choose Appropriate Plants: 
Best Plants for NFT Hydroponics System |  How Does NFT Hydroponics Work
Best Plants for NFT Hydroponics System | Image Credits: Go Green Aquaponics

When creating your NFT system, the selection of the plants is crucial.  Each plant has unique needs with respect to growth habits, temperature, and light intensity. Certain plants that thrive in NFT systems might not grow as well in other systems.

Larger plants rarely function as well as smaller ones do.

  • Nutritional Requirements:

The grower should understand the nutrient requirements of the selected plants. At different phases of growth, different plants require different amounts of nutrients. 

  • Designing the Layout:

The design of your NFT system’s layout has now become necessary. Based on the amount of area the grower has and the number of plants to cultivate, decide the number and size of channels. Provide adequate space between channels to avoid crowding and to allow enough space for the growth of plants.

NFT Hydroponics System: Benefits

Comparing NFT Hydroponics systems to other hydroponic methods shows numerous benefits. Some of them are given as:

1. A Higher Water Conservation Percentage

By delivering nutrients and water straight to the plant roots, hydroponic NFT systems minimize the amount of water needed to maintain strong plant growth. By ensuring that water flows only where it is needed, this focused delivery system minimizes the overall water use.

2. Better Circulation of  Air

The dirt that covers the roots in traditional soil-based systems tends to compress and decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the roots. Because the roots in hydroponic fertilizer Film Technique systems remain suspended in the air, there is more oxygen available and improved fertilizer uptake.

3. Improved Absorption of Nutrients 

Nutrients can get attached to soil particles in traditional soil-based growing methods, making them unavailable to plants. This system supplies nutrients directly to the root zone while preventing soil binding, NFT systems improve nutrient absorption by lowering nutrient loss.

A wide range of crops can be cultivated in these systems, although the most successful ones are leafy greens with short growth cycles. Their small root structure and rapid development indicate the reason for their good performance in NFT hydroponics.

Challenges Related to NFT Hydroponics

  • Very quickly, the roots begin to dry out and become stressed if the flow of nutrient solution ceases.
  • When a freshly grown plant is exposed to intense sunshine, the channels can warm up more quickly than the roots in aggregate or Rockwool. The constant flow of nutritional solution can, still have a cooling impact.
  • Plants with rapidly growing roots can block the channels.
  • Crops may perish from a pump failure in just a couple of hours, especially during hot conditions.
  • Not appropriate for growing crops with large tap roots, such as carrots
  • Saline water is not the ideal option for the NFT compared to run-to-waste systems because the recirculating water’s salinity will gradually decline.

Maintenance of NFT Hydroponics

However, just like with any hydroponic system, frequent maintenance is necessary to ensure ideal plant growth and avoid nutrient imbalances. Cleaning and flushing the NFT hydroponic system are two crucial tasks that any grower should not skip. Some of the points regarding to the maintenance of NFT hydroponics are given as:

  • Regularly refill the nutrient solution
  • Keep an eye on nutrient levels
  • Care of the reservoir
  • Inspect growing chambers regularly
  • The power supply should be regular 


The NFT Hydroponics system is extremely easy to use and set up. Growing quick-growing plants that one can harvest in a few weeks is perfect for this system. Growers can raise a variety of leaves, mustard greens, kales, numerous oriental vegetables, herbs, and lettuces of the Bibb and Cos type (Romaine) with this approach. This NFT method of hydroponics can grow a few edible flowers, such as pansies and nasturtiums, that may improve salads and food presentations.

With this technique, any beginner to hydroponics can sow young seedlings for upcoming harvests and get fast results. Any home passionate who wants a green space and a steady supply of vegetables can fulfill its dream with NFT hydroponics.

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