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Vertical Hydroponic Systems

Vertical Hydroponic Gardens – Onwards and Upwards!

Those of us who have been involved in growing marijuana for a long time have witnessed remarkable advances in breeding, growing techniques and technologies such as vertical farming. It is easy enough to do DIY vertical gardens too.

For many of those home growers who were growing marijuana outdoors in the 70s and 80s, the accepted method was to plant some bag seeds in the garden and hope for a nice summer. Nowadays, with modern strains like autos, powerful lighting such as LEDs and advanced hydroponic systems, even a relative novice can produce great yields of top class weed from a tent in the attic.

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If you have been growing marijuana indoors for any length of time, the odds are that you’ve put a considerable investment into your grow room and are looking to maximize yields. You’ve got a hydroponic system or a solid soil set-up, the best grow lights you can afford, top nutrients, good filters, water pumps and fans. You’ve purchased expensive feminized or auto flowering seeds, mastered SCROG, SOG and other training techniques. What else can you do to increase yields and bring a higher return on your investment? Grow upwards.

We’ll discuss the components of a vertical hydroponics system, the basics of building one yourself and offer reviews of some of the best commercially available hydroponics systems

What is vertical hydroponics?

Vertical hydroponics is any grow set-up designed to use the vertical space in your grow room. In the average grow room, box or tent a lot of space is wasted. The floor is packed with containers and plants fill the first two, three or four feet above the floor. But all that space right up to the ceiling isn’t utilized. If you are growing in a closet that is four feet by six feet and has standard eight foot ceilings this amounts to an extra 120 square feet of growing space that is being wasted. Vertical hydroponics uses this empty space to massively increase your growing area.

Vertical Hydroponics V Horizontal Hydroponics Diagram

Of course, there will need to be some serious changes to the grow room layout to allow this to happen. We’re going to have to move some things around.

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Pros and Cons of Vertical Hydroponics Systems

As with any growing set-up, there are good and bad points to using a vertical hydroponic system. Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of vertical growing that you can use to help decide if this technique is right for you:

Pros Cons
High Yields – By using light more efficiently, vertical systems increase the final grams per Watt Initial Cost – Purchasing a turn-key vertical system is a lot more expensive than your average horizontal set-up, though if you can DIY the costs are about equal.
Extra Crop Cycle – Because you want your plants to stay small, you’ll only veg them for a few days or a week before switching to flowering, giving you time for a whole extra crop each year. Requires Lots of Plants – For best results you need more small plants. That means more clones, more seeds and more time propogating.
Requires Little Space – Imagine you are using 2 600W HID grow lights. For a horizontal grow you need roughly 8’ X 4’, while you could do a vertical grow with the same lights in a grow tent of half that size. Bigger yield, less space, less electricity. You Need a Mother Plant – To keep a good supply of cuttings to fill your vertical grow space you’ll probably need to maintain a mother plant. This means dedicated space, electricity and time.
Less Electricity – Since you only veg at 18 hours of light for a few days, you save on lots of extra hours on your lights. Cooling and Ventilation – With all those plants packed close together you’ll need a great cooling system. Go with LED grow lights to seriously reduce your cooling costs.
No Wasted Light – In general vertical grows use light more efficiently. That’s how you can get higher yields from the same lights.

Some of the pros and cons of a vertical hydro system are the same point: for instance, some experienced growers are able to cultivate over 100 plants under two grow lights that normally provides enough light for eight (keep in mind, those 100 plants are much smaller than the eight!). In terms of yield, electric cost and efficiency that rocks. But if the cops come knocking… well, it might be hard to explain to them that you need 100 plants for “personal consumption”.

Lights

To fully understand vertical hydroponic systems, the first thing that you need to know is that plants are not constrained to growing upwards. Plants grow both upwards and towards the source of light. We perceive them as just growing upwards because in nature, and in most grow room set ups, the light source is above the plants. In vertical systems plants grow at roughly a 45° angle, allowing you to stack them above each other without blocking out light.

Vertically mounted lights

The most efficient vertical hydroponics systems place the light source in the centre of the growing area, and mount it vertically. Check out this picture from the Big Buddha Box vertical grow system.

Big Buddha Box Vertical Light Tube

By mounting the bulb vertically and growing your plants around the light, your marijuana plants are able to make direct use of it, 360o around the bulb. This avoids the inefficiencies of reflecting light downwards. Even the most effective reflectors lose a significant amount of light energy in directing the light towards your plants. With a vertically mounted bulb, the light that the plants receive is direct from the bulb.

Remember that light obeys the inverse square law. The energy twice as far from the source is spread over four times the area. In everyday terms this means that the energy of the light is directly proportionate to how far away from it your plants are. If the light has to travel further, i.e., via a reflector, essentially the grow energy in the light is weaker.

Light Square Law Marijuana

This principle applies regardless of what type of grow lighting you use. You could easily set up this system around a bank of CFLs or a vertically hanging fluorescent light. However, being as the idea is to maximize the output from your growing area, most people run this system with dual HIDs. A typical system will use dual 400W or 600W HID lights.

Keeping Vertical Lighting Cool

You’ll recall that HID lights generate a lot of heat. For a vertical growing system to be the most effective, the plants have to be placed close to the light. The inverse square law tells us that we lose light intensity rapidly as we move away from the grow lights.

With an HID central light in a vertical system you’ll need a good cooling system. A product called a “Cool Tube” is typically used to ventilate vertical HID systems. There are many variations available, but most are air cooled and use reflectors to keep heat away from the plants, allowing you to pack them tightly around the bulb without any heat damage. However, cool tubes use a glass reflector. This prevents UV light from reaching your plants, decreasing their oil production and terpene content. That means your buds won’t smell or taste quite so good.

The best option is to use full spectrum LED grow lights, which do not generate heat the way an HID does. For a full guide to LED grow lights and assistance picking the right Wattage for your grow room, check out our LED Grow Light Guide.

In any vertical system using a centrally located light a fan placed at the bottom under the grow light is an effective ventilation source. The heat is dissipated upwards, where it tends to go anyway. Just make sure to have vents in smart places at the top of your grow room or tent.

So it is plain to see that, by growing you plants around a vertically and centrally mounted light, you make much more effective use of the light available.

Other light sources

There are many different vertical hydroponic systems, and they don’t all use central lighting. Some systems use a wall of plants and mount the lights vertically alongside. These systems do not use the light as efficiently as centrally mounted ones, but may be more convenient depending on individual space requirements.

It is also possible to make better use of space by building a vertical system outdoors. Natural sunlight is strong enough that it makes no difference to the light if the plants are placed horizontally or vertically, but it can make a huge difference to how well you use the available space.

Outdoor Vertical NFT Hydroponics

Commercial greenhouses have long used vertical hydroponic systems and natural sunlight for the production of herbs, tomatoes and other commercial garden produce. Check out this salad operation in Canada.

Vertical Farming Lettuces

How to set up Vertical Hydroponics System

There are two basic ways of designing a vertical hydroponic system: place the growing medium in a framework on the walls so you are basically using the walls as “floor”space, or train your plants to grow vertically. The design of your framework will depend to some degree on the type of hydroponic system you choose.

There are a lot of options for hydroponics, from Aeroponics to Deep Water Culture to Ebb and Flow Systems.

Here are four set-ups that work best for vertical growing:

  1. Nutrient Film Technique – Nutrients and water flow over the roots in a thin film. The roots lay in a tray.
  2. Continuous Flow/Top Feed System – Nutrients and water are continuously pumped over the roots. This can work well in a vertical grow because the nutrients will naturally flow downhill from the uppermost containers down to the lower levels.
  3. Sea of Green – This training technique is best for plants that grow a single kola. In a SOG you switch to flowering early, limiting the size of the plants. You can fit a lot more into a small space. This is an ideal technique for vertical growing.
  4. Screen of Green – Similar to SOG, SCOG uses a screen to train plants. Each plant is encouraged to grow through the screen, producing numerous buds all at the same height for even light distribution. Again, this is an ideal training method to couple with a vertical set-up.

Designing the Framework for a Vertical Hydroponic System

Use these three principles to guide your vertical hydroponic system design:

  1. Plants should be spaced close together for maximum coverage.
  2. All the buds in the canopy should be equally distant from the light source.
  3. Use all available vertical space efficiently to maximize yield.

If you are building your own framework you will need to custom make it from wood, plastic, metal or other suitable materials. If you have an appropriately sized grow room it is often easier to attach the framework to the walls rather than building a free standing frame.

DIY Nutrient Film Technique Vertical Hydroponic Set-Up

The most common method of vertical hydroponics to grow marijuana is probably the use of PVC pipes or guttering to create vertically stacked NFT systems. Your framework will need to solidly support the pipes at the correct height, angle and spacing. Information on how an NFT system works can be found here. You can plumb the tubing together to form either;

  • Gradually descending spiral or,
  • Separate, stacked, single layer NFT systems joined together by overflow tubing.

You can run either of the above set ups with a single water pump feeding into the top of the system and returning the water to a reservoir at the bottom.

Vertical Hydroponics System Set up Vertical NFT

DIY Top Feed Drip System Vertical Hydroponic Set-Up

Other vertical systems include vertically hung Rockwool slabs which are fed by a top feed drip system. With these you will need to support the top of the slabs on a sturdy framework that is able hold the weight of the slabs when they are wet and heavy with flowering plants.

Once the slabs are secured you can feed drippers into the top of each column of Rockwool. Gravity will draw the water down through the slabs, watering and feeding all the plants on its way. A return to the reservoir is then required for the run off at the bottom.

Vertical Rockwool Slabs

For detailed instructions on building a DIY vertical hydroponic set-up, check out these videos. These projects are designed for garden veggies, but can be easily adapted to grow marijuana. Remember that cannabis grows a lot like tomatoes, so anything you can use for tomatoes you can use for marijuana!

Growing techniques

The aim of any vertical hydroponic set-up is to create a dense canopy of buds all around the light. This can be achieved using Sea of Green or Screen of Green training techniques, with a few adaptations to suit the vertical growing space.

Vertical SCROG

SCROG systems are designed to create exactly the plant growth that we are looking for – a productive and even canopy of buds. Adapting this technique to vertical growing is easy. Simply set up a screen vertically around your light source.

Vertical SCROG System

Vertical SCROG systems don’t always have the plants themselves raised vertically. Many vertical SCROG systems have the plants placed on the floor whilst the screens are constructed vertically. With a system like this you are also not restricted to hydroponics.

Take a look at the vertical SCROG set up pictured below. The plants are placed on the floor in soil. However the vertical space is still being maximized by training the SCROG upwards instead of outwards.

Vertical SCROG System in Soil

Vertical SOG

SOG systems also create the plant growth we want – a lovely even canopy. The SOG principles apply to vertical growing in exactly the same way as they do to conventional growing. You will need:

  • Lots of small plants, evenly and tightly spaced;
  • To turn them onto 12/12 lighting at a very early stage of veg.

Vertical SOG System

Vertical SOG systems are very productive. The key disadvantage to this method compared to vertical SCROG is in the amount of plants required. If you like to limit the actual amount of individual plants you are growing at any one time, you should choose vertical SCROG over vertical SOG.

Plant selection

Good plant selection is crucial to making the most of vertical growing spaces. The ideal strain will depend on which growing technique you choose to use.

Seed strains – Vertical SCROG systems

The ideal strains will have good lateral branching without being too big. You will trigger flowering depending on how full up your vertical screen is. You don’t want your plants to stretch too much during flowering as you will be unable to raise the lights to accommodate them as you usually would with a horizontal SCROG. As with normal SCROG systems, multiple topping is recommended during the veg stage. You might like to think about the following strains:

  • Big Bang – An indica dominant hybrid with excellent lateral branching.
  • Diamond Girl – Easy to grow, high yielding and flowers in just 8 weeks.
  • Afgooey – Short internodes and thick branches make for massive flowers and good yields.
  • Northern Lights – Good compact stature, stable genetics and the famous NL hit.

Seed strain selection for Vertical SOG Systems

Vertical SOG systems have the same requirements as normal SOG systems. Plants should be small and preferably with most of the bud forming in a main central kola. Good stable strains are crucial so that you know the plants will be uniform and keep the canopy even. For this reason it pays to get good seeds from reputable seed banks. Or, ideally, use clones from a known mother. Strains worth considering include:

  • Allkush – This stout and compact strain is great for big yields from small areas.
  • Vanilla Kush – Grows large dense central kolas, ideal for SOG systems.
  • Afghani #1 – A short plant with excellent genetics, gives a uniform and reliable performance.
  • Blue Velvet – This 50/50 hybrid flowers in just 8 weeks. She can get big so flip her early.

Autoflowering strains can also work very well in Vertical SOGs. However this can end up being costly as you are unable to clone your plants. This means that each plant must be grown from seed. If you do decide to use autos you could consider using:

  • Low Ryder 2 – This medium sized auto produces fat kolas that can be formed into a nice even canopy.
  • Auto Trans Siberian – Heavy yields and reliable performance.
  • Royal AK Automatic – Good genetics from a reliable seed bank means uniform plants and an even canopy.
  • Critical Mass Automatic – High Yields and only 75 days from seedling to harvest.
  • Nirvana Short auto-feminised – The name says it all, it is short and explosive in this environment.

Growing Up: Examples of Successful Vertical Marijuana Grows

Having doubts about whether or not you can really make a vertical grow set-up work? Take a look at these successful vertical systems and get inspired.

1. SCOG with Soil Vertical Grow

If you train your plants up along a vertical screen, you can grow vertically in soil, using pots right on the ground. This is one of the cheapest and simplest ways to start growing vertically.

SCOG Vertical Marijuana Grow

2. The Pi Rack Vertical Garden in Action

Here’s the Pi Rack, a 320 plant vertical hydroponics system, planted and growing.

Pi Rack in Action

3. DIY Design

This guy has a simple, 2 light set up that he designed himself. You don’t have to use expensive frames or trellises- he’s encouraged his plants to grow where he wants by properly placing his lights and using simple strings as a trellis.

Simple DIY Two Light Grow Room

4. Two 600W HID Vertical Marijuana Grow

Here are young transplants ready to go in a simple vertical system using two 600W HID lights.

Vertical Marijuana Hydroponic System

5. Easy Homemade Vertical Hydroponic System

This homemade vertical system uses flexible corrugated pipe to create a continuous flow hydro system. He’s trying out several different strains at once, including Chem Dog and Eva Jamaican Dream.

Pipe Vertical Marijuana Grow rack

6. Vertical LED Lights

This grow uses vertical LED grow light panels with regular potted plants. It increases light efficiency, but they could get even bigger yields from less light by arranging the plants vertically around each LED panel.

Vertical LED Grow Lights

7. Crop Cylinder

The crop cylinder uses lights outside the growing frame, but still capitalizes on the advantages of vertical growing. This particular design uses recycled water to further increase efficiency.

Cylinder Cannabis Grow

10 Best Turn Key Vertical Hydroponics Systems

Building your own vertical hydroponics system, like those outlined above, does require a bit more than rudimentary DIY skills. Most MJ growers are an inventive bunch, but if you’re all thumbs when it comes to DIY you might want to look at some of the ready-made vertical grow systems that are commercially available. These can come with everything you need to get your first vertical grow up and running without the hassle.

1. Buddha Box from SuperCloset

The first commercial system you should look at is the Buddha Box which is a 5’ x 5’ Vertical Grow Tent Kit.

The Buddha Box from SuperCloset uses a cleverly designed Ebb and Flow set-up called “VerticalPonics” to nearly quadruple your growing space!

Buddha Box VerticalPonics

The Buddha Box 5’ X 5’ has the following features:

  • Size – 5’W X 5’D X 6’11”H
  • Lighting System – Dual 400W Full Spectrum HPS Grow Lamps
  • Hydroponic Method – Ebb & Flow + Aeroponics
  • Number of Plants – 48 Flowering Plants

SuperCloset Buddha Box VerticalPonics

There is also the larger Big Buddha Box 8’ X 8’ Vertical Grow Tent available. This model features:

  • Size – 8’W X 8’D X 6’11”H
  • Lighting System – Dual 600W Full Spectrum HPS Grow Lamps
  • Hydroponic Method – Ebb & Flow + Aeroponics
  • Number of Plants – 78 Flowering Plants

Other vertical grow systems that are worth looking at include;

2. AgrowTent Vertical Grow System

AgrowTent Vertical Marijuana Grow System

This vertical grow tent comes in two sizes – single or double. Both sizes feature a solid tubular frame that is mounted on wheels for ease of movement. This is particularly useful if you choose the double option which is basically two singles joined together.

At its heart the AgrowTent is a vertical mounting system for Rockwool cubes. It comes with all necessary pumps, tank and fittings. Lighting systems are an optional extra so you can use your existing lights if appropriate. You will need to supply your own ventilation systems, or use your existing ones.

  • Size – (Single System) 65.5”W X 34”D X 83”H
  • Lighting System (Optional) – 600W Grow Light System with choice of magnetic or digital ballasts
  • Hydroponic Method – Top Feed Drip System
  • Number of Plants – 140 plants (280 with double)

3. EcoSystem MK2

EcoSystem MK2 Vertical Hydroponics System

Like the AgrowTent range, the EcoSystem MK2 is a sturdy vertical support system for Rockwool slabs. It comes complete with the supports, reservoir and drip system, but does not include pumps, lights or ventilation.

The makers of the EcoSystem MK2 recommend the use of dual 600W HID lights, which are offered as an optional extra, but you can fit other sized bulbs into it if that’s what you have.

The EcoSystem MK2 comes in either 18 slab or a 24 slab sizes. Each Slab is suitable for 6 small to medium sized marijuana plants. This kind of support structure is ideal for fitting into your own small grow area.

  • Size (18 slab) – Height 6’ – Diameter 4’2”
  • Lighting System (Optional) – Dual 600W HID Grow Light Kit
  • Hydroponic Method – Top Feed Drip System
  • Number of Plants – 18 Slab 108 plants, 24 Slab 144 plants

4. The Pi Rack

Pi Rack Vertical Hydroponics System

This vertical hydroponic growing system is a top end model that comes as a modular design, allowing you to easily add to it as finances allow or the need arises.

The Pi Rack holds all of your plants in individual 3.5 liter containers with baskets. Each container is individually fed and individually drained to eliminate any chance of cross contamination of water borne diseases or pests. These 3.5 liter containers are much bigger than many competing vertical systems and allow more space for root development, resulting in bigger yields.

The Pi Rack comes complete with all pipes, hoses, containers and sprinklers. You can use your own lighting and ventilation systems with the Pi Rack, although lighting systems are available as an optional extra.

  • Size (Full System) – Height 85” – Diameter 87”
  • Lighting System (Optional) – 600W HID Grow Light Kit with Cool Tubes
  • Hydroponic Method – Top Feed Drip System
  • Number of Plants (Full System) – 320

5. The Pi Wall Vertical Hydroponics System

Pi Wall Vertical Hydroponics System for Marijuana

The Pi Wall is a flat wall system as opposed to a circular system. It is designed to go up against a wall with your grow lights mounted vertically in front of it.

As with the Pi Rack (above), plants are housed in 3.5 liter containers with baskets. Each container features individual feed and drainage. All tubing, pipework and containers are supplied but you will need to provide your own pumps and lights.

The Pi Wall is perfect for making the most efficient use of small spaces. It fits snugly up against the wall and it is simple to add more units should you require bigger yields.

  • Size – 33”W X 9.5”D X 85”H
  • Lighting System – Provide your own
  • Hydroponic Method – Top Feed Drip System
  • Number of Plants – 50

6. Volksgarden Rotating Hydroponics System

Volksgarden Rotary Hydroponics System

This rotary hydroponics system from Volksgarden is a top of the range system that houses your plants in a frame that continuously turns around a central grow light. One full rotation of the system takes around 45 minutes. This efficient use of light and nutrients makes for high yields in an easy to operate system.

Plants in the Volksgarden Rotary System are grown in a 3” growing medium of your choice. Rockwool cubes are recommended.

As with other systems, you need to supply your own ventilation and lights. Volksgarden recommend a 400W to 1000W HID bulb without reflector, or a large CFL.

What you do get with the Volksgarden is the system with durable plastic cylinder and powder coated steel stand, all growing containers, nutrient tray and borosilicate light housing. You will need to provide your own reservoir, nutes and growing medium.

Although the rotary system doesn’t use space quite as efficiently as a true vertical system, it still provides a good way of making effective use of space and is much more efficient than growing just on the floor.

  • Size – Height 76” – Width 30” – Diameter 48”
  • Lighting System – Provide your own
  • Hydroponic Method –Rotary Drip Feed System
  • Number of Plants – 80

7. Gi Grow Rotating Plant System

Gi Grow Rotary Hydroponics Marijuana

This very sturdily built, stainless steel rotary hydroponics system comes in a choice of sizes; choose from 144, 240 or 336 plant versions. Of course, at these plant numbers they would need to be very small plants. However the Gi Grow is versatile and its Cube Lock system allows you to space your 4” Rockwool cubes however you want. This means that you can easily adapt the system for your own plant requirements, from 48 to 336 plants.

You will require your own grow light and the unit is designed to take 430W MH or 600W – 1000W HPS bulbs. You will also need to provide the growing medium which is 4” Rockwool cubes. Pumps and timers are included.

  • Size – Min (144 plants) 32”W X 60”D X 65”H – Max (336 plants) 68”W X 73”D X 73”H
  • Lighting System – Provide your own
  • Hydroponic Method –Rotary Drip Feed System
  • Number of Plants – 144, 240 or 336

8. Vertical HydroGarden Indoor Grow Room

Vertical HydroGarden Indoor Grow Room

Vertical HydroGarden offers something a bit more solid than a grow tent or even a grow box. Their fully customizable “grow rooms” are made from solid enamel coated galvanized steel panels, which are easily moved or added on to but are much stronger and more permanent than a grow box.

The easily assembled grow room is completely light and odor proof, with bright interior walls to reflect light. Choose any size or layout you like, though the company specializes in vertical systems.

If you are an experienced, committed grower, consider upgrading to a solid grow room custom built to suit your precise needs.

  • Size– Customizable
  • Lighting System – Choose HID or LED
  • Hydroponic Method– Fully Customizeable
  • Number of Plants– It’s all up to you!

9. The Aerosystem by Green Diamond

Aerosystems set up in Series

One of the first rotary growing set-ups, the Aerosystem is a spinning vertical hydroponic garden that can be used indoors or out. You already know that you can grow more bud with less light using a vertical set-up. Well, a spinning set-up stretches your grow lights even further. Use up to four times less light for the same yields when compared with a traditional horizontal grow system.

It uses Aeroponics hydroponics for better oxygen at the roots of each plant. You can choose any substrate you like, and adapt the Aerosystem to suit your precise needs. You will have to provide your own pump, reservoir, timer, substrate and lights. Green Diamond suggests using an 80 liter reservoir and ½ hp pump, although this pump can run up to 6 Aerosystems in series.

Veggies in Aerosystem

  • Size– 16 square feet
  • Lighting System – Provide your own
  • Hydroponic Method–Aeroponics
  • Number of Plants– 120

10. Vertex Vertical Garden

Vertex Vertical Garden

The Vertex Vertical Garden is a vertical hydroponic framework that is fully adjustable. You can add extra levels that hold 24 plants each.

You can choose from Ebb and Flow, Vertical Drip or an Aeroponics hydro set-up. It doesn’t come with lights, so you can use the ones you already have or purchase the exact ones you like. Vertex does offer high quality cooling tubes and a variety of HID lamps for sale.

  • Size– 6’7” X 52” X 60” Weighs 72 lbs (72 plant model)
  • Lighting System – Provide your own
  • Hydroponic Method–Choose Ebb and Flow, Vertical Drip or Aeroponics
  • Number of Plants– 72, 92 add on stackable 24 plant units

Conclusion

Growing vertically can massively increase your output per square foot of floor space. By using the vertical space that you have more effectively you will increase the returns on your investment in energy and equipment.

Growing vertically may not be for everyone. Those who prefer to grow their plants uncut and untrained will see no advantages here, but if you like to experiment with new methodologies and like to get the very most that you can from your grow room, you should give vertical hydroponics a go.

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