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Dripper Advice

IWS Dripper Systems

With a dripper system each pot is fed separately from the nutrient tank, via a dripper assembly which is connected to the brain.

This system is used mainly as a run to waste system rather than a recycling system.

When feeding with a dripper system you should make sure that on each feed there is a 20% run off allowing the medium to flush on every feed.

Which Growing Media?

This common question has with no correct answer as the growing media you choose to use often comes down to personal preference. Good results can be achieved with many different media’s and mixes but the key features you should look for in your media are:

  • Low-medium Water Holding Capacity (WHC)
  • High Air Filled Porosity (AFP).

Expanded Clay Pebbles

A growing media that is ideal for flood and drain isn’t really suitable for a dripper system as you would have to have many feeds with clay pebbles which on a run to waste system would waste too much nutrient.

Coco / Clay Pebble Mix

It is also possible to use a mix Coir (Coco) with clay pebbles to increase the WHC. When mixing coir into clay pebbles it should make up 25-40% of the total volume of the growing media. Adding coir will allow more time between feeds which means fewer feeds each day. This is excellent for a dripper system as it retains nutrient for longer between feeds so you are not wasting nutrient.

Other Mixes

The IWS is very adaptable and can be used with many different growing mediums. Just remember to adjust the feed duration to suit your chosen medium dependent on it’s water holding capacity.

Understanding the Feed Cycle

To get the best possible results from your IWS Dripper system you must ensure you get the feed cycle right. The feed cycle is made up of 2 elements;

  • Feed Frequency -This is how often you feed the pot, which largely depends on what type of growing media you’re using and how well established your plants are.
  • Feed Duration – This is the total time of each feed and will depend on the size of your system and your choice of growing media.

These all play an important role together in getting the irrigation strategy as accurate as possible.

Feed Frequency

Fill the reservoir with water and add nutrients to a suitable strength, this should be slightly higher (2 CF units, 0.2 EC) than your plants have been getting during propagation. Finally, adjust the pH to 5.5-6.5.

Now the nutrient solution is ready, you’re ready to soak the growing medium before planting.

Turn on the timer and initiate a feed.

Set the minute dial all the way to the right for the longest possible feed time.

As the solution slowly fills the pots the growing media will take in the pH balanced nutrient solution preparing the growing media for planting. The nutrient solution will flow through the growing medium and back to the run to waste brain, once the float valve rises it will turn on the drain pump and pump to waste.

Once the growing medium is pre soaked you are ready for planting.


Your pots should still be full with the growing media, when it comes to planting your young plants you should plant them 1-2 cm into the growing media.

Please note: If you plant your young plants to deep into the pot your plants will become saturated causing poor initial root growth.

Once you are happy with the planting depth, fill the rest of the pot with more prepared growing media.

Setting The Feed Frequency

How often you feed the pots will be determined by:

  • The growing media.
  • The plant size and water requirements.
  • The environmental conditions.

The Growing Media

If you are using a growing media that does not retain much water, like clay pebbles, you will have to feed the pots with a high frequency. When using clay pebble and coir mixes the WHC will be higher so flood frequency will be reduced.

Clay Pebbles

We do not recommend clay pebbles with dripper systems.

Flood Frequency with Coir / Mix

When using coir and clay pebble mixes, you must use the IWS ‘Culture Pots’. These pots have a net base which has been designed specifically for finer growing media. The bottom portion of the net pot should be filled with just clay pebbles. The rest of the solid pot should be filled with your mix of coir and clay pebbles.

The key to using coir in a dripper system is to not over-water. For the first 1-2 weeks after planting, the establishment time, your pots will need irrigating a maximum of once or twice a day. These feeds should be in the middle of your light period. Some growers find they get better results by hand watering from the top of the pot every 1-2 days for the first week and go onto using the dripper irrigation cycle once they know the plants roots are well established and ready for regular irrigations. This is an excellent approach for establishing your plants, but understandably is sometimes impractical for growers with larger systems or for growers who run their light cycle during the night.

After the plants have established and vigorous vegetative growth has started, the plants water demand will increase. Around this time check the moisture level of your mix before the irrigation or toward the end of your light cycle, if it is drying you should increase your frequency to 2-4 times a day. The first and second irrigation should be equally spaced e.g. if your using an 18hr light cycle your irrigations should be at 6 and 12 hours.

These 2-4 irrigations are, in most cases, as much as they need, but plants that need to satisfy a high water demand may need irrigating 3-6 times a day during peak growth. An important phrase to remember when irrigating your coco coir and clay pebble mix is ‘transpiration before irrigation’, this means to wait for your plants to start using the remaining water in the growing media before giving them anymore. With this in mind you should have your first irrigation at least 1-2 hours after the lights turn on.

Hint: in most circumstances it is only necessary to feed the pots while the lights are on. Only during warm dark periods should you consider have 1 night time irrigation.

Environmental Considerations

As with any hydroponic system, your nutrient strength and irrigation should reflect your grow room environment. For example; the growing media is clay pebbles and during summer the room runs at 31°C with an RH of 45%, these hot and dry conditions will cause the plant to use more water and less nutrient. Consequently the nutrient strength should be set lower than usual to account for the nutrient strength rising in the reservoir. In these conditions the pots should be flooded once an hour.

In the same room during winter the room runs at 26°C with an RH of 60%, these more favourable conditions, that aren’t putting environmental pressures on the plants, will mean higher nutrient strengths can be used and feed frequencies can be reduced to once every 2-3 hours. It is therefore extremely important to consider the effect that your grow room environment will have on your plants and adjust your feeding strategy accordingly.


Avoiding Root Blockages

Because the dripper system empties through the a tube, roots growing out of the pot can sometimes cause blockages in the pipe work. To avoid this you should always use the copper root control disks provided. Also, if you can get in amongst your plants, routinely turn the inner pot round 45° in the same direction every 2-3 days. This will make sure roots stay away from the tube and may also produce a more even growth pattern.

Note. IWS are working on a new root filter which will eradicates any root blockages. You will have to slowly increase your fill times to allow the water to soak through any roots which have worked their way round the filter.

Checking for Root Blockages

If you suspect your pots or pipe work may be blocked you can confirm it by quickly flooding the pot, do this by pouring 5-8L of nutrient solution in from the top of the pot. If the solution drains away freely it’s ok, if it sits there and takes a long time to drain you most likely have a blockage. Note: this technique only works well with clay pebbles. If your pot is blocked you should remove the inner pot and check the inlet/outlet tube for roots or debris.

Minimising System Problems

Most system problems come about through not keeping a clean system. You must make sure your float switches in the brain pot do not become dirty or clogged with any growing media. Each time you refill the reservoir a quick rinse with fresh water over the switches will help prevent problems. If you do notice sediment or debris in the reservoir or brain pot, remove or clean it immediately.

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