Do You Need a Hydroponic Timer: A Helpful Guide

Here at Smarter Home Gardens, I’m all about efficiency and sustainability. When I first started out on this journey, admittedly, I was anything but efficient. But over the years, and through many incremental updates to my systems and approach, that has changed. One such change is the addition of automated timers to all of my hydroponic garden systems.

Adding an automated timer to your hydroponic garden improves the efficiency of the whole system by automatically regulating the flow of water and nutrients to your plants. Timers can also be used to switch grow lights on or off to mimic day/night cycles and manage

Since installing automated timers across my hydroponic gardens I’ve noticed a big change. Not least in the amount of effort needed to run them, but more importantly in the quality and health of my pants.

Why do you need a timer for hydroponics?

Hydroponic timers can be used to automate a variety of functions across your gardening system. In general, somebody may want to install a timer to help them manage the following key functions:

1. Helps to regulate the flow of water and nutrients

A timer can be connected to your hydroponic garden’s water pump to automate plant feedings by regulating the flow of water and nutrients. I find that setting the timer to initiate pumping for 30 minutes every hour helps to half the amount of time/energy needed to keep plants hydrated and fed while leaving enough time for roots to air out, reducing root rot.

2. Automatically switches grow lights on and off

A timer can also be connected to any grow lights you have connected to the system. Automating when grow lights switch on and switch off to mimic day/night cycles can be an excellent way to maximise plant growth. Automatically switching the lights off also helps reduce your monthly energy bill and eliminates the need to remember to do it yourself!

3. Controls aeration pumps

Keeping your plant’s roots sufficiently oxygenated is incredibly important, particularly in hydroponic systems like Deep Water Culture (DWC) or Ebb and Flow where the roots are permanently suspended in nutrient-rich water. Timers can be used to automate air pump functionality ensuring air and oxygen reach your plant’s roots at the optimal frequency.

How do hydroponic timers work?

Hydroponic timers work by automating the flow of electricity to certain aspects of your hydroponic garden, in this case, the water pump. But, they can also help to regulate other environmental factors such as light and ventilation. They are installed at the plug socket and work by simply switching the power on or off at set intervals to regulate the flow of electricity.

The different types of hydroponic timers

1. Mechanical plug timers

An example of a mechanical plug timer. Source: General Electric

Mechanical plug timers are the simplest and cheapest way to automate the flow of electricity to your hydroponic system’s water pump. Mechanical timers are generally very reliable. I haven’t had any issues at all with mine since it was installed.

They aren’t as precise as digital timers. They may struggle to turn on / off at precisely 5 pm (for example) but this level of specificity doesn’t matter for hydroponics. They will ensure that your pump is running effectively at set intervals.

Extremely reliableOnly 1 outlet
Very easy to useLack of features
Generally very affordableNot as precise as digital timers

2. Digital plug timers

Digital timers are generally more complex than mechanical timers with additional capabilities such as WiFi connectivity and the ability to program multiple schedules, often via your smartphone.

An example of a digital plug timer. Source: BN-LINK

Many digital timers have duel outlets and allow you to schedule different times for different parts of your hydroponic system independently, like the water pump and the lights. They are however more complex to set up and more expensive.

Very precise (exact times) A smartphone may be needed
Usually comes with surge protection Can be more complex to program
Some come WiFi enabled More expensive

What are the benefits of adding an automated timer to your hydroponic system?

Whether mechanical or digital, adding an automated timer to control your water pump is something that I strongly recommend. It has numerous advantages that will help to save you time, and energy and protects the health of your plants.

Specific benefits include:

  • Reduction in the amount of electricity (and therefore money) needed to run your hydroponic system.
  • Protect roots from root rot by allowing them to aerate at regular intervals
  • Keep plant roots well-oxygenated
  • Water/nutrients last longer
  • Give plants the right amount of light by automatically mimicking day/night cycles
  • Removes the need to manually manage water and plant feeds

Which hydroponic system types would benefit from a timer?

Hydroponic SystemTimer UseTimer Type
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)NFT deploys both a water pump and an air pump and may include growing lights too. A timer may be used to automate all of these functions. However, because of the need to automate multiple different functions with multiple outlets or programme schedules would work best. Digital
Wick SystemWick systems are some of the most simple and do not require a pump. Depending on the environment, grow lights may be used. Therefore a simple mechanical timer would do to automate this.Mechanical
Deep Water Culture (DWC)Since the plant’s roots are suspended in the water in DWC, there’s no need for a water pump. However, an air pump is used to keep water oxygenated, in addition to the optional use of growing lights. Therefore, either a mechanical or digital timer should do the trick. Digital/Mechanical
Ebb and Flow/Flood and Drain These systems make use of a water pump to flood the plant’s roots with nutrient-rich water. The pump may be automated with a simple mechanical timer, but if used in conjunction with grow lights a digital timer may be better.Digital/Mechanical
Drip HydroponicsDrip hydroponics also employs a water pump to pump water from a reservoir to drip over the plant’s roots. If used in addition to growing lights, I’d recommend either two mechanical or one digital timer. Digital/Mechanical
AeroponicsAeroponics can use a pump and grow lights depending on the environment. Therefore, a timer with multiple outlets and programmes may be more beneficial for your needs. If not using grow lights, a simple mechanical timer will work well.Digital/Mechanical

How long should you run a hydroponic water pump?

As a general rule, running your hydroponic water pump for 30 minutes in every hour of daylight is optimal for giving your plants the water and nutrients they need while simultaneously allowing them time to breathe and rest. Cycling your water to pump through the system like this ensures that roots won’t dry out completely or get too water-logged, which can result in root rot and other diseases. Intermittent pump cycles can also help to keep maintenance time down and reduce power consumption.

Most commercial growers run irrigation systems constantly. However, they usually couple this with a lot of increased cleaning and technology that ultimately makes it inconvenient and unnecessary for amateur growers.

In summary

Using a timer in your hydroponic garden is a great way to automate important functions that support the healthy growth of your plants. Timers remove otherwise manual processes like turning on pumps and grow lights in addition to helping your program optimal cycles that ultimately increase efficiency and improve productivity. Timers are generally cheap and easy to set up, giving them an excellent cost-to-benefit ratio. Furthermore, now that my hydroponic garden is almost fully-automated, I can sit back, relax and just watch my plants grow without stressing about responsibilities or overdue tasks.


William, an experienced consultant and passionate advocate for technology and sustainability, is the founder of Smarter Home Gardens. William's journey into gardening began with the purchase of his first home, which came with a small backyard garden. Despite initial challenges brought about by limited space, soil, and sunlight, William's determination to create a vibrant garden led him to research and experiment with innovative gardening technologies and sustainable practices. Driven by his lifelong enthusiasm for technology and sustainability, William explored various gardening methods, including vertical gardening, hydroponics, companion gardening, and composting. Through these efforts, he realized that it was possible to combine his passions with his newfound love for gardening. Smarter Home Gardens was born out of William's desire to share his research and experiences with others, helping them create smarter gardens that leverage cutting-edge technology and contribute to a more nature-positive world. The blog offers in-depth articles on innovative gardening technologies and methods, helpful 'how-to' guides, reviews of the latest gardening technology, and research on cost-effective garden maintenance solutions. William's commitment to sustainable and technologically-driven gardening has made him a trusted voice in the field. His enthusiasm for creating gardens that work with the planet, rather than against it, is evident in every post he shares on Smarter Home Gardens. Through the blog, William hopes to engage with a wider audience, encouraging others to join him on this exciting journey towards smarter, more sustainable gardens.

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