The Best Draining Tray for Plants (Hydroponic Tray): A Buyer’s Guide

Last Updated on May 5, 2022 by Gary Stephen

The hydroponic system is one innovative way of cultivating plants indoors. It does not need a whole lot of space. Thus, it was quick to become popular especially among urban dwellers. In this type of gardening, traditional soil is being replaced with other grow media. In order for these mediums to support the plants, it needs the help of a draining tray for plants. This essential component serves as the base container and the plant’s grow bed. 

In this buying guide, we will discuss the key factors of what makes a good hydroponic tray. Moreover, we will also present to you the best trays available in the market today.

What is a hydroponic (draining) system for Plants?

A hydroponic system is a means of growing plants in water-based or nutrient solutions. Rather than the soil, the roots are being held up by inert mediums. This may include clay pellets, perlite, rockwool, vermiculite, and many more. 

The main goal here is to allow the plant’s roots to come in full direct contact with the nutrient solution. In that manner, it is easier to control their nutrition uptake. As a result, it increases growth and yield efficiency.

Different types of draining tray for plants (Hydroponic System)

The wick system is the most basic process among all the types. It uses a passive method of delivering nutrition. The absorbent wick here acts as a vehicle to transport the solution from the reservoir to the grow media. 

This system though may not be that effective for larger plants. That is because big cultivars tend to use up nutrients faster than the wick is capable of supplying.

The deep water culture system is the simplest process using the active method. The plants here are being supported by a platform that is floating on top of the nutrient solution. 

This system also uses an air pump to fill the reservoir with oxygen. This oxygenated water makes it easier for the roots to absorb the nutrients. When using DWC, keep in mind to allow plants enough dry period. This will then enable the roots some time to breathe.

Ebb and flow works by supplying the nutrient solution on and off over a designated period of time. This system uses a timer-controlled pump. When turned on, it floods the grow tray with the solution. Once it reaches the desired amount, the pump shuts off and drains the excess back into the reservoir.

Drip systems can either be a recovery or non-recovery type. In both cases, each of the plants is being provided with an individual dripper. When turned on, the pump supplies plants with oxygenated water and nutrient solution. 

In a recovery drip system, the excess fluid is being collected back to the reservoir for reuse. Recycling the solution makes it a more efficient method than the other.  

In the non-recovery drip systems, though, the excess fluid is no longer sent back to the reservoir. In that sense, you have to be extra careful in the amount you supply. Too much is wasteful and overwhelming for the plants. Yet, too little will leave them less hydrated and undernourished too.

In the nutrient film technique,  it does not make use of any grow medium. Instead, the PVC pipes serve as the support structure of the plants. With which, the cultivars are being placed right through the designated holes.

The pump sends a mixture of oxygenated water and nutrient solution into the growing tube. The positioning of the pipe is critical for this method. It should be at an angle to allow proper drainage.  Because of that, it enables the excess solution to drain back into the reservoir for reuse.

Among all the types of hydroponics, the aeroponic technique is the most advanced. It uses a misting system to deliver oxygenated water and nutrient solution to the plants.

Like the NFT, the cultivars do not make use of any inert media. Rather, its roots are free to hang in the air. The timer-controlled pump releases mists of the nutrient solution into the hanging roots. 

Exposing the plant in the air increases the risk of drying it out. Thus, the interval between the misting cycles should be short and consistent. Every few minutes would be ideal.

What is a draining tray for plants?

It is also known as a grow tray or flood table. The hydroponic tray is a container designed to hold one or more plants in a hydroponic system. It serves the same function as pots are for soil gardening.

Depending on the technique used, the grow tray also holds other essential components. This may include the oxygenated water, nutrient solution, and the inert media. Moreover, there are also some designs that have specific drain ports. This hole allows for the drainage of the excess fluids.

What to consider before buying a draining (hydroponic) tray for plants?

  • Space

When selecting for a grow tray, you should ensure the appropriateness of its size in a given space. If the availability of area is not an issue, then tray sizes shouldn’t be a problem as well. But, if you are like others that have limitations in the grow space, then a compact-sized tray will work fine for you.

It is good to know that hydroponic trays come in varying dimensions. However, it can be as small as 1×4 or 2×2 up to as big as 4×8 or 5×5 in diameter. It all depends on how tiny or large is the size of your grow tent. This should be your primary basis of consideration.

  • Durability

Buying a durable grow tray spares you from the unnecessary effort to replace over and over again. A poor quality tray is bound to break any time even with the slightest pressure or impact. This can cause you a lot of inconvenience in the end.

So, it is a wise and great idea to rather choose to buy durable hydroponic trays right from the start. The quality of the material should be thick and strong enough to resist breakage. It should also be able to bear the weight of the water and the plants with considerable ease. 

  • Cost

Hydroponic trays come in a wide range of price points. Which one to choose is dependent on your maximal allowable budget. 

Sure, you can find cheap and very affordable ones. But chances are, these items are being made of materials with inferior quality. Using such may only increase your likelihood to replace more often. Thus, causing you to spend more money in the long run.

High-quality trays though are often expensive. But, you can ensure that you can maximize its usage for a longer period of time. Think of it as an investment. It may cost you more in the beginning but you can guarantee to enjoy it for more years to come.

This is especially important to consider when you are growing edible cultivars. Know that not all types of plastic materials are safe to be in contact with food. 

Plastics like PVC or polystyrene can leach toxic chemicals into your hydroponic system. Then, the plants will likely get to absorb this contaminated water. As a consequence, the plants may end up to be unsafe for humans to consume.

  • Environmental Impact

People nowadays become more conscious of their environmental impact. Because grow trays are often plastics, we have to at least ensure it is being made from recyclable material.

Moreover, try to buy good quality hydroponic trays. Remember, the frequent you replace your trays, the more wastes you end up producing. Do you know that it can take up to a thousand years for plastics to decompose?

The Best Draining Tray for Plants

Best small draining tray for seedling, seed starting, and small plants.

Bootstrap Farmer 1020 Tray

Product Description
Dimensions Inner: 19.625″ x 9.5″ x 2.25″

Outer: 21” x 10.75” x 2.5”

Weight Capacity Up to 35 pounds
Material Recyclable Polypropylene plastic #5
Ideal For
  • Microgreens
  • Wheatgrass
  • Fodder
  • Seedling germination
  • Heat mats
  • Humidity domes
  • With or without drain holes.
  • BPA-free.
  • Food-grade.
Why do we like this product:

The Bootstrap Farmer 1020 tray is a thick and durable hydroponic tray. It is being manufactured with recyclable injection molded Polypropylene or PP #5 material. It is leach-resistant and without harmful additives. This makes it ideal to use for cultivating edible plants. 

This grow tray is available with and without a drain option. Thus, suitable for different types of hydroponic systems. It also has a tapered bottom design allowing it to be stackable for better storage.

Moreover, it is compatible to use with other Bootstrap Farmer 1020 products. This includes humidity domes and cell trays from 32 to 288 divisions. These accessories help to improve the growing conditions to further increase the yield.

Best large tray for drip tray, flood tray, and high-seedling production.

Botanicare Low Tide Tray

Product Description
Dimensions Inner: 46.5” x 12.5” x 3.625”

Outer: 48.375” x 14.5” x 3.75”

Weight Capacity Up to 7.5 gallons
Material ABS plastic
Ideal For
  • High production of seedlings
  • Drip tray
  • Flood tray
  • No drain holes.
  • Diagonal drainage grids
  • Contains at least 80% recycled material
Why do we like this product:

The Botanicare Low Tide is a thick and durable tray made with recycled ABS plastic. It has no drain holes but it is being designed with diagonal drainage grids. This helps in directing the excess liquids out of the tray instead. 

The 1 feet by 4 feet size is perfect for cultivating a great number of seedlings all at once. This grow tray has the capacity to contain up to 7.5 gallons of water. Thus, suitable to use as a drip or small flood tray. 

One disadvantage though of Botanicare Low Tide tray is its price point. It is a little bit more on the expensive side. Although, you have to consider its strong features as well. Given its large size and durability, it is likely to deliver maximal usage. Plus, it is going to last a long time.

Budget-friendly draining tray for plants

Living Whole Foods Growing Trays

Product Description
Dimensions Inner: 20″ x 10″ x 2.36″

Outer: 21” x 11” x 2.36”

Material Recycled Polypropylene
Ideal For
  • Microgreens
  • Wheatgrass
  • Starting seedlings
  • Heat mats
  • Humidity domes
  • With or without drain holes.
  • Food-grade.
Why do we like this product:

Whole Living Foods trays may not seem to be the sturdiest among all the grow trays. Yet they sure are one of the least expensive. Thus, an excellent choice for those on a tight budget.

Function-wise, they are of a good size to cultivate up to 10 germinating seeds. It also comes with an option to choose either with or without a drain hole. So, it can be suitable to use in different types of hydroponic systems.

Moreover, these reusable grow trays are being composed of recycled black polypropylene plastic. Which makes it safe for growing edible cultivars.

Best hydroponic system combo

Hydro Farm Jump Start Heat House with Heat Mat

Product Description
  • Base tray
  • Cell insert
  • Humidity dome
  • Heat mat 
Dimensions Base: 22.3” x 11.6” x 6.8”

Humidity Dome: 7.5”

Ideal For
  • Optimal seed germination
  • Can fit 72 seedlings
  • Adjustable vent
  • 17W/120V heat mat 
  • UL-listed

Why do we like this product:

The Hydro Farm Jump Start Heat House is an all-in-one kit. It contains everything you need to kickstart your hydroponic gardening. Thus, it is perfect for those who prefer a hassle-free system setup.

Apart from the base tray, the kit also contains a cell insert that can accommodate up to 72 seedlings. It also has a dome cover with three adjustable vent holes. 

Moreover, the kit also includes a UL-listed heat mat. This means that it has been quality-tested so it lessens the risk of damaging the plant’s roots. Heating the environment 10°F-20°F above room temperature will optimize seed germination. Controlling the humidity is likely to increase the growth rate of cultivars.

Best tray stand for draining tray for plants

Fast Fit Tray Stand

Product Description
  • Inner: 51” x 26.5”
  • Outer: 53” x 28.5”
  • Overall height: 25”
  • Height from lower bar to floor: 18”
  • Coated steel metal
Ideal For
  • Single 2×4 grow tray
  • Two 2×2 grow trays
  • Durable
  • Great fitting
  • Easy to assemble

Why do we like this product:

Of course, tray stands are also essential in a hydroponic system. They are the ideal companion for adding height to your grow trays.   

This offers the gardeners the flexibility to accommodate single or two different cultivars. That is because this stand allows you to either fit in one 2×4 tray or two 2×2 trays

Moreover, putting the grow trays in stands gives you the option to be portable. The installation of caster wheels allows you to move the setup from one place to another with much ease.  

Fast fit tray stands are also quick to assemble within a time-frame of 5 minutes only. The tray is being made of heavy-duty white-coated steel metal. Its durability is sure to withstand the entire weight of your grow trays without any issue.

In conclusion, the grow tray indeed is an important component in hydroponic gardening. Different systems may need different features. Thus, its wide array of options can sometimes be too overwhelming especially for beginners.

So, we hope that the key elements we discussed above will help you to narrow down on your choices. Moreover, let the various items we listed here serve as your buying reference. They are the best in the market so it’s a guarantee that you will never go wrong with them.

Gary Stephen
Gary Stephen

Hi, I am Gary Stephen. I have been gardening for a long time. Gardening gives us much benefits and pleasure. Many of us desire to have a garden, but it cannot fulfill the desire for the proper guide or instruction of gardening. So, I am eager to help them. For this purpose, I have developed the website to make a garden with the proper guide. So, you will get me beside you if you want to know anything about gardening.