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Growing Plants in Water

Who needs dirt? Not your houseplants, at least not all of them. Many can be cultivated using a technique called Hydroculture, where soil is replaced with water and a liquid fertilizer, and a clay aggregate is used to support the plant's roots. For people who travel a lot, or for those of us who tend to over or under water our houseplants, Hydroculture may be a good solution.

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How It Works

Hydroculture is another word for hydroponics, a method of growing plants in water containing dissolved nutrients. Many of the foods we eat are produced this way commercially, especially in areas where land for cultivating crops is limited. A simple, scaled-down version of this technique is an ideal way to grow many houseplants.

Plants are grown in containers filled with water and liquid fertilizer. The plants take in nutrients from a water solution through their "water" roots. After continuously being submerged in water, they have adapted by developing a greater capacity to store oxygen. Once the hydroculture system has been set up, a float in the reservoir indicates when it's time to add more solution.

The Advantages

No more guessing how much to feed and water. One of the fastest ways to kill a houseplant is by giving it too much or too little water. Or, not understanding how to properly use fertilizer. With hydroculture, feeding and watering requires little more than topping off water levels. In soil, certain nutrients can remain fixed in the soil as insoluble compounds. In hydroculture, nutrients are evenly available to the root system, so plants tend to be more vigorous.

Reduces pests and disease. No soil means no more soil born pests, including those creepy little potting soil gnats. You can also say goodbye to mold spores and mildew-a boon for those who suffer from allergies.

Lower maintenance. Hydroculture is cleaner and easier to maintain. By eliminating dirt, you eliminate must odors and messy spills. You'll need to water less often, transplant less often, and worry less about leaving your plants unattended while on vacation.

Getting Started and Finding Supplies

As more people pickup on the trend, hydroculture supplies are becoming easier to find at local nurseries and garden centers. Suppliers can also be found on the Internet by using the search terms Hydroculture Kits or Interior Water Gardens. Here are some additional links:

Suppliers U.S.

Suppliers Canada

Supplier U.K.

A great site for setting up do-it-yourself systems with tips based on personal experience. Illustrated steps for transferring plants from soil to hydroculture:

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October 14, 2011

You don't need to have a green thumb to grow houseplants in water. Even if you've killed every houseplant growing in soil that you have ever had, your success is almost guaranteed when growing them in water.

Large leafed plant growing in a clear vase with a couple large bright red and orange rocks at the bottom

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I began growing plants in water when I was trying to root a plant cutting that I had. I loved being able to see the roots as they grew so I decided to leave the cutting in water instead of planting it. I found an old Erlenmeyer flask at Goodwill and transferred it to the flask.

Plant rooting in Erlenmeyer flask

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14 Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

January 1, 2020

I've tried many times to get cuttings to sprout in water. They just get slimy. What can I do to have some luck?


Answers

January 1, 20200 found this helpful
Best Answer

You need to change the water daily. Once roots come, you should use rooting hormone and pot it up.

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January 1, 20200 found this helpful
Best Answer

A lot of cuttings don't need to be started in water. Things like wandering jew and baby (or mouse-ear) jew can be stuck in the dirt and will grow just fine. I have purple jew ground-cover growing outside that I started from one cutting over 5 years ago, and it freezes and comes back every year.

I will start ivy in water, but like Judy says, water should be changed every day. I've found that sweet potato vines will grow if I just stick them in the dirt, either outside or in a pot. I even found a small sweet potato growing in a pot in my kitchen a few weeks ago. We used to put sweet potatoes in water to make a plant, but now if a sweet potato sprouts, I'll cut off the sprouts and put them in dirt.

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January 2, 20200 found this helpful
Best Answer

What kind of plants are you starting?

I start spider plants in water. They stay in it for a few days until the roots sprout and then go into dirt that gets watered daily. This short time the water does not get slimy.

Kalanchoes on the other hand, I root directly into dirt and water them daily. They don't seem to root well for me in water.

African violets get set up in a special water rooting method with saran wrap and water changed every couple of days until they root.

Philodendren and pothos can be rooted either way.

The trick when using water rooting is, when you change the water, to wipe out the container and dry it before adding the fresh water. The only time I get slime is when I don't do this.

Happy rooting!

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January 2, 20200 found this helpful
Best Answer

If you are trying to root cuttings in water the process isn't that necessary now. You can use some florist foam to put the cutting in. You will cut a small square of the foam and inset the cuttings in the foam. Now you just sit this in a small dish with some water in the dish. The foam will soak up the water and root the plants. Once they are rooted you can plant them in the ground. This is much easier than trying to put them in a glass of water to root.

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June 24, 2010

Back in the mid 70s there was a company that offered their house plants through home parties. The plants were grown in some kind of lava looking pebbles and did not use soil at all. You watered with their plant food solution each time you watered. The plants grew beautifully! Does anyone know what happened to the company or know what type of pebbles and solutions were used?

Hardiness Zone: 7a

By Daisy from Franklinton, NC

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September 2, 2009

Can I grow indoor plants in water only? What do I do with indoor plants in water when the water begins to smell bad? Other than replacing all the water.

Hardiness Zone: 6a

By marian nelson from Provo, UT

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I remember my mom growing sweet potato vines (as house plants) in a mason jar. How do you do it? I'd love to know. Can they remain in the water with some marbles in the bottom, or do they need to be planted? What type of light do they need? If I need to plant them, what do I keep the moisture level at for the soil?


I can't remember which end of the sweet potatoe to place in water to root it?

Thanks,
jenny from KY

Answers

December 31, 20044 found this helpful

You put the end that is "pointed" down in the water in the jar. You can grow these in your kitchen window or anywhere else in your home, where there is natural sunlight. Once you put the potato down in the jar, only about half of the potato should be in the water. You don't ever have to plant these. From what I could tell, they could live indefinitely in the jar.
I hope this helps.

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By gail2656 (Guest Post)
July 17, 20051 found this helpful

I grow them every year with my kids in school...they enjoy watching the vine grow

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By Lavell Rankin (Guest Post)
August 26, 20050 found this helpful

My sweet potato in the jar keeps getting moldy. I just moved it to a window that gets more direct light, but does anyone have another suggestion?

lavell1 @ comcast.net (remove spaces)

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By john (Guest Post)
April 27, 20060 found this helpful

hello,
the first thing you do is you get a jar and fill it with water(make sure you leave an inch without water).then insert the root end in the jar make sure that the end was in the water

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February 7, 20080 found this helpful

I tried to grow a vine from a sweet potato, and it only rooted a little, my sister told me that my mom use to cut one end off, but do you put the cut in down in the water or up out of the water? I didn't cut an end off and the potato rotted!""

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By Dana in PA (Guest Post)
July 22, 20080 found this helpful

I tried the sweet potato in the mason jar thing. I used the tooth picks and changed the water every other day and kept it in a sunny window. But after a week the part that was immersed in water rotted! What did I do wrong? Dana in Pa

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By (Guest Post)
October 25, 20080 found this helpful

Can u eat them? I have them growing like crazy.

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By walter17 (Guest Post)
November 6, 20080 found this helpful

I'm trying to grow an Okinawan sweet potato. I soaked the long part of the potato. That part started to rot. So I cut the rotted part off and turned it around.

So can anybody tell me if that is right or wrong? Anyone in Hawaii?

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September 19, 2018

I have been growing plants in bottled water for over fifty years. Recently we installed a whole house water filter and I now have a rim of scum (?) on the top edge of the water and on the container.

The containers are cleaned thoroughly and the water is changed every month and it does not matter the size of the container or the type of plant.
Cause? Solution?

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I have a couple of plants in vases, but the water seems to start smelling bad after a few weeks. What can I do or what should I put in the water to prevent this from happening?

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December 30, 2011

I would like to have a vase on my desk with a plant in water. Which plants will grow this way?

By RL from Basking Ridge, NJ

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February 8, 2010

I'm doing a science fair project on how different liquids effect how plants grow. I'm growing radishes, pole bean and peas in orange juice, diet ginger ale, milk, water and diluted vinegar. I need some research on how each liquid can effect my plants. Can you help?

By Tally from Ontario, Canada

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December 28, 2015

I need to know what steps to take when changing the water that my ivy roots live in? Can I just dump out the old water and put fresh water in the vase my ivy lives in without killing it.


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I've had my indoor ivy plant, which I have grown in water, for a couple of years now without a problem. I trim the roots when they get too long and clean off any algae that may arise from the sunlight.

A couple of days ago I did the same and noticed this thick black "scab" all over the stems. Now my leaves are all turning yellow. Anyone, any ideas on how to solve this issue?

By Franceska Marie McCaughan O.

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August 5, 2018

Some lily bulbs can successfully be grown in a water and stone filled vase. However, if the vase is clear the water may also support algae growth. After cleaning the rocks replant in an opaque or wrapped vase. This is a page about removing algae from water in which an oriental lily bulb is growing .

A glass vase with an Oriental lily growing in water.

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