H.ydroponics is one of those growing techniques that seem to really spark our imaginations, especially with the myriad of CGI images of futuristic vertical farms on top of skyscrapers that are flooding social media these days. However, you don’t need to have an engineering degree or a glass-enclosed penthouse to try this out for yourself. Here is my beginner’s guide to home hydroponics.
Hydroponics can be as simple or as complicated as you like, but at the heart of it is the fact that plants don’t need soil to grow. In general, the only thing the soil provides for plants is a source of moisture, air, and minerals – roughly in that order. If you do without soil, you can grow in clear glass vases or bowls without any growth medium.
If you’re an indoor gardener like me, it not only means less dirt and grime potential, but it also eliminates over- or underwatering issues and allows you to appreciate the architecture of the roots, which all too often are not visible.
Almost any plant can be grown this way. However, there are candidates who are particularly suitable for the technology – and those who also have attractive roots. Perhaps the best example is the phalaenopsis moth orchid. All you have to do is carefully lift your plant out of the pot and peel off any bark chips around the root ball. Cut off any brown or shriveled roots and lower the plant into a glass container. Fill the jar with water until it covers the bottom third of the roots, the top third stays in the air, and you’re done!
The same technique can also be used on a variety of plants in the Aroid family, from Monstera to Philodendron, Alocasia to Epipremnum, as well as some cane begonias such as B maculata and even the lucky bamboo Dracaena sanderiana. I take these plants out of their pots and carefully wash off as much of the growing medium as possible from the roots. Leaving them in a bucket of water overnight will soften the last traces of compost which can then be flashed away with a spray bottle to reveal pure white roots.
These terrestrial species require less airflow at their roots than epiphytic moth orchids, so I keep the water at the same level as the original compost and completely cover the root zone. If you live in a hard water area, bottled water is a good option to keep the glass clear and free of scale. I just fill up the glass to the original water level every week.
What about nutrients? Once a month I give them liquid fertilizer instead of plain water, let the plants absorb overnight and rinse them out the next day. It’s all very easy to create a whimsical indoor display.
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