HYdroponics is one of those growing techniques that seems to be capturing people’s imaginations right now – perhaps fueled by a slew of CGI imagery showing futuristic vertical farms atop skyscrapers flooding social media these days. Luckily, you don’t have to be an engineer or own a glass-roofed penthouse to try this for yourself. Here is my beginner’s guide to home hydroponics.
This growing technique can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be, but at its core, it boils down to the basic fact that plants don’t need soil to grow. In general, whatever the soil makes available to plants is a source of moisture, air, and minerals—roughly in that order. By doing without soil, you can grow plants in clear glass vases, balls or bowls without any growing medium at all.
If you’re an indoor gardener like me, not only does this mean less mess and mess, but it also eliminates any overwatering or underwatering issues and allows you to appreciate not only the beauty of the plant’s leaves and flowers, but the beauty of the plants as well Architecture of roots that too often remain hidden.
Looking up: shoots of the lucky bamboo. Photo: lysh2006/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Technically, almost any plant can be grown this way. However, there are candidates that are particularly well suited to this technique and also have attractive-looking roots.
Perhaps the best example is the moth orchid Phalaenopsis. All you have to do is carefully lift your plant out of its pot and remove any bark chips around its root ball. Cut off any brown or shriveled roots, then lower the plant into a glass container. Fill the jar with some water until it covers the bottom 1/3 of the roots, leave the top 2/3 open and, whoosh, you’re done. That’s all there is to it.
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 tubular begonias like Maculata and of course even the lucky bamboo, Dracaena sanderiana.
I take these plants out of their pots and carefully wash as much growing medium off the roots as possible. Leaving them in a bucket of water overnight will soften the last traces of compost, which can then be sprayed 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, like me, you live in a hard-water region, bottled water is a good option for keeping the glass clear and lime-free. All I do each week is replenish the moisture reserve to the original water level.
What about nutrients? Well, once a month I top them off with liquid fertilizer instead of plain water, let the plants absorb this overnight, and then flush and re-water the next day. It’s all very simple, so if you want to create a really whimsical indoor display, there’s nothing holding you back.
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