How To Grow Thriving Houseplants In Water

You don't need fancy containers—or soil—to enjoy beautiful houseplants or even an indoor herb garden all year long.

June 23, 2017
growing plants in water
Sally Anscombe/ Getty

Houseplants make you happy, and they clean your indoor air. But they also require upkeep and can feel daunting for the brown-thumbed among us. At least, until now. Introducing the ultimate, impossible-to-kill houseplant that grows in water and never has to be fed.

Growing houseplants in water is similar to hydroponic farming, in which farmers grow crops in a mixture of liquid nutrients and water rather than in soil. "To grow plants, you need water, you need nutrients, you need oxygen, and you need something to keep it from falling over," says David Emmons, owner of Vermont Nature Creations, a company that designs root vases for waterborne plants and herbs. "With most plants, the soil keeps it from tipping over and provides the nutrients." But small houseplants and herbs can get adequate nutrient intake from water, which contains trace amounts of minerals and other nutrients that support plant growth. In other words, no soil required.

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This method for growing plants is great for novice indoor gardeners, he says, because it's low-maintenance and keeps the plant largely free of disease and pest problems. "You eliminate most plant diseases because the majority are from soilborne mold and soilborne bugs," he says. Without soil, you bypass those problems.

Growing plants in water takes little time or preparation. Feel like getting started? Great! Here’s the plan:

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

Step 1: Pick your plant

Herbs are particularly well suited to indoor hydroponics, says Emmons. "Some herbs grow so fast in water, you see a new leaf almost every day." Mints and oreganos grow fastest, followed by basil and rosemary. Lavender and sage are also favorites at his shop. As for houseplants, Emmons recommends any type of ivy (English ivy is his favorite), philodendron, wandering Jew, purple passion, and coleus. Even many flowering plants such begonias or impatiens will thrive in water. "It's so wonderful to look up and see impatiens still flowering in your window in January!" says Emmons. (Check out these 10 herbs that you can grow inside year round.)

Step 2: Root it

Once you've decided what to grow, clip a segment off the existing plant and place it in a glass jar, as you would if you were planning to root the cutting and plant it in soil. Always make sure you cut just below a leaf, says Emmons. That's the "leaf node" and it's where most of the rooting hormone within the plant is already active. If you don't have any houseplants or an herb garden, you can always ask friends for cuttings from their plants.

Related: 4 Ways To Propagate Any Houseplant And Create A Gorgeous Indoor Jungle

 

Step 3: Water it 

The type of water you use is key, says Emmons. "City water is filtered, then it's chlorinated," he says. "It's okay to drink, but it's void of any nutrients." Instead, use bottled spring water or well water, if you happen to have a private well, as water from the ground has the highest levels of minerals in it. As for containers, use any glass jar you have lying around, as long as it's see-through. Emmons has done unscientific experiments at home and has found that amber glass helps plants grow the fastest, but any clear container will do, so the roots get some light.

Related: 9 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Water Your Garden

And that's pretty much it. You’ll just have to replenish the water about once a month, whenever half the water in your container has evaporated. There's no need to worry about stagnant or smelly water, as happens with cut flowers, says Emmons. "Cut flowers are just rotting and dying in water, whereas when you're growing plants in water, they're in the process of living. If the plant is healthy, the water stays clean. So you don't develop algae, there’s no yuck, and there's no odor." (Here are 7 tricks actual florists use to keep cut flowers alive for weeks.)

Step 4: Reassess in a year

At around the one-year mark, Emmons says, your water may start to look murky and will need to be changed. Also, the roots will have grown a good deal, so they need to be trimmed back so they don't choke the plant. If you're growing herbs, you may need to replace your cutting altogether after a year, depending on which herb you chose. The woodier or stronger the stem, the more time it will last in water, says Emmons. For instance, rosemary might live up to six years in water, but basil may only last a year.

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