The happy revelation is that you’re ready to be a plant mom! The complication is you have a deathly fear of worms or a small space that isn’t really dirt-friendly. That leaves us with, well, the conflict: how to grow plants without soil. And moreover, how do you grow plants in an easy-care way that doesn’t put you in Chia Pet territory? (Like, not that you wouldn’t want a Golden Girls head that sprouts microgreens).
You, my friend, want to get into hydroponic planting. See, there are plenty plants capable growing in water rather than soil or other media. Plants derive certain nutrients from soil such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, which also exist alongside other mineral solids, air, water, and organic matter.
“Growing something hydroponically means the roots grow in water and chemical substitutes are used instead of naturally occurring chemical elements,” says Levi Gardner, environmental educator founder and co-executive director of Urban Roots. “These nutrients can come from either synthetic or organic chemicals. This means that they can either grow in water enriched with something like ammonia or fish emulsion. Basically, growing a plant hydroponically means its roots are in water rather than in soil.”
And many greens can actually be grown in hydroponic systems, says Gardner. This includes plenty of leafy friends, from herbs like basil, thyme, and mint, salad-ready greens like kale, chard, and lettuce.
“These systems are able to convert nutrients into growth relatively easy, bigger plants like tomatoes and peppers would require a lot more fertilization, in addition to bigger basins and more light for photosynthesizing,” says Gardner.
If you really want to use water to its fullest extent, Gardner recommends going a step further. Embracing aquaponic systems are another way to become a proud plant mom…with a goldfish.
“Rather just growing a plant, this is a symbiotic relationship between fish and a plant,” Gardner says. “The fish turns food into waste which in turn feeds the plant while the plant uses the nutrients and cleans the water. These systems are more complicated, but they are much more rewarding and more representative of principles or ecology.”
How cute, I love it! Below, we have some systems that can teach you how to grow plants without soil (just plenty of grow lights and hydration).
How to grow plants without soil
1. SPROUT GARDEN HYDROPONIC UNIT, $50
Get your greens ready! This sprout garden has an automatic sprinkler so you won’t even feel bad when you forget to water them for a month on end. And hey, good way to health-up your meals.
2. SMART GARDEN HYDROPONIC UNIT, $99
This is a pretty sophisticated smart garden, with the ability to grow all sorts of plants. It comes equipped with basil pods, so if you can get your hands on some fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar, you’re going to be in Caprese salad heaven.
This adjustable UV stand works if you don’t have the emotional investment for a full garden and instead what a sort of minimalist green statement piece. Maybe this is prime time to make an orchid plant blossom?
4. FOUR-TRAY FEEDER SPROUT, $24
The kit includes some alfafa seeds that are ripe for growing, and can be expanded to eight growing trays total if you’re really looking to make the microgreens an effortless part of your diet.
5. AQUAPONIC BETTA AQUARIUM BOWL, $30
How cute is this? A peace lily or bamboo plant is highly recommended as a topper, as is an adorable Betta fish companion. Note that we’re talking Betta fish in a singular context; they’re notoriously vicious killers and you don’t want to watch two fighting fish go at it over their food.
6. INDOOR LED GROW LIGHT, $65
This is great if you want to have a cluster of different plants, especially if you want to make space for basil, lemon mint, peppermint, thyme, grass, parsley, nettle plants, and succulents. Soil plants are welcome to mingle as well, as this system mainly caters to shining a light on whatever’s on whatever’s in the basin.
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