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Workshop on How to Grow Plants in Water

We all have grown plants in soil and enjoyed them around us. But did you know a lot of these plants can be grown in water too? Or have you ever tried growing them in water? 

Growing plants in water are quite easy and for some, it may be a little less messy job too. There are a few very basic and simple steps that need to be taken care of when you are growing plants in water. If you have failed or killed your plants trying to grow them in water watch our workshop on “How to Grow Plants in Water” with our speaker Shilpi Biswas. 

She was born in a family of botanists and plant lovers and that’s how she became a plant lover herself. She studied at NIFT and enjoys painting plant patterns and hand-painted gardening accessories. She shares her beautiful works and passion for plants on her Instagram page “shilpibiswas”


Shilpi and her tips on growing plants hydroponically:

“Hello, everyone. Welcome to another workshop by The Affordable Organic Store. Today we have Shilpi Biswas with us. How are you, Shilpi?” asked Zehra.

“I am fine, thank you,” said Shilpi.

“Welcome to the workshop. Let me introduce you to our viewers briefly. She was born into a family of plant lovers and has seemingly inherited the trait. Today she will talk about how to grow plants in water. She will share some basic tips that we need to keep in mind while growing plants on water. So, let’s get started without any further delay.” informed Zehra.

“So, I have, like you said, inherited it indeed from my family because gardening was mandatory in our place. I have not studied anything specifically, but I will share my experiences with plants to this day in this workshop. Firstly, to be clear, I am not going to talk about aquatic plants but about how we can grow plants hydroponically, why we need to grow plants in water rather than soil, etc. I started using this technique during the lockdown, prior to which I also used the conventional methods only. I would also enumerate certain effective factors for effective propagation, and what things we can’t grow in this manner, etc.,” said Shilpi. There are certain factors why I like growing plants in water. 

  1. As part of an Urban population, we do not really have access to much soil outside since it’s covered chiefly by concrete. 
  2. Also, when you are growing plants in water, you are able to correlate the roots getting rotten with respect to the brown or yellow spots on the foliage of the plant. Then again, new plant parents may often run at a risk of overwatering the plant, which is another factor that gets avoided when we grow plants in water.
  3. Then again, growing them in water consumes far less amount of space comparatively, as the roots of plants growing in water are more fragile and delicate. All you need is a container and water. It also takes less time. However, the growth rate of plants might be slightly less since they do not get the exact proper amount of nutrients.

A lot of recent plant parents who are using this technique struggle to grow the plant from cuttings properly. They would generally just keep it in water, in a place receiving some amount of light which becomes the root of the problem. The solution here is keeping the plant in bright, indirect sunlight, just as in the case of soiled plants. After all, the requirement of the plant does not change. Also, I use transparent or glass containers to keep a check on the roots of the plant. People often get confused about the lighting, also. I would enumerate a bit on that. When Sunlight falls directly on the leaf, it is called direct light. There are plants, for example, houseplants, which do not prefer direct light. It may also cause burns on the foliage. A lot of plants, like Pothos, Philodendrons, etc., need to be kept away from direct light. Also, direct light can result in the growth of algae in the water container, thus turning it greenish. This Algae starts growing on the container walls initially and then gets to the roots of the plant. Then, there is the term called indirect light, wherein the plant doesn’t need sunlight falling on its leaves. So, you can probably keep the plant somewhere where the source of light is nearby, such as over the windowsill or near the kitchen or bathroom, where they receive very feeble light. Hence, there are various categories of indirect sunlight. There are some plants that can do with very less bright, indirect sunlight. Such includes the Snake plant, ZZ plant, etc.

Then, there’s water change we need to consider. People who aren’t into gardening can keep cuttings of money plants in homes, offices, etc. They may not know when to change the water. Since it’s a closed container, the water will not get replenished on its own. Less amount of water would lower the amount of oxygen concentration present in it. The root absorbs oxygen and nutrients from the water. Hence, changing the water once a week at least becomes essential because roots may rot if freshwater is not provided. Freshwater accounts for nutrients, which aid the growth of the root, and hence, the plant. You will find small white tips of new roots growing on the old ones. However, you can also find roots staying brown, showing no traits of further growth if the container is not changed for prolonged periods.

After that, the temperature plays a fundamental role in determining the growth of the plant. The air around the plant as well as the water which it is in, both needs to be suitable for the plant. Likewise, I would suggest changing the water in the container while it is at room temperature. The roots may become soft and weak if the water becomes very warm. There’s a myth I believe in, which is that no plant is a houseplant. They were not meant to be grown inside but outside in their natural habitat. I had a Jade plant in my house, but it didn’t receive direct sunlight and soon started losing its foliage because it is not the natural habitat of the plant. So, you need to provide surroundings similar to its natural habitat. Do a bit of research on Google to know about its background. For example, if the plant has aerial roots, that is, its roots can absorb water from the air. So, humidity or moisture in the surroundings will give the roots the required amount of water. Many people use moss sticks, which helps get the aerial nodes the amount of water they need. We fumble upon the question, “Why do plants need aerial nodes?” Well, because it grows in a place where it can get in proximity of big trees and can absorb water falling from the leaves or trunk of the plant. I have one such orchid, which I water by dipping it in water for a few minutes, and that’s all. It even grows new leaves and roots over time,” said Shilpi.

“That was amazing to know. We have a few questions, which we will take up now. 

The first one is, what plants can be grown in water? What nutrients should be added while growing plants hydroponically?” asked Zehra.

“I would give a short list of the plants that can be grown this way at the end of the session. However, the specific answer to this question includes a mint plant growing in water. Other herbs include Basil, Carrom seed, Tulsi, etc. When growing a plant in water, removing all the leaves in the lower part of the plant is recommended, or it may lead to rotting and fungal growth in the water. We can use fish water from the aquarium at our places for nutrients. Then again, we can use water-soluble fertilizers such as seaweed solutions for these plants. Two things need to be checked here: 

The water must be kept very clean from mold, fungi, etc. The fertilizers should make a slime-like substance on the surface of the container. Water having fertilizer should be kept stored for a short time. Wash the container and use fresh water every week to ensure proper growth. For growing fruits or flowers, going for soil is better. However, for herbs, water would do.”

“What should we do if anything such as root rot, leaves getting sunburned, or turning yellow, etc. happens?” 

“Yeah, so while changing water, I suggest you clean the root by rubbing your fingers along the roots because there may be a slimy substance on it. If you find any tip getting brownish, it is suggested to remove that immediately to prevent the root from rotting.”

“Do the same apply to the leaves?”

“Leaves can be removed because if the leaf is yellow or brown, it will die eventually. So, removing the portion is better to prevent the plant from spending its energy on the leaf.”

“Is the amount of water in the container also a criterion? If yes, how much should we add?”

“Yes, it is a criterion indeed. I’ll explain with the help of an example. We have a Peperomia plant here that I’ve been water propagating for quite some time now. When you cut like this, you’ll find that the stem will divide into a new stem. So, you have to fill water to the crown, which is present in most plants, and dip it till the portion where the stem can grow roots and leaves do not get submerged.  To propagate plants with small stems, or in the case of succulents, you have to take a very small container, such as an ice cream cup or something of the same size, and then take a plastic. Tie the plastic over the container’s mouth with a rubber band and then make holes in the container.  After that, dip the plant cutting from the hole to the bottom. For succulents, excess water can easily rot them. Hence, you have to keep a little distance, around 1 mm, between the water surface and the leaf because leaves can sense the presence of water below, and then they will start shooting roots into the water. Now for this plant at hand, you can see there are two big leaves and some small ones. It has been under this polythene, all the while growing into it. The reason for using this polythene is that sometimes we need to dip the tip of the leaves or stem into the water. For these small cuttings, the polyethylene acts as a divide between the parts that need water and the part of the plant which doesn’t need water,” said Shilpi.

“So, the part of the leaves that are touching the water, will they not rot?” asked Zehra.

“No, they do not. These leaves have started growing in the water itself and hence are accustomed to it. Thus, they can grow naturally in water,” said Shilpi.

“Okay. Please continue, Shilpi,” said Zehra.

“There are some dos and don’ts when growing plants in water. I would give an idea of them. For don’t, I have already mentioned:

  1. Do not submerge any leaf in water, especially if it’s an air leaf. If it is born in water, then it’s okay. Otherwise, it can rot and affect the water, causing rot in the root. 
  2. Do not use transparent containers if you can’t clean them frequently since algae develop faster in transparent ones.
  3. Remove flowers from cuttings since they may multiply, resist voracious root, and shoot growth. 

These were the don’ts. For do’s, you can:

  1. Remove roots or leaves immediately if they develop roots. Roots can be both green and brown. While cleaning, if the brown ones feel like the green ones, you can keep them. Else, if they appear soft, remove them immediately.”

“When we remove the brown ones, will they grow new roots?”

“Yes, it is quite similar to pruning. When we prune a plant, we do it with the intent of giving a boost to its growth. The same thing applies here,” informed Shilpi.

“Okay,” said Zehra.

“So next thing is, if you want to transfer your plant from water to soil, the best time to do that would be when the size of the root is equivalent to the size of the cutting. It would soon get accustomed to

the new environment. They were initially different but will develop into soil roots over time,” said Shilpi.

“One question: Which plants should not be considered for water propagation?” 

“Plants with bulbs, such as onions, because the bulb doesn’t need water and might rot. Other plants include Gladiulus or Caladiums that should only be propagated if you’re confident enough. They are quite tricky to grow; hence only try them when you’re confident.”

“Okay. Please continue,” said Zehra.

“Okay. You see, there’s a difference between water roots and soil roots in the sense that water roots are very hairy in nature to absorb more water. They are also very fragile and thin when compared to soil roots. This is basically due to their environment. Then again, water roots are made purely for water absorption, which again is not the case with soil roots. Water roots require significantly less energy to develop. Now I’d say about how you can enjoy growing plants in water. The cutting can be grown in perlite or pumice stone in water. You can also use Leca balls, available with TAOS only, to provide some nutrients and a soil-like environment to the roots. Thus, leca is also helpful in the quicker growth of the roots. Then, colorful pebbles can be used at the base of the containers.

You can also use hanging bottles in your homes in a decorative way,” said Shilpi.

“I would also give you some ideas about Succulents, like Snake plant propagation. Remember always to cut the leaves at 45 degrees and not straight. This will ensure proper growth of the cutting. Additionally, do not dip the cutting in water the same day, but rather after a day. This would help in the accumulation of Callus that would seal the tip of the wound and prevent any chances of rot. For Snake plants, you can always use the mother leaf for propagation. This is known as the Leaf-cutting method that can be used for succulents and cactuses.

Lastly, I would name some plants another time that is easy to grow in water and can be taken up by beginners. So firstly, the Vine plants such as Pothos, i.e., money plants, have various kinds that you can go for. Then, you can go for Philodendrons, like lemon, Basil, etc. Also, you can go for Syngonium as well. All of them are easy to grow in Water. Addoids with aerial roots can also come under this list. From stem cuttings, you can start cultivating ZZ  plants, Begonias, Coleus, etc. You can also go for seeds by removing the outer hard portion, and the inner soft portion that you’ll get can be grown in water. Cactus, Snake plant, and other succulents can be grown, but it’s a bit tricky and is hence not ideal for beginners,” informed Shilpi.

Plastic containers can also be used to grow water plants?”

“Yes, they can. Just make sure they don’t get very warm, and timely keep cleaning them. You can use containers present in your homes itself. That’s all,” said Shilpi.

“It was an amazing session, Shilpi. Thank you for joining us today,” said Zehra.