Can I Grow Plants Without Soil?

Growing plants in anything but soil is called hydroponics. It’s an alternative approach to gardening and home horticulture.

How does hydroponics benefit amateur plant lovers? Are there any drawbacks? And what options are there?

Read on and find out!


There’s a good reason to opt for soilless growing—it means fewer pests and diseases (especially soil-borne ones). Besides, taking care of your green friends this way is less messy. Finally, automated systems make indoor vegetable and herb gardens thrive.

Liquid Culture Method

The easiest way to try hydroponics at home is when propagating. It’s an opportunity to expand your plant collection or save a dying plant. Beyond that, you can simply choose to grow a plant in water. You only need to remember that not all greenery will be OK with this in the long run.

A few examples of the plants you can propagate include

  • African violets (Saintpaulia),
  • Begonias (Begonia),
  • Common coleuses (Plectranthus scutellarioides),
  • Lucky bamboos (Dracaena sanderiana),
  • Touch-me-nots (​​Impatiens),
  • Philodendrons (Philodendron),
  • Spiderworts (Tradescantia),
  • Pothos (Scindapsus or Epipremnum).

To propagate in water, you cut off a leaf or a part of the stem (where to clip depends on the plant). Then you submerge the clipping in a container with fresh water.

Here are some extra guidelines:

  • Mind the vessel. Many propagation stations have glass vials. If you want to use one, add charcoal bits to the water to discourage algal blooms. You should also go for narrow-neck containers.
  • The upper parts of the plantlet shouldn’t touch water to avoid rot. Position your cutting above water using styrofoam. Hanging it with a string so that the leaf is fixed above the surface works too.
  • Use chlorine-free water and timely add water-soluble nutrients to it. Consider supplementing with fungicides.
  • Change the liquid weekly or at least every 2–4 weeks.
  • Maintain the specific plant requirements: light, temperature, humidity, and medium pH.

Self-Contained Hydroponic System

Self-contained hydroponic systems are another opportunity to try soilless growing. Herbs and fast-growing vegetables with shallow roots feel at home in them, but taproot plants won’t grow well like this. The controlled environment will be a blessing for high-maintenance flowering beauties.

The basic elements of a self-contained system are a solution pump plus containers for the plants and water. Perlite, coir, sand, and rock wool are the mediums used instead of soil. You’ll also need to provide lighting and a nutrient solution.


Some hydroponic systems are challenging to set up and maintain. What unites them is the fact that excess liquid drips out of them. In some, it even automatically pumps back.

These are four typical variations of the self-contained system:

  • In NFT—Nutrient film technique—the plants are in an inert medium. A nutrient solution continuously flows around the roots.
  • Drip systems have hoses that automatically drip water at the base of the plant.
  • Unlike NFT, the nutrient solution in ebb and flow is supplied on a timer.
  • Aeroponics is when the plants are suspended in the air, and the system mists the exposed roots.


While the abundance of choices and the benefits of soilless growing are inviting, there’s a flip side.

Most of the time, hydroponics calls for a medium to high skill level. The self-contained systems are also not cheap. And though soil-borne infections are out of the way, water-borne diseases may become an issue. Finally, the roots of the plants grown this way are vulnerable.

It’s up to you to decide whether this progressive approach to growing plants is for you. In any case, understanding hydroponics can be a step toward more conscious horticulture.

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