All plants need water to grow, but not all of them need soil. And you might find the idea of growing plants and flowers in water appealing if you’re limited on space. But is growing plants in water good for them?
Do Plants Grow Better in Soil or Water?
This all depends on what type of plants you want to grow. Short-rooted, tropical plants will do well in water. Sometimes even better than if they were in soil. Whereas deep-rooted plants won’t grow very well in water, they need to be grown in earth.
So below, we’ll make a comparison of growing plants in water and soil. And with this information, you can make an informed decision about what growing medium to use for your garden.
Do all Plants Need Soil to Grow
It’s not necessarily the earth that gives life to a plant, it’s the water and nutrients that are contained in it. Water is a vital life source to plants and without it, they will die.
Water not only keeps the plant hydrated, but it also delivers nutrients to all the parts of the plant. Similar to the way our circulatory system delivers blood and nutrients around our bodies.
So, although a plant can live without earth, it will die without water and nutrients.
That said, not all plants can survive without earth. Plants with deep roots such as potatoes, need deep earth to grow in.
This means that pumpkin, watermelon, potatoes, corn and vines, won’t do well without soil.
Other plants that won’t do well in an indoor, water-only garden, are ones that rely on pollination.
It’s particularly shallow-rooted and tropical plants that are suited to growing in water.
So this includes vegetables such as strawberries, cucumber, spinach and lettuce. As well as most herbs.
And there are lots of houseplants that you can grow without soil too. These include peace lilies, Chinese money plants, orchids and spider plants.
How Do Plants Grow Without Soil
People have been growing plants without soil for centuries. And when it comes to growing without soil, there are several methods to choose from.
The most common method is a Hydrophonic system. This is when the plant’s roots are constantly submerged in water.
With a hydroponic system, you must add nutrients to the water and monitor the pH and oxygen levels.
You can also use other growing mediums in conjunction with a hydroponic system. These include clay pebbles, gravel and pearlite.
These mediums help to keep the water aerated and provide a good hold for the plant’s roots.
Aeroponics is another system for growing plants without soil. This method leaves the plants roots exposed to air, rather than submerging them in water.
The roots are then sprayed regularly with a nutrient-rich mist. This system imitates a tropical environment.
Aquaponics is a more complex system of growing vegetables without water that uses fish.
Like hydroponics, the plant’s roots are submerged in water. However, it’s the fish who provide all the nutrients to the plants via their waste.
And on a very basic level, lots of flowers and houseplants can simply be grown in a vase or container of water.
What are the Benefits of Growing in Soil
Soil is the natural environment for most plants. And it does a lot of things to help your plants grow and thrive.
Firstly it protects the roots of your plants and keeps them warm. It also filters and cleans the water and regulates your plant’s nutrient intake.
And as well as being full of nutrients, soil also exposes your plants to healthy biodiversity. This comes in the form of beneficial microbes and bacteria.
And soil naturally stores oxygen which is readily available for your plants.
If you have a garden then growing your plants in soil is completely free. And for houseplants, the cost of pots and compost is relatively cheap.
As well as this, studies have shown that being outside in your garden is good for your health. Gardening is a great stress reliever and it can help to boost your immune system.
Growing in soil is easy and you don’t need any specialist plant knowledge. So as a beginner it’s better to gain knowledge and experience by growing in the soil first.
Downsides to Growing in Soil
When your plants are growing in soil, they’re more vulnerable to pests and illnesses. Particularly fungal infections such as root rot.
In soil, plants are also more at risk of being over or under-watered. And incorrect watering is one of the most common reasons why plants develop problems.
Outside plants in soil have an added risk of being exposed to severe weather and natural disaster or even being dug up by animals.
Nutritionally speaking, soil has its limits. And it will have to be replaced or fertilized over time.
This means that you have to measure and maintain ph and nutrient level regularly. And when there are imbalances in your soil, correcting them isn’t an easy task.
So overall, it’s harder to regulate the nutrients in soil than in a water-only system. And in soil, your plant is more at risk of illnesses, pests and disease.
What are the Benefits of Growing in Water
Growing plants without soil comes with many benefits. The main one being, that you don’t even need an outside garden.
With a water-only system, you can grow lots of plants, indoors in a relatively small space.
When you grow indoors in water, you have complete control over your plant’s environment.
You control the temperature, humidity levels and exact nutrition and water intake.
These levels of control almost eliminate the chances of pests and diseases. So plants that grow in water are less likely to get ill.
Studies have shown that when it’s done correctly, water only systems produce stronger, healthier plants.
Because they don’t have to search for nutrients in the soil, plants grow faster and produce a larger yield.
And not only this, but you can produce crops all year round when you use an indoor water system for growing. But for this, you’ll need special grow lights.
Surprisingly, growing in water alone will actually save your water, up to 95 per cent.
This is because, in soil, the majority of water is lost to evaporation and other environmental factors. Very little of the water makes it to your plants.
With a water-only system, your plants will only use the water they need, and no water is wasted.
Some people enjoy growing in water because a hydroponic garden needs less physical maintenance. Meaning you don’t have to spend lots of time weeing for example.
Growing plants in water doesn’t have to be a massive investment. You can grow plants on a small scale using a vase or container. Which will often even work out cheaper than growing soil.
Downsides to Growing in Water
The biggest downside to growing your plants in water (on a large scale) is the initial financial investment. Depending on the system you choose, it can be quite expensive to set up.
On top of the watering system, for growing crops, you’ll need to invest in expensive grow lights too.
Once you get the hang of using a water-only system then it’s fairly simple to use.
However, you do need some technical knowledge when it comes to setting up and maintaining the system.
Hydrophonic systems need a constant power supply. And If the system cuts out then this can be a disaster for your plants.
And this is one of the reasons why water-only systems need constant supervision too. Unlike potted plants which you can leave unsupervised for days.
Although plants grown in water are generally less susceptible to diseases, they’re not totally immune. They can still fall victim to water-borne microbes which spread quickly through a water system.
In some ways, it could be said that a hydroponics system is just an expensive way of replicating the soil. And many growers find the idea of growing plants in water, unnatural and unappealing.
Frequently Asked Questions About Do Plants Grow Better in Water or Soil
Do all plants grow well without soil?
Lots of plants grow well without soil. In fact, some even grow faster and produce a higher yield. Especially short rooted plants like spinach. But not all plants do well without soil. Deep-rooted vegetables such as potatoes need deep earth to grow in.
Is it easy to grow plants without soil?
This all depends on the system that you’re using and what you want plants you want to grow. If you want an indoor hydroponic garden, then often this requires some technical knowledge. But on a basic level, it’s easy to grow a spider plant or herbs in a vase of water for example.
Should I grow my plants with or without soil?
This all comes down to personal preference and the facilities you have available. If you have a garden full of rich earth then there isn’t any reason for you to grow your plants in water. But if you live in a place with limited space, or you want to grow all year round, growing plants with water might be a better option. Ultimately, the decision will come down to personal preference.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.