Hydroponics – Gardening Without Soil

Hydroponics - Gardening Without Soil

Gardeners and horticulturalists are used to getting grimy. They root around in the soil, applying fertilizers and pesticides. They plant, divide and re-plant. They do all this for the rewards of producing beautiful and nutritious plants to view and eat. But what if you could gain those values without coming into contact with any soil at all?

Hydroponics is the science and practice of growing plants without using soil. Water is the most common medium used instead. There are more technically accurate definitions, to be sure. But for the home gardener, hobbyist and occasional teacher that’s what it comes down to.

Many people wonder how this is even possible since they know that plants require soil for nutrition, support, heat, water, and all the other factors that are needed fro growth and reproduction. While that is what most people understand about gardening, its not necessarily true. Plants absolutely require water, but they don’t have to get it from soil even though that is the most common method. In nature, there are plants that grow well in gravel, sand or underneath or on top of a body of water.

Plants definitely do need water. But they needn’t get it from the soil, even though that’s one of the most common methods. Even in nature, some plants grow in sand, gravel or even on the surface or underneath a body of water.

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Plants need a certain amount of energy, in the form of sunlight and/or heat from their surroundings. But soil warmed by sunlight isn’t the only way to get that. Direct sunlight still works on leaves, the same way it does for plants in soil. Leaving the upper part of a plant exposed to sunlight supported by a string atop a container will allow vital photosynthesis to occur. As with nearly anything in botany, there are exceptions. Some plants survive and reproduce with no light, though they still need some energy to drive biochemical reactions.

Most plants that interest the home gardener or hobbyist do require physical support. Planting them in soil is one common and effective way to achieve that. That’s one of the reasons roots spread and stems are wind resistant. If they hadn’t evolved that way, those types of plant wouldn’t be here to discuss. But artificial aids, such as strings on supports, ice cream sticks glued to the top of a glass and dozens of other methods will work quite well.

One of the most important factors to growing a healthy plant is undoubtedly nutrients. Potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and a number of trace elements like iron, copper, and zinc are essential to plant growth. The usual way of obtaining these nutrients is by absorption from the surrounding soil. However, there are a variety of ways that the plants can receive the necessary nutrients.

Immersing the roots in a container of water that is periodically fed a liquid nutrient solution is one popular technique. There are others. Some hydroponically grown plants are housed in an enclosure that retains moisture well. The roots are then sprayed often with a mister that douses the roots with a nutrient solution. This crosses into the gray area known as aeroponics.

Hydroponics are used to effectively grow a variety of plants like tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce and a variety plants that are not vegetables or fruits, like orchids. The list is really very long. There are literally thousands of plants that can thrive without soil as long as they receive proper care. Hydroponic gardening can be instructive and fun and can produce nutritious and lovely plants with none of the drawbacks that soil delivers.

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