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Growing plants without soil

Learn about growing plants without soil

This month, we're diving into the world of growing plants without soil, also known as ‘hydroponics’

What is Hydroponics?

It’s easier to remember the word if we break it down into smaller chunks! The word ‘hydroponic’ comes from the Greek word for water (hydro) and the word for work (ponic). Which makes sense – because water works to help plants grow


Plants usually grow in soil – like how you might grow flowers in the garden. But in hydroponic gardens, plants don't need soil. Instead, they grow in water or in misty air, like magic! But they don't just float around; they get special water with healthy food inside it. This special food helps them grow big and strong, even without soil

Growing with soil = teeny, tiny creatures called microbes create special nutrients in the soil which feed the plants

Growing with hydroponics = nutrients come from a special drink that is given straight to the roots of the plant. This can be either in water or from the water that floats in the air!

History of Hydroponics

Growing plants without soil might sound like a new idea, but it’s actually a very very old one. In fact, when plants first started growing hundreds of millions of years ago, they grew in oceans and lakes before moving onto land! We also know that some ancient civilisations grew plants using water instead of soil. Let’s learn about two of those:

  • Babylonians

Have you ever heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Imagine a magical garden that seems to float in the air, like a big green cloud. This special garden is a very old and famous place from a long, long time ago (thousands of years!) and it’s a place where the Babylonians grew beautiful plants in water without soil

  • Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians are well known for pyramids, mummies, and tombs, but did you know they also grew plants without soil? We know this because some ancient paintings called ‘hieroglyphics’ show plants being grown in water along the river Nile!

What are the benefits of growing without soil?

In the modern day, growing plants in water is becoming more popular because it has a lot of benefits – especially for farmers who grow food. Let’s look at some of these

Less space

1. Grow more in less space

Farmers don’t need as many big fields to grow lots of crops, instead they can be grown in smaller indoor spaces

Grow quicker

2. Plants grow quicker

That’s because they are given all the things they need to grow more directly

Cleaner to grow

3. Cleaner to grow

Usually, when plants grow in the ground, farmers use things called chemicals to keep away
bad bugs and help the plants grow big. But in hydroponic farms, plants get their food without needing nasty chemicals

Saves water

4. It saves water

Even though they're surrounded by water, these plants are super smart and only drink as much as they need – the rest of the water stays in the garden!

Plants that can be grown without soil

There are lots of plants that can be grown without the need for soil, let’s take a look at just a few and learn some facts about them!



Orchids are one of the oldest types of flowering plants and they can take up to 7 years to bloom! Amazingly, orchids don’t need soil – in nature, they just attach themselves to branches of trees and get their nutrients from the water in the air

Air plants

Air plants

These special plants are called ‘air’ plants but they can’t survive just from air alone! They still need the water in the air to make sure they get the food they need. Just like orchids, these plants don’t grow in soil, but instead you’ll find them on things like trees or rocks



Daffodils start life as things called bulbs – these are like little treasure chests that contain everything a flower needs to grow, like tiny leaves and petals. All they need is a little bit of water and they wake up and start to grow!

Lucky bamboo

Lucky bamboo

This pretty plant is actually a type of water lily, not bamboo! It grows in thick, leafy stems that twist at the top. According to Chinese legend, the plant is said to bring good luck to the person who it is given to. The more stems – the more luck!



Moss is like a tiny, soft, and green carpet that grows on the ground, rocks, and trees – it's really good at helping the ground stay healthy and happy. This plant doesn’t have any roots and doesn’t need soil to grow. Incredibly, moss was the very first plant on planet earth

Growing plants from other plants

Did you know that you can take your favourite plants and make new ones from it? This special magic trick is called ‘propagation’ – and it’s easy to do! All it means is taking a cutting of a small part of the plant and placing it in water to grow into a whole new plant

Snake palm

Plants that are perfect for propagating:

  • Snakepalm

Simply cut a small section from a larger leaf and place it in a jar of water

  • Spiderplant

These plants make it easy for you as they grow their own mini plants! Just cut off one of the plantlets and place it in water


Plants that are perfect for propagating:

  • Pothos

Cut the stem just below a leaf, and take away any lower leaves before placing it in water

You can even use vegetable scraps like lettuce and spring onions and regrow them in jars of water!

Growing new plants

Top tips for growing new plants

  1. Use clean scissors to take your cutting

  2. Make sure the stem isn’t too old and toug llike a tree trunk, or too young and delicate – it has to be just right

  3. Use clean jar and fill 2/3rds with water

  4. Change water each week

  5. Cut the stem just below a leaf, and take away any lower leaves before placing it in water