Growing Plants in Water vs. Soil: Pros and Cons of Each

Most people plant their houseplants in pots with soil. However, for many plant species, it is possible to grow them in just water. But is keeping plants in glass containers with just water also good for them or does it only look good to us?

As a rule of thumb, tropical, shallow-rooted plants that naturally require a lot of water grow well in water whereas deep-rooted or more arid plants prefer soil. Plants in water have the benefit of preventing pests and diseases while soil provides the plant with a microbiome and more stability.

A lot of the common houseplants are tropical plants and can well be grown in water long-term. Still, there are pros and cons to both water and soil which you should know about before deciding what you are going to grow your plants in. In this post, I have summed up all the benefits as well as disadvantages of each method for you.

Can Plants Grow in Just Water?

Plant types that naturally require a lot of water can easily be grown in just water if it is rich in nutrients. The University of California states that plants can grow in just water but only if “we add fertilizer to the water”.

Growing plants in water is generally called hydroponics or hydroculture. In hydroponic cultivation of plants, the plants are kept without soil directly immersed in nutrient-enriched water.

As for the fertilizer, I always recommend using organic fertilizer as it is easier on your houseplants and the environment.

Generally, most houseplants will grow well in water. The only houseplants that don’t adapt well to cultivation in water are arid plants such as succulents and cacti. The natural habitat of arid plants is dry and desert-like, hence being immersed in water permanently will do them no good.

Read On: Water fulfills many functions in a plant’s metabolism but it is not the only key ingredient to a happy plant life. Read more about what else plants need in my post linked here!

Do Plants Grow Better in Water or Soil?

There is no general answer to this as it depends on the plant types if they do better in water or soil. Overall, short-rooted tropical plants grow well in both water and soil whereas deep-rooted or arid plants do better in soil.

You can find lots of articles about clever hydroponic systems to grow your own indoor vegetables and whatnot. Some studies show that with such a well-regulated hydroponics system, plants grow healthier and stronger than in soil. However, we need to keep in mind that those studies were referring to growing vegetables and that these systems can be costly to install and are really rather meant for producing food.

However, if you just want to grow some of your houseplants in water instead of soil, no such hydroponic system is needed.

It is enough to place the plants in a beautiful vase and fill it with water, or you can use a hydroculture system where the planter is filled with a moisture-retaining material such as bloated clay.

Growing Plants in Soil: The Most Natural Way?

Many people believe growing plants in soil is the only natural way to keep plants as this is how they grow in nature. Although for many plants it is true they only grow in soil naturally, there are plenty of plant types that do not grow on soil in their natural habitats.

Of course, for most plants of more moderate or cold climates or arid regions, growing in soil in their natural habitat is the only option as water can be scarce and is best collected through the soil. These plants do better in soil when kept as houseplants.

Now, let’s get into the pros and cons of growing your houseplants in the soil!

Care Tip: For indoor plants in soil, one of the most essential practices to get right is creating proper drainage in the plant pot. Without drainage, the plant runs the risk of getting root rot which is one of the most common reasons houseplants die off. Click through to my post where I explain why drainage is so important and how to create good drainage in any pot!

Pros and Cons of Growing Plants in Soil

The benefits of soil for plants:

  • Protects the root system and helps regulate water and nutrient flows
  • Plants can benefit from the soil’s healthy microbiome full of beneficial microbes and bacteria that make the plant more resilient
  • Gives the roots more stability and support
  • Best plant beginner method: Using soil is easier than growing plants in water
  • Cozy mood with plant pots distributed in your living space
  • Easier to repot plants in soil than in water when they outgrow their pot

The disadvantages of using soil for houseplants:

  • Over- and underwatering happens more easily (underwatering dries the plant out; overwatering causes root rot)
  • Many pests and bugs need soil to grow or to lay their eggs
  • You have to know how to pot your plants properly using drainage holes and the right type of soil according to plant type

Growing Plants in Water: More Than a Hydroponics Hype?

Not all plants grow in soil in their natural habitat. Especially in tropical climates where water and humidity are abundant, many plants evolved to live without soil. Among these are epiphytes such as orchids or lichen, or tree climbers such as philodendrons.

All of these plant types are well adapted to grow in water as houseplants.

Still, keeping plants in water has pros and cons as well. Let’s have a look at them!

Tip: When keeping plants in water instead of soil, make sure they get all the nutrients they need. I explain all about what nutrients plants need in my post on what water is best for houseplants. Enjoy reading!

Pros and Cons of Growing Plants in Water

Pros of growing plants in water:

  • Less risk of over- and underwatering your plants
  • Aesthetic and fancy display
  • Better prevention of pests, bugs, and diseases
  • Saves water (keeping plants in water uses less water than watering them weekly or more)
  • You can observe how they grow

Cons of keeping houseplants in water:

  • Clean the container regularly due to algae growth
  • Plants have no support without soil which is why you will need other support structures for the plant such as poles or grids above the container
  • The roots are more exposed to changes in temperature
  • You have to be very consistent in using the right amount and type of fertilizer
  • Plants can become less resilient due to the lack of their microbiome which is only present in the soil
  • Choosing the right container (no metal or other substances that could react with fertilizer or with water in the long run)
  • Difficulty to repot the plant: Most water containers have a smaller opening than their body which makes it difficult to take the plant out after its roots have grown inside of it

What Counts as Direct or Indirect Light for Houseplants?

Direct light reaches the plant’s leaves in an uninterrupted light while indirect light passes through or is reflected off a medium between the light and the plant.

Why does this matter? Some plant types need a lot of direct sunlight to thrive while others prefer the shadier spots. This is usually indicated on the plant labels when you buy them.

Find out what the indications on the plant labels mean and what spots in your home count as direct or indirect light by reading my post linked right here!

Do Plants Like to Be Touched?

Do plants need to be stroked regularly to be happy plants and grow well? Some people talk to their plants, sing or play music to them, while others habitually touch with them.

However, touching plants mainly makes us humans feel better whereas plants generally prefer to be left alone. Only touch your plants under certain conditions. There are also some plant types that should not be touched at all. Read more in this post about when and how you should touch your plants as well as when and how not to do so!

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