Serial houseplant killers pay attention! If you’ve always had trouble keeping houseplants alive the traditional way, why not try something different?
Growing houseplants in water rather than soil is a great option for a surprising amount of different popular species. A perfect solution for the travelers and busy folks among us!
Let’s have a look at everything you need to know at growing houseplants in water, how to do it, and a list of popular plants that grow in water just as well as they do in soil.
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- Should you grow plants in water?
- How to grow plants in water
- The best containers for plants that grow in water
- Does any water work?
- Light requirements
- The best and easiest plants to grow in water
- 1. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
- 2. Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
- 3. Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
- 4. Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)
- 5. Velvet leaf Philodendron (Philodendron micans)
- 6. Satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus)
- 7. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.)
- 8. Swiss cheese vine (Monstera adansonii)
- 9. Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)
- 10. Mini Monstera (Rhaphidophora tetrasperma)
- 11. Arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum)
- 12. Inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina)
- 13. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
- 14. Prayer plant (Marantha leuconeura)
- 15. Geranium (Pelargonium sp.)
- 16. Begonia (Begonia sp.)
- 17. Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
Should you grow plants in water?
Ah, houseplants. We all love them and what they do for the look of our homes, but keeping them alive is often a different story. Too little water kills them, but so does too much water. The same goes for fertilizer, and let’s not even talk about those species that seem to shrivel if you just look at them wrong!
It’s easy to think you’ve got a bad thumb if you’ve failed to keep a few houseplants alive, but I encourage aspiring houseplant growers to look at things differently. Rather than just giving up and going for faux plants, it’s all about being creative in finding a way to keep houseplants alive and thriving, one that works for you and your schedule.
One way to do this is to try growing your plants in water, with their roots submerged but their stems and foliage sticking out. It’s not something that works for every plant lover, nor for every plant, but it can be such a lifesaver that I sometimes wonder why more people don’t do it!
Many of us long-time enthusiasts already root cuttings in water, but few realize you can also just grow plants this way indefinitely.
- You almost never have to water your plant(s). This eliminates the risk of overwatering or the leaves wilting from thirst.
- Travel without worrying about your plants and without having to arrange a plant sitter.
- You get to be creative with beautiful displays in funky vases.
- You get to see your plant’s roots grow, allowing you to keep an eye on root health as an added bonus.
In horticulture, growing plants in water is called hydroponics. If your interest has been piqued, let’s have a look at how to do it. I promise it’s easy!
Did you know? There’s also a growing method called “semi-hydroponics,” which involves placing houseplants in a soil-less medium called LECA, plus water. We won’t discuss it here, but it’s a good option to explore later if you’re enjoying growing your houseplants in water.
How to grow plants in water
If you’d like to grow a houseplant in water, you can start with a fully grown plant previously grown in soil or with a cutting. I’ve tried both methods and they’ve worked fine, although I personally prefer using cuttings: it saves me the time of having to clean all the dirt off the roots first, and also eliminate the small chance of a plant failing to adapt to life in water.
We’ll discuss a bunch of different plants that grow in water in a bit. You can take pretty much any of these (the vining ones are especially vigorous growers), snip off a piece and pop it in a pretty vase. Just make sure the stem is submerged, but the leaves are not. It’ll develop a thriving root system before you know it.
The best containers for plants that grow in water
So, what kind of container should you use to grow plants in water? Any kind you like!
The only thing you have to keep in mind is the width of the neck if you use a bottle, as your plant will likely grow such an extensive root system that soon you won’t be able to take it out anymore without breaking the container.
I personally prefer doing my hydroponics in clear glass bottles or vases that I find in thrift stores or reuse from around the house. But these days, there’s an array of options for displaying indoor plants in water!
Here are a few popular ideas to consider:
- Glass bottles: Vintage bottles, beer and soda bottles, or fancy liquor bottles can be repurposed as whimsical vases for your indoor plants.
- Glass jars: If you have an odd collection of empty pasta jars or mason jars, turn them into practical containers for your rooted cuttings.
- Drinking glasses: Chipped glasses don’t have to be thrown away—repurpose them for growing! You can also find vintage one-off glasses in pretty colors and patterns at thrift shops.
- Test tubes: A set of test tubes (the same kind used in a lab, or a copycat version designed for home decor) is a great choice for displaying single stems in an eye-catching arrangement. I’ve handpicked the best ones here to show off your plant collection.
- Propagation stations: These tabletop displays (featuring test tubes, bulbs, vases) allow you to arrange all your cuttings as an attractive centerpiece. Here’s a list I’ve curated of beautiful propagation stations for your plants.
- Wall vessels: Wall-mounted test tubes, vases, globes, terrariums, and other vessels can turn your houseplant collection into a work of art. Since plants that grow in water don’t need direct sun, they’re a good choice for almost any wall in your home. Here’s a selection of my favorite wall-hung vases and terrariums.
- Bulbs: Yes, even old lightbulbs work great for small cuttings! With a bit of ingenuity, you can rig up a lightbulb to hang on a wall or suspend from the ceiling.
- Vases: You can use any size vase in any type of material, from clear glass to glazed ceramic (as long as the vase is water-tight so you don’t get leaks). Single stems do best in vases with narrow necks to help keep them upright.
While your choice of water vessel doesn’t necessarily need to be transparent, being able to keep an eye on the root system and reveal part of a plant that you wouldn’t normally see is half the fun for me!
It does mean that any algae growth will be visible as well, but don’t worry. We’ll discuss how to prevent this in a bit.
Did you know? If you have an aquarium, this is the absolute best place imaginable to grow houseplants hydroponically. Just secure them in such a way that only the roots are submerged (keep the stems and foliage above the water) and you’ll pretty much never have to worry about them. Fish waste contains all the nutrients our plants love, while the roots’ absorption of excess waste helps keep water quality high.
Does any water work?
One of the great things about growing houseplants in water is that yes, any old tap water will almost always work just fine. The only exceptions are if your water is of really low quality, which happens sometimes with well water, or if you use reverse osmosis water, which is devoid of nutrients and minerals and can therefore starve your plant.
If your tap water is high in chlorine/chloramine, don’t worry. You can leave it to sit for 24 hours before putting your plant in it, as these components dissipate over time. Alternatively, you can buy water dechlorinator at any aquarium store.
Rain water and most types of bottled water (avoid brands that are low in minerals) are also absolutely fine.
One of the only challenges in growing houseplants hydroponically is finding the right spot in your home for them to live. Putting them on a windowsill that receives direct sun is usually a bit too much, as it can overheat the water.
The excess light is also a recipe for algae growth unless you use an opaque container or a dark-colored glass (like an amber bottle, dark gray bottle, or dark blue jar).
Instead, pick a plant that can take indirect light (again, we’ll discuss a bunch below) and place it in a location that’s bright but not sunny.
Be sure to also avoid drafty parts of the house, because you don’t want the water to get too chilly either.
If algae do occur despite the lower light levels, they’re not too difficult to get rid of. You can either remove the plant from its container for a bit in order to clean it, or you cover the container for one to two weeks to starve the algae of light. The plant itself won’t be affected, since it uses its leaves, not its roots, to photosynthesize.
If you’re wondering at this point how in the world your plant is going to get the nutrients it needs to thrive if it’s growing in water instead of soil, that’s a valid concern. Luckily, it’s easy nowadays to find special fertilizers meant for hydroponic growing. You can use these for well-established (rooted) plants according to the instructions on the container.
Don’t forget to add fertilizer again every time you change your plant’s water, which you should ideally do at least once a month.
Recommended fertilizers for plants that grow in water:
- Maxsea All Purpose Hydroponic Nutrient Fertilizer
- Hydro-Gro Organic Fish Fertilizer Hydroponics Plant Food
- Grow More Lucky Bamboo Fertilizer
- Super Green Lucky Bamboo Fertilizer
The best and easiest plants to grow in water
1. Peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
One of the most popular choices for hydroponic growing. This tropical aroid is a classic houseplant due to its easy care and beautiful white flowers, and it will grow very well in water. Provide yours with bright indirect light plus extra nutrients and it’ll bloom almost year-round.
If you’d like to go for something a little more exciting, there are also a few variegated peace lily cultivars available, like ‘Domino’.
2. Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
Did you know that lucky bamboo isn’t actually a real bamboo? It’s a member of the extremely popular houseplant genus Dracaena, which also includes the dragon tree and corn plant.
Lucky bamboo is the go-to in terms of plants that grow in water; you actually almost never see them sold growing in soil. I’ve had ones that did well in a simple vase for years even though I never thought to add any fertilizer at all!
3. Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Yep, classic Pothos, everyone’s favorite easy-care houseplant, is a great choice for hydroponic growing. It’s a vining plant, meaning you can snip off a piece anywhere along the stem and place it in a nice vase to root.
This is not the quickest grower, but it handles low-light conditions like a champ. There are loads of different cultivars available: try ‘N’Joy’, ‘Marble Queen’, ‘Manjula’ or just the classic mottled golden Pothos.
4. Flamingo flower (Anthurium andraeanum)
I’ve been seeing more and more houseplant and home interior stores selling flamingo flowers in water, and it’s easy to see why. Also known as Anthurium, this popular aroid produces colorful waxy flowers that create a beautiful contrast with its white roots when kept in a clear vessel.
The classic flamingo lily sports red blooms, but there are also cultivars in pink, cream, green, purple, and even one that’s nearly black.
5. Velvet leaf Philodendron (Philodendron micans)
Good ol’ Pothos sound a bit too boring for you? No problem: There are plenty of other beautiful vining species that are equally easy to care for and grow just as well in water. We’ll discuss a few different ones here, including Philodendron micans.
Also known as velvet leaf Philodendron, this species features small, dark green to reddish foliage that’s soft to the touch and almost seems to glisten in the light. It’ll root well and grow vigorously in water.
6. Satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus)
Another vining option known as satin Pothos or silver Philodendron, this one is actually neither: It belongs to a different genus called Scindapsus, despite its confusing common names. The plant’s vining nature and pretty silver leaf spots make it a great choice for a lovely hydroponic display.
As with most of the plants on this list, there are a few different varieties of satin Pothos available. ‘Silvery Ann’ has larger silver splotches on its leaves, while ‘Exotica’ produces XL foliage compared to the other cultivars.
7. Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.)
Chinese evergreens from the genus Aglaonema are among my personal favorite houseplants, mainly because there are just so many Aglaonema varieties to choose from. Selective cultivation has produced hundreds of different colors, patterns and leaf shapes, so there’s a Chinese evergreen for anyone!
This is a cane plant (not dissimilar to lucky bamboo), meaning it grows on long stems that should fit perfectly in a thin-necked bottle or vase. It’s hard to choose, but I think my favorite is the pink-rimmed ‘Crete’.
8. Swiss cheese vine (Monstera adansonii)
The classic large-leaved Monstera deliciosa may not be the best choice for growing in water—it just gets much too massive—but its smaller vining cousin, Monstera adansonii, is an excellent choice.
Also known as the Swiss cheese vine, this species has similar fenestrated leaves (leaves with holes), but doesn’t grow quite as unwieldy as its bigger cousin. It roots and grows readily in water.
9. Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)
The heartleaf Philodendron is available in a few different colors and patterns, including neon yellow (called ‘Lemon-Lime’) and variegated (called ‘Brasil’).
Another vining species, this one is relatively undemanding and will grow readily in water. I think it would look great in a larger display with other similar plants like the aforementioned Pothos, Scindapsus, and velvet leaf Philodendron!
10. Mini Monstera (Rhaphidophora tetrasperma)
Another great alternative to the large “traditional” Monstera deliciosa is the mini Monstera, which actually belongs to the genus Rhaphidophora but is quite similar in terms of looks.
I love combining the mini Monstera with the aforementioned Monstera adansonii. They vine in a similar way, prefer the same light levels, and their unusual leaf shapes go quite well together.
11. Arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum)
The arrowhead plant of the genus Syngonium holds a special place in my heart in terms of hydroponics because it’s the first plant I ever grew in water. I submerged its roots in an aquarium and it grew fantastically for years despite never really getting much light at all.
Definitely one I recommend! Don’t forget to check out the beautiful pink varieties, like ‘Neon’.
12. Inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina)
Inch plants (also known as wandering Jew plants) from the genus Tradescantia, like Tradescantia zebrina, are known for being among the most vigorous, fast-growing, and fast-rooting houseplants available.
With how easy these plants are to grow, it’s not surprising they do well in water too. Their pink, purple, and silvery foliage looks stunning in a simple vase! For an extra splash, try looking for the tricolored variegated version.
13. Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Yet another one of those long-time classic houseplants that no one thinks to put in water for some reason, the spider plant is actually a fantastic candidate for hydroponic growing.
This species is unfussy and doesn’t need a lot of light to thrive. Plus, it produces offsets that are easy to separate. Grow your own hydroponic houseplant army to keep or give away!
14. Prayer plant (Marantha leuconeura)
Prayer plants, like those from the genus Maranta, are considered a little challenging to grow in the home. They can be fussy about watering and humidity.
Although they may not be the first option that comes to mind when thinking about plants that grow in water, growing your prayer plant hydroponically may actually prove helpful in preventing watering mistakes and keeping it alive more easily.
15. Geranium (Pelargonium sp.)
Geraniums are often grown outside as warm-weather annuals, but did you know you can also grow them as long-lived houseplants in water?
If you want to keep your geraniums going through the colder months without the hassle of overwintering their container indoors, clip a 6- to 8-inch piece of stem just below a leaf node.
Place the stem in a glass of water and roots will form. Any cultivar will survive happily in water as long as you remember to change the water every few weeks when it starts to cloud.
16. Begonia (Begonia sp.)
You’ve probably grown Begonias on your deck or patio; these plants are a summertime favorite for adding a splash of color to container gardens. With their waxy leaves and succulent stems, they make a great indoor statement plant as well.
You can grow wax, tuberous, angelwing, or rex Begonias in water. For wax Begonias, clip a stem and place it in water. For tuberous, angelwing, and rex Begonias, a single leaf with the stem attached creates a simple, elegant display.
17. Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
Named for its edible cousin, sweet potato vine is an ornamental plant grown for its attractive, heart-shaped leaves and trailing habit. With vines that can reach 4 to 5 feet long, ornamental sweet potato vine looks more like clematis or morning glory. It’s a perfect choice as a lush and tropical-looking “spiller” plant from a wall-hung vase!
The classic plant is lime green, but leaf colors in other cultivars vary in shades of purple, burgundy, bronze, and brown. Take a 6- to 8-inch cutting of the vine, just below a leaf note, to grow in water.
View the Web Story on plants that grow in water.