What do you think of when you hear the word “garden”? A small patch of tilled soil filled with beautiful flowers and vegetables? Rows of corn, lettuce and tomatoes proudly sprouting out of the ground?

What about a huge greenhouse full of plastic pipes sprouting a wild variety of flowers and vegetables? No? Well… think again! As crazy as it seems, it’s possible to grow plants above the ground without any soil at all.

Researchers discovered hundreds of years ago that soil simply holds mineral nutrients close to plant roots, but the soil itself isn’t necessary for plant growth.

Using a growing method called “hydroponics,” you can grow plants in a watery solution of mineral nutrients instead of soil. The word “hydroponic” comes from the Greek words hydro (“water”) and ponos (“labor”).

The keys to plant growth are a variety of mineral nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. If you can add these necessary mineral nutrients into a plant’s water supply, you no longer need soil for the plant to grow. Just about any plant can be grown with hydroponics.

Hydroponic containers can take many forms. Large hydroponic farms use vast networks of plastic pipes with holes for plants. The pipes supply mineral nutrients in a watery solution to the plants’ root systems.

It’s also possible to grow plants hydroponically by placing their roots in a mineral nutrient solution contained in a non-soil material, such as gravel, coconut husks or shredded paper. These non-soil materials can provide greater support for the plants’ root systems.

Hydroponic plants tend to grow well and produce high yields. Plant roots have a constant supply of oxygen.

They also have access to as much or as little water as they need. Water in hydroponic systems is also reused constantly, thereby lowering water costs.

Hydroponics has many benefits in the modern world. In areas where good soil is scarce, hydroponics allows residents to grow fresh food. Since hydroponic farms can be set up indoors, fresh food can be grown all year long.

Hydroponics also may enable astronauts to spend longer periods of time in space, as future missions may require long travel times.

 

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  1. Our class used to ask the same question during our life science unit. We didn’t use hydroponics though but what great idea. We used large Ziploc baggies, a wet paper towel and place the seeds inside the paper towel. Just lay the bag flat near a sunny window and just observe. You can even measure the growth through the bag. It was an amazing way to watch the root system develop. I WONDER if anyone will try watching seeds grow this way without dirt???

    • That’s a GREAT way to watch the wonder of sprouting seeds and growing seedlings, Maria! What a FUN summertime learning experience…thank you so much for sharing!

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing about your school and the AeroFarm, Katrina! We could all learn a lot about urban farming and dirt-free planting and growing from you and your classmates! The video was really awesome…EcoSPACES sounds like a super special program! :-)

    • Hi, Grace! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis today! We’re excited about tomorrow, too! You’ll have to check back to see if your guess about Poison Ivy was right! :-)

  2. I remember something else we did in the life science unit: One of the teachers had a plant that had roots growing in it and the plant was growing regularly. I thought that that plant was sooooo cool!!

    I agree with Grace that it could be poison ivy because they have three leaves, but I also think that it could be shamrocks because most of them have three leaves. I am very curious to see tomorrow’s wonder!!! :D

    • That DOES sound cool, Meredith! It also sounds like you learned a LOT when you guys studied that life science unit. We know you had a WONDERful teacher!

    • Great question, Emma! We bet you’ll learn about soil-less plants from the excerpt below:

      “Researchers discovered hundreds of years ago that soil simply holds mineral nutrients close to plant roots, but the soil itself isn’t necessary for plant growth.

      Using a growing method called “hydroponics,” you can grow plants in a watery solution of mineral nutrients instead of soil. The word “hydroponic” comes from the Greek words hydro (“water”) and ponos (“labor”).

      The keys to plant growth are a variety of mineral nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. If you can add these necessary mineral nutrients into a plant’s water supply, you no longer need soil for the plant to grow. Just about any plant can be grown with hydroponics.” :-)

    • Hi Gabriella, we hope you’ll continue to do some research of your own about hydroponics – perhaps you’ll even create your own hydroponics garden with the help of your family! Seeds require nutrients in order to grow, and if they can find this nutrients without soil, they will grow! :)

  3. Wow! Hydroponics is a really cool way to grow plants without soil! How long does it take a plant to grow using hydroponics? Would it take longer using soil?

    • What great questions, Katie! We hope you’ll do some extra digging to find the answers to your questions! When you do, please come back to Wonderopolis and share with us what you discovered! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can plants grow without soil?
  • What is hydroponics?
  • What are the benefits of hydroponics?

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Try It Out

Ready to explore gardening without soil on your own? With just a few simple items, you can try soda bottle hydroponics at home! Just follow the directions and see what grows.

When you’re finished, we’d love to see the results. Email or send a picture of what you grow to Wonderopolis:

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325 West Main Street, Suite 300
Louisville, KY 40202-4237

 

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