Friday, April 13, 2012

Hydroculture Gold Medalists

One of the most frequent questions my readers ask is: “Which plants are the most suitable for hydroculture?” My answer is always the same: “In my own opinion just about every plant is suitable for hydroculture – cacti and succulents included.” And I continue to stand by that statement. But there is an additional variable that has been added to that equation now. After all this time, and all the (necessary for the good of all plantkind) experimentation I’ve put many plants through, I can get more specific and truly recommend individual plants (or their entire group) that qualify as top performers – gold medalists – in hydroculture. (Well, at least plants that I’ve converted and grown successfully). Now I can truly point my readers to houseplants that I’ve had first-hand experience with, making it easier for them to start with something workable. This is especially useful for beginners who are quickly discouraged from continuing with the hydroculture style if the very first plants they start with fail or perform poorly. I’m here to share my findings to give my readers a healthy start.

Below is a compilation of some hydroculture champions. There are many other plants that perform extremely well but the ones below are at the top of my own list. They are also common choices, readily-available at local greenhouses, which makes them that much more appealing.

Outstanding Gold Medal Choices For Hydroculture

1) Sansevieria Members
(Carefree, Unbelievably Adaptable)

When I first started experimenting with hydroculture, never would I have believed that Sansevierias – succulents - would top the list of ‘most suitable plants for a water-based system’. But it’s true. They are, by far, the most remarkable performers in this growing style. They convert readily with absolutely no nagging, whining or complaining such as wilting, leaf shedding and yellowing of leaves. They don’t even seem to take notice as you switch them from soil to clay pellets. They shrug and deal with it, growing water roots quickly, determinedly.

For the longest time I pondered the resilience of this plant, forgetting the reputation it carries as one of the easiest plants to cultivate. How could I forget that these durable plants (practically immortal) adapt to almost any condition you throw at them? These versatile gems will grow in any corner of your home and deal with full sun or shade, humidity or dry air, frequent or infrequent feeding, and even extended periods between watering. With the exception of over-watering, which will ultimately defeat them, these plants are almost impossible to kill.

Perfect for beginners, this charming, eclectic beauty with its nearly indestructible constitution is one of the best choices for hydroculture, adapting to the system – as it does to almost every growing condition you can imagine – easily. If you are one of those people that like to water plants regularly, chances are you’ve given up on growing Sansevierias in soil because you’re killing them with kindness. Start growing them in hydroculture instead and introduce them back into your home.

* Many varieties to choose from *

2) The Dracaena Clan
(Flexible, Always Dependable)

Generally rugged and carefree, plants in the Dracaena group are some of my favourite indoor specimens. Attractive, versatile, tolerant and undemanding – my home is never without an assortment of these beauties. With so many beautiful varieties to choose from, each own making a bold statement with its unique form, I would have been severely disappointed if this group did not adapt to hydroculture – especially after I’d committed to eventually eliminating soil completely for all my indoor plants.

But as always, these plants did not disappoint me. The Dracaena clan and the hydroculture style are a match made in heaven. Leafy members of this flexible group of plants grow and thrive marvelously in hydroculture’s innovative style of raising houseplants. After moving one of these plants from soil to clay pellets, the first glimpse of water roots can begin as early as two weeks or as late as one month, rarely more. (I have to advise my readers that a few members of this group will indeed whine slightly through the conversion process - lower leaves may be lost and some wilting may occur - but the majority of them will convert easily with very few, if any, visible signs of stress.)

Over-watering is one of the only surefire ways to kill these striking plants that are highly-prone to root rot but otherwise incredibly durable. By growing Dracaenas in hydroculture, you permanently eliminate any possibility of drowning your plant, a detrimental factor that inevitably strikes many indoor plant hobbyists – especially beginners. In a system where the guesswork of watering is removed, your Dracaena will flourish into the striking specimen it’s meant to be and adorn your home for many years to come.

* Many varieties to choose from *

3) Aglaonema and Company
(Durable, Incredibly Compliant)

Another one of my favourite group of foliage plants, Aglaonemas are widely-available indoors in both residential and commercial areas. How can they not be? These undemanding plants grow with minimum care, handling abuse and neglect better than most greenery and looking reasonably decent in spite of it. Their laid-back temperament, combined with their resistance to disease and their ability to adapt to conditions that are detrimental to most other indoor plants, makes them perfect for the inexperienced grower as well as the more experienced but usually neglectful owner.

Highly-tolerant, remarkable performers in a variety of settings, and an assortment of beautiful specimens to choose from, my cherished Aglaonemas were some of the first plants I converted to hydroculture. Being one of my preferred groups, I needed to know immediately how these plants would adapt to being repositioned from soil to pellets. And true to their reputation as being one of the most tolerant and reliable of houseplants, they converted happily. Thank heavens for that. A plant enthusiast’s home without an Aglaonema or two is not a happy plant home.

Hydroculture is a godsend to Aglaonemas because - like many other indoor plants - they are quite susceptible to root rot and cannot deal with being over-watered, at all. In the hydroculture system, the only thing these plants need to worry about once potential water problems are eliminated is just how much to thrive.

* Many varieties to choose from *

4) Dieffenbachia Members
(Always Eager To Jump On The Bandwagon)

Available everywhere for purchase all year round, these extremely popular houseplants are recognized by their stylish variegated leaves that are streaked, spotted or blotched with colours ranging in shades of white or yellow, sometimes a combination of both. There are many wonderful varieties to choose from, each one endowed with attractively decorated foliage sure to catch your eye when you stroll through the greenhouse. These gorgeous specimens are not only beautiful but also low maintenance, demanding very little in return for the striking foliage they exhibit that is sure to enhance any spot it occupies.

I can never walk away from a Dieffenbachia that I don’t have when I spot it while visiting my local greenhouse. Such an act is unthinkable, barbaric. And like my beloved Aglaonemas and Dracaenas, the Dieffenbachias always occupy many spots in my home. I would (and could) never be without them. Therefore, their ability to convert to hydroculture was also very important.

Thankfully, Dieffenbachias have turned out to be prime candidates for this innovative growing system. This is a two-fold blessing: 1) I can continue to enjoy these magnificent plants in my preferred method and 2) these plants that are very susceptible to crown, stem and root rot, need not be any more. Dieffenbachias are champion performers in hydroculture and top my list of most suitable to the system. Can it get any better than this?

* Many varieties to choose from *

5) The Maranta Group
(Stunning Foliage, Hydroculture Champions)

One need not go further than the plants belonging to the Maranta (Marantaceae) group to realize that there can never be a more talented and outstanding artist than Mother Nature. This group, made up of four closely-related members - Maranta, Calathea, Ctenanthe, Stromanthe – consists of some of the most outstanding foliage plants. These jewels of the variegated plant world make excellent focal points with their striking and fabulously-coloured leaf patterns. Each member offers a unique leaf shape and pattern, making it easy to distinguish between them. As soon as you step into a greenhouse, your eyes will settle and feast on any one of these plants whenever they’re available. They are the eye candy of the plant kingdom, standing apart from the rest with their magnificently-designed leaves.

There aren’t many plants in this group readily available for purchase at the local greenhouse for the main reason that they are considered quite challenging. Aside from a handful, most of the Maranta members can be very difficult to grow under average home conditions. Their need for very high humidity - that isn’t easily replicated outside of a greenhouse – is one reason why you don’t see too many of them offered as houseplants. Nonetheless, can one possibly pass up one of these mesmerizing beauties when they’re offered for sale? I know I can’t.

Although you’ll probably never run across most of the hundreds of beauties in this group, there’s no doubt you’ve seen (and maybe even own or have owned at some point) the renowned, low-growing Maranta Leuconeura - commonly-known as ‘Prayer Plant’ because of the endearing way it folds up its handsomely-marked leaves to ‘pray’ when dusk falls. Together with this bushy, compact plant with distinctly-marked oval to oblong leaves, there are some spectacular Calatheas, Stromanthes and Ctenanthes occasionally (usually seldom) available for purchase. And the wonderful thing about every single one of these plants – when you are fortunate enough to get a chance to bring one home - is that they all convert to the hydroculture system easily. This is a great way to grow a group of plants whose stems rot easily from over-watering or from compacted, soil that remains drenched for much too long.

* Many varieties to choose from *

6) Euphorbia Milii - Crown Of Thorns
(Adorable, Gold Medalist)

Euphorbiaceae, one of the largest families in the plant kingdom, is a very diverse group that consists of thousands of species worldwide. And yet, when we think about Euphorbias, the first member of this genus that springs to mind is the Poinsettia - the most popular, best-selling potted plant in the United States. Alright, so that’s a tough act to follow. But even though there are many species of Euphorbia in the world, unless you specifically adore and collect them, you won’t be on a first-name basis with too many, just a few of the more popular ones. And one of them is the Euphorbia Milii, commonly-known as ‘Crown Of Thorns’.

The first time I ever saw this plant, I thought it was the cutest thing. Thick, fleshy stems armed with numerous thorny ridges support dark green, lance-shaped leaves and small, pretty flowers - in shades of red, pink, yellow or white - that bloom freely most of the year. The supposed ‘flowers’ are actually showy bracts (the actual bloom is in the center), but the ensemble is quite charming.

The Euphorbia Milii, attractive and easy to care for, can handle a substantial amount of neglect and keep on growing. Succulent stems allow it to be quite drought-tolerant, but if it’s severely under-watered, it will drop some (or all) of its leaves. On the other hand, constant over-watering will eventually kill it. Enter hydroculture, the ultimate solution to the otherwise eternal water juggling act. And the Euphorbia Milii takes to the system like a fish to water, flourishing happily as it rewards you with abundant new leaves and generous blooms.

This gorgeous specimen may react to the stress of conversion by dropping some of its leaves, but it will recover very quickly. Conversion is fairly rapid – 2 weeks to 1 month – and new growth, together with more blooms, will shoot out promptly. I can honestly say that this particular plant is thriving beyond anything I would have expected. One of my best performers, it’s definitely earned a gold medal in hydroculture.

7) Cycas Revoluta – Sago Palm
(Beautiful, Notably Resilient)

Eager to add this exotic-looking plant to my collection, I frequented the local greenhouses, and any other place that sold indoor plants, in hopes that it would eventually be available. When I did finally found them popping up at local retailers, I was ecstatic. Not always available locally, often expensive when it is, and a painfully slow-grower, it actually worried me when it came time to convert this long-sought-after, enchanting specimen.

My worrying was unnecessary. This plant that dates to prehistoric times is another gold medal winner. The conversion itself yielded absolutely no negative responses. Not one. I would have bet that a few of the needles would dry up and die. They didn’t. I would even have gambled that the whole plant would have lost its vitality and healthy glow, slowly become unsightly. It didn’t. No complaints. No resistance. None.

Instead, three of four weeks after the Sago was introduced to hydroculture, I saw the faint beginnings of water roots. It’s no wonder this notable plant has managed to survive since ancient times with its flexibility and ease of adaptability to diverse ecological and cultural changes. Instead of fading away, it adjusts to the new environment. My Sago Palm did not only convert easily, it is also one of the best hydroculture examples in my home (even prehistoric plants love the system). It has developed many more water roots since their first subtle emergence and looks as terrific – if not better – as the day I brought it home. The best part of all is that there is no possibility – ever – of over-watering this beautiful plant in my preferred growing method of hydroculture.

8) Ficus Elastica
(Fuss-Free, Remarkable Choice)

My home has never been without a Ficus Elastica. This popular plant with its broad, shiny, oval leaves (that darken to deep burgundy with more light exposure) is an excellent choice for beginners - and a valued specimen for the more experienced. A species of the Fig genus, the Ficus Elastica has been rightfully awarded the reputation of “easy to grow” because of its ability to adapt to lower light conditions and endure a considerable amount of neglect.

Also known as rubber tree, rubber plant, rubber fig or Indian rubber, this Ficus is generally problem-free, making it that much more attractive to grow indoors. One of the only detriments to this otherwise carefree specimen is watering. Highly susceptible to root rot, and unforgiving to critical under-watering, this plant will die with the former and drop leaves with the latter. All Ficus are very sensitive to unfavorable water habits – the greatest danger always being overwatering – and their leaves won’t hesitate to be underdeveloped, turn yellow, brown at the tips or margins, wilt and often drop (even healthy leaves can plummet prematurely).

I switched this lovely Ficus to hydroculture and put an end to the water juggling act for good. The plant and the growing method are a match made in heaven. Living up to its reputation as undemanding, my Ficus did not make a peep during the conversion. No leaves wilted, dropped or turned yellow. None. This may sound improbable, considering how notorious this plant is for dropping foliage when disturbed. But it’s mostly all a myth. Ficus has received a bad rap for discarding heaps of healthy leaves irrationally when displeased. On the contrary, this plant will hang on to all its leaves if moved to a better location – brighter light, warmer area – as opposed to a dimmer, cooler position. Ficus only drops leaves in response to shoddier conditions; it’s not just a ‘typical’ Ficus tantrum. With that in mind, make sure you give your plant optimal conditions during its conversion to hydroculture to avoid any negative reactions. Keep it warm, provide extra humidity if the air is too dry and do not move it to an area with lower light levels. Within no time at all, your carefree plant will grow its water roots and flourish in its new growing style.

* Ficus Elastica Tricolor performs equally as well *

Above are a few of my best performers in hydroculture, each one worthy of a gold medal. They breezed through the conversion and continued to flourish season after season. But the list I’ve created is a condensed version of many other spectacular choices for the soilless system. Croton, Tradescantia, Aspidistra, Cordyline, Pothos, Amaryllis, Calla Lily, Syngonium, Yucca, and on and on – the selection is wonderfully vast.

So what are you waiting for? Get growing with your own hydroculture gold medalists.


  1. Ooo, I do want to do this. My Mom says she just starts them like this. She then puts them in soil. But you grow them all the time just in the water? Is there anything specific you do to them along the way with fertilizing or anything? I have a Dieffenbachia i want to try this with this week and a few other plants because I want to multiply the indoor plants I have without spending a lot more money on purchasing new ones. Thanks for this post. Way too cool.

    1. This is definitely a cool way to grow plants. It's been years since I've grown indoor plants in soil. It's not a difficult system, but instead of writing all the details, here is a link that provides all the information you need to get you started: Converting Plants To Hydroculture. I hope it works for you!