Propagating plants in water is one thing, but caring for plants in water is where the real magic really happens. Growing water propagated plants is one of every green thumb’s favorite tricks. That’s because they get eliminates of the biggest hassle for any gardener - watering. We spend a lot of our time testing and growing our selection, and we've found out a lot of information not found on the internet. For one, some plants can survive in water for decades and others have trouble staying alive for a month. But, for those that can, it greatly reduces the complexity of caring for a plant. We’ll go so far as to say that it becomes easy!
But, you're probably wondering, "Seriously, how much is too much water?" and "What happens when I go off camping for a few days?" Here's what we've found so far about growing plants in water that may answer your many questions.
Yes, you’re not out of watering entirely but the overwatering is impossible now and the underwatering is obvious when you look at the water. It’s foolproof...well, almost. You see, plants need oxygen to grow. So, as your plant sits in water, its absorbing all of the oxygen in the water--leaving behind just hydrogen. This is why its important to regularly refill your vase 1-2 week to add more oxygen for your plant to live on.
To allow for more oxygen and to avoid any buildup of bacteria, we also highly advise that you change your water every 2-4 weeks. This will 99.99 keep you plant happy---and you even happier!
What water should I use?
We use tap water here in San Diego and Seattle, but the optimal water to use would be mineral or reverse osmosis water because of the trace elements still being intact and none of the chlorine or fluoride that comes in with most municipal supplies.
Does water temperature matter?
Yes temperature is important, but who’s really boiling their plants like a cup of noodles? Water temperature matters when the temperatures are too hot or cold because that can shock the plant. A good rule of thumb is staying within 5 degrees above or below over room temperature. The easiest way to do that is leaving the water out for 10 minutes before placing your plant back into its vase.
Second to watering, lighting is going to play the next biggest role in the health of your plant which is why we include lighting instructions with every plant we ship out. Too much sun often means yellow and brown leaves, too little light and your plants will begin to fade away.
Many plants that propagate well in water, and almost any plant we carry, does well in moderate indirect lighting. What does that mean? No direct sun-rays and bright enough natural light that you don’t need to use your lights for most of the day. Some plants, like tradescantia, do great with both direct light and indirect light but, for the most part, indoor plants that grow in water well don’t like direct sun.
Can I use light bulbs to replace sunlight to grow my plants?
Yes! We can't wait to write another content piece on this topic alone, but the TLDR is that a variety of bulbs off the light spectrum necessary for plant growth. LEDs are your low-cost + low-electricity option.
Yes, growing plants in water isn’t entirely magic. Usually, plants early on in their life are healthy just in the water they’re living on. But, as the plant matures, it may need some help from additional nutrients being added to their water. This often presents itself as signs such as maturing leaves, lack of color variegation or vibrance, and wilting. We suggest adding 1-2 drops of liquid nutrients every month will help support new root and leaf growth once the plant propagates. During warmer months of the year, you can expect to use more of the diluted liquid fertilizer since that's when plants tend to grow the most.
And there is a lot of science that goes into finding the right nutrients for your plants. Fortunately, we’ve taken a lot of the complicated science out of our nutrient solution to make things easier for plant parents like yourself. The strength of our nutrients is set for two drops of nutrients for every Modern Botanical Propagation Frame. This will get you to an appropriate amount of PPM given the size of our glass containers. If you'd like to learn more, check out our blog A Quick Guide to Using Nutrients For Houseplants in Water.
To sum this up in one word: indoors. Water propagated plants are susceptible to extreme temperatures. Too hot or too cold can kill or really damage your plant. Try to keep your plants in moderate climates between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit - basically indoors. Don’t worry, a 95 degree day here in there won’t likely hurt your plants. But, repeated days in a 100 degree room will likely to do some damage to a number of plant species.
Sometimes, especially in brighter rooms or when nutrients have been added, a light green layer can appear around the inside of the glass. This is a thin film of algae that has chosen to grow in the glass and on your plant's roots. Algae isn't directly harmful to your plant but can lead to less oxygen available in the water for your plant to consume. If left unattended, algae can potentially leave your plant vulnerable to many health concerns.
Cleaning the algae out is simple! You want to first tend to your plant by soaking its roots in a 80:20 solution of water to hydrogen peroxide mix. We usually eyeball the solution, just make sure you have more water than hydrogen peroxide. If the algae buildup isn't too bad, you can gently scrub it off your plant after soaking it for about 5 minutes. We actually found that soaking your plant overnight in the solution can help with removing stubborn algae buildup.
Next, you want to prepare your glass. Pour the water from the vase, and using a cleaning brush (like our Modern Botanical Cleaning Brush), quickly scrub the inside of the vase with warm water. Once thoroughly brushed, replace the water, add your plant, and you’re all set!
Deadly but treatable, root rot is a disease that attacks a plant’s root system, causing them to decay. The roots will be the first thing to rot because they are sitting in water--and signs will show up in the plants’ leaves soon after. Later stages of root rot express themselves as leaves being wilted and discolored. If left untreated, root rot will make it very difficult (and almost impossible) to bring your plant back to normal health. To learn more about signs and prevention tips, check out our blog How to Spot & Treat Root Rot on Plants Growing in Water.
Root rot can be easily treated by following these three simple steps. First start by cutting off any diseased roots using a sterile cutting tool like a knife or scissors. You want to make sure that you’re cutting off the roots that are black and mushy. After you’ve cut off any dead roots, you should soak the roots in a hydrogen peroxide bath. We recommend soaking them in an 80:20 solution of water to hydrogen peroxide for at least 5 minutes. Lastly, you’ll want to clean your vase and replace the old water with fresh filtered water. Carefully put your plant back into the planter by guiding the roots with your hands to avoid disrupting the root system.
We know this is an ambiguous answer. Discolored leaves can be a sign of many things happening to your plant. On one hand, yellowing leaves can simply be a sign of maturing. Usually, as a plant grows and branches out to new leaves, older leaves tend to fall off naturally. On the other hand, sudden yellowing of leaves (especially in groups of leaves) means there is something wrong with your plant and its environment. A plant in water can start to yellow when they're overstressed or not having a need met. It's a bit of a case-by-case diagnosis, but typically you can tell based on texture of the leaves. If the leaf is dry and crispy, it usually points to a lack of oxygen in the water or too dry of environment. If the leaf is soft or limp, it could be too cold or not enough sunlight.
Use sterile scissors and remove any yellowing leaves. Once you've done that, make accommodations for your plant depending on what the cause seems to be. We recommend checking out your specific plant in our List of Plants that Grow In Water to learn more about how to best accommodate your plant.
So you want to go the extra mile and take your plant care to the next level?Here are some more things for you to consider when caring for your plant in water!
Humidity follows the same rules as temperature. If you're comfortable, your plants should be comfortable too! But if you find that your home is on the dryer side or you plant is looking a bit dry, keeping humidity levels high is best for tropical plants living in water.
We recommend that you invest in a humidifier and run it for at least 1-2 hours a day to keep the humidifier levels balanced. Of course, you could always regularly mist your plant a couple times a day (depending on the dryness of your space). A cool humidity hack we've heard of is to set a container of water near the plant, as the evaporating water will increase the humidity.
PH is used to measure alkaline to acidity - generally water is at or around 7.0 on the PH scale. Right in the middle. Most plants will happily grow in this range - there are exceptions - and this is at or around where most water propagated plants would like their water.
If you think you water source PH is causing trouble in keeping your propagated plants alive, you can check out these PH strips here to test your water. We use tap water here in San Diego but all water systems will vary.
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Despite all this info, really the day to day of water propagated plant ownership is hands off, leaving you with more time to enjoy the plants and their presence. Any more questions, feel free to reach out to our team via email or on Instagram @modernbotanicalshop !