What is hydroculture?

We’ve been taught that plants need soil, water, and sunshine to grow, but this isn’t entirely accurate.  They definitely need sun and water, but do they really need soil?  What purpose does soil fulfill?  Soil serves two purposes: it supports plants and acts as a delivery system for nutrients.  The problem with soil is that it doesn’t perform these tasks all that efficiently and can cause problems, particularly for houseplants.

In soil, over-watering and under-watering are both problems.  In addition, soil can harbor mold and bacteria, which contaminate your environment.  The issue of delivering oxygen to the roots is also an issue.  Did you know that plant roots need oxygen?  Soil is not the best at getting oxygen to breathing roots.  Soil is also quite messy if the dog or kids spill it on the carpet!

Is there a better way?  I think so and I invite you to share my journey into the under-practiced method of hydroculture.  Instead of growing plants in soil, we find a way to deliver water and nutrients more directly to the plant.  After some research, I’ve chosen to use LECA (Light Expanded Clay Aggregate).  These are what I like to call hydroballs and are little clay balls that deliver liquid and nutrients to roots via capillary action.  These little balls support the plant and its roots while providing oxygen filled gaps around the roots.

This method gives roots needed oxygen, support, water, and nutrients.  It also uses less water.  How?  You don’t have to provide water for the plant and the soil if you aren’t using soil.  Because hydroculture is a more efficient delivery system, you use less water to feed your happy plants.

Is hydroculture the same as hydroponics?  Not exactly.  In some circles, hydroculture is considered a type of hydroponics, but in technical terms they bear a significant difference.  Both use water, nutrients, and the same supportive substrates (LECA, coir, etc), but hydroponics requires roots to be fully submerged.  In order to provide oxygen to the roots, the water must be aerated.  This is accomplished by keeping the water moving, which restricts the grower to an electrical source and machine systems.

Hydroculture, on the other hand, provides oxygen to the roots by raising them (or at least part of them) above the water level.  Roots can reach down into the liquid and nutrients and liquid are delivered by capillary action through the substrate.  This is a very simple system and is not restrictive.  Hydrocultured plants can be placed anywhere a traditional pot can be placed and require no electricity.  Simply replenish the water as needed and add nutrients as needed.

I, by the way, do not have a green thumb!  Soil has been the bane of my existence.  Can my plants manage to survive in their hydro-environment?

Stick with me and we’ll see!


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