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Hydroponic gardening produces plants quicker with less pests or need for fertilizers.

Hydroponics is an interesting way to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers without soil.

Instead of soil, plants can be grown in containers filled with water or other nonsoil materials, such as gravel, sand, vermiculite, crushed rock, Styrofoam, cinders, expanded shale or haydite.

Hydroponics may seem a futuristic type of gardening, but the concepts have been around since the 1500s. It's thought the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were grown hydroponically through a series of aqueducts and channeling of water through the tower.

The Aztecs were believed to have used hydroponics to grow many of their fruits and vegetables. Forced into a marshy land that had little to no soil to grow crops, the Aztecs tied together reeds, twigs and other materials to create floating rafts then covered these rafts with nutrient-rich soil dredged from the marsh. They then planted vegetable seeds into this soil. The seeds would germinate, and the roots would grow through the rafts into the water, continuing to derive nutrients and water from the marsh.

Many systems are on the market today, or you can make build one relatively simply. At first, a hydroponics system can seem complicated. But once it's up and running, it's very simple to grow and maintain.

Some of the types of hydroponic systems available include:

  • The wick system, which has a unit of water below the plant and uses a rope or other materials to wick the water up to the plant roots.
  • The ebb-and-flow system floods the plant for a short amount of time then drains away.
  • The nutrient film technology, sometimes called a recirculating system, has a unit of water that is pumped to the top of the system. Through gravity, the water flows back down across the plants’ roots and back into the unit.
  • The drip system is similar to the nutrient film technology, but it just simply drips on the plant roots.
  • The water culture system is where the plant sits above a bucket of water and the roots dangle in a nutrient solution. This system typically has an air stone or some sort of device creating air bubbles at the bottom of the system.

Many benefits can be gained from growing plants this way. First, soil-borne pests and diseases are reduced drastically. Also, weeds are less of an issue because there's no soil to maintain a seed bank. Many times, you can grow more plants in a smaller space because, unlike in soil, plants do not need to extend their roots to find nutrients and gather water. Everything the plant needs is supplied directly to its roots.

Growing hydroponically also produces crops more rapidly, again because of the constant supply of water and nutrients. Water and fertilizers also can be conserved in a hydroponic system as there's no runoff or leeching.

Got a question?

Email gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.