Can I Grow Ferns in Water Only? (Learn How & the Benefits)


A green fern on the article Can I Grow Ferns in Water Only

Ferns are very beautiful plants and they are prized for their long and mesmerizing fronds. The most popular of all indoors ferns is the maidenhair fern (Adiantum).

When it comes to their care they can be a little tricky to handle. These ferns require frequent watering and constant moist soggy soil.

Extra care is also needed to prevent them from being overwatered. Overwatering causes death more than any other cause combined.

Adding more to the burden, these plants are quite picky in terms of humidity as well. They need humidity levels between 50-70% for proper growth.

So keeping a filled pebble tray underneath or a humidifier is a must. Maintaining a balance of all these optimum conditions can be a challenge for novice gardeners.

Hydroculture Technique

To get an easy escape from all these stressors, ferns can be grown in water only. The technique used for this purpose is called hydroculture.

This is completely different from hydroponics. Even though both techniques involve solely using water as a medium of growth but there is a key difference between both of them.

In hydroponics, a nutrient solution is used to grow the plants. While in hydroculture, an inert porous medium is used alongside the water.

It is also termed as “passive hydroponics” or “semi-hydroponics”.

In this method, the water and fertilizer are held by the medium and are provided to the roots of the growing plant in a steady supply.

This lessens the burden of frequent watering as is needed in soil potted plants.

The most commonly used media for this purpose include lightweight expanded clay aggregates (LECA), perlite, or gravelite.

What are Plants that Grow in Water Called?

Lots of green fernsPlants that grow in freshwater or saltwater are called aquatic. They are also termed as macrophytes or hydrophytes to distinguish them from microphytes.

Microphytes include microscopic algae found mostly in freshwater.

They are not visible to the naked eye while Macrophytes are visible to us. The most common example of a Macrophyte we see in our daily life is the water lily.

Even though we may think that only aquatic plants can thrive in the hydroculture, but this isn’t actually true.

Plants that normally grow in the soil can also flourish equally well in this type of medium.

The plants can easily adapt to their new environment by making some changes in their morphology.

Due to more abundant oxygen supply as compared to the soil environment, the plants grow thinner leaves with thinner cell walls.

This phenomenon is called phenotypic plasticity. Ferns easily adopt this approach and grow hassle-free in hydroculture.

Can I Grow Ferns in Water Only?

Yes you can grow ferns in water only, it is fairly easy as long as they are getting proper sunlight and nutrients.

How to Grow Ferns in Water Only?

They can survive for quite a long time in such an environment.

They can be grown either with their leaves emerging out of the medium or as completely submerged.

Following these steps will ensure the proper survival of your fern in the medium:

1) De-potting the fern:

The first step is to separate the soil of an already potted fern. The plant is gently pulled out of the pot or the container in which it is enclosed.

Next, the roots are exposed gently by placing the plant under running water. Any large soil particles can be removed manually taking care not to damage the gentle roots.

2) Placement it into the container:

Take an appropriate size hydroculture grow pot if you want to leaves the remain out of the water. But if you want the fern to be completely submerged you should use a clear water container.

For Keeping the Leaves Emergent:

A clear container is not required if you don’t want the leaves submerged. Normal-sized hydroculture grow pots can be used for this purpose.

These pots have a small hole in the side of their rim for placing the water meter. The meter helps in telling when to water the plant.

The plant is placed inside the container and the clay aggregates are allowed to cover the roots.

The junction of the roots and stem is kept near the rim of the container. Then water is poured to the marked optimum level.

For Keeping Leaves Submerged:

 Place the fern inside the clear container and fill it with gravel or LECA (clay aggregates) so that the roots are completely covered.

Only cover the roots and leave the stems and leaves untouched. Next, completely fill the container to submerge the fern.

If you’re enjoying this article, you may enjoy our article on how to make homemade fertilizer for ferns.

Maintaining Proper Care to Grow Ferns in Water Only:

1) Keeping The Water in the Optimum Range:

A green fern on the article Can I Grow Ferns in Water Only

The water meter provides an easy way to check on the requirements of the fern. The water should be kept in the optimum range for as long as possible.

The visible gauge helps prevent most gardeners from overwatering their ferns.

This lessens your worry of harming the plant in any way possible. Most ferns will only require watering after a week.

2) Using Hydroculture Fertilizer:

Hydroculture food can be given to the ferns in their growing season. The fertilizer consists of micro and macronutrients essential for the growth of the plants.

Most ferns will require fertilization twice in the summers and once in the winters. These fertilizers can also be given every 3 months in little quantities without any worry at all.

Maintaining Proper Care in Submerged Ferns:

For submerged ferns the complete following steps should be taken:

1) Refreshing The Water:

The water is refreshed every week in case of submerged ferns to prevent the build-up of algae. Otherwise, the container will become greenish in appearance and will give an unsightly look.

2) Washing the Container:

The clear container needs proper washing after every 3-4 months to prevent the growth of mold.

For that, the fern is gently pulled out of the water and the container is rinsed thoroughly to remove buildup any of fungal or algal colonies.

Other Requirements for Both Types of Planting Methods:

The other requirements of these ferns such as light and temperature are similar to those of the soil potted ferns.

The ferns do best in bright indirect light and don’t tolerate direct sunlight at all. They can equally fare well in low light conditions as well.

When it comes to temperature, they grow best in the range of 60-80°F (16-27°C).

Maintaining humidity is no more a headache in this situation as the plants are already well in contact with water all around.

This mimics their tropical weather and they grow to their full potential as they do in the soil.

Benefits of Growing Ferns in Water Only:

Following are the benefits of growing ferns in water only:

1) Better Root Health

The clay aggregates hold a significant amount of air in them as compared to normal soil. This provides a continuous fresh supply of oxygen to roots when necessary.

This helps the good air circulation and the roots become more healthy and fleshy making the plant adapt to this style of environment.

2) Pest Control:

As the plants are already living in water, very few pests can overcome this hurdle and cause any significant damage.

These plants are also less susceptible to fungal and bacterial attacks due to the optimized environment.

3) Elimination of Overwatering and Humidity Problems:

The ferns require a very intricate balance of water when they are grown in the soil.

Growing the plant in this style completely eliminates the fear of overwatering.

The water gauge is visible all the time so you can tend to the plant when it needs it the most.

Also as the plants are surrounded by water on all sides, the burden of filling pebble trays and the need to set up humidifiers is removed.

What Other Plants Can You Grow in Water Only?

Other plants that can be grown similarly include:

  1. Croton Plants (Codiaeum variegatum)
  2. Dracaena (Dragon Plant)
  3. Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum)
  4. Terrestrial bromeliads
  5. Jade Plants (Crassula ovata)

Final Thoughts: Can I Grow Ferns in Water Only?

Two green fernsEven though hydroculture is a new technique, but it is quickly gaining popularity due to the amazing results.

The initial set up of this system may seem difficult. But after the plants have been established in the culture, maintaining them is no problem at all.

Ferns are difficult to handle in the hands of beginner gardeners. Adopting this technique will keep them free from all the worries that come with the care of the plant.

Before you go, here are some more related articles I encourage you to read below to help solve more of your gardening issues:

What are the Benefits of a Boston Fern?

How To Save A Dying Staghorn Fern

How to Grow Asparagus Ferns from Tubers

Why Does Your Fern Smell Like Fish and How to Fix it

How to Stop Your Boston Fern Leaves Curling

About the Author:

Saad Ansar

Saad is an avid gardener himself and is a great lover of plants, animals, photography, & people. Currently, he is focused on photographing indoor plants & captioning beautiful outdoor sceneries. He writes and rewrites in-depth articles on nature and science.

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