Soil is for plants the same as food to us humans so asking the question if plants can grow without soil may seem a little bit weird but the answer may surprise you. Soil is basically the main source of all the nutrition, that the plant needs to grow so can a plant even grow without nutrition or can we substitute soil for something else?
So can plants grow without soil? The short answer is Yes. Plants can grow without soil if they get adequate nutrients from other sources. Plants get their nutrients from the soil that they are planted in. If the essential nutrients are given to the plants with another medium then the plant does not need soil. Soil-less farming techniques are now the latest technology in farming.
Why Do Plants Need Soil?
Since ages crops have been grown by planting in the soil.
The soil contains nutrients that are essential for plant growth. Plants develop their root systems deep into the soil.
These roots absorb the nutrients from the soil and help the plant to grow. The well-developed roots of the plant which go deep into the soil help the plant to face the elements.
Are There Plants in Nature That Grow Without Soil?
Yes. There are many plants in nature that grow without soil. The most common soil-less plants are aquatic plants and parasitic plants.
Aquatic plants like Duckweed, Water Lily and Lotus are seen in most ponds and water bodies. The roots of the aquatic plants remain submerged in water. Some aquatic plants float while others remain fully submerged in water.
Aquatic plants absorb nutrition from the water.
Parasitic plants are another type of soil-less plant that are found in nature. These plants grow on the host trees and develop roots into them. Mistletoe is a common parasitic plant that often invades orchards.
This plant grows on the host tree and absorbs nutrients with its roots in the tree.
Where Do Water Plants get Nutrition From?
Water plants are plants that grow completely in the water. These plants are also called as aquatic plants. There are two types of aquatic plants.
The floating aquatic plants have the foliage above the water surface.
The root system of these plants floats in the water. Some floating aquatic plants are Water lily and Lotus.
These plants absorb sunlight and take in nutrients from the water.
Fully submerged aquatic plants remain completely in the water.
The root system of these plants may touch the bottom of the pond but the roots do not dig into the earth.
Some fully submerged aquatic plants are Eelgrass and Waterweed. These plants do not need much sunlight and they get their nutrition from the water.
How Do Parasitic Plants get Nutrition?
Parasitic plants feed on their host’s body to get their required nutrition.
The parasitic plants do not need soil as they grow directly on the host’s body.
Some parasitic plants like the Mistletoe cause great damage to the host trees. These plants develop their roots into the host’s body and absorb nutrients from them. These plants absorb the carbohydrates from the host tree and continue to grow on it.
The host tree gets deprived of the required nutrition and starts to deteriorate.
How Can We Grow Plants Without Soil?
Plants can be grown without soil by substituting soil for water.
The essential requirements of a plant are nutrients, sunlight, air, and water. If these elements are provided to the plant then it will grow in a healthy manner.
Hydroponics is the best method in which plants can be grown without soil. In Hydroponics the plant’s roots are submerged in water. This allows the plant to take in as much water as it needs.
The unused water is aerated and additional nutrients are added at regular intervals. This helps the plant to get the perfect amount of air, nutrients, and water.
The plants grow healthy and at a faster rate when Hydroponics technology is used.
What are Air Plants? How Do They Get Their Nutrition?
Air plants are perennial plants that are broadly called Tillandsia.
There are over 650 types of air plants that can grow without soil or regular water.
Air plants absorb nutrients and moisture from the air around them. These plants are considered to be the best house plants as they need minimum care. Air plants are small in size and they can be put anywhere around the house.
These plants do not need to be put in water or planted in the soil. The Tillandsia plants only need to be sprayed with water once or twice a week.
These plants get their required nutrients and moisture from the air around them.
What Plants Can Be Grown Without Soil?
Almost all types of plants can be grown in a soil-less environment.
The required nutrients, sunlight, and water need to be provided to the plants.
If these three elements are provided then any plant can be grown without using soil. Many farmers are now using Hydroponics and Aquaponics to cultivate their crops.
All types of vegetables, rice and fruits are being grown without soil.
What are the Different Types of Soil-less Cultivation Methods?
The two most popular soil-less cultivation methods are Hydroponics and Aquaponics.
In this cultivation system, the plants are completely grown in water.
The essential nutrients are added to the water on a regular basis. Plants can be grown in large tubs, tanks or a separate system of Hydroponics that can be put in place.
Proper care should be taken to ensure that the unused water is aerated and circulated. This will help to avoid the formation of algae. Many varieties of substrates like coconut coir, rice husk, etc are used in this system.
These substrates allow the plant to develop roots around them. Hydroponics is best suited for greenhouses, kitchen gardens, and indoor plants.
Aquaponics is a soil-less cultivation system that can be used on a large scale.
In this system, fish are introduced into the water to support the plants. The plants are cultivated in water and fish are added to the water as an additional element.
The fish waste creates ammonia content in the water which is essential for the plants. The roots of the plants provide food for the fish and allow them to thrive alongside the plants.
The plant roots help to keep the water clean for the fish. Both the fish and the plants complement each other in this system. Aquaponics is widely being practiced in rice fields across Asia.
What Steps Should We Take to Keep Plants Healthy in Soil-less Environments?
Ensure that the plants receive adequate sunlight.
It is important to keep the plant in a well-ventilated area that gets good natural light. Essential nutrients need to be added to the water so that the plant continues to grow well.
The nutrients can be added in pellet or powder form to the water.
If the number of plants is more then it is advisable to check the water’s pH balance and nutrient levels. Regular monitoring of the water helps to maintain it and ensure the health of the plants.
In the Hydroponics system, the plants need to be monitored for signs of disease. Affected parts should be removed to allow the plant to grow well. The unused water in the chamber should be aerated and circulated to avoid algae growth. Using water filters is a good idea as they help to remove impurities in the water as well.
How is the Production Rate in Soil-less Cultivation Methods?
Plants that grow in a soil-less environment often receive more nutrition.
This is because the water is monitored closely and the nutrients are added when needed.
This causes the production rate of the plants to improve. Commercial farmers who have switched to soil-less farming have seen improved production. Farmers who are using Aquaponics have increased their revenues substantially.
This is because in this system the farmers can cultivate both fish and organic produce at the same time. As they do not need to incur extra expenditure for rearing fish, Aquaponics has become a great choice.
Why is Soil-less Cultivation Important for Our Future?
To Meet Food Demand
Our population is growing at an alarming rate leading to an increased demand for food. But it is difficult to meet the rising food demand as the amount of agricultural land is shrinking.
To avoid food shortage it is essential to create new ways to cultivate food without the need of soil. Hydroponics and Aquaponics are two new cultivation systems which are providing a solution.
In both these systems, the plants can be cultivated directly in water without the need for soil. This eliminates the need for agricultural land for farming.
To Avoid the Use of Chemical Fertilizers
The fertility of the soil also weakens over time due to farming. As the soil loses its nutrients many chemical fertilizers are used by the farmers.
These fertilizers are not a permanent solution as they have to be used each season. Crops treated with chemical fertilizers are often harmful to human health.
To Make Space Exploration Viable
Soil-less cultivation is also important as we are looking to expand our horizons in space.
If we are to visit Mars and set up an observation station or even a colony, we need a viable food source.
Soil-less cultivation techniques are a great way to grow food in outer space.