I love my growing collection of indoor plants, but admit that I’m a semi-negligent plant parent. Because of this, I’ve learned to focus on plants that grow in water. There’s no soil to spill or worries about pets digging in my houseplants. Plus, there are fewer pests (no fungus gnats!) and I’ve discovered so many awesome houseplants that thrive when grown in a jar, glass, or vase filled with clean water. If you want to learn more about plants that grow in water, read on!
Why focus on plants that grow in water?
There are many reasons to include plants that grow in water in your indoor garden. Here are five benefits to growing plants like heartleaf philodendron and golden pothos in water.
- Plants that grow in water need less care. While I have a large, thriving outdoor garden, I’ll admit that I find it hard to keep on top of my indoor plants. The biggest task is watering and if you’re a neglectful waterer like me, or if you tend to overwater your plants, growing plants in water is a low-care solution. (For tips on how often you should water your houseplants, check out this article from Empress of Dirt)
- Less mess. My plant stands, windowsills, tables, and the countertop where I grow herbs under a grow light always have bits of soil scattered around the pots. Cat owners also know that our feline friends often like to dig in the soil of houseplants. Growing plants in water means no messy soil to wipe up from regular care or pets.
- Fewer pests. Houseplant pests like fungus gnats are incredibly annoying. They lay eggs in the soil of potted indoor plants with the larvae feeding on soil fungi. No soil, no problem!
- Get MORE plants! Growing plants in water is an easy way to propagate indoor plants like begonias, spider plants, and coleus. Once clipped and placed in water, the stems of many tropical plants produce roots. It may take weeks or months but you can eventually transplant the rooted plants to a pot of soil or you can continue to enjoy them in water.
- Elegant displays. I love the visual simplicity of displaying a few stems of my indoor plants in vases, glasses, or other containers.
The best containers for plants that grow in water
Any vase, glass, jar, or bottle can be used to grow plants. When picking a container, I try to match it to the size of the plant. A newly clipped stem may only need a small bottle or shallow bowl of water but as it grows it will need to be moved to a larger container. Here are a few container ideas for growing houseplants in water:
- Vases – Vases come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. They can be glass, or made from pottery or another material. Just be sure they’re water-tight so you don’t have any leaks. For a single stem or two use a vase with a narrow neck to help keep the plant upright.
- Jars – Who doesn’t have a ragtag collection of glass jars in a corner of their pantry, kitchen, or basement? I put these jars to work as containers to root cuttings or as a permanent home for houseplants.
- Glasses – In my house chipped glasses don’t get tossed in the garbage. Instead, they’re filled with bits of greenery.
- Test tubes – One of the trendiest ways to display houseplants in water is with a test tube set. These can be bought from a lab, science store, or online. There are also copycat test tube sets intended for plants. The narrow tubes make excellent plant propagators when you’re rooting cuttings in water or you can display a collection of single stems. There are also similar products with wooden stands and glass bulbs.
- Wall vases and vessels – Because plants that grow in water don’t need direct sun, they can be placed in wall mounted containers like vases and vessels. There are endless styles and sizes available; from wood mounted test tubes, to hanging glass globes, to wall-mounted vases.
Plants that grow in water: 4 steps to success
Creating an indoor garden from plants that grow in water is a quick, easy, and mess-free way to enjoy greenery in your home. Here are four steps to get you started:
- Pick a plant that can be grown in water. For suggestions, check out my detailed list below.
- The best way to get started is with a fresh stem or leaf cutting, depending on the type of plant. You can take a clipping from one of your indoor plants or get a few pieces from a friend. For most species the cutting should have several leaves. Clip the stem just below a leaf node. The nodes are where the stem is likely to produce roots. It should have several leaves, but remove any that would be underwater.
- Place the stem or leaf in fresh water. You can use bottled water, rain water, or chlorinated tap water but tap water should be allowed to stand for 24 hours before use so the chlorine can dissipate.
- Move the container to a spot that offers bright, indirect light. Avoid areas of your home located near a heat source like a fireplace, woodstove, heat pump, or radiator.
Caring for indoor plants that grow in water
One of the joys of growing plants in water is that they’re very low maintenance. I keep an eye on the water, topping it up as it evaporates and changing it every few weeks or if it becomes cloudy. It’s also a good idea to occasionally give plants a little boost by adding a few drops of a liquid organic houseplant fertilizer to the water.
After a few weeks or months you may notice that your plants have formed roots. If your goal is propagation, you can remove them from the water and pot them up. Generally I grow plants in water long-term, with most thriving for years with little care when placed in a site with indirect sunlight.
Plants that grow in water: 12 choices for indoor growing
There are many plants that can be grown in water in indoor spaces. Below is a list of popular houseplants but this is by no means a complete list. Feel free to experiment with other indoor plants as well as herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, and oregano. During the holidays tropical bulbs like paperwhites, hyacinths, and amaryllis can also be grown in water.
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema species)
I’m a big fan of Chinese evergreen plants which are carefree indoor plants tolerant of low light conditions and general neglect. It’s these characteristics which make it a popular indoor plant for those who want no-fuss greenery. It also makes an excellent office or dorm room plant. Depending on the species, there are Chinese evergreens with leaves in varied patterns and colors including green, yellow, pink, white, and red. To grow it in water, clip six inch long stems, placing them in a bright room, but away from direct light.
Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
Rubber plants have large waxy green leaves and can grow to be sizeable houseplants. When planted in a large pot of soil and placed in bright light, they can reach heights of six to ten feet. When grown in water, however, they grow more slowly. To get started, you’ll need a stem cutting. A six to eight inch long piece is best and be sure to remove any leaves on the bottom half of the cutting. Place it in a clean container of water and keep it out of direct sun but where it receives plenty of indirect light. In three to four months, small roots will emerge and you can eventually transfer the plant to a pot of soil or leave it to grow in water.
Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia species)
Dieffenbachia, or dumb cane is a popular indoor plant with large, often variegated leaves. Not only is it beautiful but it’s also extremely low care and happily grows in soil or water. To grow in water cut a six inch long piece of the stem, placing it in a container of clean water. Keep it in bright light but out of direct sun. Wear gloves when clipping Dieffenbachia stems as the toxic sap can cause skin irrigation.
English ivy (Hedera helix)
Ivies are climbing plants used in gardens and landscapes to cover walls and structures or create a dense ground cover. Outdoors they have a well-earned reputation for being invasive and should only be planted where they have space to roam and won’t choke out other plants. There are many types of ivies available with a range of leaf colors and variegations. I’m a big fan of English ivy which is easy to grow and makes an excellent low-care indoor plant. To grow it in water, place four to six inches long clippings in a glass or vase. When you take the cutting, clip the stem in a spot where it’s still green and vegetative, avoiding sections where the stem is woody. Woody stems won’t root as easily or quickly. After a few months, the rooted ivy pieces can be replanted in a pot of soil or left to grow in their container of water.
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum)
This tropical vine is often said to be harder to kill than it is to keep alive. It’s this robust nature that makes it perfect for slightly negligent plant parents (ahem). Heartleaf Philodendron has glossy, heart-shaped leaves with stems that can cascade down four feet or more. If you’d like a more compact plant, occasional pinching back leggy stems helps maintain a bushy growth habit. To grow this tropical plant in water, take a four to eight inch long stem cutting. Remove the bottom leaves and place in water. Keep the container in a site that offers bright light but is away from direct sun. It grows best in temperatures above 70 F, so avoid keeping the plant in a cold room. Feed occasionally by adding a drop of liquid organic fertilizer to the water. Golden Goddess philodendron is another variety of philodendron that grows in water.
Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
Also known as golden pothos, this is a vigorous vining plant with pretty heart-shaped leaves variegated in green and yellow. Because it has a vining habit, the stems trail down as they grow. Take advantage of this pendulous growth by placing the stems in a tall vase, a wall mounted container, or on a shelf where it can spill down. If given something to climb, like a moss covered post, it grows vertically.
Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
While it looks a lot like bamboo, lucky bamboo isn’t actually bamboo but rather a type of Dracaena. The thick stalks are often arranged in bundles of two or more with many woven, braided or curled into intricate shapes. When you see the unique forms of lucky bamboo you may think that these plants require a lot of maintenance and care, but the opposite is true. These are low care plants that thrive when grown in water. Lucky bamboo does best sited in bright, indirect light and can be grown in vases or pots of water filled with pebbles to support the stems. To promote healthy growth, fertilize every month or two with a very weak solution of liquid organic fertilizer.
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are extremely common indoor plants appreciated for their arching variegated foliage and ease of cultivation. As the plants grow, they produce ‘pups’ or ‘babies’ that can be clipped and rooted in water to make new plants. They can also be kept in water long-term as a carefree indoor plant. My mother-in-law tucked a few spider plant pups in jars of water years ago and those pups have since matured into mother plants with their own babies. Keep water-grown spider plants out of direct sun and change the water every week or two if it becomes cloudy.
Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)
Coleus plants are beloved for their incredible foliage colors, patterns, sizes, and forms. I always plant several cultivars on my shaded front deck for summer color and when the weather cools in early autumn, I clip six to eight inch long stems from my favorite plants to grow indoors. These are put in a glass or vase to be enjoyed over the winter months. Some of these cuttings are potted up once they form roots while others are left to grow in water. Coleus does best in average room temperature and away from direct sun.
Begonia (Begonia species)
Begonias are a favorite for summer containers, thriving on shaded and semi-shaded decks and patios. They also make excellent indoor plants and have succulent stems and waxy leaves which can be deep green or patterned in greens, silver, white, red, and pink. Tuberous, wax, Angelwing, and rex begonias are the types I most often grow in water in my home. For wax begonias, clip a stem and place in water. For tuberous, Angelwing and rex begonias, a single leaf with stem attached makes a simple but elegant display.
Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
Vigorous sweet potato vine is a trailing plant that can grow four to five feet long. The classic plant has lime green, heart-shaped leaves but there are many cultivars that offer unique and eye-catching foliage. Leaf colors range from burgundy to purple to bronze, and foliage shape is also varied for layers of interest. I often clip pieces of the stems in autumn to grow indoors over winter. Take six to eight inch long cuttings, clipping just below a leaf node.
Geranium (Pelargonium species)
Geraniums are old fashioned annuals that are popular in summer container gardens. They also make long-lived houseplants when moved inside before the first fall frost. Or, you can clip stems from your favorite cultivars and grow them indoors instead of moving a large potted geranium into your home at the end of the season. Cut stem pieces that are five to seven inches long, just below a leaf node where roots will form. Place them in a jar or vase of clean water, changing it every few weeks.
Other indoor plants that can be grown in water include wandering jew plant and peace lily. For more creative ideas with indoor plants, check out Lisa Eldred Steinkopf’s book Houseplant Party: Fun projects & growing tips for epic indoor plants and Tiny Plants: Discover the joys of growing and collecting itty bitty houseplants by Leslie Halleck.
Learn more about growing houseplants in these detailed articles:
- Lithops: How to grow living stones
- Pilea peperomioides care: The best water, light and fertilizer
- Apartment plants: 15 of the best houseplants for indoor living
- Air plant care: How to tend, fertilize and water Tillandsia
What are your favorite plants that grow in water?
What a great article! Of the excellent suggestions listed above are there any plants that are better at improving (and or removing pollutants) from indoor air?
Niki Jabbour says
Great question and there is much garden lore on this subject but scientific literature doesn’t support houseplants cleaning the air or removing pollutants. Instead, we enjoy our indoor plants for their horticultural therapy benefits. 🙂 – Niki
Yes. I just working on a list of plants that can live in water and are beneficial for allergy suffers / clean the inside air. The plants i have found so far that are on both lists are: devils ivy (golden pothos) and Heart leaf Philodendron.
Rubber plant snake plant and the gold money plant
Great article, learned a lot!
Question… Which of the plants you mentioned are safe for cats? I am “mother” to three cats who have a habit of munching on every single houseplant I own, regardless of how inaccessible to them I try to make it.
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Julia, this is a great question as we want our pets to be safe 🙂 Here is a link from the SPCA on which plants are toxic to cats as well as which are good to plant – https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/cats-plant-list. Hope it helps! Niki
Good Day Mine is a question, not a comment. Hope that’s ok. I have been trying my hardest to find the answer to one question, can you grow an indoor fern by putting just the roots in water, not the whole plant ? Every site I have read, they talk about putting the whole plant in water. I don’t want to do that, I just want the roots in water. I would appreciate and look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day.
Is it a bad or a good sign I’d the water turns green?should we replace it with fresh water?
Thanks for this article. I keep semi-aquatic turtles and this is a good way for me to eco-scape their tank.
Hi! I’ve been having lots of issues with algae in my water. Wondering if there are any solutions to this/if it’s safe for me to put something like hydrogen peroxide directly into the water? Thanks!
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Dan, great question! I don’t recommend adding anything to the water… but if you’re getting a lot of algae growth perhaps the container is getting too much light which encourages algae growth. As well, a clear container that permits light grows algae faster than a frosted or colored container. When I see algae growing in the container, I give it a quick clean and fill it with fresh water (usually 2X per year) and that does the trick. Hope that helps! Niki
do i need to change the water ever? Or just keep going?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi La, yes, in the article I do mention it’s important to change the water occasionally to prevent it from becoming cloudy. Thanks for your question! Niki
Cee Fee Dunn says
Fabulous … thank you for this article … I’m off to divide and Conquer my house plant collection
Janice Curtsinger says
I’m going to plants in water. Have tried so many times with potted plants and ALWAYS have a problem with nats, tried everything you can to ride the problem, STOPPING WITH SOIL
I have plant in a glass vase and it’s growing beautifully but the roots have filled the entire base. Do I need to move to a larger vase?
Hi, I have a small collection of Alocasia varieties and in an attempt to save a stingray that wasn’t doing to well, I removed its soil and put it in a water filled vase. Within 24 hours it was back to health and I have kept in there for the past few weeks. I also did the same with a couple of smaller alocasia that seem to be doing really well with only water. My question is with winter approaching, would you have any advice for keeping these water plants healthy over winter?
Hi, i am sorry i am not answering your question rather just asking one. Did you put the whole plant along with its root system in water after removing from soil? I would like to know if that is possible as I don’t want to start with cuttings. Can we put the whole plant along with roots in water to grow for long? Many thanks
Can you use plastic container as a substitue for glass vase, i afraid i might broke the glass vase
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Elise, you sure can! Plastic works just as well as glass. Good luck, Niki