How To Grow Pilea In Water
Around here, we like to call Pilea “The Pass It On Plant” because of how generous this plant is with giving owners plant babies almost all year round.
In our guide on how to share the Pilea bounty, we explain that one of the easiest propagation methods is in water. But what happens if this easy rooting method turns into a permanent fixture in your home? Can you grow Pilea in water?
Our personal experience with growing Pilea in water started during one summer when we knew that our travel plans were not compatible with keeping a consistent watering schedule. Coming back to a crispy dry Pilea is not fun, so we decided to try to keep all our Pileas growing in water for a few months.
Here's what we learned from our experience, together with a few things you should know before you decide if growing your houseplant in water is the right fit for your green thumb.
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Why should I grow my Pilea in water?
First, if you have a love-hate relationship with watering your houseplants, leaving them in water after you’ve propagated them might be a good idea. This will solve the most common problems that new plant parents have: underwatering and overwatering. Once the problem of overwatering is eliminated from the equation, you won’t have to worry about other houseplant headaches such as root rot and fungus gnats.
Another reason is that clean water is, for most of us, more readily available than clean potting soil. So if you’re not a big fan of repotting your plant every year (with the added chore of disposing of old potting soil responsibly), then the water method might be a better fit for you.
Is keeping my Pilea in water maintenance-free?
Growing any form of life will never be zero maintenance. And this applies to your houseplants as well. But growing in water is, however, lower maintenance than growing in potting soil.
Here are three things to pay attention to when you’re growing your Pilea in water:
1. Replace the water every month.
Your plants prefer fresh water, so letting them stew in the same water for a long period of time will not result in happy Pileas. Make it a habit to replace the water at least once a month. You might have to do it more often if your water is soft and has the tendency to get algae growth or slime on the surface.
If you notice that the level of your water is dropping too fast, you can top it up with fresh water as needed. Another solution to this fast evaporation problem is adding a paper towel or a fabric “lid” loosely around the stems of the plant. Whatever you choose to cover the water surface, make sure it’s something breathable. So although cling wrap might seem like a good idea to stop evaporation, your aim should be just to reduce fast evaporation while still allowing your plant’s roots to breathe.
2. Clean the vessel every time you replace the water.
As the water evaporates, it will leave mineral deposits on the surface of the glass. These won’t hurt the plant, but after a while, it will start to look unsightly. You can clean these deposits using baking soda and a toothbrush. You should also clean the glass with a fragrance-free dish detergent and make sure you rinse it off thoroughly before you return the plant to its vase.
3. Clean the roots of the plant every time you replace the water.
Gently scrub the roots under some running water to remove any pellicle that might have formed on their surface. You should also check the stem of the plant to see if there are any dead or dying leaves that need to be removed.
4. Don't forget to add fertilizer
Even though you aren't growing a plant in soil, you will still need to feed the plant once a month. Look for an all-purpose fertilizer that is water-based or at least water-soluble; do not put "regular" fertilizer in water as this will damage your plant. The best NPK ratio to use with Pilea is 20-20-20.
It's important to only use a small amount of fertilizer, as it's much easier to damage a plant growing in water with fertilizer than it is to damage plants growing in the soil – roots on plants grown in water have a much easier time accessing nutrients.
Can I use tap water to grow my Pilea?
Some plant parents prefer to use bottled water for their houseplants. This is entirely up to you and the results will depend on the quality of the tap water in your area.
We’re big believers in trying the easiest method first - in this case, start growing your Pilea in tap water. If your plant isn’t thriving in tap water, you can always troubleshoot later and switch to different water sources, such as spring water.
However, you should leave the tap water in a wide, open vessel overnight to allow some of the chlorine to evaporate.
Are there any downsides to growing a Pilea in water?
Yes, and you’ll probably start noticing them right away.
When a plant is grown in water instead of soil, it will put a lot more energy into growing roots rather than growing leaves. So your Pilea will become root-heavy. The reason why this happens is that you'll probably keep your Pilea in a glass vessel that allows full light to penetrate to the roots. Obviously, this is not something that roots have to deal with when they’re grown in soil. But when roots are exposed to light, they will grow faster in an attempt to move away from the light source. One partial solution to this problem is growing your Pilea in an opaque vessel, but this will not completely solve the problem as some light will still penetrate from above the water surface.
Keep in mind that water doesn’t have enough nutrients to sustain plant growth for too long. Plant roots also need oxygen which is hard to achieve in a home setting without a complicated hydroponic set-up.
Another disadvantage of growing Pilea in water is the fact that your plant will not produce babies. So your plant will be surviving, but not thriving and definitely not reproducing. If this is a deal-breaker for you, then you should stick to growing your Pilea in soil.
Can I add pebbles at the bottom of the vessel if I grow my Pilea in water?
We have seen some very beautiful arrangements of houseplants in vessels with pebbles or glass marbles at the bottom. But keep in mind that what you’re gaining in looks, you’ll have to compromise in maintenance. If you decide to add extra materials to your water, you’ll have to get on a stricter cleaning regimen. That’s because every surface that you introduce to your growing medium will need to be kept clean and slime-free.
Can I transfer my Pilea from soil to water?
You’ll find a lot of guides online that teach you how to transfer an established houseplant from soil to water. However, we don’t recommend you do this with your Pilea plant. That’s because soil-roots are different from water-roots. Transferring a mature Pilea that’s already growing in soil to a water vessel will shock the plant too much - sometimes too much to recover. If you want a water-grown Pilea, better start with a Pilea baby and let it grow in water long-term.
In a nutshell, growing a Pilea in water is possible, but it comes with a few downsides. Whether you choose to grow in water is up to what you value in your houseplant-keeping hobby: do you value ease of maintenance or long-term growth? There really is no wrong answer!