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There really isn’t that much of a difference between hydroponics and semi-hydroponics. Your plants will grow in broadly the same way, but there are pros and cons to each set up.
Don’t listen to people that preach that one is better than the other – I’ve definitely found that there are pros and cons to both, but ultimately it’s down to personal preference and your lifestyle that determines whether hydroponics, semi-hydroponics, or soil are more suited to you.
Also, you can totally do both. I have a few plants in leca, a Monstera in a hydroponic set up, and the rest in soil. The organised part of me HATES that they’re not all in the same substrate, but it works really well. Realistically, I cba to flush all my plants!
Is semi-hydroponics different to hydroponics?
Semi-hydroponics is hydroponics with structure. The plants are still growing hydroponically, but we’re using leca to support the plant.
Usually with hydroponics, there’s a section of the roots that are left exposed to the air. This not only increases the amount of oxygen going to roots, but it creates resistance that allows the plant to grow stronger.
With semi-hydroponics, there’s still water at the bottom and a plant at the top, but the roots are out of the water (usually) to help increase airflow but supported by the leca (which also adds moisture, because it retains water).
There’s also aeroponics, which is also hydroponics, but rather than having a reservoir, the roots are misted with nutrient water. I assume this is done with a fogger, rather than some poor schmuck having to go around with a spray bottle. Apparently, it’s great for growing plants with a reduced volume of wastewater.
Which is easier – hydroponics or semi-hydroponics?
It depends on your setup. If you have all of the air pumps and specially designed pots, then hydroponics is SUPER easy. If you’re using Kratky jars and having to keep on top of changing the water and topping up jars then it can be more time-consuming.
The ‘difficult’ parts of both semi-hydroponics and hydroponics are basically the same – measuring out nutrients, running pH tests and making sure everything stays clean.
It all comes down to personal preference.
It’s also worth noting that both semi-hydroponics and hydroponics can be as easy/difficult as you make them.
This is especially true when we’re talking about house plants, rather than crops because we don’t need to worry about maximising yield or flavour profiles or anything.
For example, my leca plants are perfectly happy to be flushed every 6 months and have nutrient water which is often eyeballed. I don’t usually pH test.
Could I get better results if I did?
Probably, but it would sap all of the fun out of it for me. If you love to play scientist, then get yourself some beakers and get measuring.
My hydroponic plant lives in a big vase of water with some java moss that keeps it oxygenated. There’s also algae, but it’s never been an issue. I only add nutrients sporadically, but I change all the water so nutrients don’t build up and cause lockout.
Do plants grow better in hydroponics or semi-hydroponics?
If you can find a way to support them, then it really shouldn’t make a difference. For every person I’ve seen online claiming that you can’t grow house plants to their full potential in leca, there are two more people showing off their HUGE leca plants.
The main advantage of semi-hydroponic plants over hydroponic plants is that leca provides stability for the plant. When you’re growing in just water, you need to find a way to stop your plant from just dropping into the reservoir.
I just kind of wedge my Monstera in using the aerial roots to keep it in place. If you need more ideas on keeping your house plants upright in hydroponics, I go through the main options in this article on keeping Monstera in aquariums. Monstera can be tricky to grow hydroponically because they’re big, so other plants tend to be a bit easier.
How to get started with hydroponics
If you want to go all in, check out YouTube. There is a TONNE of videos that go into a TONNE of detail about how to get started.
I can’t do that, because it feeds my tendency to hyperfixate. If I hyperfixate, I end up getting bored within months, with nothing but dead plants and an empty wallet to show for it.
What I recommend those of you with similar inclinations, I highly recommend you just take a cutting, propagate it in water, and then just…don’t take it out.
How to get started with semi-hydroponics
I also recommend this approach (i.e. starting with cuttings) for leca. Get used to the maintenance regime BEFORE you have to worry about whether the roots have switched from soil to water and all that jazz.
You don’t need to fork out for a net pot, like the one in the picture above. A regular nursery pot in a glass is a perfectly fine setup. The reason I get the net pots is they have a lip around the edge so they hang in glasses nicely. Using a pot that wedges in the glass works perfectly well instead. You can also just sit a nursery pot in a cereal bowl.
There’s a little bit of a divide between people who only use leca and people who only use soil, and quite a few of them are very vocal about which method is best. I’m vegan, so I’m used to this kind of polarisation, so I can ignore it but it can be a bit overwhelming when you’re trying something new and people on social media are telling you you’re doomed from the start.
Think of it like this: if semi-hydroponics was dramatically better than hydroponics, then that would be just…fact. We wouldn’t bother with which one wasn’t as good.
A great low-stakes way to start either is to grab two empty jars. Fill one with (washed) leca, and the other with tap water. Pop a couple of cuttings in each. Wait until they root. If you’re already bored with changing the water and you don’t like the way aquatic moss looks, then maybe go back to soil. If you’re having fun, pick up some nutrients and add them.
In my opinion, this is the point you should be consulting YouTube. When you’ve tried it for basically free for a few weeks and are still interested in going forward.
It can seem super overwhelming at the beginning, but once you have the fundamentals straight in your head, it’s pretty straight forward.