Hydroponics is a different kind of gardening than you may be used to. It is essentially growing plants without soil. The term hydroponics suggests that the plants are grown in water instead of soil, but, in fact, nutrient-rich water is only one of several mediums that can be used. You can also use sand culture, gravel or wood shavings for hydroponic gardening. Not every plant does well without soil, but if you want to start hydroponic gardening, you'll have many choices. Here's a short list of 10 top plants that grow well in this type of environment. 1. Flowers - Most gardeners use hydroponics gardening for veggies and edibles, but most flowers grow happily in water. If you are just starting out, try varieties that are easy to grow in soil, like nasturtiums. They'll be just as easy indoors in water and you'll have year-round blossoms. 2. Garden herbs - An herb garden in the kitchen is always a pleasure for the cook, and with hydroponics, you won't have spilled soil everywhere. But not all herbs grow equally well in water. You'll have the most luck with herbs that thrive in wet or at least regularly moist soil, like basil and chives. Cilantro, dill and parsley are also excellent choices. 3. Lettuce - Freshly picked lettuce can be a year-round treat if you grow it indoors with a hydroponic system. Choose leaf lettuce or varieties with semi-heads like Boston, Bibb or butter lettuce for best results. Lettuce requires more sunlight than many other plants in the hydroponic garden. 4. Other leafy vegetables - Most leafy greens grow well in a hydroponic garden. Try spinach, Swiss chard or bok choy even if your garden is low light. Spinach, for example, won't grow well hydroponically if it gets too much sunlight. 5. Strawberries - Red and juicy, strawberries fresh-picked from the garden are head and shoulders above supermarket purchases in terms of taste and ripeness. Strawberries are easy to grow hydroponically, and, unlike other berries, you won't need a huge amount of space to keep a family of four in unblemished berries all year long. 6. Beans - Some gardeners swear that beans grow better in water than in the garden. This is a quick crop, since seeds germinate in two weeks or so and grow fast. Hydroponically grown beans are plump and yummy. 7. Mint - Mints are perfect for water-based hydroponic gardens since they often grow in nature as aquatic or semi-aquatic plants. You'll find them in the wild at the river's edge or in shallow water. Try spearmint or peppermint to get started. 8. Fennel - Fennel bulb is both an herb used for adding a mild anise flavor and a vegetable. You'd probably know it if you see it, with its light green foliage divided into fine, thread-like segments. You can eat the flower stalks like celery and use the seeds in vegetable dishes. 9. Peppers - You can choose among many varieties of peppers to grow without soil. Some of the best for hydroponics include sweet peppers, like Narobi and gold flame, or hot pepper varieties, including jalapeno and cayenne. 10. Snow peas - Snow peas also grow well in hydroponic gardens. Although you can also grow English garden peas, they only produce the seeds. With snow peas, you'll have a choice of eating the seeds or the crunchy edible pods.
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Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.
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