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The Hydroponic
Herb Garden

Hydroponics began when scientists isolated and studied the six requirements for plant growth: temperature, light, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and mineral nutrients. Their goal was to determine the optimum amounts of each of these factors for a specific plant -- an impossibility in soil outdoors.  The surprise came when the scientists got all the growth requirements just right. Gardeners who witnessed the astounding growth under these conditions were early converts to hydroponic gardening. Other advantages include no heavy soil to dig, no weeds to pull, and no soil pests and diseases to overcome.

Supplies for Hydroponic Gardens:

  • 2 pans (such as plastic wash basins) that fit into each other (the bottom of the upper pan should clear the bottom of the lower pan by at least 2 inches when the two are fitted together)
  • Six 6-inch strips of cloth about 1-inch wide (use polyester; it won't rot)
  • A well-balanced, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer (such as Peter's House Plant Special 15-30-15)
  • Vermiculite or any other sterile growing medium
  • Several sturdy herb plants, such as parsley, chives, rosemary, sage, and thyme

Creating Your Hydroponic Garden:

  • Drill six 1/2-inch drainage holes in the bottom of the smaller (upper) pan.
  • Draw the lengths of fabric through the holes, leaving them half in and half out, to act as wicks for carrying the nutrient-growing solution to your herbs.
  • Fill the same pan with a sterile growing medium such as vermiculite, sand, pebbles, gravel, or sphagnum moss. Cover the all-important wicks with the growing medium.
  • Mix 2 quarts of the houseplant fertilizer according to instructions on the label.
  • Nest the filled, upper pan in the lower one, and pour the solution through the growing medium. The liquid will drip through the holes into the bottom pan. Be sure that only the wicks hang in the liquid, not the bottom of the upper pan.  You've now created the life-support system that will carry food to the roots of the herbs.


Wash all soil from your herb plant roots by gently tapping each root ball and soaking it. This step is important. It is best to wash the roots in a bucket so as not to clog your household drains. (Pour the muddy water onto your nearest drought-stricken shrub.) As soon as your growing medium is thoroughly dampened, gently tuck the herbs into the upper basin. Because of the intensive feeding process, the herbs can be crowded together to grow twice the number of plants usually possible in the same amount of space.


All you need to do for your easy-care water garden is to pour fresh fertilizer solution (always mixed with tepid tap water) through the growing medium every week, or as often as needed to keep an inch or two in the bottom pan. The fertilizer provides the oxygen essential to plants that are accustomed to life in soil. The wicks keep a supply of oxygen flowing to your herbs, causing them to grow at an amazing rate.

Herbs thrive in a cool, energy-wise home, but if your home is hot and dry, humidity will need to be provided. Because misting helps a lot, keep a filled mister handy to supply moisture daily, but be careful, some herbs don't like to get their leaves wet. Also, frequently check the water level in the bottom pan. I also advise scratching the surface of the medium occasionally to allow air to reach the roots and to discourage fertilizer salt buildup. In fact, you might even poke a dowel through the drainage holes to supply more oxygen to the roots.

Providing Light:

Place your hydroponic garden on your sunniest (southern) windowsill. Or you can assure their success in the most unlikely locations by growing them under lights. Use fluorescent horticultural lights, or insert a grow-light bulb in any regular lamp fixture. The light source should be less than a foot above the plants. You may eventually want to put the lights on an automatic timer so that the unit turns on in the morning and off at night, 12 hours later. The cost of the electricity is negligible, and the rewards justify the expense. A great place for a water garden is right under your kitchen cabinets. Highly decorative, the lights will brighten your darkest space, while growing fragrant, flavorful bouquet garnis for the cook's delight. Under hydroculture, the herbs will grow fast, so keep them trimmed and enjoy your handy harvest!

Harvest herbs regularly as soon as they have enough leaves that their growth won't be set back by picking. Pinch off any flowers that form on mint or basil to keep the plants vegetative. Prune back any woody stems that develop, especially on basil.

More gardening information on this website:

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