Helping Potted Plants Successfully Transition to a Hydroponic System

Hydroponic gardening offers a lot of exciting possibilities for plant lovers. If you’re already the proud owner of a collection of potted plants, you might be wondering if you can transfer those plants to a hydroponics system. The answer is yes, you can! For the experienced green thumb, it’ll be a fairly intuitive procedure. But even if you’re a plant newbie, it’s not difficult. You just have to understand a few things about plants.

Gorgeous selection of indoor potted houseplants

They don’t like extremes

Plants are averse to sudden changes. If you have kids, you know you have to give your toddler a five-minute warning before you leave grandma’s house. If you try to just pick them up and go, you’re asking for a tantrum. 

Most popular houseplants are popular because they’re a little more forgiving than the average toddler. However, you risk compromising their health if you make too many drastic changes too fast. So, consider what else may be changing for your plant besides just moving from growing in soil to growing in water. Are you bringing the plant indoors from the patio? Is your hydroponics system in a different room with significantly different lighting or temperatures? If so, move the plant in its pot to the new location a few days before making the actual transplant. It’ll be happier if it doesn’t have to process all the changes in one go.

It’s also important know that the soil will be easier to work with the less wet it is. Don’t let your plant dry out to the point where it’s stressed, but it’s a good idea to avoid watering it too shortly before transplanting.

There’s one more step that will help avoid shocking your plant. You’ll be using water to wash off extra soil from the plant’s roots.  So it’s best if you fill a bucket and allow the water to come to room temperature in the same room as the plant.  If you use water straight from the tap, make sure it isn’t extremely hot or cold, but as close to ambient temperatures as possible.

It’s all about the roots

To say that roots are important to a plant is an almost comical understatement. All successful transplanting, hydroponic or conventional, indoors or outdoors, depends on taking care of the roots. Handle them gently, disturb them as little as possible, and don’t let them lay out and dehydrate for a long time.

Unpotted houseplant with root ball ready to be exposed

A Little Extra Love

Transplanting is a great time to give your favorite plant an overall tune-up. If it’s getting too leggy or bushy, trim back some of the extra growth to allow it to focus its energies better. You should also remove any dead/dying or unhealthy parts so the rest of the plant can stay healthy.

Make Your Move

Now that you’ve learned a little plant psychology, you’re ready to go (and your plant is, too).

Within easy reach, you should have:

  • Your potted plant
  • A container to catch the soil (a wide, shallow container is an easier target)
  • Your bucket of room temperature water
  • The container your hydroponics system uses, plus the growing medium
  • Pruners or sharp scissors (make sure they’re clean)

If you’re worried about making a mess, you can also spread out something to protect your work surface.

  • First, gently remove the plant from its pot, with the soil intact around the roots. Depending on how long it’s been there, it might require a little coaxing. 
  • Next, hold it over your container and gently massage the root ball with your other hand to loosen the soil. Be patient and gentle, removing as much as you can. Try very hard not to break any roots (err on the side of leaving a little soil in place).
  • Now check the plant over and do any necessary trimming.
  • Then, dunk the roots in the bucket of water and lightly swish them around to remove as much remaining soil as possible.
  • Your plant is now ready to plant hydroponically! Carefully plant it into your system’s container and watch it thrive.
Plant that has been bare rooted and is ready for hydroponic planting