A fine potted speciment of Spathyphyllum is suspended on a bracket against the wall paneling in my office. The slender dark green foliage is flourishing under ceiling fluorescent lights during the day - without benefit of soil. It is being growin in a container of water and stones rather than in a pot of soil.
This method of growing plants is known as hydroponics, hydroculture, or soilless culture. Many plants can be grown from seed to seed without ever coming in contact with soil.
For the indoor gardener the advantages of hydroponics are: you are relieved of the worry of over-watering, under-watering, over-feeding, under-feeding; you can control the amount of nutrients, hence the growth of plants; you avoid soil-borne diseases.
My Spathyphyllum is growing in an adaptation of the hydroponic method developed for decorative display of plants in the home. It is called the Luwasa System; it was researched and developed by Swiss horticulturists and licensed to Deco-Plants Corporation with exclusive rights for the manufacturing and marketing of the Luwasa System in the United States and other countries.
In the Luwasa System the plant grows in a scientifically designed container. An especially prepared gravel, called "Living Stones," is used in place of soil as the potting medium. The nutrient, formulated to be used with water, contains all the elements required for plant growth. The plant is set in the container, the stones are added, and the nutrient solution is poured over the stones. A reservoir at the base of the two-part container holds the solution.
A fluid-level indicator, or "window," in this section makes it possible to see when more of the solution is needed. The frequency of replenishing the solution depends on the humidity level of the room in which the plant is kept. Care of the plant with respect to source and amount of light, avoidance of drafts, temperature, misting or dusting the leaves is the same as if it were being grown in the usual potting soil.
Growing plants hydroponically is another example of an old idea that has come back in style. As a method of supplying mineral nutrients and water to plants it has been used for scientific purposes since the middle of the 19th century. Much of our knowledge about the nutrients essential for life comes from experiments using this technique.
Hydroponics differs from other plant growing systems primarily in the way in which nutrients are supplied. Plants grown in soilless culture have the advantage of a consistent supply of moisture and nutrients, resulting in steady growth. All other cultural practices are managed in the same way as for soil-grown plants. Illumination and quality of light, photo period, temperature, relative humidity, and nutrition all interact to affect plant growth. If any of these factors is less than optimal, poor plant growth can result.
Several different methods or styles of hydroponic culture are in general use. In pure hydroponics, the tops of plants are supported and the roots are allowed to hang free in the nutrient solution. At this point you may be wondering about my many warnings that without aeration the roots of many plants will drown and die from too much water in the soil.
Aeration of the hydroponics solution is provided for in pure hydroponics by air pump devices.
In gravel culture, which is the system used for Deco-Plants, the plants are supported by their roots which grow in the inert gravel ("Living Stones") and are regularly irrigated with nutrient solution. The gravel holds the plant upright and provides aeration of the roots. An indoor light gardening friend of mine, who has invented his own adaptation of soilless culture, uses chicken grids as the support for the plants. In some experiments with crop plants a special grade of vermiculite has been used for this purpose.
Hydroponics is a commercially feasible system of producing plants in quantity, and crop and floriculture enterprises both in the United States and abroad are protifable operations. Commercial installations in the Southern parts of the U.S. produce good crops of winter tomatoes.
In other parts of the world hydroponic methods are used to grow lettuce and other food crops, as well as a variety of flowering plants.
The Deco-Plants have been introduced in the metropolitan Washington area through the home party plan, which is an educational and informative method of selling direct to the consumer through demonstrations by trained consultants. The party plan is the only marketing outlet. When you attend a Deco-Plant party, you can buy plants growing in their special containers, or you can buy containers, stones and nutrients and receive instructions about how to change over some of your plants from potting soil to Luwasa System. Lush green Deco-Plants are supplied to the Alexandria distribution warehouse by Green Thumb Corporation of Florida. The round or square containers are available in varying sizes depending on the plant selected. They can be grouped on table top, hung as a decorative wall feature, or suspended as hanging pots.
If your interest has been aroused in acquiring a Deco-Plant or in taking the training to become a Deco-Plant consultant, you can telephone Mr. or Mrs. Drake, the enthusiastic managers, at 370-1667.
I don't really think that growing our house-plants in potting soil is going out of style. But if you are venturesome you may want to experiment with hydroponics. You can buy a plant already started in hydroponic culture for a trial run. Or you can investigate what is involved on a larger scale.
Indoor gardeners seriously considering a hydroponics setup will find it an interesting and educational experience. "Doing you own thing" with hydroponics requires some effort in addition to special equipment. Consult some of the following references if you want to pursue the subject further:
Hydroponic Gardening, by Raymond Bridwell, Woodbridge Press, $6.95.
Beginner's Guide to Hydroponics, by James Sholto Douglas, Drake Publishers, $5.95.
Home Hydroponics . . . and how to do it! by Lem Jones, Beardsley Publishing Co., soft cover $6.50.
The Indoor Water Gardener's How-To-Handbook, by H. Peter Loewer, Popular Library, paperback, $1.25.
Hydroponics As A Hobby, Extension Circular C844, 16 pp. illustrated, 10 cents, University of Illinois, Office of Agricultural Publications, Urbana, Ill. 61801.