"Terraponics" for Houseplants

After you experience the advantages of growing with hydroponics you'll want to convert all your plants.  Most plants adapt to hydroponics without incident. But with some  . . .  well, it's not so easy.

Some plants struggle after converting to hydroponics.


Converting soil plants to hydroponics means forcing the plant to convert it's soil roots to water (hydroponic) roots. Most plants have no problems - but it can be difficult for some plants - especially large plants that have been growing in soil for several years.

Some plants also refuse to adapt their existing roots to hydroponics and insist on growing a completely new root system. Growing new roots takes time. The plant goes into stress until new roots are formed, which can take several weeks. In the mean time, leaves wilt, turn yellow, and eventually drop off as the plant goes into a "survival mode".

Unfortunately, some plants won't recover.

Why Terraponics?

"Terra" means soil. "Terraponics" means growing plants in a hydroponic system without removing the soil from their roots.

Terraponic setup showing the soil root ball positioned in a bed of LECA pebbles.

Originally designed for outdoor planters, terraponics is becoming increasingly popular with many indoor plants. With terraponic growing, the entire root ball (soil included) is packed into a bed of hydroponic pebbles, leaving the plant’s roots undisturbed.

This eliminates the stress plants experience when their roots are damaged from removing the soil - or they decide to abandon their existing roots and grow new hydroponic roots.  

Notice how LECA pebbles surround the root ball on all sides in the illustration on the right. The pebbles wick moisture up to the plant's roots gently and evenly from the reservoir at the bottom of the planter. At the same time new (stronger) water roots grow out into the pebbles.

Eventually the new water roots replace the old soil roots - and then your plant will start enjoying all advantages of hydroponic growing!

Roots of a houseplant (Croton) after growing in terraponics for 10 months. Notice how new roots grew into the pebbles. This plant is now growing as a hydroponic plant.

Plant Care with Terraponics

Because your new transplant is growing in a hydroponic system, plant care is basically the same as growing in hydroponics - with one exception - cut back on the water.

"Terraponic" plants use less water because air doesn't circulate through the soil root ball very well and the plant holds moisture longer (one of the reasons we don't like soil plants!). Those soil roots need to dry out between waterings too - and that takes several days after the water gauge reads empty.

How to Water New Plants Growing in Terraponics

Watering plants growing in terraponics is similar to watering plants in hydroponics. Simply pour water (or nutrient solution) over the pebbles and the water gauge will tell you how much.

But with terraponics, when the water gauge reads "Min", it doesn't mean it's time to rewater because that soil root ball is still holding moisture.

A good way to determine when it's time to rewater is by simply judging the plant's weight after the gauge reads "Min".

When the water gauge reads empty, lift the plant. If it feels heavy (like the pot is full of bricks), there's still water in the root ball and you'll need to wait a couple of days - sometimes up to a week - before watering. 

If the plant feels light (like the pot is full of feathers), then it's time to rewater.

Just like hydroponics, these plants should dry out in 2 weeks. If there's still water in the reservoir after 2 weeks - or the plant feels heavy - dump out any remaining water and force a dry period of several days before rewatering.

Then, water a little less.

Watering to only 1/4 on the gauge is common for most plants growing with terraponics. 

Over time, terraponic plants start acting like hydroponic plants because their roots have grown out into the LECA pebbles. Then plant care is easy!