I was doing some research on the potting medium for my container plants and found out about water beads. I’ve written this post to help understand how to use them for potted plants.
You can use water beads for potted plants by placing the water-soaked beads in the pot, putting the plant in the pot, and covering the roots with more water beads. You can use water-soluble fertilizer when hydrating the beads to give a nutrient boost to the plants.
Keep reading to get more details about how to use such water beads and the type of plants that are most suitable for growing in this medium.
Make sure to add liquid fertilizer to the plants growing in water beads. This will encourage growth while keeping plants healthy. Check out the best organic liquid fertilizer on Amazon.com.
How to Grow Potted Plants in Water Beads
Water beads are, perhaps, one of the most interesting growing mediums around. Made of a non-toxic super absorbent polymer, the beads eliminate the need for traditional soil.
Utilizing these beads is simple. Plus, it adds a pop of fun color to your home or porch garden. Sometimes referred to as hydrogel, water beads can support plants on their own.
Oftentimes, gardeners will mix things like soil and perlite to get the perfect growing composition. Truth is, plants don’t need all of that to flourish.
They only need water, air, and nutrients. The beads provide the water and the air. They’re versatile enough to provide nutrients, too!
Here is how you can use water beads for plants.
Hydrating the Beads
The first thing you will need to do is hydrate the gel beads!
Gel beads for plants come in the form of tiny granules. When you add water, they can swell up to 50 times their weight!
There’s no hard and fast rule of how you should do this. Generally, about half a teaspoon of dry granules will absorb roughly one cup of water. Use this knowledge to get a good idea of how much you’ll need for your pot.
Place the dry granules in a large bowl or bucket. Then, pour your water in.
Remember how we said that plants need a source for nutrients? Usually, nutrient-rich soil would be that source. However, you can add some fertilizer to the water beads for plants, too.
Add a bit of water-soluble fertilizer to the water mixture. Just follow the directions on the package to figure out the right amount.
This step is crucial! Without that fertilizer, your plants will have a hard time growing.
Let the beads soak for four to eight hours. You can also leave them overnight.
Prepping for Transplant
Once the beads are full, you can prepare your plant. We’ll get into suitable plant options a bit later. For now, we’re going to focus on how you should prepare those plants for the water beads.
The goal here is to transplant a small plant into the new growth medium. We don’t recommend trying to grow plants from seeds. It’s certainly possible, but it’s much easier to transplant an established crop.
I recommend growing plants from seeds when planting in soil because it is the cheapest and reliable method to grow many plants.
Remove your plant from the container it’s currently growing in. Then, loosen up the compacted soil with your hands to free up the roots. Be gentle and avoid damaging the root system.
Now, gently wash away the soil. Use a moderately-strong spray setting on your hose or faucet. This will blast away the dirt without harming the roots.
Placing Your Plant in the Beads
Once you have clean roots, you can start planting!
Gather your new pot and your water beads. This unique form of gardening is best with glass containers. Glass containers let you enjoy the color of the beads and watch the root system developing.
However, standard pots with adequate drainage work well, too.
Fill the pot about halfway up with water beads for plants. Then, place the bare-root plant on top of the beads.
Place the remaining beads over the roots and around the stem to support the plant.
Think of it as transplanting a houseplant to a larger container. Planing with water beads uses the same techniques.
What Types of Plants Grow in Water Beads?
Water beads are a great way to grow plants without all of the mess. Because they’re made out of a polymer, they don’t attract pests. The beads can also limit fungal growth in the right conditions.
While it’s tempting to try them out on all of your potted plants, the beads do have some limitations.
The biggest is sunlight! Like any other growing medium, direct sunlight will quickly evaporate water. The issue with water beads is that evaporation leads to shrinkage.
As a result, it’s best to choose plants that can grow with indirect sunlight. Luckily, you have plenty of great plant choices. Here are some of our favorites.
The Wandering Jew plant is perfect for water bead growing. Direct sunlight can affect the growth of the plant, so you can easily stick the pot on a shady porch or near a window inside.
The plant produces gorgeous foliage with colors of purple, pink, and green.
Here’s another plant that doesn’t like direct sunlight. Arrowhead vines can experience discoloration with too much sun exposure.
In shady conditions, the plant will truly flourish. It has vibrant green and white leaves that add a nice touch of color to your home.
One of the best shady flowers around, Peace Lilies grow well in water beads. The plant needs very little sunlight to grow.
The Peace Lily flower is quite unique. However, the foliage is just as beautiful. Thick waxy leaves emerge before the white flower is ready to blossom.
English Ivy plants are fast-growing and easy to maintain. You can place your pot high up on a shelf and let the resulting growth hang down for some beautiful indoor vegetation.
The plants do require pruning every once in a while. However, the plant can flourish with indirect sunlight.
If your English Ivy is turning red, I’ve written details on what could be the cause of the problem and how you can fix it.
Bamboo plants do best in indirect light, too. Excess sun exposure can cause the leaves to burn.
You can choose young bamboo shoots for your water beads. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, so it’s best to start with something small.
Covered in hues of pink and purple, Caladiums are a unique crop to have indoors. They do well in shade and can grow relatively fast in the right conditions.
In water beads, Caladiums will need very little supervision or maintenance.
How Long Do Water Beads Last in a Pot?
Another huge advantage of using water beads in your pots is that they’re capable of lasting for a long time.
You don’t have to worry about issues like erosion, which is common with traditional soil. As long as you keep the beads hydrated, they’ll continue to nourish your plants.
Watering Plants with Water Beads
Water beads provide slow moisture for your plants. They continue to release water to keep them hydrated.
As a result, sticking to a regular watering schedule is a thing of the past.
You will, however, need to hydrate the beads periodically. Over time, the beads will shrink. How long it takes for that to happen depends on several factors. These include sun exposure and temperatures.
Generally, you can expect to give the beads a boost of water every two or three weeks. When you do so, make sure to add some more water-soluble plant food!
After the beads rehydrate, it’s also important to drain any excess water out of the pot. Standing water is a big no-no, even with water beads.
Overall Shelf Life
When continuously hydrated, water beads can last about two years. If mixed with other growing mediums, they may continue to hold water for up to nine years!
Theoretically, water beads can last indefinitely with periodic use. You can dehydrate and rehydrate them as needed. As long as you store them in a low-humidity environment when not in use, they should last for a very long time.
How Do You Dispose of Water Beads?
If you’re done using your water beads, you can simply dehydrate them and store them for later use.
But what do you do when you want to dispose of the beads completely?
Your best option would be to toss them in your outdoor garden. Originally, the goal of these super-absorbent beads was to help with water retention on farms.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not bad for the environment. The beads are non-toxic and biodegradable. They can break down with time, albeit slowly.
What You Shouldn’t Do
Whether you decide to toss your dehydrated beads into the garbage or use them in your outdoor garden, it’s better than flushing them down the drain!
These beads can swell up to 300 times their original size! Flushing them down the drain is only asking for trouble.
The beads will wreak havoc on your plumbing system. You might think that the beads are gone. However, they take several hours to absorb water. You might wake up the next day to beads overflowing from your sink or toilet!
It’s best to avoid the trouble and dispose of them properly.
Can You Mix Water Beads With Soil?
As we mentioned earlier, the technology behind water beads was originally meant for gardens. It’s perfectly safe to mix in with soil!
They’re particularly useful if you live in a hot environment with dry soil. The beads will hold onto moisture long after the soil dries up. Then, it slowly releases the water.
It’s an effective way to keep the soil in workable shape during times of drought.
Here are a couple of other notable benefits that come with mixing water beads with soil.
Conservation of Nutrients
No matter how well you fertilize your soil, your plants can’t take advantage of it all. That’s because a lot of those nutrients leave the garden with runoff.
The nutrients can drain down to the subsoil and eventually wash away with groundwater. The soil can also lose some of its vitality during heavy rains or heavy waterings.
Water beads can help combat that issue. The beads are inert, which means that plants can’t absorb them.
However, the beads are fully capable of absorbing nutrients. They will hold onto phosphates, potassium, nitrates, and more. Instead of running off, those nutrients absorb into the beads and stay next to the roots where your plants can use them.
Those tiny beads will continue to swell and shrink as they come into contact with water. These changes help to improve aeration.
Oftentimes, soil can compact after heavy rains and frequent watering. This condenses the soil and makes it harder for roots to flourish.
Not only that, but it has a big impact on drainage. Water can’t flow down through the soil, causing it to sit on the surface or near the roots.
This can waterlog your plant and cause root rot.
Water beads can prevent that from happening. The constant expansion and shrinkage of water beads create pockets of air, keeping the soil loose and aerated.
I also recommend preparing the garden soil so it contains the right texture and nutrients. You can use organic matter such as compost to achieve this.