Aquaponics allows you to raise fish and grow food through a single, self-sustaining ecosystem! Choosing the right plants for your aquaponic system is a big decision and we’re here to make that decision easier!
Many factors are important to think about when deciding what plants to grow in your aquaponic system. Most plants grow faster and more plentiful in aquaponic systems compared to traditional soil-grown gardening. But, there are some plants that thrive in aquaponic systems and some plants that you should avoid. Read on to shed some light on what plants to choose and what plants to steer clear of for aquaponic systems.
Plants For Aquaponics
If you need a refresher on aquaponics, it is a method of growing plants without soil. Aquaponics is a method of growing plants in nutrient-rich water.
This is different from hydroponics because hydroponics utilizes a liquid fertilizer that is manually added to the water. Aquaponics pair growing aquatic life, such as fish, with growing plants.
The waste by-products of the fish are the main source of nutrients for the plants. The goal of an aquaponic system is to establish a self-sufficient ecosystem between plants, fish, and microorganisms.
(To read more about the difference between hydroponics and aquaponics, check out this blog post.)
Most people when they think of aquaponics, think of growing leafy greens or tomatoes. But, virtually any type of plant can grow in an aquaponic system!
Leafy greens, fruiting plants, vegetables, and herbs can all grow fast and strong in a successful system. It’s important to remember that even though most plants can grow in an aquaponic system, some varieties of plants will do better than others!
Although there are many factors to consider when choosing what plants to grow in your aquaponic system, the most important thing to consider is which types of plants will be most exciting and useful for you to grow. If you can’t decide, you can set up different systems to grow a variety of your favorite plants!
Can Any Plant Be Used In Aquaponics?
Technically, any plant could be grown in aquaponics but some plants are challenging, especially in an at-home aquaponic set-up. Each type of plant has its requirements that must be met for them to grow and thrive. Some plants have conditions that can easily be achieved at home while others are more difficult.
Before adding a plant into an aquaponic system, it’s important to remember to do your research to determine if you can meet and maintain their requirements at home. Plants like tomatoes and kale have requirements that are easily attainable for beginner aquaculturists.
Other plants like potatoes and melons require a substantially-sized system and more maintenance. Continue reading for the details on the best plants to grow in an aquaponic system!
What Plants Cannot Grow In Aquaponics?
The following three plants are not the best choices for aquaponic systems due to their slow growth rates, high nutrient needs, and more!
Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes
One of the many reasons why aquaponics are a favored method of growing crops is because growth rates excel in aquaponic systems. But, potatoes require months to mature no matter what environment they are grown in.
Many people who put in the work to create an aquaponic system do not want to wait four months for their potatoes to be ready for harvest.
Excess moisture when growing potatoes can be problematic. Potatoes are root vegetables, meaning that they have large root systems that grow beneath the soil. In traditional agriculture, the soil will typically absorb excess moisture. But, aquaponic systems are water-based and excess moisture is hard to avoid.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes also have large root systems which require lots of space. A large-scale aquaponic system is necessary to successfully grow full-size potatoes. Potatoes and sweet potatoes definitely cannot be cultivated in a simple at-home aquaponic fish tank set-up.
Corn is a plant that requires high nutrient levels. It is very difficult to achieve such high levels of nutrient availability in a self-sustaining aquaponic system. Likely, the fish will not be able to produce the number of nutrients that the corn plants need to grow.
Hydroponic systems are a better choice if you have your heart set on growing corn without soil. In hydroponic systems, you can add liquid fertilizer as needed so you can simply add more nutrients for corn. If you were to add nutrients manually to an aquaponic system, it would throw off the delicate ecosystem.
Melons are some of the slowest growing plants, taking months to grow. They are extremely picky plants that require very high levels of nutrients to thrive.
Nutrient greedy plants are not ideal for aquaponic systems because the fish can only provide nutrients to a certain extent. Not to mention that melons grow to be huge!
A large-scale aquaponic system would be necessary to successfully grow melons to their full harvest-ready size.
Can Tomatoes Grow In Aquaponics?
Tomatoes are one of the most popular choices for aquaponic systems because who doesn’t love a tomato fresh off the vine? But, these plants are not the easiest to grow in an aquaponic system. It’s important to review the requirements of tomato plants to decide if they are the right plant for you!
Tomatoes typically thrive during the summer months; these plants love sunshine and warm weather! To grow flourishing tomatoes in an aquaponic system, you’ll need to maintain a consistent temperature between 75°F and 85°F.
All plants have a preferred pH and tomatoes are no different. Tomatoes prefer to have water at a pH of between 5.5 and 6.5. This is lower than what most plants and fish prefer.
Because of this, choosing a variety of fish that can thrive in the same environment is extremely important to remember! Trout, goldfish, and koi are some great fish that pairs well with tomato plants.
Tomato plants are vining plants; they like to grow tall! Therefore, a support structure for the plants is necessary to aid their upwards growth.
Tomato plants can grow to be between two and six feet tall. Your aquaponic system must be big enough to sustain these plants, especially when they are full size.
Growing tomato plants in an aquaponic system can be extremely rewarding. Although these plants are a popular choice, they certainly require some extra work to grow successfully.
It’s important to remember to take all the necessary steps to ensure that your tomato plants will thrive in the aquaponic environment you have created. And don’t forget to have fun with it!
Can Strawberries Grow In Aquaponics?
Strawberries grow extremely well in an established aquaponic system. Because strawberries are fruiting plants, they do require more nutrients than simple leafy greens as kale would. But, once an ecosystem is established in the aquaponic system, the strawberries will fit right in.
The best temperature for strawberries is between 60-80°F. This wide temperature range is great news for aquaponic growers because there are many fish that can thrive within that temperature range.
Strawberries thrive when the water has a pH of between 5.5 and 6.5; if the water is too acidic, they will not survive. The fish in the system must also be comfortable at this pH.
Some good fish options to pair with strawberries are tilapia, koi, and crappie.
Strawberry plants are sensitive to excess ammonia in the system. Higher levels of ammonia can occur if there are too many fish in the system or not enough bacteria to convert the ammonia to nitrates.
Many people try and fail at growing strawberries in aquaponics because they do not monitor the water thoroughly. Proper monitoring and adjusting the system as needed is all it takes to have a successful strawberry aquaponic system!
Can Spinach Grow In Aquaponics?
Growing leafy greens in an aquaponic system is the easiest and fastest rewarding route to go. Spinach is a great example of this! Because leafy greens are not fruiting plants, they do not require excess nutrients and maintenance as strawberry or tomato plants do.
Growing leafy greens like spinach is so rewarding because they allow for a prolonged harvest. You can pick off some leaves as needed in the kitchen while the others continue to grow. Spinach plants love water but they still keep a smaller root system throughout their growth cycle; these plants are extremely space efficient.
Spinach plants are not too picky. They do best in a water temperature between 45° and 75°F and a pH between 6.0 to 7.0. They require low levels of nutrients to thrive which makes them ideal for an aquaponic environment!
Which Plants Grow Fast In Aquaponics?
Lettuces and leafy greens are unmatched when it comes to their speedy growth rates. Because these plants do not fruit, they require low levels of nutrients to grow to their fullest potential.
In traditional gardening, plant roots grow into the soil and have to seek out nutrients within the soil. In aquaponics, the nutrients are already abundant in the water that the plants absorb. This allows for the plants to spend less energy seeking out nutrients and more energy on growing!
Lettuces and leafy greens like kale, watercress, arugula, and swiss chard can go from sprout to harvest-ready in just a few weeks.
They also offer a prolonged harvest because leaves can be picked off the plants throughout their growth cycle instead of one massive harvest all at once! If you decide to grow leafy greens in your aquaponic system, be ready for a huge abundance of crisp, green goodness!
House Plants For Aquaponics
Many people choose edible plants for their aquaponic system to use in the kitchen. But, houseplants can thrive in aquaponic systems as well!
Growing houseplants in an aquaponic system help to purify the air of indoor spaces and can offer a beautiful aesthetic. Some popular houseplant choices include Spider Plants, Peace Lilies, Philodendron, Snake Plants, Marigolds, Lavender, and Chamomile, to name a few!
If you have personal plant favorites, odds are they can grow in an aquaponic system with the right conditions.
Choosing the right plants to add to your aquaponic system is a fun decision to make! Although there are many factors to consider, the most important factor is choosing the plants that you are most excited to grow and take care of. Whether your goal is to grow tomatoes, leafy greens, or snake plants – there’s no wrong decision if it’s one that you’re excited about!
You can learn about plants that filter water here.
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About the author:
Sofi is a passionate writer who studied communications and environmental studies at Eckerd College. You can get in touch with Sofi at https://slenzi4.wixsite.com/website.