By Matt Gibson & Erin Marissa Russell
If you want to get a head start and save money on early spring bloomers, try forcing flower bulbs to bloom and grow as indoor plants in a vase or jar of water. With some flowering plants, you can also try regrowing flowers from a stem cutting in a vase or glass jar of water as well. Once you know how to take a proper cutting, and how to force bulbs to flower, there are a dizzying amount of plants that you can grow in water.
You only need a few key ingredients to do it. These include a sunny windowsill, fresh water, some glass containers, jars, bowls, glasses, or vases, and either some well cut and trimmed stem cuttings or some big healthy bulbs, and you are well on your way to regrowing lots of different plants and flowers cheaply and easily, without having to step outside of your home.
Not all spring bulbs are good picks for forcing blooms in water, but there are a few bulbs that are especially easy to grow in water, such as, crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and many more. The best aquatic flowers that can be grown from cuttings and rooted in water include begonias, geraniums, impatiens, to name a few. Growing bulbs is easy, but you need to use large, healthy bulbs and provide the necessary amount of cooling time for many bulbs to germinate. Growing from cuttings in water is easy as well, but you must replace the water regularly, and with some flowers, you will need to move them into soil once their roots have developed.
Bulbs can survive in just water because they are actually a self-sufficient storage system for the carbs they need for new growth and the cells required for root formation. Flower bulbs that are forced to bloom in water will not live for extended periods, but they will develop blooms and leaves indoors that will look pretty amazing for a couple of weeks. If you acquired bulbs that were not pre-chilled, you will need to expose them to cold temperatures to encourage the embryo within them to come out of dormancy and go into bloom. It is a common practice to place your bulbs in a paper sack and store them in the refrigerator for about three months, though some flowers need less chilling time than others.
To take the perfect cutting the first step is to cut a three to five inch leafy stem segment that is actively growing. Make the cut right at a leaf node attachment to the stem and remove all of the bottom leaves from the cutting. Some plants require the base end of the stem be dipped into a rooting hormone, while others can be placed right into water, but either way, using a rooting hormone will increase your success rate, so it is a good idea to go ahead and use a rooting hormone, whether required or not, to improve your chances of success with rooting your cuttings.
Sometimes a flowering plant grown in water will get floppy and start to droop, which is not what anyone is going for. The best way to combat this is to use a tall container that supports the stalk. Most cuttings are just submerged into the water source, whereas bulbs are sometimes fully submerged and sometimes suspended over a few inches of water so that only the roots are submerged in water. You can also fill a tall vase with pebbles or beads, and sit the plant into the vase so that the roots grow into the pebbles, but the bulb and the above ground portion of the plant are kept dry, which will extend the period in which the flowers are producing and looking their best.
No matter which method you use, keep an eye on the water level and refill the container anytime it gets too low. Bulbs that were properly chilled prior to being placed in water, as well as cuttings which were properly cut and trimmed and grown in water typically begin producing blooms within two to three weeks. The following 16 flowers are our top picks for the easiest plants to grow in water indoors:
African Violet (Saintpaulia)
African violets are well-suited for being grown in water indoors, though they are easily affected by extreme water temperature fluctuations, especially water that is overly cold. Instead, African violets prefer lukewarm water temperatures.
Though cats may get an upset stomach if they ingest parts of your African Violets, they are not considered toxic plants, and your feline friends won’t experience any severe symptoms, other than an irritated stomach, and are likely to vomit up the flowers entirely.
There are a wide range of African violet varieties in many different sizes ranging from miniature flowers that grow no higher than eight inches tall, and regular-sized flowers that can grow up to 16 inches. However, African violets grown in water will stay smaller than their soil bound relatives. It takes longer for flowers to develop in water, so be patient and keep the water fresh and the container in a good sunny location. Try to keep the leaves dry as well, so that the plant is not more susceptible to disease.
African violets are propagated by leaf cuttings instead of the more common stem cutting propagation method. Snip off a healthy leaf with about one inch of the petiole under the leaves and keep it outside for about an hour before placing it into its water source. This will speed up the root development of your African violets. Change the water every day or two and keep an eye on the petiole for roots. Once roots form, give them a longer life by providing a container of potting soil, or a spot in your flower garden. African violets only begin producing blooms when they have fully matured. Find out more in our article How to Grow and Care for African Violets.
Arrowhead (Syngonium podophyllum)
This rainforest native climbing plant is a great choice for living walls and hanging baskets. Arrowhead’s leaves will be attractive all year long, but it’s white, orchid-like blooms are truly stunning. Plant divided arrowhead plants or stem cuttings into water and place them in full sunlight to encourage full root development. Once the roots are strong, it is up to you whether you want to leave it in a water source, or move it into a soil-filled container. Find out more in our article How to Grow Arrowhead Vine.
Amaryllis bulbs can be forced to grow in water, and will perform especially well in a jar that is specifically made for bulb forcing in water. Specialty jars like these will improve your bulb’s chances of thriving, though they are not required for Amaryllis bulbs to have success in water. All that is required are amaryllis bulbs, a vase or jar, some gravel, pebbles, or beads to put in the bottom of the jar or vase, and freshwater. Even gravel, pebbles, or beads, are not required for all Amaryllis varieties, but the added support will help your amaryllis plants look healthier.
Add the small stones or beads to the bottom of the container and put enough water to fill the vase or jar to between two-thirds and three-fourths full. Trim any brown roots off that feel crispy or dry to the touch. Keep only the fleshy, white roots, and place the bulb into the container with the root side down, gently pushing the roots into the pebble-like substance, with the top third of the bulb exposed. Raise the water level to just below the bulb. If the water level is too high on the bulb, your amaryllis will likely develop bulb rot.
Keep your amaryllis in water on a sunny windowsill and keep the temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F. Warm weather exposure will encourage the bulb to sprout. Change out the water in your jar or vase every two to three days. It will take about a month before you start to see buds developing. Rotate the vase occasionally and keep an eye on the plant’s bloomage. When the flowers fade, transplant the flower to soil if you plan to keep it around, or toss it in the compost if you don’t want to keep it. Amaryllis grown in a soil-based medium will grow better than those grown in water, but will take much longer to develop flowers in a soil setting.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Amaryllis Flowers (Hippeastrum).
With over 1,800 different plant species that comprise the Begonia genus, it’s no surprise that there are a lot of variations between the various flowers in the Begonia plant family. Begonias come in many forms and are a great addition to container water gardens. There is a lot of variation in begonia bloom colors, and leaf colors, as well as bloom sizes and leaf sizes.
Begonia plants vary in plant size as well, and even plant types. Some are Wax Begonias which are especially hardy shade-loving annuals that got their name for their signature waxy sheen that appears on their foliage. Wax Begonias are short, compact bedding flowers that grow no higher than one foot. They also enjoy containers and hanging baskets. Wax begonias are one of the few species which prefers being in water for making roots. In fact, begonias have a higher chance of living when planted in water jars or vases than they do when planted in soil.
There are also the larger plants- Tuberous Begonia varieties that sprout bright, attention-grabbing flowers and grow well in aquatic environments. Cane Begonia, which is popular as a houseplant, but can perform well outdoors in tropical areas. Canes are not fond of being grown in water, and thier blooms are small, and are often overlooked in favor of the plant’s exotic-looking foliage. There are small, ground cover Cane Begonia plants that grow to no more than a foot high, as well as larger Cane Begonia plants that can grow up to five feet tall when grown outdoors.Cane begonia sizes also vary due to the growing conditions provided for them.
There are more species of Rhizomatous Begonias available to choose from than any other type of begonia flower. Rhizomatous Begonias are typically grown as houseplants, and ornamental foliage plants, many do not produce blooms, but they all have attractive foliage. Their sizes range from just four or five inches, to three feet tall and wide.
Last but not least, is Rex Begonias, which like the Rhizomatous Begonias, grow on Rhizomes, Rex Begonias, like Tuberous Begonias, and Wax begonia, typicaly root very well in water. Rex Begonias, also similarly to Rhizomatous Begonias, grows from its rhizomes. Rex Begonias prefer to be grown in partial shade.
So, while Wax, Rex, and Tuberous begonias tend to grow well from stem cuttings placed in water, Rhizomatous Begonias and Cane Begonias are best planted into soil instead of water. Find out more in our article How to Grow Begonia Flowers.
Growing Crocus in water is all about getting the timing down correctly and starting with only the best looking bulbs you can find. Looki for firm, plump looking bulbs with no lesions or soft areas. You need as many bulbs as it takes to fill the mouth of your vase. For crocuses, you will want to select a vase with a narrow neck. Put your crocus bulbs in a brown paper sack with a handful of moistened sphagnum moss. Chill the crocus bulbs in the fridge for 10 to 15 weeks at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, in the warmest spot in your fridge.
After 15 weeks pass, remove the bumps from the paper bag and prepare their vase. Using a low glass vase with a narrow neck, fill to within a couple of inches with small decorative pebbles. You can use natural pebbles or glass pebbles, whichever you prefer. Then fill with water so that the water rises just above the pebbles. Pack the bulbs into the vase with their pointed sides pointed upwards and their flat bottom sides just touching the water. Give the vase a cool but sunny location and allow two weeks for sprouts to emerge. For more information, you can read the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox profile on crocus.
You can grow daffodils in containers of water and they will even bloom when grown indoors this way. To start with, you will need a container that measures four or six inches deep and does not have drainage holes in it. Fill this container to its halfway point with small rocks or pebbles. Then place your daffodil bulb on top of these pebbles, where the tips of the bulb should be even with the top lip of the container. Add some more pebbles around the bulb’s edges to hold it securely in the pot, but make sure to leave the top two thirds of the bulb free from the pebbles and exposed to the air and sunshine.
Fill the container up to right below where the pebbles end with lukewarm tap water. The water should not touch the daffodil bulb, however, or it may develop rot. Find a dark, cool location to place your daffodil bulb that does not reach freezing temperatures. Check on it every day or two, adding more water as needed but still not filling the container past the line of the pebbles and not allowing the water to touch the bulb.
In a few weeks, check to see whether roots have developed by pulling gently on the bulb to feel whether there is resistance from the roots. Once roots have developed, for best results bulbs should be moved to a warmer spot where they can get some sunshine. Leave the daffodil in this warm spot, and leaves will begin to sprout in about a week. Within three to five weeks, you should also notice that the daffodil is beginning to produce flowers.
Once your daffodil is producing flowers, you can help extend the life of the blossoms by moving the plant to a spot that still gets some sunshine but where the light is indirect. Throughout this process you should keep adding water to the container as needed, always only filling it to the line of the pebbles to avoid rotting the bulb. Once blooming is finished, you can compost the bulb as it will normally not produce any more flowers. Find out more in our article How to Plant Daffodils.
You may be familiar with geraniums already, as they are common in the outdoor flower garden and as houseplants. But you may not know that it’s possible to grow geraniums in a container of water as well.
Start with a cutting from a healthy plant that is around six inches long. Strip off all the leaves except for those at the top of the cutting. Then add the cutting to a container of lukewarm tap water, and find a bright spot for it to grow.
However, be careful not to set your cutting up in direct sunshine, or it can be harmed by heat damage or sunscald. Make sure that none of the remaining leaves of the geranium are below the surface of the water, as leaves in the water can cause rot and mildew. Find out more in our article How to Grow Geraniums.
Chill your hyacinth bulbs in the fridge for eight to ten weeks before planting. After the chilling period, put your bulbs into water as soon as possible. If you want to enjoy your hyacinths all through the winter, plant new bulbs every few weeks in the fall.
Using a clear or colored glass bulb vase, fill with pebbles and place the hyacinth bulbs in the neck of the vase so that just the root side is touching the water. Then, place your vase in a cool, dark location, like a garage, or outdoor shed. In six weeks, you should notice a mass of roots and a green shoot starting to develop.
Once the shoot grows to two or three inches high, move the vase into a bright, warm location and watch its glorious transformation as it blooms. Turn the vase slowly, gradually, and regularly, so your hyacinth stems will stay straight. Put a few hyacinths together on the windowsill to increase the power of their fragrance in your home.Find out more in our article How to Grow Hyacinth Flowers.
Impatiens, also called Busy Lizzie, are a standard of many outdoor gardens because they’re so easy to grow and add lots of beautiful color. They also grow well indoors in a glass of water to beautify your home.
To grow impatiens indoors in water, start by taking a stem cutting from a healthy impatiens plant, including the node where the leaves meet the stem. Take the leaves off of this cutting at the bottom, leaving a few leaves intact at the top of the cutting. Then add the stem cutting to a container with an inch or two of lukewarm tap water inside. Do not let the water go so high up the cutting that it submerges the leaves.
Impatiens like to grow in shade or partial sunlight. You’ll need to find your impatiens cutting a place in your home where it will get at least some partial sun but will not be in the path of direct sunlight, which can damage the plant through heat stress or sunscald. Every two days, provide your impatiens plant with fresh water from the tap. In a few weeks, you will see roots begin to appear. After the plant has grown a bit of a healthy root system, it will grow and even blossom in the container of water. Find out more in our article How to Grow Impatiens Flowers.
Irises can be grown in water, but they need a little help from an underwater substrate. Plant your iris seeds in a little plastic planter or into an aquarium or fish tank that has a layer of aquatic soil that is loam heavy, so that the seeds are completely submerged. Iris seeds should begin to emerge after about three to four weeks. Once the young plants appear to be established, move them into larger pond plant baskets. Find out more in our article How to Grow and Divide Bearded Iris.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Many gardeners who collect houseplants will already be familiar with the stately peace lily for its dark green ridged lance-shaped leaves and pale white teardrop-shaped blooms in springtime. Peace lilies are low-maintenance plants that do not require much sunlight and bloom for a two- to three-month period. Best of all, you can grow them in a container of water if you like.
To transplant a peace lily into a container of water, begin by removing the plant from its pot. Use lukewarm water to clean the plant’s root system and remove all the soil and mud that is clinging to it. Then use clean, sterilized gardening shears to cut away any damaged or dead roots. Then clip away all the peace lily’s leaves except for four or five, which will stay attached to the plant.
Place the cleaned and trimmed peace lily back into its new container, which should be one without any drainage holes. Add lukewarm tap water to the container—enough to cover the root system of the peace lily plant. Once a week, pour out any water that remains in the container, and replace it with a fresh batch of lukewarm tap water. Find out more in our article How to Grow Peace Lily Plants.
Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)
The sacred lotus flower grows in the wild in Australia and Asia in the shallow, murky areas of ponds and bodies of water where it receives direct sunlight. It blossoms in the summer in colors such as pink and white, and it uses air inside of the plant’s long stem to stay afloat on top of the surface of the water. You can grow sacred lotus plants indoors in a container of soil and water as well, if you have a large enough container. The sacred lotus plant needs plenty of space to grow its deep root system.
It is possible to grow sacred lotus plants from seeds, but most gardeners start with rhizomes instead because the process does not take as long. Add the rhizome to a container, and cover it with some potting soil, but leave the pointed tip of the rhizome above the surface of the soil. Then add enough lukewarm tap water to go two inches past the top of the soil. You may need to use gravel to weigh down the rhizomes and keep them from floating.
In just a couple of days, you will notice that leaves have started to grow. Continue adding room-temperature tap water to the container where you are growing your sacred lotus flowers to keep the water level two inches higher than the soil. It will only take a few more days for the sacred lotus flower to develop enough to start blooming. Find out more at the Missouri Botanical Garden profile for sacred lotus.
To grow tulips indoors in a container of water, you must start by simulating the cold of winter so the bulbs will wake up afterward to begin their blooming cycle. Start by chilling the bulbs in a paper bag for 12 to 15 weeks in your refrigerator. You can also buy pre-chilled bulbs, which allows you to skip this step. You will also need some gravel, rocks, or glass beads to use in the container with the tulip bulb.
Add two inches of gravel, rocks, or glass beads to the vase or container you plan to use for your tulip plant. The container should not have drainage holes. Forcing vases made to use with bulbs are curved to hold the bulb above the level of the water so its roots alone are submerged, and these vases are good for preventing rot when growing bulbs indoors. However, you can also use a plain glass vase. Place the tulip bulb on top of the two inches of gravel, rocks, or glass beads, with the pointed part of the bulb facing up. Fill the vase with water up to one inch from the base of the bulb.
Then find a cool, dark spot where you can keep your tulip plant for four to six weeks. During this time, change the water in the tulip’s container each week for fresh tap water at room temperature, and examine the plant for signs that it has started to sprout. Once you see that the plant has begun to sprout, move it to a spot where it will get plenty of sunshine, such as a bright windowsill. Continue adding fresh water as needed to keep it at the level of one inch below the base of the bulb. Once the tulip creates and opens a bud, the blossoms should last for up to a week or more. Leave the faded foliage attached to the plant, and it will help to nourish another blossoming cycle. After two blooming periods, you should remove the withered plant and the bulb and discard them, as they will not bloom again. Find out more in our article How to Grow Tulips.
The many different types of plants that can be regrown in a vase or a dish of water is impressively long and the best part is you can save money on your gardening hobby without compromising plant quality or quantity. There are plants of all types that can be propagated at no cost, as long as you have a friendly acquaintance with someone who has an established plant. With just a few good cuttings, a little water and couple of good containers, you can propagate an indoor garden full of plants right on your windowsills. Now that you are familiar with the flowers that can be grown in water, check out the another part of the series, 17 Herbs You Can Grow In Water.