By Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell
Instead of throwing out your fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, or tossing them into the compost heap, keep them in the kitchen and place them into jars of water to regrow your favorite produce right on your windowsill. For most plants, all you need to do is replace the water regularly and don’t let the water level get too low while they grow.
Propagating these common garden plants is so simple, most people can do it without needing to acquire any additional materials other than what they already have in their kitchen cabinets. All you need for each plant is a container, fresh running water, and a few cuttings, and you are on a fast track to stocking your crisper drawers with loads of fresh homegrown produce.
The best containers for the task are those with narrow mouths, as they need to hold the cuttings upright instead of allowing them to fall into the water. If you only have wide-mouthed jars available, just use a nylon netting to cover up the tops of the containers so that you can slip the cuttings through the holes in the nylon, which will hold them in place and keep them from sliding down and becoming submerged in the water.
Opaque-colored jars or glasses are better than clear containers, as they lower the risk of algae formation occurring in the water source. However, as long as you are changing the water every two to three days, you won’t have to worry about any algae issues.
There are many different plants that can be regrown using this method. Some can remain in the water source indefinitely and can even be harvested right from your windowsill, while others will need to be moved into a container with potting soil or transplanted into your garden beds in order to grow tall and develop to their full potential. The following vegetables can all be regrown from cuttings using only a container of water and a sunny space on your windowsill. Special care instructions for those that require additional attention are listed here as well.
Avocado Tree (Persea americana)
Avocados are a tasty treat that many people don’t mind spending a little extra money on in order to keep them in the kitchen. The creamy green guacamole ingredient is an important part of many diets due to its large number of healthy fats which are hard to find in other foods. You can’t grow an avocado tree on your windowsill, obviously, but you can get a head start on growing them in a glass of water, which can save you a bit of money on forking over the dough for a mini-tree at your local nursery. Instead of throwing your avocado pits into the wastebasket, save some money on those pricey treats by starting off the reproduction of avocados in a cup or jar of water.
Remove the pit from the avocado fruit and clean off any excess meaty bits from around the pit by washing it thoroughly. Do not remove the pit using a knife, as it damages the outer coating of the pit in the process, and depending on how much force you use, could damage the seed core as well. Once you have the pit removed and cleaned, poke toothpicks into the center of the pit and use them as scaffolding in order to hang the pit in a dish of water so that it is about halfway submerged. Once a mini tree emerges from your pit that is around seven to eight inches in height, move it into soil. Find out more in our article How to Grow an Avocado Tree.
Beet Greens (Beta vulgaris)
Beets depend on the nutrients that they draw up from the soil in order to produce beets, or the root vegetable for which they are commonly cultivated to produce. However, beetroot plants can be grown in water in order to harvest the nutritious leafy greens that sprout up from the topside of the plant.
To grow beets in water to harvest their greens, buy some beets that still have their tops attached and trim off the greens. Use the greens in a salad or cook them in a meal, but don’t toss them out, as they are incredibly good for you, and you’re about to start growing them yourself, so you should definitely get used to using them in the kitchen. After your beet tops are trimmed up, just chop off the top third portion of each beet you plan to use to grow your greens, leaving at least a half an inch of beet roots attached.
Put your beet tops into a shallow container with an inch or two of water at the bottom, with their cut sides facing down. Then place the container in a sunny location in your home, such as a bright windowsill. Refreshen the water every two to three days. In just one week, you should have enough beet greens to cut your first harvest. If you don’t take too many greens off of each plant and continue to change out the water every one to two days, these plants will continue to sprout new greens for multiple harvests. Find out more in our article How to Grow Beets.
Bok Choy (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis L.)
Bok choy (and really, any kind of leafy green vegetable) is an excellent candidate for growing in water. In fact, you can grow whole new bunches of bok choy using the portion you’d probably be throwing out with your kitchen scraps anyway. So whether you’re already growing a crop of bok choy or you just pick some up in the produce aisle every once in a while, you can get more bang for your buck by planting the bottom end of the cabbage in water and growing some more.
Make sure to leave around two inches of leafy growth attached to the root end of the bok choy when you slice it off for cooking, as this portion will be the “cutting” you’ll use to propagate the new bok choy plant. Fill a shallow bowl with an inch of water from the tap that’s room temperature—not too hot and not too cold. Then add your bok choy cutting, placing it in the container with the root/core side submerged.
You’ll need to find a spot for your new bok choy plant that gets some sunshine, but not too much. Bok choy performs best in partial shade, so dappled sunlight or a windowsill that is sunny in the morning and shady in the afternoon will work. If you don’t have anything like that available, you can place the plant inside a room that is lit with a sunny window, but in a spot where the plant is out of the path of the rays of sunshine. Then the bok choy can get some indirect sunlight. Not only will it encourage your plant to perform better if you avoid full sun, but you’ll also be avoiding the risk of the direct sunlight harming your plant with heat damage or sunscald. In a location like this, your bok choy should start sending out new shoots from the center of the cutting within just a few days. You will need to replace the water in the container with more lukewarm tap water every two days to keep your plant healthy.
Be advised that you can grow bok choy over and over in a dish of water using the same root end/cutting pretty much endlessly, as long as you trim off the root end with at least two inches of leaves attached when you get ready to harvest. However, without the nutrition that soil provides, your cabbage will quickly become tasteless, even though it may look exactly as healthy as ever. For this reason, it’s best to just grow one new head from each cutting you take. Find out more in our article How to Grow Bok Choy (Brassica rapa subsp. chinensis L.).
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)
To regrow cabbage heads using only water and a shallow bowl, follow these easy instructions:
First, cut the bottom portion of the cabbage heads off and place them in a shallow dish with a little bit of water in the bottom. Refresh the water in the dish every two to three days. Cut back the leaves regularly as they develop. Do not let the leaves grow too large, or they will become bitter tasting.
You can even grow new cabbage leaves using just one single leftover cabbage leaf using water and a shallow container. When you get to the end of a cabbage head, save a leaf and put it into your shallow dish with water just as you would with the bottom of a cabbage head. You should notice new leaves beginning to form in just a few days. These can be harvested anytime you like, just leave at least one cabbage leaf in the bottom for new growth to form from. Find out more in our article How to Grow Cabbage: An Introduction.
Carrot Greens (Daucus carota subsp. sativus)
Many people—even those of us who grow carrots—don’t realize that the greens are not only edible but delicious. And whenever you use a carrot in the kitchen, if you save the top portion of the carrot and make your trimming a few inches long, you can grow new greens in water from this cutting. Just add some lukewarm tap water to a shallow container, place the carrot inside with the cut end down, and watch the leaves begin to grow. You’ll need to keep the container on a sunny windowsill and give it fresh water every two days to keep it healthy.
Carrot tops can be added to green salads, whirled into pesto, juiced, or chopped into dishes such as tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, potato salad, or pasta salad. Find out more in our article How to Grow Carrots Successfully inYour Garden.
Celery (Apium graveolens)
You can grow celery in a container of water with a cutting as small as what you’d trim off a head of celery if you used it in a recipe. You only need two or three inches from the bottom of the head of celery, with the core attached, to start growing a new celery plant. Then put an inch or two of room-temperature water from the tap into a shallow bowl, and place the celery cutting in the bowl with the core pointed down. When you keep your celery plant in a sunny windowsill and change its water daily, you’ll see leaves start to grow from the center of the cutting.
If you want to eat the leaves of your celery plant or are growing it for ornamental purposes, you can keep the celery in the container of water. Reader who have never had the pleasure of eating celery leaves before can refer to our Q&A article What Can I Do With Leftover Celery Leaves? to learn how to store the leaves and how to use them in the kitchen. You’ll also find links there to 18 recipes that feature the tasty but underutilized leaves of the celery plant. If you want it to develop new stalks and reach maturity, you should transplant it to a container with some soil or move it to the outdoor garden when it starts to sprout leaves, covering the cut portion completely and leaving only the new growth above the surface of the soil. Find out more in our article How to Grow Celery Plants.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
If you’ve never eaten fennel thus far in your life, you are really missing out. This pretty plant with its feathery, fernlike foliage and pale white stalk has a delicate, complex flavor, and it can be substituted in recipes where you’d normally use veggies like celery, onion, cabbage or bok choy. Although you’ll often hear fennel described as tasting like anise (which tastes like black licorice), this isn’t really accurate except for those pretty green fronds. Although the foliage of fennel looks practically identical to dill, that portion of the plant really does have an anise-like flavor.
The stalk, however, has a savory flavor similar to a very mild onion, with an element that’s almost nutty—and the result is a nuanced, unique flavor that’s all its own. The taste of fennel seeds is a combination of the flavors from the stalk and the greenery. You may be familiar with the taste of fennel seed from Italian sausage. You may also have sampled the flavor of fennel seed in a seeded bread or crackers. In short, you simply must try this often forgotten vegetable, because there’s lots to love about it. If you’re at a loss for how to prepare fennel, we’ve curated a list of 59 Ways to Use Fennel You Grow in Your Garden that should help provide you with some inspiration and a general idea of how to work with this delicious veggie.
(Just be sure not to plant fennel too close to plants it doesn’t get along with, and there are many. Fennel produces a substance that is detrimental to many other garden plants. It will also cross-pollinate with dill plants, which has negative consequences for the flavor of both plants.
Fennel should generally be kept well clear of any plant that produces something edible. However, some gardeners recommend not banishing fennel to a spot too far away from the vegetable garden, as it works excellently as a sacrificial/trap plant for many insects that can plague your garden plants. The fact that fennel doesn’t play well with other food-bearing plants is one very good reason to grow your fennel in a container at the very least, if not indoors in a dish of water on your windowsill, which we’ll explain how to do now.
When you trim the end off a fennel stalk that you’ve grown or purchased at the store, leave about an inch or two of the talk attached to the root end you remove before cooling. Save this little piece, as it’s the cutting you’ll use to grow a new fennel plant. Just find a shallow bowl and put an inch or two of room temperature tap water inside, then add your fennel cutting with the root end down and the cut side up. Place this in a window where it will get some sun (fennel will grow in full sun, part shade, or even three quarters shade). Make sure to provide your new fennel plant with fresh tap water every other day, and it will grow a whole new plant for you. Find out more in our article How to Grow Fennel.
Green Onions (Allium cepa)
Green onions are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a container of water. In fact, many people save the scraps they trim from storebought green onions, then grow them in a container of water to get more tasty green onions for their money. As long as the root portion of the green onion is intact, the cutting will start to send up new shoots of greens when placed in a small bowl or cup with some room-temperature tap water.
You can trim the greens from your original cutting several times, but eventually green onions that grow in water instead of soil will begin to lose their flavor. At this point, you can either start over with a new cutting or move your green onions into a container with soil or into the outdoor garden. The nutrients in the soil will revitalize them and bring their oniony kick back. (If you do move your green onions to soil, it’s a good idea to trim the existing greens back at this point to get rid of any flavorless portion.)
Green onions do best in a transparent container, and you’ll need to provide them with fresh water every two days or so. Find out more in our article How to Grow Green Onions. You may also be interested in our article Onions Versus Green Onions, Scallions, Spring Onions, or Bunching Onions, Explained.
Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum)
It’s just as simple to grow leeks in a container of water as it is to grow green onions (which is logical—leeks and green onions are cousins, after all). Begin by taking a two- or three-inch cutting from a leek from the bottom end of the stalk, with the roots still attached. Then just place the cutting with the root side down in a shallow glass filled completely with water. (Note that the water really does need to fill the container for leeks, unlike most veggies on this list, which grow best with just an inch or two of water.) The leek will grow when placed in a sunny windowsill and given fresh water every two days. Find out more in our article How to Grow Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum).
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Lettuce is quite easy to grow in a container of water, and it’s so nice to have a little stash of lettuce in the kitchen so you can quickly clip a few leaves to top a sandwich, shred for tacos, or prepare as a small salad. Start by removing the bottom of a head of fresh, healthy lettuce, leaving the core attached to one to three inches of leaves. Fill a shallow bowl with half an inch of lukewarm water from the tap, and place your lettuce cutting in the bowl with its core facing downward.
When you place the container in a spot where it will get direct sunlight and provide your lettuce plant with fresh water every two days, you’ll see new leaves start to sprout from the center of the cut portion. Unless you cut them as baby lettuce, the leaves will be able to grow quite large in this simple setup. Find out more in our article Growing Lettuce in the Home Garden. To learn about certain varieties or growing techniques, you can also check out Grow Lettuce Year Round, Can Lettuce Be Grown in Pots?, Can I Grow Lettuce Indoors?, How to Grow Butter Lettuce, or Growing Romaine Lettuce: A Gardener’s Checklist.
Napa Cabbage / Chinese Cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis)
Sometimes you’ll hear people refer to bok choy as Chinese cabbage, but the most common cabbage people mean when they refer to Chinese cabbage is the Napa variety. Bok choy has about a billion more monikers, too, and it is a type of cabbage that has a history in Chinese cuisine, so it’s not surprising that this mixup occurs. Just to make things crystal clear, Napa cabbage is a pale green cabbage that’s taller than it is wide, and its leaves have a delicate ruffly or crinkled texture, whereas bok choy is grown in baby or standard sizes and has dark green leaves with a thick pale white stalk that looks similar to celery.
Napa Cabbage, like regular cabbage, can be regrown using the bottom portion of the heads, or even using a single leaf. Just cut off the bottom third of the head and place it cut side down into a shallow dish with a small amount of water at the bottom of the dish, or put the single leaf into the water (this will produce slower and reap smaller harvests, but is just as easy to do). Refresh the water regularly, every day is best, but every two or three days will suffice. After about one week, you should see new growth forming. In just under two weeks, you should be able to take your first harvest. For more information, you can read the University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences profile on Napa cabbage [https://cals.arizona.edu/fps/sites/cals.arizona.edu.fps/files/cotw/Napa_Cabbage.pdf].
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Most greens can be grown in a container of water, and spinach is no different. You will need spinach seeds and rockwool cubes to start your spinach off right, unless you have access to a spinach plant that has its roots attached that you can simply pop into a container instead of starting from seed. Add your spinach seeds to the rockwool cubes (just a few per cube), and add the cubes to a small container along with an inch of room-temperature tap water. When roots begin to develop, move the plants to the container where they will grow. The container must be sized so the growing spinach plant can sit upright in it with its roots submerged in the water below.
Next, move the container to the spot where you’ll keep your spinach plant. It will need around six hours of sunshine per day at minimum, but be careful not to place it where it will have the afternoon sun beating down on it. Dappled or partial shade is best and will help prevent harm to your growing spinach plant due to heat damage or sunscald. Take care of your new spinach plant by changing the water in the container every two days so it stays well hydrated and does not develop mold or mildew. Find out more in our article How to Grow Spinach and How to Grow Spinach in a Container.
Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas)
When you grow a sweet potato in water, you won’t be getting a crop of more potatoes—but what you’ll get instead is a pretty trailing vine that makes an excellent low maintenance houseplant. And unlike with the sweet potato vines grown as ornamental pants, since you’re starting with an edible potato, the leaves of your sweet potato vine will be edible as well.
To be completely clear, we reiterate: you cannot eat the leaves of sweet potato vines unless you are absolutely certain that the vine was grown from edible sweet potatoes. Ornamental sweet potato vines, like those commonly sold at nurseries and garden centers, are not edible. The leaves of ornamental sweet potato vines are not toxic to humans as they are to dogs and cats, but they are also not good to eat because they have been bred for looks, which has left them with a bitter flavor. But the leaves of sweet potato vines grown from edible sweet potatoes are quite a delicacy and are high in antioxidants.
The young, tender leaves are best eaten raw so you can enjoy their freshness, but leaves from more established vines can be prepared in a pleasing way if they are cooked. Leaves that are somewhat mature can be stir-fried or simply sauteed with a bit of garlic and olive oil. If the vine you wish to eat the foliage of is truly mature, use them in a recipe that calls for spinach and has some rich flavor to it, such as creamed spinach or palak paneer. If you decide to eat the leaves of your sweet potato vine, make sure that you only harvest around 20 or 30 percent of the foliage on the plant so that it can remain healthy, and do not harvest any leaves for the first 80 days of the vine’s growth.
To grow a sweet potato vine in water, start with a raw sweet potato, and cut it in half. Stick three or four toothpicks into the potato near its cut edge, leaving half the toothpick sticking out of the potato. Space the toothpicks out around the bottom of the potato so that they will safely balance the potato on the rim of the container you plan to use. You will need to place the toothpicks far enough above the cut edge that when the potato is balanced this way, around half of it is submerged in the water inside the container.
Find a spot for your sweet potato vine to grow that gets bright light, like a sunny windowsill. Every two days or so, replace the water in the container with fresh, lukewarm tap water. Find out more in our articles How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Your Garden and How to Grow Sweet Potato Slips in Containers.
Tons of different plants can be regrown using only a jar of water and a sunny windowsill, as is evidenced by the vegetables featured in this article. Now that your produce garden is in good shape, it’s time to look at what other types of plants can be grown using similar techniques. This propagation method is so easy, it’s hard to even think about growing plants from seed again, especially when you consider how many different plants can be regrown this way. If only there were more windowsills to dedicate to the task.