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Growing Plants Without Soil

Plants need soil to grow, right? Well, not really. Soil does fulfill some of a plant's basic needs, such as anchoring plant roots and acting as a source of water and nutrients for healthy growth. However, technically speaking, plants don't need soil as long as something else can fill these needs.

Soil is a composed of weathered rock (which creates the supportive structure) and decomposing organic matter (which provides most of the nutrients).

Scientists have now developed gel-like substances that provide the root support and nutrients needed by plants to grow. These gels were originally introduced to help with tissue culture. Tissue culture is a form of plant reproduction in which pieces of plants (as small as one cell) are placed in a special, gel-like growing media full of all the necessary nutrients and hormones needed for growth. In the right environment, the cells will multiply and differentiate to form a new plant. It is a way to produce a lot of new plants from one or even part of one parent plant. Eventually the plant's roots and top growth will become large enough that it is not practical to use gel to provide the necessary support or nutrients, and at that point, the plants are transplanted into soil.

Try using gel as a growing medium for plants in your classroom. Create a classroom experiment by planting the same seeds in both the gel and in traditional, soil-filled pots. Keep daily journals noting the date of seed germination and comparing the growth rate of the new seedlings. Take measurements on plant height, width, and leaf size. Also note any differences in plant color. Chart your results and make conclusions about the two types of media. Did you see any differences in plant growth? Which plants grew faster? Which plants looked healthiest? You can purchase a Soilless Growing Kit from the Gardening with Kids Store .
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