The History of Hydroponics

Hydroponic growing is a method of growing plants without soil, and has been around for centuries (think rice paddy fields).

The water does the work of carrying the essential nutrients to the plant roots. These nutrients are more easily accessed by the plant when dissolved in the water surrounding the roots, than having to absorb them through soil.

Defining Hydroponics

Hydro= "Water"

Ponics = "to Labor"

hydroponics [ hahy-druh-pon-iks ]

The cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions rathe than soil; soilless growth of plants.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Ancient Mesopotamia Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Circa 600 B.C.

It is said that King Nebuchadnezzar II had what is known today as The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built to please his wife, Amyitis who missed the greenery and mountains of her homeland.

·       The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, thrived from the Euphrates River. Instead of actually hanging, the gardens were built partially on ziggurats, and the water was elaborately channeled from the river to irrigate the plants.

Aztec Floating Gardens "Chinampas"

Circa the Sixteenth Century

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics have been found that depict plants growing along the Nile River without the use of soil. The Aztecs of Central America took this concept further by building floating rafts, called Chinampas from stalks and thick roots from reeds and rushes.

The roots grew down through the Chinampas allowing a constant intake of nutrients and root oxygenation. This method supported abundant crops of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and even trees.

Aztecs of Central America Hydroponic Growing- Chinampa
Aztec Chinampas of Central America Hydroponic Growing


Jan Baptist Van Helmont

Jan Van Helmont shows in the earliest recorded scientific approach that plants obtain substances from water.


Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley discovers that plants placed in a chamber having high carbon dioxide levels will gradually absorb it and give off oxygen.


Jean Ingen HouszJean Ingen-Housz takes Priestly's work further and demonstrates that plants placed in a chamber with high carbon dioxide levels replaced the gas with oxygen within several hours if the chamber was placed in sunlight.

19th Century

Various scientists and experiments determine the composition of plants and what substances are required for growth. It is found that soil itself, was not directly beneficial to plant except for support and holding the required elements needed for growth.


Julius Von SachsJulius von Sachs, a Botany professor at the University of Wurzburg publishes the first standard formula for a nutrient solution that can be dissolved in water in which plants could be successfully grown. 

This technique was called "Nutriculture"


Dr. VA TiedjensThe greenhouse industry expresses interest in the use of soilless growing.

Dr. Tiedjens, an early pioneer of soilless growing, found that plants can only absorb fertilizer nutrients when in a liquid form- leading to the creation of liquid fertilizers.



Dr. William Frederick Gericke

A plant nutritionist working at the University of California, Berkeley, believed plants could be grown in a solution of water and nutrients without soil. Despite his colleagues' doubts, Gericke grew 25 foot high tomato vines using only water and nutrients.

In 1929, Gericke converted his "nutriculture" laboratory into a commercial crop production operation. He originally wanted to call it "aquaculture", but learned that term was already being utilized for aquatic organisms. Therefore, Gericke coined the term "Hydroponics".

Advantages of Hydroponic Growing

  • Eliminates soil-borne diseases
  • Higher crop yields from smaller areas
  • No pesticides needed
  • Year-round harvesting
  • Use 95% less water than traditional methods of growing

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