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Watering Houseplants With Science

Watering Houseplants With Science
Posted by Christopher Moran from chris@osmogro.c on 2005-07-12 03:46:00

Hi, Posting from Scotland, UK. I have kept an african violet for 4.5 years during which time it has had 10 consecutive flowerings and is >12inches in diameter.

At the begining I was a complete novice and had never owned an african violet. However, my first plant has been described as "almost show standard" by the UK Saintpaulia and Houseplant Society. I believe that the key to my success is the way in which I have watered the plant.

I am a polymer technologist with a speciality in developing hydrogels for medical, biomaterials, membrane and sensor applications. I developed a plant watering system that uses hydrogel membrane technology to deliver water by osmosis or diffusion to plants. Water passes from an external reservoir through a special hydrogel membrane into a plant container. The water entering the container dissolves nutrients and salts from the soil or growing media. This soil solution causes an osmotic potential difference to develop across the membrane separating the reservoir and the plant container. As the plant draws water through its root system, more water is drawn through the membrane from the reservoir. All I need to do is make sure that the reservoir is kept filled with water. I add commercial nutrient products every few weeks to the plant container.

Over the last 4.5 years I have recorded how often I refill my african violet's reservoir. Generally 300ml of water can last 20 - 30 days which I think is really surprising for a plant of >12 inches diameter. However, just before flowering the plant uses 300ml of water every 4 or 5 days. I can now predict when the plant is about to flower based on the increase in water uptake in the weeks before flowering. I have also noticed that the plant has 2 flowerings per season and that these flowerings are relatively close together with a longer period between seasons. I re-pot about once every 18 months.

I am amazed at the success that I have had and the plant is now like a member of the family which I would sorely miss if it died. I know that enthusiasts will have kept plants for much longer and will water their plants expertly through experience and knowledge. I'm delighted with what I have achieved but also fascinated at how little water the plant seems to need once it established itself on my watering system. I know that most people will not want to record every time they water their plants but this kind of data may be useful to some. I feel my plant is performing better because it is effectively controlling its own watering and is not subject to a feast and famine regime. I now have several african violets around the house and many other common houseplants like begonias, chrysanthemums, poinsettia, gerbera, orchids etc, etc - all watered using my membrane osmosis watering system. Chris


  • Hydrogel
    Posted by Wee Yin Chuun ( from Borneo on 2007-01-08 01:27:00

    I have a question about hydrogel. I am trying out growing Jewel orchid using hydrogel and hydroponic solution. The problem is that when I add commercial fertilizer, the hydrogel shrink and become small eventhough I add more water. The hydrogel seems to be not absorbing water anymore.
    • Hydrogel
      Posted by Chris Moran from Scotland on 2007-01-08 03:30:00

      I don't suppose that you know what kind of hydrogel you are using? Hydrogel is a generic term for materials that absorb and swell with water. They can be formed from many very different types of chemical components. It sounds like the salts in your hydroponic solution are interacting with the hydrogel in a way that reduces the ability to absorb the aqueous solution. Possibly a salting out effect? I would need more information to give a more definitive answer.



      • Hydrogel
        Posted by Wee Yin Chuun ( from Borneo on 2007-01-10 03:10:00

        I am using Magic Soil (crystalline gel) an acrylate resin copolymer - that's all I know. I got it from Singapore Horti Flora.

        And I am using normal hydroponic solution for vegetables.

        Singapore horti Flora

        • Hydrogel
          Posted by Chris Moran from Scotland on 2007-01-11 06:49:00

          Again there are many types of acrylate based hydrogels. However, my guess is that the ions in the hydroponic solution are interacting with the molecular structure of the hydrogel and causing a collapse of the swollen network. There are a number of reasons why this might happen but depend on the type of ions in the solution, pH, temperature and the chemical composition of the gel.



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