Although similar to hydroponics, aquaponics varies significantly in that they sustain three living components: plants, bacteria, and fish. The bacteria and fish work together to grow the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish and bacteria so that they can thrive. But which low-light plants should you get for aquaponics?
Here are 10 of the best low-light plants for your aquaponic system:
- Spider plants
- Water Hyacinth
- Snake Plant
- Chinese Evergreen
Let’s take a deeper look at these low-light plants to discover how they might fit in with your aquaponic system.
1. Spider Plants
Spider plants are tough. They can tolerate a lot of negligence and abuse, making them the primary choice for many newbie gardeners and horticulturalists.
They’re also known scientifically as Chlorophytum comosum. They earned the colloquial name of “spider plant” due to the spider-like extensions or spiderettes that dangle down from the mother plant like spider webs.
The spiderettes often begin as small white flowers and then burst into full bloom within a few days to weeks. Other than brown tips, these plants don’t have many health concerns and are one of the easiest to take care of. They’re also a great way of growing more mother plants.
Not only are spider plants great low-light alternatives to other plant types, but they also don’t require a lot of water. In fact, they tend to develop root rot if you overwater them.
Spider Plants in Aquaponics
A simple and easy plant to grow, spider plants make great hanging houseplants for both green thumbs and first-time gardeners. But, what if you want to use these in your aquaponic system?
The interconnectedness of an aquaponics system allows the gardener to see multiple life systems flourish. However, it can be complicated to meet each living component’s requirements. Maintaining the proper climate, fertilizer, space, and water requirements will make all the difference in the growth and development of plants.
Spider plants are ideal for growth in an aquaponics system. They’re highly adaptive and easy to care for, making them an excellent option.
Plus, the water in an aquaponic system is rich in nutrients essential to the growth and health of these plants, and they don’t need a ton of direct sunlight.
The downside of spider plants is that they don’t produce fruits or vegetables. This is quite unfortunate for people who develop an aquaponic system for that reason.
However, unlike its family members, cauliflower is unique in that it doesn’t have the chlorophyll that gives it the green pigment that most other vegetable plants have. But that doesn’t make cauliflower any less healthy or delicious. Filled with vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients, cauliflower comes in several different types.
Cauliflower is a heavy plant, though. So, if you want to use it in your aquaponics system, you must use media beds with a good flood and drain system. Media beds can support the weight of the vegetable and encourage the plant to expand its roots, leading to higher yields.
Cauliflower does need about 4–6 hours of sunlight, which is considerably less than other fruit and vegetable plants, like tomatoes, for example, which require about 10–14 hours of light a day.
Cauliflower can curdle if over-exposed to light, making it optimal for aquaponic systems that don’t need lots of light. In addition, you can help protect the central flower of the plant by covering it with leaves to prevent overexposure.
To produce these highly nutritious veggies, you’ll need to meet their high demand for nutrients. Cauliflower plants prefer systems with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and cooler temperatures. Trout are excellent fish to raise alongside a cauliflower plant in your aquaponic system as they also thrive in cooler temperatures and produce great nutrients for vegetables.
Cauliflowers are a lot like spider plants in that they’re generally low-maintenance. They don’t need a lot of light, yet they produce nutrient-rich food. However, they’re sensitive to frost and over-exposure to sunlight. Be sure to check the air and water temperature consistently if you decide to grow cauliflower in your aquaponic system.
Cabbage is an excellent addition to various meals. This green gem contains many different minerals and nutrients. Thus, many gardeners and aquaponic system creators love growing this plant to always have some on hand.
Cabbage makes for a healthy digestive system because, like cauliflower, it’s rich in fiber. Beyond its health benefits, cabbage is also simple and easy to grow in an aquaponic system due to its low-maintenance nature.
Cabbage’s official botanical term is Brassica oleracea var. capitata. It belongs to the mustard family and has similar nutrient-rich qualities to its close relatives, like collard greens and turnip greens.
Like cauliflower, cabbage has various types that you could grow in your aquaponic system.
Properly caring for cabbage in your aquaponic system could reward you with tasty stir fry, salads, and other yummy, gut-healthy treats.
Cabbage loves cooler temps, so be sure to check the air and water temperatures frequently to ensure optimal growing conditions. It’s best to keep the temperatures between 60 and 65 °F (15.6 and 18.3 °C) to prevent bolting or becoming bitter from extremely low temperatures.
Because cabbage prefers colder temperatures, it’s also a great vegetable to grow alongside trout who prefer cooler waters.
Cabbage can also do well with lots of light but only needs about 6 hours a day, making it a relatively low-light alternative to other vegetables. However, if you want to give it more sun, your cabbage will love it. Cabbage and cauliflower are very similar in needs, so they would be great to grow together in your aquaponic system.
Even though they’re low maintenance, cabbage can develop a few common ailments that you should be on the lookout for if you decide to grow it in your aquaponic system. One of the most common issues is split heads. Head splits happen for several different reasons, but mostly when growing conditions are inconsistent.
Make sure you check the temperature, water quality, and pH levels when growing cabbage to ensure that the growing conditions remain even and don’t wait to harvest.
Lavender is a perennial herb with medicinal and cosmetic uses, recognized for its iconic calming scent. This herb is elegant and beautiful in nearly any garden and has various types that you can try in your aquaponic system.
Lavender is known in the botanical world as Lavandula, and it comes from the mint family. With almost 50 different species, it has been used for ages for a wide array of medical needs and cosmetics.
Lavender is a plant that loves a dry environment, which can present some unique challenges to successfully growing it. It also requires consistent airflow and stable drainage to prevent it from getting a common ailment known as root rot. It doesn’t need plenty of water to survive and will likely die from waterlogged conditions.
Lavender doesn’t need too much light, but it does like a minimum of 6 hours, similar to cabbage. Because it’s a plant that likes dry conditions, if you’re able to give it more sun, it won’t harm it.
You also want to make sure that you maintain the proper pH level when growing lavender in your aquaponic system.
Lavender can be difficult to grow traditionally in soil, and it doesn’t require heavy nutrient supplements. For these reasons, it tends to do well in aquaponic systems, and because it doesn’t need many nutrients, it also doesn’t require lots of fish.
Without soil, the lavender roots can get the nutrients it needs quicker. If the water pH, temperature, and airflow are consistent, water stress is unlikely to become an issue the way it can be in traditional soil-based gardening.
5. Water Hyacinth
Eichhornia crassipes, more commonly known as water hyacinth, is an invasive species excellent for an aquaponic system.
As implied by its name, this plant is an aquatic species excellent at purifying water in an aquaponic system, proving to be a highly beneficial addition for the fish in your system. It can also work well against algae, which can become an issue in aquaponic systems, so this plant can actively work against that pest and benefit the other living organisms in your system.
Water hyacinth, however, is a well-known invasive species. Water hyacinth grows quickly and aggressively, but you can control the growth. Raft systems are usually used in larger, commercial-grade systems because they produce much higher yields than traditional ones.
The raft system allows nutrient-rich water to circulate through long canals underneath floating rafts where the plants are grown.
Water hyacinth enjoys warmer temperatures and about 6 hours of sunlight a day. So if the aggressive growth doesn’t bother you, this plant could be perfect for your low-light aquaponic system.
While some people view these plants as weeds, they’re not entirely without use. The flowers that water hyacinths produce are vibrantly beautiful, and each stalk can have nearly 20 flowers. If you find that they are growing too rapidly or are invading the rest of your system, you can always trim the plant down to keep it under control.
6. Snake Plant
Dracaena trifasciata, colloquially called the snake plant, is native to tropical areas of the world. It’s commonly known to be one of the most, if not the most, tolerant and resilient plants. They can be neglected for weeks and still survive, remaining fresh and healthy-looking.
Snake plants have a distinctive look with long leafy stems that are often striped in various shades of greens, resembling the skin of a snake. They’re some of the lowest-light and water-intake plants that typically have few to no insect problems.
Some research also suggests that they can purify the air around them by removing toxins, especially formaldehyde and benzene.
Snake plants are some of the lowest maintenance and most tolerable botanicals around. For this reason, they make great options for an aquaponics system. Plus, it’s highly adaptable to low-light environments. If that’s what you’re looking for, this plant will work great.
The only downside to snake plants is that they don’t produce flowers or food, so this may not be what you’re looking for, depending on your goal.
7. Chinese Evergreen
Chinese evergreen is another plant that can make anyone look like they have a green thumb. Like most other plants on this list, it’s extremely low maintenance and doesn’t require strenuous light, temperature, or humidity conditions.
Chinese evergreens are native to tropical areas, but they can grow in feeble light, dry climates, and with little water. Because of these qualities, it’s a highly sought-after gem in the botanical world, especially for novice gardeners.
If you’re just beginning your aquaponic system, this plant may be precisely what you’re looking for. It prefers warmer temperatures and slightly humid conditions. However, this plant is flexible and will adjust as necessary to survive.
Given the proper conditions in your aquaponic system, these plants require very little from you to grow. In addition, since overwatering these plants can lead to root rot, they tend to flourish in aquaponic systems.
Also, in spring and summer, these plants will sometimes produce flowers, which can be trimmed to develop more plants. You can also cut the flowers before seed production to populate new plants.
Some common problems Chinese evergreens sometimes run into are insect issues. They’re affected by spider mites and mealybugs, but with routine checks, pest problems in Chinese evergreens are usually preventable.
The mint plant (Mentha) is a great low-light option for aquaponic systems, and it comes with some unique qualities, characteristics, and benefits.
Mint is an excellent addition to several dishes, including salads, cocktails, and various desserts. Plus, it has an enticing aromatic effect, similar to lavender. Mint is also a perennial herb, and it often blooms tiny flowers in purple, pink, and white shades.
Like many other plants on this list, mint comes in various types, but regardless of the species, this plant has many uses other than garnishing our favorite meals. For centuries, mint has been used as garden accents, air and breath fresheners, and homeopathic medicinal remedies.
Mint plants are native vegetation to stream banks and typically grow well with minimal maintenance and can flourish both in the sun or shade. However, similar to the water hyacinth plant, it’s an aggressive grower and may need to be trimmed back from time to time to keep it from invading other areas of your growing system.
Growing herbal plants like mint in your aquaponic system is beneficial for those who like to have culinary and medicinally functional herbs on hand. In addition, mint thrives in small areas, so it’s usually a go-to plant for many aquaponic systems.
The controlled conditions of a healthy aquaponic system are highly beneficial for the mint plant compared to traditional soil-based gardening methods. Even if you have a moderate or more minor-sized aquaponic system, mint can be well cultivated without much maintenance.
While mint does have some particular care necessities, it is also adaptive and flexible for light needs. It loves full-sun exposure, but it can also flourish in darker areas.
Although mint is a low-maintenance, low-light herb, it does struggle with pests and is prone to fungal growth. However, proper care and prevention methods can help you keep these common ailments at bay.
Eruca vesicaria, more commonly known as arugula, is a fast-growing annual leafy veggie and a member of the mustard family. It’s a great addition to flavorful salads and is recognizable for its distinctive peppery taste.
Arugula is a commonly selected plant because of its nutritional value. As a result, growers tend to have arugula on hand as a staple item. Aquaponic gardeners are usually no exception. This plant is also a go-to choice for many horticulturists, thanks to its durability and flexibility. It can withstand considerable abuse and neglect, including light frost.
Arugula plants tend to be smaller and more compact than other leafy greens, and their low-light needs and ability to grow in partial shade make them an excellent option for low-light-loving aquaponic systems. On average, arugula generally only needs about 5 hours of light to thrive.
Like its cousin cabbage, arugula grows reasonably quickly and is native to warmer regions of the world, particularly warmer areas of Europe and the Mediterranean.
Despite this, it’s worth noting that this plant prefers a cooler temperature, about 45 to 65 °F (7 to 18 °C). Also, if this plant gets too much sun, it tends to become bitter, so offering it some shade will help it flourish.
In addition to light, gardeners should also pay attention to other growth requirements.
Arugula tends to do better in pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0. Therefore, maintaining this pH balance will help your plant retain the necessary nutrients it needs to grow from the water in your system.
It’s also essential to give your arugula plant some space to grow. If the plant is crowded, it may not produce as high a yield.
Note: It’s also advised that you don’t grow arugula alongside its mustard family relatives, like cabbage, because this tends to propagate pest issues.
Spinacia oleracea (spinach) is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. Because of the abundance of health benefits, many gardeners prefer to have this plant on hand, making it a popular choice for traditional and aquaponic growers.
Spinach does love the sun, as most leafy greens do, but it can grow well in partial sun as well. It needs, on average, about 4 to 8 hours of sun a day.
Spinach is a superstar vegetable rich in vital bodily nutrients, including vitamins, iron, and calcium. More than just its tasty nutritiousness, though, spinach has also been linked to fortifying immune systems and heart health.
Here’s everything that spinach does for your body:
- Keeps you hydrated: Getting most of your water intake from fruits and veggies ensures you stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Great for people with anemia: If you had low iron levels as a kid, your doctor probably recommended that you eat a lot of spinach. This is because spinach is a low-calorie food that contains lots of iron.
- Helps weight loss: Like other green veggies, spinach is packed with nutrients like fiber that can keep you full, yet it has very few calories on its own.
- Reduces the risk of cancer: Spinach gets its vibrant green color from chlorophyll, a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight against free radicals that cause cancer and aging.
Growing spinach in your aquaponic system not only comes with health benefits; it’s also simple and easy to do. Spinach tends to be pretty low-maintenance and fruitful. While it loves the sun, it’s vital to protect this plant from too much of it as it’ll have a bolting effect.
Bolting not only affects the way spinach tastes but can also impact your yield capacity. Spinach belongs to the same family as beetroot and grows year-round. Spinach tends to have a more compact root system, so you don’t need deep growing beds or substantial space between each plant.
When you’re ready to harvest spinach, it’s essential to do so before it’s fully mature. This will increase the flavor of the vegetable. Start with the outermost leaves once they’re large enough to eat when you harvest them.