Can You Grow Plants on a Boat? 4 Things To Know

Even though it might not be the most conventional setup, growing plants on a boat is an excellent way to add vibrancy and aesthetic appeal to your water vessel. However, as many of you rightfully assumed, growing plants on a boat needs skill and practice. 

You can grow plants on a boat provided you find the right varieties, comply with laws and regulations when traveling across state lines, consider the limited space, and choose the right types of pots.

The rest of this article will explore everything you need to know before growing plants on a boat. You’ll be able to develop strong, beautiful greenery regardless of the less-than-ideal circumstances that a vessel provides. 

Things To Know About Growing Plants on a Boat

Although being out in the open water provides some much-needed sunlight and fresh air, growing plants in an unconventional environment will undoubtedly come with its own set of challenges. 

Therefore, before attempting to practice your gardening skills on a boat, there are a few factors you’ll want to keep in mind to determine your chances of success. 

In this case, having previous gardening experience can be both a blessing and a curse. You’ll be able to benefit from your overall plant knowledge and your ability to understand how a species reacts to certain techniques. However, you’ll also need to unlearn most of the approaches you’re used to and master a new set of growing methods and strategies. 

There are four essential things to know before growing plants on a boat:

1. You Need To Find the Right Plant Varieties

This is arguably the most crucial factor you’ll want to consider when taking on the challenge of growing plants on a boat. Your ability to find a suitable species will be the line between failure and success. 

As you can imagine, being out on the open sea comes with a unique set of temperatures, humidity, and light conditions, which not all plants are accustomed to. Therefore, you’ll want to look for a species that thrives in a warmer climate, can withstand excessive humidity, and isn’t affected by the high salt content in the surrounding air

Herbs and greens, in general, are usually among the best species to grow on a boat. For example, many sailors grow mint, cilantro, basil, or oregano, which are not only able to thrive in this type of environment but can also be used to add flavor to any in-boat cooking. 

Greens such as spinach and lettuce can also be grown on a boat with little to no issues. However, spinach is undoubtedly the better alternative between the two, as it is far less demanding than its counterpart and more nutritious.

Therefore, if you’re someone who sails for extended periods, growing fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables on board is an excellent way to sustain your dietary needs without having to stock up too much, all while adding some aesthetic appeal to your vessel.

Also, I’ll further explain in one of the following sections that the limited space you have when growing plants on a boat is an essential factor to consider. Therefore, you’ll want to look for species that aren’t only adaptable to the unique environment but also plantable on smaller containers. This is why herbs are usually a go-to when it comes to growing greenery on a boat.  

The Best Plant Varieties To Grow on a Boat

Here is a list of the best plant varieties to grow on a boat: 

  • Herbs. Herbs such as oregano, rosemary, basil, mint, cilantro, thyme, sage, etc. are excellent to grow on a boat. They’re sturdy and can be potted in space-efficient containers. 
  • Plants like spinach, lettuce, celery, and green onions. These are especially well-suited to grow on a boat, as they can also be grown hydroponically. Meaning, you might not need soil to grow a resilient, healthy plant.
  • Orchids. Orchids are well-suited to a marine environment, even though they have a reputation for being temperamental and difficult to grow. Therefore, if you have time and patience, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give growing orchids on your boat a go.
  • Christmas cactus. Christmas cactus, like most cacti, is an excellent addition to any boat. Not only can it withstand high temperatures, but it can even thrive under them, despite its water requirements being extremely low. This species also grows a gorgeous pink flower, which will add a lot of charm to any vessel. 
  • Spider plants. Spider plants require little water and sunlight, making them perfect for boats. 
  • Aloe vera. Aloe is a beautiful plant that can be used for health and aesthetic purposes. And it fairs well in the sunlight and needs little water. 

2. You Should Be Careful of Laws and Regulations When Traveling Across State Lines

If you’re thinking about traveling across state lines while sailing, finding the right type of plant to grow on your boat becomes more challenging. 

Generally, when cruising from one state or country to another, gardening on board might not be the most practical hobby. This is because the live species you’re taking across borders with you might cause issues with customs agents admitting you to a new jurisdiction.

However, if you’re adamant about growing plants on your vessel, you’ll want to check local laws and regulations to make sure that the species you’re keeping doesn’t defy any policies that might be in place. 

You can learn more about the dos and don’ts of transporting house plants between states here: Can Houseplants Be Transported Between States?

The last thing you want is pouring time and effort into growing a plant only to have a customs agent confiscate and destroy it because it doesn’t abide by the local laws.

Checking the laws and regulations of every jurisdiction you plan on sailing to might not be the most exciting use of your time, but if you’re serious about growing plants in your vessel, it is a must. 

3. You Need To Consider the Limited Space

Temperature, light, and humidity conditions aren’t the only factors that can affect your ability to successfully grow plants on your boat. An important consideration to keep in mind is the limited space you’ll have to support and grow your greenery.

Most commercial boats are tightly-packed as is, especially if you’re someone looking to cruise for weeks, months, or even years at a time. However, as long as you choose a variety that can be kept in space-efficient pots, you might be able to create your own makeshift garden right inside your boat.

This is why, as mentioned earlier, herbs are an excellent choice for in-boat gardeners looking to enjoy their hobby while not taking up too much space.  

On the flip side, growing your own herbs, fruits, and veggies might end up saving you some space in the long run, especially if you’ve embarked on a long-term expedition. Given that you’ll have access to an ever growing supply of food sources, you won’t have to stock up as much on pre-packaged goods.

4. You Need To Find the Right Types of Pots

The types of pots you use to grow your plants also matter because just like the species you choose, not all materials are well-suited to a marine environment. For example, pots made out of clay or ceramic are far from ideal in this setting.

Not only can they be damaged by the excessive humidity levels, but they’re also too heavy and overall impractical to keep on a boat. Therefore, opting for a good-quality plastic or metal container is usually the best route of action.

Also, no matter what type of pot you choose, always make sure that it is equipped with several drainage holes at the bottom. Considering the excessive humidity levels your plants will have to deal with, you don’t want to contribute to any additional moisture in the soil as well. 

Final Thoughts

You can grow plants on a boat; however, the process requires planning and preparation. Before deciding on whether in-boat gardening is something you’re interested in, it’s essential to consider the species you’re planning to grow, local laws and regulations, the limited space you’ll have, and the type of pot you’re going to use.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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