In the beginning, the water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) was without form and void. It was small with long, green leaves but otherwise barely resembled a plant, as is often the case with specimens that are sold in 4 inch containers. I had purchased it as my experimental plant for the year. Incidentally, you should definitely get a few experimental plants every year, because sometimes these unexpected additions to the yard can be the most fun.
You can start water chestnuts from organically grown corms in much the same way that you would with ginger and turmeric. However, I purchased mine from Wellspring Gardens. When buying “water chestnuts” be careful not to get Trapa natans, because European water chestnuts are highly invasive and certainly not the droids you’re looking for. I personally try to avoid anything labeled highly invasive (Pay no attention to the peppermint behind the curtain) though it’s really the quiet ones, like strawberries, that end up giving me trouble.
Part One: Finding a Container
To grow Asian water chestnuts, you need; a plant, a deep container that holds water, a bag of potting soil, and enough water to fill up said container. I used really cheap potting soil because, according to what I’ve read on the subject, the soil basically serves to keep the plant in place. Now watch me have teensy little corms because I cut corners. It wouldn’t be the first time my penny pinching habits have gotten me into trouble.
I also don’t advise you to look at the bucket your spouse uses for mopping floors and go “Aha! That will work!” then proceed to abscond with it. That’s a scenario that could certainly end badly. Keep in mind that water chestnuts are like aquatic potatoes and the bigger the container, the more corms you will hopefully get. But any ordinary 5 gallon bucket will do. You may also want to take the precaution of getting a bucket that is made from food grade plastic because they’re less likely to leach all kinds of crazy chemicals into your food. Or so, I’ve heard.
Anyway, the process is easy: you fill the bucket with the dirt, tuck the water chestnut seedling in securely, and flood the entire thing. Be sure the seedling isn’t doing the backstroke on the top at this point. If it is, stick in back in the mud. You’ll need to keep the water topped up to about 4 inches above the mud but if the plant is smaller, a little less won’t hurt it. The water may develop a layer of nasty green scum that looks alarmingly like the contents in some refrigerators. This is typical. Just scoop the green goo off as it appears and eventually it will stop forming.
Part Two: Death to Mosquitoes
My main concern with the standing water was to keep from breeding mosquitoes because I’m their favorite summer delicacy unless I’m covered in DEET based bug spray. Some people say that keeping a goldfish or two in the container helps, but our last goldfish ended up resembling a koi. I also didn’t want to have to dispose of a dead goldfish or two in the likely event that the water evaporated. Plus, the neighborhood cats have an alarming tendency to ferret out any nip I’m growing and kill it dead. I don’t want to set up a sushi buffet for them as well.
With that said, the fish might work. I also have read about some types of moss that reduces the surface area of the water and thus inhibits mosquitoes but it’s not a product typically sold at Lowes, Ace, or Home Depot. The best bet seems to be Bt pellets, but I never applied them so I can’t speak for how well they actually work. The mosquitoes are probably plotting to carry me away in a giant bloodsucking cloud but if I stay inside until maybe December, they’ll be mostly dead by then. Except for that one that always gets in my room in January and proceeds to dive bomb me in the middle of the night.
Part Three: Grow Plants! Grow!
The bad news about global warming is that the weather gremlins decided we’re apparently getting a monsoon season. I feel like lodging a complaint with their customer services reps. “Hello, weather gremlins? Yes, I signed up for warmer temperatures but this whole rain every day thing is kind of spoiling my summer.” I somehow feel they’d be more accommodating than my electric company, though.
It hasn’t stopped raining in over a month. The bonus is that I haven’t had to water the water chestnuts, which is as redundant as it sounds. They’ve gone from a spindly little seedling to almost filling up the bucket I’m growing them in which is very exciting for a garden geek like myself. No bugs, no diseases, no problems. They’ve practically grown themselves.
Epilogue: Harvest Time Impending?
Most of the innumerable articles that I’ve read state that water chestnuts need a growing season of about 7 months. So while I would love to brag and show off the numerous corms my plant produced, the results won’t be in for awhile yet. The company I bought them from lists water chestnuts as a zone 9b+ plant and other websites mentioned that the lowest zone they can be grown outside is a zone 8. I certainly hope that’s true because during the winter my house morphs into a jungle complete with wild animals (I have several dogs of the subspecies greedius maximus).
So if you’re growing water chestnuts in a cooler zone, it’s probably a good idea to bring them indoors and leave them in a sunny spot until they turn brown and die back. Then they can be drained, harvested, peeled, and eaten. It’s said the water chestnuts can tolerate a tad of frost, but I personally wouldn’t risk it. Also: be sure to save some to plant next year!
13 thoughts on “Water Chestnuts at Home – Easy to Grow Tropical Plants”
Lovely article! I live in South Africa and am planning to grow them this summer. I was looking for comments from people who are already growing them and found your article. Thanks for remembering to take photos of the progress and sharing!
But only did you provide exactly what were curious about this plant, we laughed the entire time while reading it. Well written!
Love the article. A friend gave me a couple of water chestnuts from hers. She just grows them in water. I’ve got a sunny window, but it’s not big enough for a 5 gallon bucket. I’m going to look for something suitable. In the mean time, will they be OK in a smaller glass or something?
Great article. Really enjoyed all of the information. Just checked the Wellspring Gardens website. They do not carry the water chestnut seeds or starters any longer.
I agree with K.Michael, that saya it all.
I have a 30 gallon drum that is food grade.
I landed here because I decided to look up “how to grow water chestnuts”, and it’s a good article, Thank You for posting it! I also would like to offer some anti-mosquito information 🙂
Regarding mosquitoes, the three non-chemical things I’ve read are a drop of detergent, a drop or so of cooking oil, or an aquarium bubbler/”pump” that’s just large enough to agitate the surface of the water – a more decorative low-maintenance option is a solar-powered bird-bath fountain. The reasons these work are based upon the fact that the juvenile water-dwelling form needs to breathe air, and they have a tiny tube that just barely pokes up from the water surface, supporting them by the water’s surface tension (because the nymphs are small enough that their weight is less then is the strength of the hydrogen bonds of water).
Detergent works by significantly lowering water’s surface tension, so the accursed little buggers can’t be supported and therefore sink and drown.
A bit of cooking oil works because it forms a thin film on the surface, and again, the accursed little buggers can’t get their breathing tubes past that film, and they suffocate.
MY FAVORITE: A small fish-tank bubbler or small fountain works because the accursed little buggers can only be held up by surface tension in *still* water, and agitation prevents them from staying at the surface and, again, they drown. The nice thing about this last option is that the sound can be very soothing, and a solar option doesn’t even need to be plugged in. You can even set it up as a decorative feature by using a decorative waterproof container, covering and then sealing any drainage holes with clear silicone aquarium sealer (because it doesn’t contain anything that will leach out into the water). To cover, use something strong and flat, and not plastic since the silicone won’t form a good seal with plastics. For even easier maintenance for us not-so-lumber folks, this sort of mini-water-garden can be elevated on top of anything that will hold it – bricks, stones, logs, et cetera. Hide the support decoratively, or use it as a decorative element itself. Make it elegant, or rustic, or quirky, or architectural, or industrial – whatever your budget allows and your imagination visualizes =:-D
Thanks for the article. How many can you plant in a 5 gallon bucket? I ordered 10 bulbs, but received 20, so am wondering how many buckets I’ll need. Also, in regards to “food grade” buckets, is it safe to assume that pickle buckets from Firehouse restaurants are safe to use for this? Thanks.
I have had great success with BT pellets. I have lots of tropicals (and citrus) in pots that need to come inside for the winter. I have an automatic watering system set up and there is almost always a little water in the saucers around them. No sign of any mosquitoes breeding in any of them.
I seldome get to laugh when reading an article about growing plants, but this article just made my evening. Keep it up.
Love from Hans Morten in Norway.
Glad you enjoyed it Hans. Thanks for reading HomeFixated.com – all the way from Norway!
I grew some chestnuts this year – worked out well and easy. Here are my experiences. http://earthlychow.com/yes-you-can-grow-your-own-water-chestnuts-and-its-pretty-easy
Where did you buy your “seeds” to grow?
Thats the best info i have found yet, most saying you have to have a stream . Well I am streamless and cant wait to try this bucket idea .
I have grown a chestnut and it i sprouting up in my kitchen in pot I had to find a way to grow it and thank you for this one , cant wait to see
what happens I have a nice bucket and will re pot it in the morning, Wish me luck Kate