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7 indoor garden kits and systems to consider this year

A fresh garden doesn’t need to be outside to thrive — we asked experts how you can use an indoor garden system to grow herbs indoors.
The Farmstand and the Single Family Garden
When it comes to an indoor garden, experts recommend considering the time and space you’re willing to dedicate to it before investing in one.The Farmstand ; Courtesy Rise Gardens

It may come as a surprise, but for those of us who don’t have the luxury of a sunny backyard space, an indoor garden is just as likely to flourish as one outdoors. Whether you’re looking for a way to combat rising grocery prices or hoping to add fresh veggies and herbs to your meals without those last-minute supermarket runs, an indoor gardening system can serve as a (fairly) painless and straightforward way of exercising your newfound green thumb. Many even come with all of your indoor gardening essentials already built in, including grow lights, self-watering containers and auto-timers.

SKIP AHEAD Indoor gardening kits to shop | How to start an indoor garden | Additional indoor gardening tips

To help beginners get started with indoor gardening, we consulted experts, like Julie Bawden-Davis (a master gardener behind the site Healthy Houseplants and author of “Indoor Gardening the Organic Way”), Jenn Frymark (chief greenhouse officer of indoor farming company Gotham Greens), Angela Judd (founder of the blog Growing in the Garden and author of “How to Grow Your Own Food”) and Ashlie Thomas (a professional gardener who runs the blog The Mocha Gardener and author of “How to Become a Gardener"). Through talking to them, we learned about the basics of indoor gardening and what to look for when choosing the right gardening system for your space.

Indoor gardening systems to shop in 2022

Based on our experts’ guidance, all of the following indoor garden kits offer one of the four main growing systems that can support indoor gardens, including hydroponics, soil-based and aeroponics. Most of the indoor garden kits below either come with built-in grow lights — which our experts strongly recommend — or you can purchase them separately through the brand.

AeroGarden Harvest Elite

“In my opinion, AeroGarden has the most advanced technology, especially in the area of lighting and hydroponics,” said Bawden-Davis. The Harvest Elite can grow fresh herbs and vegetables during any season without direct sunlight and features a stainless steel base that uses a hydroponic growing system. It also has high-performance LED grow lights that automatically turn on and off via a customizable timer, according to the brand. The 6-pod herb seed kit includes thyme, curly parsley, dill, Thai basil, Genovese basil and mint, and the digital display automatically reminds you when to add water and plant food to help the herbs grow.

Click & Grow The Smart Garden 9

This soil-based system features an automatic watering planter and built-in LED grow lights. You can choose from more than 60 pre-seeded biodegradable plant pods (or use your own seeds) and insert them into the planter. You then add water into the tank — which the brand says holds enough of it for up to a month — and use the water float indicator to monitor the overall water level over time. It comes with nine complimentary plant pods: three mini tomatoes, three green lettuce and three basil pods. If you’re hoping for a more app-savvy gardening system, the brand released The Smart Garden 9 PRO, which allows for app-controlled grow lights and schedule.

Rise Gardens Personal Rise Garden

This hydroponic garden by Rise Gardens can serve as both an indoor gardening system and a stylish piece of furniture. It can accommodate up to 12 plants, and the included starter kit comes with eight seed pods to grow various veggies and herbs and a one month supply of nutrient pods. The garden also boasts a smart self-watering system that gives your plants the appropriate amount of water and nutrients over time — you’ll just need to add nutrients and water to your garden once a week, according to the brand. The water levels, LED grow light settings and nutrient levels can all be monitored and controlled either through voice commands using Amazon Alexa or through the Rise Gardens mobile app, which the brand says can also help you keep track of your plants, know what to do at each stage of growth and remind you when to add water and nutrients. The brand also offers larger indoor gardening systems, including a Double Family Garden and a Triple Family Garden.

Lettuce Grow The Farmstand

Lettuce Grow’s The Farmstand is a self-watering and self-fertilizing hydroponic system, which grows plants in nutrient enriched water without soil both indoors with the separate purchase of the brand’s LED grow light rings and outdoors. “This is a comprehensive yet user-friendly gardening kit that pretty much comes with everything that you need to grow certain vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even fruits,” Thomas said, adding that it can be great for smaller spaces. It’s made with recyclable packaging and available in five different sizes ranging from a 12-plant capacity to a 36-plant system, and you can grow a variety of non-GMO vegetables, herbs and leafy greens of your choice. The brand suggests adding water to the reservoir, adding nutrients and testing and adjusting the pH levels once a week. The Farmstand can also be assembled in under ten minutes and takes about five minutes to maintain each week, according to the brand.

Tower Garden FLEX Growing System

Frymark recommended this system from Tower Garden, which she said is used by some of their community partners, including the Green Bronx Machine. The Tower Garden FLEX is a vertical garden that uses an aeroponics system, in which a low-wattage, submersible pump pushes a nutrient solution to the top through a small central pipe and the solution drips down the inside of the Tower Garden, evenly pouring over the exposed plant roots, according to the brand. It includes a seed starting kit that includes a germination tray, net pots, a variety of starter seeds and rockwool cubes, which is used as a medium instead of soil and planted in your indoor Tower Garden about three weeks after germination, according to the brand. This system doesn’t include LED grow lights, so they need to be bought separately for indoor use.

Gardyn Home Kit 2.0

The Gardyn Home Kit 2.0 is an AI-powered hydroponic garden system that allows you to grow 30 plants along two tall columns spanning a compact 2 square feet of space with no dirt or mess, according to the brand. It offers an energy-efficient water pump and LED grow lights to help your veggies bloom, and it also lets you control the light and water schedule of your system, order new plants and more via the Gardyn app.

Gardener's Supply Company Stack-n-Grow Lights System

Bawden-Davis recommended flexible modular systems like the Stack-n-Grow Lights System from Gardener’s Supply Company, which offers a soil-based system (meaning you have to pot your own plants) that include grow lights to help your garden flourish. “They’re not hydroponic, but their lighting is great. I use their systems to grow various plants in soil and to grow seedlings to then grow in my indoor garden,” she said. The Stack-n-Grow unit can accommodate up to 72 seedlings in 3-and-a-half square feet of space, according to the brand. It includes two full-spectrum fluorescent grow lights that are each 3 feet long, along with high-tech reflectors that can direct light down onto your plants to create less glare. You can also easily raise the lights as your plants grow and place add-on units on top of each other to create more growing space, the brand says.

Why start an indoor garden?

The concept of indoor gardening is pretty straightforward: It’s the act of growing produce inside your home. Maybe you choose to garden indoors because of a lack of outdoor space, cold temperatures or maybe you just want to pick fresh food from the comfort of your kitchen. Gardening can be relaxing and rewarding, sure, but it can also provide you with fresh produce all year — giving you total control over a plant’s environment and its growth — as well as limit the number of supermarket runs you’re making weekly.

If that’s not enough to convince you of the indoor garden, we spoke to Bawden-Davis, who sung more of its praises. “Very little nutrients are lost from harvest to consumption in the indoor garden,” she said. Bawden-Davis also praised the experience: “There is nothing quite so exciting as seeing seeds start to sprout in your indoor garden and then watching them grow into plants and produce edible fruits and veggies.” Most indoor gardening kits come with built-in full-spectrum LED lights that simulate daylight and lead to plant growth, she added.

While many types of produce can be grown indoors — from fruits and vegetables like cherry tomatoes, peppers and microgreens to fresh herbs like thyme, parsley and rosemary — experts told us the key factor is lighting. It can be difficult getting enough sunlight for plants to grow indoors; even if they have enough soil, many plants grow thin and weak without enough light, if they even grow at all. “Other factors, such as proper watering or fertilizing, can be more easily learned and manipulated, but without the correct amount and type of light, plants won’t thrive,” said Bawden-Davis, adding.

An indoor garden does have its limitations, of course. The biggest con is that “plant diversity may be limited due to the size of the kit and capacity in which they can grow,” Thomas said. Experts told us cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli and cabbage, which typically thrive in colder temperatures, don’t usually grow well indoors. “It is possible sometimes to grow such crops in a cooler area of the home such as a basement or screened-in porch where the temperatures are colder, [but] you want temperatures that average in the mid-50s to 60s,” Bawden-Davis noted. Larger vegetables that need a lot of room to grow, such as pumpkins and watermelon, are also difficult to grow indoors due to limited space.

How to shop for an indoor gardening system

Before starting your indoor gardening journey, experts recommend considering the various types of growing systems available, along with how much time and space you’re willing to dedicate to your garden.

What growing systems do indoor gardens use?

There are four main growing systems that indoor gardening kits use: soil-based, hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic systems.

  • Soil-based systems are similar to growing plants in an outdoor garden — they contain pods with traditional potting soil that you can plant seeds into and water periodically, according to Thomas.
  • Hydroponic systems supply a nutrient-rich solution to the plant’s roots instead of using soil. These typically use less water than soil-based systems because they don’t create runoff or water larger-than-necessary areas.
  • Aquaponic systems are similar to hydroponics, but use live fish in the water — the fish’s waste provides nutrients that helps plants grow, mimicking a natural ecosystem, Thomas explained.
  • Aeroponic systems are a more advanced form of hydroponics, using air or moist environments rather than soil. These systems spray nutrient-rich water on the plant’s exposed roots, while hydroponic systems require plants to grow in the solution.

What size should your indoor garden be?

The size of indoor gardening systems can vary, and experts recommended sticking with what fits your indoor space and expertise level. Most indoor gardening systems, including larger options, only take up a few square feet of space — rendering them compact enough for urban dwellers. Some seed pod gardens, like the AeroGarden Harvest, are typically compact, portable and lightweight — larger systems like Rise Gardens take up a lot more space but can grow more plants at once.

Judd suggested first-time gardeners should choose a small system to get started so they’re investing less to see whether “it is something that they’ll enjoy using” over time.

What types of plants can you grow?

Some indoor gardening systems are designed to only grow certain types of plants — a system for growing lettuce or microgreens may be different than one that grows tomatoes — and Frymark suggested doing research on what you can grow before investing in a system. Depending on your space and budget, you can use the pre-seeded pods that come with your kit or choose what you grow by purchasing pods separately.

“It’s important to establish your priorities and goals and how those match up with your living space and how much time and effort you want to put into maintaining your indoor garden,” she said.

Do you need grow lights?

Many, but not all, indoor gardening systems already include grow lights, but experts told us this can be an important feature to consider. “You definitely want to look out for kits that have grow lights built in or incorporated— LED full spectrum is best — [since] this will allow the plants to grow healthy foliage, flowers, and fruits,” said Thomas.

Frymark noted certain plants (like basil and chives) do well with lots of sunlight, while others will require lower light levels. If a sunny spot isn’t available in your home, LED grow lights mimic normal sunlight and allow the plants to photosynthesize. Some systems even include dimming features along with automatic timers that’ll keep the grow lights on for the majority of the day.

What is the maintenance level?

Some indoor gardening systems require higher maintenance than others, from frequent watering to regular soil upkeep. “If you’re just starting out, it’s best to keep it simple and relatively low maintenance and work your way up from there,” said Frymark.

If your system is soil-based, Judd recommended investing in a self-watering option that keeps the soil from drying out. A built-in irrigation system paired with LED light rings that operate on timers make for little maintenance during the week while still letting your garden thrive — it likely means a higher price point, too.

There are also many smart garden options that come with growing supplies like seeds and fertilizer, so you won’t have to run to the store for additional growing materials.

Additional indoor gardening tips

If it’s your first time setting up an indoor garden, experts shared some tips to keep it healthy and thriving year-round.

  • Keep your indoor garden close to the kitchen. “Placing it close to the kitchen and in an area that you pass by daily ensures that you'll always be observing and monitoring your plants to keep them growing strong,” suggested Lettuce Grow’s Jacob Pechenik.
  • Grow the smaller versions of plants when growing indoors. These can include cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and beets. “You’ll have more luck getting such fruit and veggies to grow to a good size for eating,” Bawden-Davis said.
  • Spend a minute or two each day paying attention to your plants. “It’s easy to catch problems when they’re small,” said Judd. “Even ‘no work’ indoor gardens benefit from a caring gardener.”
  • Make sure to match your produce with the conditions of your environment. If you don’t have grow lights but have a window that gets direct sunlight for many hours each day, choose a plant that would thrive in those conditions, like herbs or tomatoes. “Try to avoid plants that benefit from pollination and need to spend some time outdoors,” said Frymark, adding that, if you have outdoor space, you can put plants like daisies and lavender around your garden that will attract pollinators.
  • Keep an eye out for any indoor pests and use only organic means of controlling them. “The sooner you deal with a pest invasion, the better chance you’ll have of getting it under control,” Bawden-Davis noted. “Keep in mind that healthy plants tend to ward off pests and diseases, so make sure you’re watering only when the plants need it and provide proper lighting and regular fertilizing.”

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