There are so many benefits to growing hydroponically. You can grow plants faster and larger than you could with traditional growing methods, and you can do it with less water. But if you’re considering an indoor hydroponic system, there’s a lot to think about. There’s no one-size-fits-all “best hydroponic system” out there. Each circumstance is going to be different. Here are some questions to consider before we get started:
- How big should the system be?
- Are you looking for a small countertop option? Or are you trying to grow large yields to chip away at your grocery budget?
- Do you care about aesthetics?
- Do you want your hydroponics system to look like an accent piece for your home? Or is practicality the most important aspect? Some of the more basic systems look like some buckets connected with tubes. Functional? Absolutely. Pretty? Not at all.
- Do you have natural light?
- Plants need light to grow, so you’ll either need to place your unit near a window, buy a grow light, or purchase a hydroponic system that includes a light.
- How much do you want to spend?
- The hydroponic systems listed below have a massive range of costs, starting under $100 and going up to $800 or more. Depending on your needs/wants, you may have to doll out some serious cash. That said, many of the larger systems have incredibly generous payment plans.
This article takes a closer look at the best hydroponic systems on the market, so you can make a decision that fits your life and your budget.
A hydroponic system allows you to grow plants without the need for soil. Most small hydroponic units only require running water and liquid plant food. It is, by far, one of the best (and low-maintenance) ways to grow plants in your home. For several of these systems, you won’t even need to worry about your plants when you leave town – the hydroponic system keeps them happy and healthy while you are away.
Let’s take a closer look at the top options for home hydroponic systems.
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AeroGarden products grow between three and 24 plants at a time, depending on the product. Many of the countertop systems can accommodate plants up to 24 inches tall. That leaves plenty of room to grow a towering garden full of fresh herbs and veggies or beautiful flowers.
Here’s a breakdown of all the AeroGarden models currently available:
For the smaller units, the setup time is minimal. You will only need to fill it with water and plant food before plugging it in. Next, you can add seed pods to grow whatever your heart desires. The seeds should germinate within a few days.
Here’s a quick setup guide to the AeroGarden Bounty, which is our favorite AeroGarden for beginners:
The AeroGarden Bounty offers several useful features to keep your garden growing steadily. First, the water bowl is one of the largest available for countertop models. Second, it provides a dimmer setting on the grow lights, which can be useful if you live in a small space. The Bounty also has a touchscreen control panel with high resolution to help you monitor your plants’ health easily and a water level indicator to notify you when it’s time to refill the basin. Plus, this model has Wi-Fi and Alexa compatibility to help you manage your garden system. The final feature worth noting is the Vacation Mode that will automatically care for your plants even if you aren’t home.
Here are the full reviews of the different AeroGarden systems:
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Gardyn is a more extensive hydroponic system that grows vertically. You can grow up to 30 large plants at a single time in just two square feet of space. There’s also an app-controlled grow light that gives you the ability to set timers on your LED lights. The app even has a smart assistant called Kelby that takes pictures of your plant growth and makes recommendations along the way.
This brand also has fantastic customer service, which is surprisingly uncommon in the home hydroponic system space.
Gardyn is one of the top indoor gardens on the market, but it’s not without flaws. It does seem to have slightly lower germination rates than AeroGarden, and the membership for additional seed pods (called yCubes) is a little pricey. Other than this, though, this system is a contender for top indoor garden units.
If you are looking for a larger hydroponic system with better yields, the iHarvest is an excellent option that’s relatively simple to set up. IGWorks, the parent company of iHarvest, claims that you can grow up to $1,000 of food a year on an iHarvest unit, which is enough to recoup this system’s cost.
This beautiful unit looks almost like an in-home art installation, and the setup allows you to grow plants all year round.
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The main downside of this system is the number of separate parts. Unlike some hydroponics systems, iHavest’s materials mostly come from an assortment of companies, meaning it’s a bit of a hodgepodge unit to put together. This is a small complaint, though, and it’s still a highly recommended indoor garden.
4. Click And Grow
Click and Grow is a reputable hydroponic brand with multiple tiers of products. They currently offer five different units that can grow between three and 51 seed pods at a time.
Here’s a quick breakdown of products:
The Click and Grow is unique in a few key ways – first, you don’t have to add nutrients to the water reservoir. The Smart Soil in the seed pods already has all the nutrients that your plants need to thrive. There are some pros and cons with this that we lay out in the full Click and Grow Review.
Another difference is that it doesn’t have a pump. It uses a wick system of hydroponics, which pulls water upward into the system without electricity. This means that it costs less than most units to run.
5. Veritable Smart Indoor Garden
Veritable is a smart garden designed in France that ships most places internationally. It offers seven types of indoor gardens that fit nicely on a countertop or a coffee table. Their units can grow between two and four plant pods (called Lingots) at a time.
If space is a significant issue in your home, buying a large hydroponic system might not be the right fit. That’s okay! You can still enjoy fresh veggies and herbs through a smaller hydroponic system. If you are looking for a smaller countertop model, the Veritable Smart Indoor Gardens are a good choice.
Although there aren’t as many bells and whistles on this system as some other models, it is an excellent hobbyist system for indoor gardeners working on hydroponics for the first time.
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6. Mr. Stacky Smart Farm
If space is tight in your home, then a vertical gardening system might be a good solution. With a Mr. Stacky Smart Farm, you can grow up to 20 plants with a relatively small footprint. The tradeoff is that you’ll need a space where height is not a problem.
You’ll also notice that this hydroponic system doesn’t come with a lighting system. Because of this, you’ll need to find a sunny spot for this unit. Luckily, the plants can rotate around the center pipe, so you can choose a corner spot and turn the plants regularly.
When you set up this system, you’ll need to fill each pot with coco peat and perlite. The initial setup can be somewhat messy, but once you plug in the system, you won’t have to worry about it anymore. The reservoir can hold up to 16 gallons of water and sustain your plants for two to three weeks at a time.
7. PowerGrow Deep Water Culture System
The PowerGrow Deep Water Culture System is heavy on the practical but a little light on the aesthetics – In other words, it’s not the prettiest indoor garden we’ve seen. But if you’re more interested in having a high-performing garden than an accent piece, it’s likely one of the best options for you!
The PowerGrow Deep Water Culture System with bubbler bucket kit (FDA-approved) is an excellent solution for low-cost hydroponics. It would be challenging to build this system for less than the $119 it costs on Amazon.
The system is essentially a modified 5-gallon bucket with a growing medium and water reservoir. The plants’ roots are able to extend 10 inches into the reservoir.
You’ll find that the system is easy to set up. However, it requires regular check-ins to ensure that it’s functioning properly. The unit should be placed in an area with adequate sunlight. Plus, the unwieldy nature of a five-gallon bucket may need to stay outside on a patio or terrace to avoid any major spills inside. If you are comfortable with the maintenance required, this could be a good solution for raising larger plants.
8. Water Garden Duo
The Water Garden Duo offers a fun twist on the traditional hydroponic system called aquaponics. In addition to growing plants, the system functions as a small fish tank. The balance between the two systems allows the fish to thrive in a clean tank and the plants to grow happily.
With this system, you’ll need to find a sunny place to support the health of your plants. Although it is a relatively low-tech system, you’ll find that keeping the water level right is easy due to the reservoirs’ transparent base.
Like Veritable or the other small systems, Water Garden Duo is more of a fun project than a method for cutting your grocery budget. You’ll need to purchase a much larger system – such as the larger AeroGarden units, the iHarvest, or the Gardyn – if you want large yields.
9. DreamJoy Hydroponic Grow Kit
If you want to grow an abundance of small plants, then the DreamJoy Hydroponic Grow Kit is a good choice. The utilitarian design offers eight pipes with holes for seedlings. You’ll be able to accommodate up to 72 plants. This is the biggest system we’re reviewing today and would likely work better on a home balcony or rooftop garden.
The setup for this system is somewhat involved. You’ll need to prepare a reservoir tank and connect it to this system and the pump. Plus, grow lights aren’t included, so you’ll likely need to bring your own or place this unit outside or in a greenhouse.
Although this system requires more hands-on maintenance, it provides a wonderful bounty. It’s also unbelievably affordable, costing only $110.99 at retail.
10. Big Smart Indoor Hydroponics Growing System
If you want to grow plants known to climb, such as peppers and tomatoes, the Big Smart Hydroponics Growing System could be a good fit. The system’s design is meant to support plants that grow and climb up to 60 inches tall with the help of a trellis.
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Overall, this is a simple but effective hydroponics system, but it requires careful maintenance and access to direct sunlight. If needed, you can use a grow light to give your plants the rays they need.
11. Miracle-Gro Twelve
The Miracle-Gro Twelve houses up to four seed pods. The system is designed to stay on the floor with a functional design that can double as a small accent table. At the base of the system, you’ll find a large reservoir that can hold two gallons of water and maintain your plants with minimal effort on your part.
After you add the water and plant the seeds, you’ll be able to control your garden from your smartphone via Bluetooth capabilities. You can monitor the water level and control it without getting your hands dirty.
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The end result is an endless supply of fresh herbs and veggies contained within a classic accent table.
13. Hydroponics WaterFarm Complete
The WaterFarm Complete system by General Hydroponics is a somewhat basic model. But it is a good choice for a beginner that wants to learn more about hydroponics. The system can support a large plant and hold up to 2 gallons of water. You’ll need to add more water as needed by checking the easily accessible tube.
The system needs to be placed in sunlight but will work well indoors. You might find that this takes longer to set up than some of the other options.
14. HTG Supply Bubble Brothers 6-Site DWC Hydroponic System
Like the PowerGrow Deep Water Culture System, this bucket system isn’t the prettiest, but it can grow six large plants at a time, and the Bubble Brothers bubble generator is incredibly powerful, so your plants will have proper aeration. This is a good system for beginners, but it’s also a bit noisy.
15. General Hydroponics EcoGrower Drip Hydroponic System
The General Hydroponics EcoGrower Drip Hydroponic System is a good option for large plants. And you’re able to grow up to eight plants at a single time. This gardening system has a 17-gallon reservoir, so it can go extended amounts of time before needing to refill.
This system includes a reservoir with a lid, plastic cups, vortex sprayer, CocoTek liners, and CocoTek Caps.
It also comes with Flora nutrients, a plant food that can help your greens and veggies thrive. This hydroponic system works on a drip timer, which feeds your plants at precisely the right time.
This unit doesn’t have built-in LED grow lights, so you’ll likely need to purchase your own
I wouldn’t say this unit is as posh as the countertop units – like AeroGarden, Click & Grow, or Veritable – but it is better looking than most of the bucket hydroponic systems we’ve seen, and significantly better than most DIY options.
What To Consider In Your Hydroponic System
As you consider your options for the best hydroponic system, you should consider what you want out of this. If you want to enjoy a few fresh herbs and veggies year-round, then a smaller system could make sense for you. If you are seeking to entirely grow your own produce, then investing in a larger system will be critical.
Here are a few things to consider:
Take a look around your home and determine what size system can comfortably fit. Make sure to weigh the space needs in your home with your desire to grow food at home. You might need to get creative about where you place your hydroponic system. The decision will come with tradeoffs, but that’s okay. For example, my AeroGarden system sits comfortably on my countertop, but I can only grow nine plants at a time. Think about the tradeoffs in your unique situation before moving forward.
Consider what amount of effort you are willing to put into your gardening endeavor. Also, think back on past gardening attempts and be honest about what you can commit to.
Personally, I am notorious for letting my houseplants die due to a hectic schedule. With that, I chose an AeroGarden that alerts me when my garden needs more water or plant food. That reminder is beneficial for maintaining my indoor plants.
Of course, there is a wide range of costs associated with hydroponic systems. A large and complex system will likely cost you more than a basic setup. Decide what you are comfortable spending on your new garden before shopping around. It is likely that there will be a great system in your price range.
Types of Hydroponics
The word hydroponics is an umbrella with many categories underneath it. Here are the main ways that you can grow hydroponically.
Like the name suggests, Aeroponic systems use air to help maximize growth. The root systems are mostly suspended in open air, and a nutrient solution is dispersed through a mist. Typically, this system sprayer mists the plants every few minutes. This process is called aeration.
When growing hydroponically, regularly check on the roots of the plants. A healthy root should typically look white and long.
Illustration by: Modern Farm
With drip hydroponics, an air pump in your grow system feeds plants with nutrient-rich water. Also called a trickle irrigation system, this process relies on small emitters to drip a water solution on your indoor plants and veggies.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
A DWC hydroponic system relies on nutrient-rich water housed in a reservoir beneath your plants. The roots grow into the water, and a submersible pump with an air stone in the reservoir provides oxygenated water. This keeps your roots from drowning.
A simple DWC system is great for beginners and can be built for $50.
This is the oldest system of hydroponics and takes the least amount of effort. This watering system has a wick sitting in a reservoir that draws water upward into a growing medium, where your plants’ roots then absorb it. A “wick” is typically made with rope or felt. This basic system is pretty hands-off but isn’t great for regulating the amount of water. It’s not usually an ideal solution for larger plants.
Illustration by: Luv2Garden
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The NFT method relies on an airstone and a water pump in a basin (a gallon reservoir works well for beginners). The water is then pumped above into the channel (like a long dish), where your plants grow in net pots. The track is at a slight angle downward with a hole at the end, so the water circulates back into the reservoir.
Ebb and Flow
Ebb & Flow systems have many moving parts, so they’re a tad complex type of hydroponics to pull off. In a plant tray – sometimes called the flood tray – you have your plants in net pots with a growing medium (clay pebbles, for instance). A pump set on a timer sends nutrient-rich water from a reservoir up a pipe and into the plant tray. Gravity then pulls the water from the tray back into another pipe and into the reservoir again, where it is recycled.
Unlike most other hydroponic growing systems, you only need to flood your plant tray between 10 and 15 times a day for larger plants and even less for smaller plants.
While hydroponics doesn’t require soil, you will still need a growing medium to help keep the plant sturdy or send nutrients to the plant. Common types of grow mediums include perlite, vermiculite, clay pellets, Rockwool, and more.
Most of these grow mediums are contained in a net pot with the plants’ roots running through them.
The Bottom Line
A hydroponic garden can be a great way to enjoy fresh veggies and herbs in your home all year round. Although each system will require a little bit of effort on your part, hydroponic gardening generally requires less maintenance than a traditional garden. Plus, you can choose a size that suits your needs and your lifestyle.
Which hydroponic system will find a place in your home?