Indoor garden systems allow you to conveniently grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other plants within the comfort of your own home, using methods that range from the latest technology to elementary school science. While many people think gardening requires lots of outdoor space and sunlight, that’s often not the case. With hydroponic systems, soil-based indoor gardening units, and even creative DIY-style approaches, you can reliably grow a healthy bounty in a small space indoors.
The benefits of indoor growing are myriad: producing (some of) your own food saves you money, teaches you valuable skills, and allows you to be more self-sufficient — while putting less pressure on an often-unsustainable global food system. Doing this year-round can provide access to local, fresh food during colder months. Aesthetically, indoor plants can brighten a room, adding a living element, color, and scent to your home.
There are many types of indoor garden systems — ranging from large hydroponic systems that can grow several dozen vegetables, to simple setups that allow you to grow herbs or soil sprouts. To help you decide, we researched the best options to install in your home. Here are our picks for the best indoor garden systems.
—Best Overall: Lettuce Grow Farmstand
—Best for Herbs: Aerogarden Harvest
—Best for Small Spaces: Rise Gardens Personal Garden and Starter Kit
—Best Tower: Just Vertical Eve Indoor Gardening System
—Best Budget: Modern Sprout Garden Jars
—Best No-Buy Pick: Grow Your Own Soil Sprouts in Trays
HOW WE PICKED THE BEST INDOOR GARDEN SYSTEMS
We looked through over a dozen top-rated models to find the most sustainable indoor vegetable garden systems, however, finding non-plastic hydroponic options was near impossible. Instead, we looked for as much recycled plastic and BPA-free plastic as we could. In our search for sustainable options, we also sought out products with recycled components in their designs, as well as those that ship with more sustainable packing materials.
Ultimately, we know that there are always trade-offs when buying food at the grocery store. So if a long-lasting hydroponics system allows you to cut down on the amount of produce you buy from far away — even if your unit includes some virgin plastic — it will allow you to reclaim a degree of autonomy in food production, and contribute to building sustainable self-sufficiency closer to home.
In that spirit, we looked for reliability, price, structurally sound designs, and efficient growing capacity, to ensure that growing indoors is worthwhile and the garden system lasts a long time. Ultimately, all of our picks surveyed allow you to grow a relatively substantial bounty in a small space.
BEST INDOOR GARDEN SYSTEMS: REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Best Overall: Lettuce Grow Farmstand
Why it Made the Cut: This innovative, self-watering system allows you to grow greens, strawberries, tomatoes, and a lot more in a tight space.
— Dimensions: 22 inches (diameter) x 44 inches (height)
— Materials: Recycled HDPE plastic
— Capacity: Fits 12 plants (but other models available)
— Type: Hydroponic (electric)
— Can grow multiple types of plants
— Requires little maintenance
— Extremely water efficient
— 90-day return option
— Fairly pricey
— Base cost does not include grow lights
When it comes to capacity, aesthetics, and level of sustainability, it’s hard to beat The Farmstand. Lettuce Grow’s innovative design looks essentially like a tall vase but can easily grow a wide variety of plants — not just leafy greens and herbs, but also fruiting options like strawberries, cucumbers, eggplants, and more.
As far as sustainability, Lettuce Grow is a reliable choice. While it does use plastic, the Farmstand is made out of food grade, HDPE plastic — all of which is recycled. The unit itself is recyclable, easing concerns about potential end-of-life issues (and Lettuce Grow will take back old units if you cannot find another way to recycle them). The company tries to live these values and donates one Farmstand for every unit that is sold.
On the downside, these units are somewhat expensive — and the cost doesn’t include glow rings, which are used for supplementary lighting (although Lettuce Grow units can also be used outdoors simply with sunlight). Still, given the quality of the product and the sizable haul you can grow, this garden system can probably pay for itself with steady use after a couple of years.
Best for Herbs: Aerogarden Harvest
Why it Made the Cut: The Aerogarden Harvest offers a simple, reliable, and affordable way to get started growing herbs and vegetables indoors.
— Dimensions: 10.5 inches (width) x 6 inches (depth) x 17.4 inches (height)
— Capacity: Fits six plant “pods”
— Materials: ABS plastic
— Type: Aeroponic (electric)
— Uses minimal energy
— Automated plant care reminders
— Includes 20 watt energy-efficient LED grow light
— Additional “seed pods” can be pricey
— Uses virgin plastic (ABS)
— Maximum of six plants
— Not made or assembled in the U.S.
The Aerogarden Harvest offers a reasonably priced way to start growing dill, thyme, cilantro, rosemary, and other popular herbs indoors. Aerogarden partially utilizes aeroponics in their designs, which are — fun fact — an important tool in NASA’s efforts to grow plants in space. This technology can allow gardeners to have more control over the moisture level and nutrient uptake of their plants, helping roots stay well-hydrated without drying out or getting moldy.
While the Aerogarden Harvest is a cool way to try out a form of aeroponics, it is, more importantly, a reliable way to get into indoor herb growing. The company also has a number of sustainability initiatives built into all products. While these indoor gardens do contain virgin plastic, all are BPA-free. Gardens are built in China from recyclable components and are energy-efficient, with new models only requiring 30 watts or less of electricity (the Harvest uses a 20-watt, LED grow light). Aerogarden also uses (recyclable) formed-paperboard packaging and cardboard to ship.
Finally, while the Harvest model is a solid starter option, Aerogarden produces a wide range of products; their largest, the Farm 24XL, can grow up to 24 plants, with a focus on large ones like tomatoes. Plus, if you want to try a plant they don’t offer among their seed pods, you can buy “blank” pods to fill with your own organic or heirloom seeds.
Best for Small Spaces: Rise Gardens Personal Garden and Starter Kit
Why it Made the Cut: This compact design fits eight plants and sits comfortably on your counter or end table.
— Dimensions: 18 inches (length) x 11 inches (depth) x 16 inches (height)
— Materials: Steel; pine wood; PP, PET, PC, and ABS plastic; some recycled plastic
— Capacity: Fits eight plants
— Type: Hydroponic (electric)
— Built-in LED lights
— Uses 1 gallon of water weekly
— Relatively high electricity use (40 watts)
— Not assembled in USA
Rise is all about connecting people to where their food comes from. As part of their mission, they seek to intimately relocalize food, ensuring people know where their food is grown and don’t miss out on nutrients lost in the period from harvest to consumption.
While they make a slate of indoor gardens, their smallest option (the Rise Personal Garden) is a great place to start. This compact unit can easily sit on your kitchen counter, a small table, or anywhere else you might stick a small kitchen appliance.
For Rise, sustainability is primarily in the concept: they argue that growing your own produce at home can take pressure off the food system while allowing you to produce high-quality, locally grown food. The company's products use no synthetic chemicals or pesticides. Most (not all) of their seed varieties are organic — but you can be sure all of yours are by purchasing your own organic seeds and using them in Rise models. Finally, Rise gardens are highly automated: they connect to WiFi and utilize an app to track growth, remind you when water levels are low, set the light schedule, and more.
The Personal Garden is made in China, with parts sourced from China and Taiwan. The metal trays, shelves, and cabinets for the gardens are made with cold-rolled steel, while the tubes and reservoirs are made of virgin plastics (however, some post-consumer plastic is used in other parts of the unit).
Best Tower: Just Vertical Eve Indoor Gardening System
Why It Made the Cut: With its sleek design and mostly recycled construction, this system offers an attractive way to put those sustainability principles into practice.
— Dimensions: 18.5 inches (width) x 8.25 inches (depth) x 57 inches (height)
— Materials: Made from 83 percent recycled materials
— Capacity: Fits 12 plants
— Type: Hydroponic (electric)
— Sleek tower design
— Fairly energy-efficient
— Uses many recycled materials in design
— Green business-certified manufacturer
—Only fits 12 plants
—Packaged in plastic to ship
If you’re looking for a stylish vertical garden that blends neatly into your living room — but also takes sustainability seriously — you could do worse than Just Vertical’s Eve. This hydroponic grower is heavily recycled in its construction; its 83 percent recycled materials include upcycled wood, as well as various largely recycled plastics like high-density polyethylene resin and thermoplastic polymer. It can hold up to 12 plants and uses a BPA-free plastic water reservoir, ensuring no unwanted leaching into your food.
While the unit is on the pricier side, it comes pretty much ready to go, with peat moss plugs, a seedling kit, seed packages (arugula, basil, lettuce, and kale), and a variety of nutrients — as well as a manual and instruction guide for easy setup. While it requires electricity, it uses only .072kW per hour, so it shouldn’t cost you too much — and will definitely save you on the grocery bills.
Best Budget: Modern Sprout Garden Jar
Why It Made The Cut: For an affordable price, these tiny planters offer a convenient, self-watering, and eco-conscious design for growing herbs.
— Dimensions: 3.5 inches (diameter) by 6 inches (height)
— Materials: Recycled glass
— Capacity: One individual plant
— Type: Hydroponic (nonelectric)
— Includes organic or non-GMO seeds
— Easy to reuse
— Utilizes hydroponic “wicking” design
— Small size only fits one herb
— Does not include supplementary lighting
— Each herb kit is sold individually
Sometimes simpler is better. If you’re looking to grow a few herbs on your kitchen windowsill, Modern Sprout’s Garden Jars makes a great choice. The basic design uses recycled glass as a growing medium and features a neat (and simple) wicking hydroponic design to pull up water and nutrients from the quart-size glass jar in which the planter sits. Despite being super low-tech, this planter requires virtually no maintenance; just keep an eye on the water level and make sure your plant is getting enough sun!
Modern Sprout is an ecologically conscious company: this particular product uses glass and stainless steel (no plastic), is recyclable, and can be easily reused. All their plants are non-GMO or organic, so you can be sure the herbs you’re growing are good for you and good for the planet. While this small planter is quite affordable, one drawback is that it does not include grow lights — fortunately, these great LED grow lights can help get you through the darker parts of the year.
Best No-Buy: Grow Your Own Soil Sprouts
Why It Made the Cut: This is an innovative, DIY way to grow nutrient-dense greens year-round, with no supplementary lighting and minimal cost to you.
— Dimensions: Variable
— Materials: Various repurposed items
— Capacity: High volume of seeds
— Type: Soil tray
— Easy way to grow fresh produce year-round
— Grow whichever greens you want
— Needs space to grow in volume
— Requires maintenance and regular harvest
One innovative method of having fresh produce around all year involves growing sprouts in your own soil. Unlike sprouts grown in jars, soil sprouts require less maintenance (no washing every day) and have less propensity to mold. Because they are so young, they are also uniquely nutrient-dense. In cold climates, they can ensure you get some fresh greens even in winter, plus some edible plants can reliably be grown indoors without supplementary lighting.
You can get creative and use plenty of items around the house for a seed tray: take-out deli platters, meal containers, and unneeded baking trays—with drainage added at the bottom—are all suitable options for growing sprouts.
The growing process is pretty simple and involves germinating trays of seeds in the dark for about four days, bringing them into the light to (lightly) water once a day, and harvesting about a week after planting. That’s it! The sprouts may be small, but they are flavorful and can make a great addition to salads, soups, and other dishes. If you have a good compost system, you can cut down on the amount of soil you have to haul in for the sprouts. Buckwheat, radish, peas, broccoli, sunflower — there’s a long list of options to experiment with!
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE BUYING AN INDOOR GARDEN SYSTEM
There are a number of things to consider when searching for the right indoor gardening system: size and space required, the energy needed, degree of self-regulation, and more. Are you looking to grow a few herbs, or do you want to grow large, fruiting plants like tomatoes?
Additionally, different plants have different needs. Generally speaking, the larger or more complex the plant, the more light, water, and nutrients it will require. You may be able to grow small herbs exclusively with natural light from windows — but if you're trying to grow tomatoes or eggplants, it’s likely to be a different story.
Be clear about your needs to hone in on the right product, and think carefully about what you want to grow, and what you require to do it.
Size and Space
Space will naturally be a concern when growing indoors. Consider where you'll locate your gardening unit — is it free-standing, or will it sit on a counter? Is it a “tower” planter? While most units benefit from built-in or supplemental LED lighting, locating your plants near a window that receives ample sunlight can provide some natural light for your garden as well. Setting the unit close to your kitchen, the likely final destination for what you grow, is a good idea, too.
You want to be sure that the energy consumption necessary for your unit does not outweigh the sustainability benefits of growing at home. Admittedly, this can be tough to calculate exactly. However, for financial as well as environmental purposes, you'll want to know how much electricity your unit requires, if any, and roughly what it will cost you (this handy tool from the Department of Energy can help). If your home relies on solar panels or another green or self-producing energy source, that’ll be another factor in evaluating the footprint of your indoor garden.
Many of the planters here are largely self-regulating; once set up, they water and provide nutrients to plants automatically, allowing you to avoid worrying about the health of your plants. Accordingly, you’ll want to consider your lifestyle and needs with respect to your planter. Do you expect to be away for days at a time? Do you have a green thumb and a good eye for plants’ needs — or is automation necessary for you?
There are many ways to grow indoors, ranging from potting up a small plant in a pre-made soil blend and putting it on the windowsill, to some of the more complicated hydroponic systems surveyed here. All have different capacities and different requirements.
For the uninitiated, hydroponics is a method of growing wherein plant roots grow directly in a nutrient solution root medium, without soil as a medium. The ecological benefits can be uniquely pronounced for hydroponically grown plants, which in aggregate use less water and require less space than conventionally grown crops.
Cutting a few herb sprigs, sticking them in a glass of water, and watching them root out is about as simple as it gets with hydroponics — but many of the systems reviewed here are more finely tuned, and work to maintain the optimal water and nutrient levels for your plants.
There are a number of distinct methods of hydroponic growing. These include a wick system, which pulls water up to the roots from a nutrient/water tank via a wick, and a nutrient film technique, wherein only the bottom of plant roots are immersed in a water/nutrient solution, while the top is allowed to aerate.
Aquaponics is an innovative type of hydroponic growing that incorporates fish into the growing process, using fish waste as fertilizer. Finally, a particularly unique system is called aeroponics, which suspends plant roots in the air and regularly “mists” them with an optimal balance of water and nutrients.
Q: How much do indoor garden systems cost?
Indoor garden systems range considerably in price, based on size, style, and overall quality. The most affordable DIY systems can be made for close to nothing, potentially only costing you for seeds and soil (if needed). The least expensive (and smallest) built systems we surveyed run for only $25, while higher-end (and larger) systems can be well over $500.
You can also save money by buying used or refurbished products on eBay, Amazon Renewed, Walmart Refurbished, and other sites. Buying used will dramatically lower the ecological footprint of your purchase, and allow a product made with plastic or other non-renewable materials to have a longer and more productive lifespan.
Q: What is the easiest plant to grow indoors?
Herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, and sage are relatively easy to grow indoors; soil sprouts can easily be grown year-round without supplementary light. Leafy vegetables, like lettuces, will usually require extra light, while fruiting plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers, need the most attention.
Q: Can you grow vegetables indoors all year round?
With an indoor garden system — yes! Indoor vegetable garden systems with supplementary LED lighting can effectively mimic solar cycles, allowing for robust vegetables year-round — while a nutrient-rich medium can ensure your plant has everything it needs to stay healthy.
Q: Can you grow a large garden inside?
With dedicated time, space, and upfront costs, you can. A variety of indoor vegetable planters adapted to your interior space, like tower planters and other creative structures, can allow you to grow a considerable bounty in your home.
Q: Is it cheaper to grow hydroponically?
It can be cheaper to grow hydroponically, however, it depends on your particular needs. If you regularly purchase fresh herbs from the store, for instance, setting up a small hydroponic system can easily make up the cost difference in a short period. With larger vegetable plants it may be more complicated because your initial cash outlay will be higher. Still, over the long term, if you use your system consistently, you're likely to save money.
Q: Where can I recycle my indoor garden when I no longer need it?
With proper use, your indoor garden should last a long time. Some companies like Lettuce Grow can assist with recycling planter components. Resale on a secondhand site is also always a great idea if you no longer need your unit. If you cannot sell or find a reliable way to dispose of a unit, Terracycle is a good place to find answers for difficult-to-recycle products.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON INDOOR GARDEN SYSTEMS
If you’re looking for a consistent, substantive, and more sustainable way to grow hydroponically, check out The Farmstand by Lettuce Grow. For those looking to expand their growing operation in a tight space, try the Personal Rise Garden.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.