Whether you buy or build an indoor hydroponic garden, choosing the best indoor hydroponic plants is critical.
Growing the right plants will give you an early harvest and set you up for a wonderful experience as a year-round home gardener, regardless of climate and location.
And drawing from years of experience, that first harvest is an important trigger to keep going. Hydroponics is far less complicated than most home gardeners think.
So let’s get into the details.
Related: If you are new to hydroponics, I recommend you read my beginner guide to DIY hydroponics or check out the 2 small indoor hydroponic systems I use and recoomend.
- Choosing the Best Plants for Indoor Hydroponics
- The Fundamentals of Indoor Hydroponic Gardening
- Essential Equipment for Indoor Hydroponics
- Indoor Hydroponic Garden Brands
- Seeds Versus Cuttings
- Maintaining Your Indoor Hydroponic Garden
- Maximizing Your Hydroponic Yields
- Frequently Asked Questions
Choosing the Best Plants for Indoor Hydroponics
Selecting the right plants is essential to your success when starting an indoor hydroponic garden. I have divided plants into four categories that thrive in hydroponic systems: herbs, vegetables, flowers, and leafy greens.
Best Herbs For Indoor Hydroponic Gardens
Hydroponic systems are ideal for growing a variety of herbs. Three of my favorites are:
- Basil: Known for its aromatic properties and versatile culinary uses, basil is an excellent addition to your indoor hydroponic garden and grows well in water-based systems. Use fresh leaves with tomatoes and olive oil, make your pesto, or add to tomato sauces for that extra depth of flavor and authenticity.
- Mint: This fast-growing herb is perfect for hydroponics, and with its refreshing taste and pleasant aroma, it makes a lovely addition to salads, salsas, teas, and cocktails.
- Parsley: Rich in nutrients and easy to grow, parsley thrives in hydroponic environments and can be used as a garnish or in various recipes. Mix curly and flat-leafed parsley varieties for contrast in flavor and texture.
Best Vegetables For Indoor Hydroponic Gardens
Many vegetables flourish in hydroponic conditions. Some of my favorites include:
- Celery: This cool-temperature vegetable is ideal for indoor hydroponics. Pick tender leaves and shoots early for salads, or have more patience for a more mature harvest.
- Bush Beans: Bush beans are straightforward to grow but take up some space as they develop. Temperatures slightly below room temperature are ideal and do remember to feed the plant a potassium and phosphorus-heavy fertilizer as the plants start fruiting. And if you have the space, by all means, grow some pole beans as well.
- Hot Peppers: With high yields and diverse flavor profiles, peppers are an excellent choice for indoor hydroponic systems. Choose hot pepper varieties like habaneros, Scotch bonnets, or even Bhut Jolokia ghost peppers for that fiery hot flavor where a little goes a long way. Topping the plant will help grow a more compact plant. Like beans, use potassium and phosphorus-heavy fertilizers when plants start to flower and fruit.
Related: Learn more about hydroponic fertilizers and nutrients.
Best Flowers For Indoor Hydroponic Gardens
Even flowering plants can be grown in hydroponic setups. Adding a flower or two makes the whole garden more presentable. It allows me to keep my indoor hydroponic gardens in our home instead of the garage. Some beautiful options include:
- Orchids: These exotic flowers adapt well to hydroponic conditions, and while they require a bit more attention to detail, their stunning blooms are worth the effort. My experience of orchids comes from rescuing plants in distress. It is not easy, but oh-so rewarding when it works.
- Marigolds: Highly adaptable and available in various vibrant colors, marigolds are a great choice for adding visual interest to your indoor hydroponic garden.
- Petunias: This popular flowering plant grows well in hydroponic environments and adds color to your indoor garden.
Best Leafy Greens For Indoor Hydroponic Gardens
Hydroponics is perfect for growing fresh leafy greens at home all year. Easy to grow and the yield is fantastic. Three of my favorite leafy vegetables are:
- Lettuce: Iceberg and leaf lettuce are two of the easiest and fastest-growing crops for indoor hydroponics. And the taste is much better than anything you will find at the supermarket off-season.
- Spinach: Spinach is another cool-weather vegetable that thrives in hydroponic conditions. Packed with essential nutrients, it is a healthy and delicious addition to your garden.
- Arugula: This peppery leafy green is simple to cultivate, and with its distinctive flavor, it’s a fantastic choice for salads or garnishes. The homegrown variety will blow you away taste-wise if you are used to store-bought arugula.
I would pick arugula if I could only grow one leafy green in my indoor hydroponic gardens. Hydroponic arugula has a strong flavor profile and a little goes a long way.
By selecting the right plants and dedicating time to caring for them, you can enjoy a thriving indoor hydroponic garden filled with herbs, vegetables, flowers, and leafy greens all year round.
Herbs and leafy greens are ideal for beginners starting their first indoor garden. As you gain experience with indoor hydroponic gardening, you can experiment with various plant types, growing conditions, and systems to maximize your yield.
The Fundamentals of Indoor Hydroponic Gardening
I have written separate articles on DIY hydroponics for beginners. Still, hydroponics is a method of growing plants without using soil.
Instead of soil as your growing medium, you use a nutrient-rich water solution to deliver the essential nutrients directly to the plants’ roots.
Indoor hydroponic gardening allows you to grow various plants in a controlled environment, yielding faster growth and higher yields than traditional soil-based gardening.
One main advantage of indoor hydroponic gardening is that you can grow your plants year-round, regardless of the outdoor climate. And for me, in zone 7, this was the primary reason I went back to school to learn more about the wonderful world of hydroponics.
And as no soil is involved and you grow in a controlled environment, your plants are less susceptible to pests and diseases. Now that in itself is worth celebrating.
To start your indoor hydroponic garden, select a suitable location that receives ample natural light or can accommodate artificial light sources.
For year-round growing, be prepared to use a grow light, as there will not be enough natural light. Proper lighting is essential for optimal growth – plants must have light for photosynthesis. Luckily, there are several budget-friendly options, and there is no need to spend a small fortune to get started.
Next, select the hydroponic growing system that best suits your needs. Various methods are available:
- Deep Water Culture (DWC)
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
- Ebb and Flow grow beds
- Turnkey systems like the Click and Grow Smart Gardens
Each system has its benefits and drawbacks, so consider factors such as space, budget, and desired plant types when deciding.
But for beginners, I recommend a DWC hydroponic garden. Easy to set up, and you can even start without an air pump.
Find step-by-step instructions on DWC hydroponics in DWC hydroponics for beginners (A DIY Guide)
I recommend using an air pump to aerate your DWC and a water pump to circulate the nutrient solution in your NFT or Ebb and Flow grow beds. Both types of pumps are available for all budgets and ambition levels.
The pumps ensure plants receive nutrients, oxygen, and water for optimal growth. Regularly monitor and adjust your water solution’s pH and nutrient levels to maintain a balanced environment for your plants. It may sound complicated, but most liquid fertilizers come with testing kits.
The main difference between Ebb and Flow and NFT is how the water pump is set to work. With Ebb and Flow systems the water pump is connected to a timer to run on intervals. With NFT the water pump runs 24/7 to allow the nutrient solution to flow over the roots continously.
Essential Equipment for Indoor Hydroponics
When starting your indoor hydroponic garden, having the right equipment is crucial. Here are some essential items to help you create a thriving hydroponic garden.
Grow Lights: Proper lighting is essential for plant growth and development. I use and recommend full-spectrum LED grow lights as they provide the required light wavelengths, consume less energy, and have a longer lifespan than traditional grow lights.
Consider your plants' light requirements when you select the appropriate wattage and spectrum. We list three options to fit all budgets and levels of ambition here: Seed starting tools we use for seed germination and seedlings (6)
Timer: A timer ensures consistent lighting, nutrient delivery, and proper watering cycles. Using a timer helps automate the process and helps maintain an optimal growing environment for your plants.
And as electricity prices vary at different times of the day, a timer can help you run your grow lights and pumps when the rate is more favorable.
Reservoir and Pump: Your hydroponic system requires a reservoir to store the nutrient solution. This reservoir should be large enough to accommodate your plant’s water needs and root growth.
In Ebb and Flow and NFT systems, a water pump, often submersible, circulates the nutrient solution to the plant roots to ensure adequate oxygenation and uptake of nutrients.
Aerated DWC solutions use air pumps to oxygenate the nutrient solution. Non-aerated DWC systems return lower yields but are popular with beginners as there is no need for any pumps.
Hands-off Hydroponic System: The Click and Grow Smart Garden system is an ideal indoor gardening system for hands-off and no-fuss home gardeners. You add water every few weeks and leave the system to do all the heavy lifting.
Smart Gardens come with a built-in grow light on a timer and is quiet as it does not use any pumps. The Smart Garden is attractive, and you can place it anywhere in your home. It is an ideal no-fuss indoor gardening system if you have the money to spend.
Other Hydroponic Systems: More hands-on indoor hydroponic gardens include the Moistenland Hydroponics Growing System and the IDOO Hydroponic Growing System. Here you are more involved, and you should choose the subsystem that fits your budget and space requirements.
Monitoring pH and Nutrient levels: Control panels monitoring pH and nutrition levels are helpful but optional equipment when you start. Monitoring pH and nutrient levels (PPM, EC, and TDS) tells you if the nutrient solution in the reservoir is high enough for your plants to thrive. A more budget-friendly alternative is one of the relatively inexpensive multiparameter meters that measure temperature, PPM, EC, and TDS. Just make sure you calibrate your tool before you start using it.
Vertical Garden Setup: Consider a vertical hydroponic garden design if you have limited growing space. Vertical gardens allow growing more plants in a smaller area while providing adequate lighting and nutrient delivery.
Indoor Hydroponic Garden Brands
Starting an indoor hydroponic garden, you can choose to buy or build.
And while you can save money building your DIY hydroponic garden, there are benefits to buying a functional turnkey system from a trusted brand.
I am proof that you can build your first DIY hydroponic indoor garden and be successful. We had fresh basil, lettuce, and arugula from October through March.
If you do decide to buy, here are some of my favorites:
AeroGarden Bounty is a well-known hydroponic brand offering several all-in-one systems for different plant types and budgets.
The Bounty model supports up to nine plants and utilizes LED grow lights, making it easy to grow herbs, vegetables, or even flowers, indoors year-round. The control panel helps you manage plant feeding and watering schedules, simplifying the overall process.
Lettuce Grow offers the innovative Farmstand system, a vertically designed hydroponic garden for small-space gardening. Buying 3-4 week old seedlings gets you started fast, making the system ideal for beginners. But there are, of course, also less expensive vertical hydroponic garden alternatives.
Rise Gardens offers modular hydroponic systems designed to be customized to your specific needs. Easy-to-assemble units with app-connected options make monitoring and controlling your indoor garden from your smartphone easy. Rise Gardens is perfect if you want flexibility and a system that can grow with your indoor gardening needs.
The iDOO Hydroponic Growing System features a sleek and compact design, with an adjustable height LED grow light and automatic timer. This system can accommodate up to 12 plants and includes a smart control panel guiding you in maintaining optimal conditions for your hydroponic garden.
For a budget-friendly choice, the Moistenland Hydroponics Growing System offers a small footprint that can accommodate up to 12 plants. This simple yet effective system comes with an intelligent LED grow light system and a timer, making it an excellent option for beginners or those looking to experiment with hydroponics on a smaller scale.
The Click and Grow Smart Garden indoor garden systems are not true hydroponics systems but use plant cups and a wick system to transfer moisture to the plant pod. Plant pods are pre-fertilized for each plant, and the system comes with a built-in full-spectrum grow light connected to a timer. Your job is to select which herbs, vegetables, or flowers to grow and top up the container with water every other week, as indicated by the floating indicator. The system is straightforward to manage, quiet, and can be placed anywhere in your home. And trust me, it is a real conversation starter!
Seeds Versus Cuttings
You can use seeds or cuttings to propagate your plants in an indoor hydroponic garden. And both methods have advantages and disadvantages.
Seeds offer a wider range of plant varieties, and you can quickly source seeds from online vendors or your local garden center.
But seeds need time to germinate and may have a higher risk of not surviving the early stages of plant growth.
Cuttings are small sections of a mature plant used to grow into a new plant. Cuttings will save you time, as they tend to establish themselves more quickly in a hydroponic system than seeds.
But sourcing cuttings from a mature, established plant can be more challenging, especially during the off-season.
When deciding between seeds and cuttings for your indoor hydroponic plants, consider the following factors:
- Time: If you want to establish your garden quickly, cuttings may be the better choice, as they typically take less time to grow and reach maturity than seeds.
- Plant Variety: Seeds offer a greater diversity of plant options, allowing you to experiment with new and unique varieties in your hydroponic garden. Cuttings may limit your choices, depending on the availability of parent plants.
- Space: Seedlings typically require less space initially, so starting with seeds may be more efficient if you have limited room in your indoor hydroponic setup. Cuttings may need more room to grow, especially if they have already developed a substantial root system.
- Consistency: Using cuttings can provide more predictable results for a consistent garden with plants that share similar traits. Seeds may produce plants with varying characteristics, even within the same variety.
- Timing: Sourcing cuttings from mature plants may be difficult during the off-season when local nurseries are more interested in selling pumpkins and wreaths for the holiday season.
Ultimately, choosing between seeds and cuttings in your indoor hydroponic garden comes down to your preferences, space constraints, timing, and desired plant variety. Most gardeners end up using both cuttings and seeds for propagation. Both methods have pros and cons, and you will often work with the approach most suitable for you at that particular time.
Maintaining Your Indoor Hydroponic Garden
There are a few key factors you need to master to maintain a thriving indoor growing environment. These factors include sunlight, humidity, pests, diseases, and nutrient solutions.
Sunlight: Ensure your hydroponic plants receive enough light to promote growth. Most hydroponic plants need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. You can use natural sunlight by placing them near a window or use artificial grow lights to mimic the sun’s rays.
Humidity: Maintain the appropriate humidity levels for your plants. Most plants do well with a 50-70% relative humidity level. If the room is too dry, consider using a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air. If it’s too humid, use a dehumidifier or vent the room with fresh air to reduce the humidity.
Pests: Watch for insects that can harm indoor hydroponic plants, including aphids and spider mites. You can control most pests through regular manual inspections and treatments like natural pesticides, Neem oil solutions, or insecticidal soap. Keeping your hydroponic system clean and free of plant debris can also help prevent pest infestations.
Diseases: Prevent plant diseases by maintaining good airflow around your plants and keeping your hydroponic equipment in proper working condition. Sterilize your gardening tools regularly and remove any plants exhibiting signs of disease to prevent the spread of infections.
Nutrient solution: Properly configured nutrient solutions are critical for healthy plant growth. Use a liquid fertilizer specifically designed for hydroponics, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for mixing and application. Monitor the pH level of your nutrient solution, aiming to keep it between 5.5 and 6.5 for most plants.
Using a balanced liquid fertilizer is less work, but 3-part fertilizers will allow you to control the nutrients you give at the different stages of plant development.
By paying attention to these factors and adjusting them as needed, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a flourishing indoor hydroponic garden.
Maximizing Your Hydroponic Yields
One of the main benefits of hydroponic gardening is the potential for higher yields in a controlled environment. Here are some tips on how to get the most from your hydroponic garden within your budget.
First, ensure that you are providing optimum lighting for your plants. Use natural light from windows if available, but most indoor hydroponic systems require supplemental artificial light. LED grow lights are an energy-efficient option and can provide a full spectrum of light needed for plant growth. Adjust the height and intensity of the lights according to the specific needs of your plants.
Nutrient management is another critical factor in maximizing your hydroponic yields. Regularly check the nutrient levels in your system and adjust them based on your plants’ needs. Use a high-quality hydroponic nutrient solution and be mindful of pH levels, as improper pH can hinder nutrient absorption. Strike a balance between the quality of your nutrient solution and your budget to ensure optimal results.
Proper air circulation also plays a vital role in plant growth. Your indoor hydroponic system should have adequate ventilation to ensure fresh air exchanges and maintain healthy humidity levels. Good air circulation helps prevent the buildup of mold, pests, and diseases, leading to better plant health and increased yields.
When selecting plants for your hydroponic garden, choose those known for their compatibility with hydroponic systems—plants like leafy greens, herbs, and some fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers are known to return excellent yields in hydroponic indoor gardens.
Finally, consider your plants’ growth stages and adjust your system accordingly. Different stages of growth, such as the vegetative, flowering, and fruiting stages, may require adjustments to light, nutrients, and other factors. Understanding and responding to your plants’ needs at each stage can help boost your yields within your budget constraints.
Following these tips, you can confidently grow successful hydroponic plants in your indoor system while maximizing your yields. Remember, finding the right balance between investment and plant care is crucial to enjoying a bountiful harvest.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which plants grow well in indoor hydroponic systems?
Various plants can thrive in indoor hydroponic systems, including lettuce, basil, and peppers. Lettuce is one common plant grown in hydroponic gardens due to its adaptability and minimal space requirements. Other herbs suitable for indoor hydroponic systems include mint, coriander/cilantro, and dill.
What fast-growing plants are suitable for hydroponics?
Fast-growing plants ideal for hydroponics include lettuces, spinach, and arugula. These leafy greens have short growth cycles; you can start harvesting young leaves within weeks. Rapid-maturing herbs like basil and chives also perform well in hydroponic setups.
How do I choose the best hydroponic plant food?
Select a hydroponic plant food that supplies essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. High-quality plant foods include micronutrients like iron, manganese, and zinc. Be sure to follow manufacturer recommendations for mixing and application rates since overfeeding can lead to nutrient imbalances and harm your plants.
Which plants are ideal for hydroponic towers?
Hydroponic towers save space by utilizing vertical growing space. Plants that excel in hydroponic towers develop shallow root systems and have compact growth habits. Examples are lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, and many herbs. Avoid larger plants with extensive root systems, like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, as they may require more space than a tower can provide.
What small plants thrive in hydroponic systems?
Several small plants, such as microgreens and compact herbs like thyme, oregano, and marjoram, will perform well in hydroponic garden systems. Strawberries are another excellent small plant choice as they grow compactly and thrive in hydroponic gardens.
Are there any plants not recommended for hydroponics?
While many plants can grow in hydroponic systems, some may experience issues and require additional care and consideration.
Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and beets are more challenging to grow hydroponically due to their space requirements and preference for soil-based growth. Large fruiting plants, like melons and pumpkins, are typically not recommended for hydroponics because of their size and extensive root systems.