As the old proverb goes “no garden is without its weeds.” While that may be a sage metaphor, there is, in fact, an entire category of indoor gardens free from weeds, bugs and even soil in some cases: Indoor pod gardens fitted with LED grow lights and self-watering mechanisms abound in 2021. These modern smart gardens come in nearly every shape and size, designed to grow any number of plants including fresh herbs, salad greens, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Thus, picking the perfect garden takes a little, well, digging (see what I did there?).
If it’s fresh produce you covet — and I mean really fresh produce — without ever having to venture out and face the hordes at your local farmers’ market again, you might be primed and ready for an easy indoor smart garden or hydroponic grow system to churn out your own bounty of wholesome food. But that poses the question, which is the best system for your indoor harvest goals? The one thing they all have in common is you’ll never have to lift a spade or clean soil from under your fingernails. Plus, all are designed to yield produce indoors so you can have an herb or vegetable garden any time of year, no matter where you live. Beyond that, there are marked differences between these indoor gardens that make some much better than others for certain people and their spaces.
Some pod gardens, like the compact Aerogarden Bounty Elite Artisan or Click & Grow Smart Garden, couldn’t be simpler to operate and are small and light enough to be moved around the house. Others, like the Lettuce Grow Farmstand and Rise Garden, take up more space but can hold as many as 36 plants at once. There are also niche indoor gardens for growing microgreens and others that emphasize style and simplicity over complex mechanisms and mobile app integrations. Most, but not all, of these gardens feature grow lights and watering systems of one kind or another so you can mostly sit back, relax and watch the green onions grow.
The following list is meant as a guide and overview for a few of the most popular indoor gardens and, hopefully, can help you determine which one is best for your home or apartment. Note that we have personally tested three of the items listed below, and we’re including some additional options based on our research of the specific features, differences between similar models and user reviews.
Click and Grow
This is a perfect size smart garden for growing essential herbs like basil and mint, salad greens, chives and more. Its superpower is that it couldn’t be simpler to operate with self-contained seed pods, LED grow lights and a water tank that needs filling only every two or three weeks. A perfect starter herb garden or for someone with a not-so-green thumb.
This Click & Grow Smart Garden 3 comes with three basil pods, but you can buy any number of salad greens, fruit and vegetable seed pods from the website for about $3 each. With room for just three plants, this particular garden is a little small for any consequential vegetable output so best stick to herbs and lettuce. There are loads of flower pods, however, if your gardening goals are aesthetic in nature.
There are several larger Click & Grow models too, all of which function in the same manner. Those include the Smart Garden 9 with capacity for nine seed pods and the multilevel Smart Garden 27 which holds, you guessed it, 27 plants.
The Aerogarden Bounty Elite Artisan is a relatively compact indoor gardening system that, out of the box, manages to make room for nine plants of your choosing — the options range widely from herb mixes to tomatoes, peppers, flowers and more.
As the plants grow, the adjustable LED light stand grows with them, up to 24 inches in height. Plant food is included, as well as an optional trellis system, which is designed to accommodate tomatoes and other plants that need support as they grow.
I’m in the early stages of growing nine lavender plants right now, but Aerogarden has made the process incredibly simple so far. The instructions clearly walk you through the initial set-up, and the display alerts me when I need to add more plant food.
While the Click & Grow system has a reservoir and wicks water up into the soil pods, Aerogarden uses a pump to circulate moisture. Fortunately, the pump sounds like gentle dripping rather than anything distracting.
The Aerogarden Bounty Elite Artisan is only available on the Miracle-Gro company’s online store.
If you’re looking for a stylish indoor garden that blends effortlessly into your living space, the Rise Single Family smart hydroponic garden is a good pick. This self-watering garden is completely hydroponic, meaning there are no soil pods to handle. It comes with a five-gallon water tank and LED grow lights, all of which are controlled and monitored through an integrated mobile app. The water levels, light settings and nutrient levels all have built-in sensors that report back information to keep things humming. The Single Family smart garden houses 12 plants but you can add levels to increase the shoot capacity for a steady supply of fresh herbs, greens, flowers and even tomatoes. Sprouted seedlings come in packs of four for $10.
What really separates Rise from others, in my view, is the sturdy heavy-gauge steel and solid wood design that makes it look very much like a modern piece of furniture. The Rise Garden can be placed behind a couch or against a wall to serve as a chic bookshelf or end table just as much as it is a garden.
This little guy is designed especially for microgreens, which are great for garnishing soups, salads and other fancy recipes. It’s always nice to have a pop of green on the kitchen counter, and this little fella doesn’t take up much space at all. The microgreens garden kit includes the planter, soil and seeds for your first round of plants, all for just $32.
The Smart Growhouse is one of the more basic indoor gardens on this list but we love it for its stylish brass exterior. It doesn’t hold seed pods or self-water like some of the others, so you’ll have to manage that part on your own but there are full-spectrum LED lights that operate on a timer for optimal growth. That means you can display the garden anywhere in the house and not just near a window.
I’ve personally used this indoor/outdoor farmstand and can tell you it is well designed and easy to operate. The Lettuce Grow Farmstand works by pumping water mixed with nutrients up from the base, which then cascades down over seed pods that are stuffed into the walls. I had this going for a few weeks indoors and without lights and while some shoots did fine, many died. Enter the LED ring lights which made an enormous difference. (I’ve actually had to cut back on the grow lights because things are growing too quickly.) Both the water pump and LED light rings operate on timers so there is almost no weekly maintenance required.
It’s worth mentioning that the watering system makes a moderate amount of noise — akin to one of those zen water fountains — for about 15 minutes every few hours. It was mildly irritating at first but I quickly adjusted and now I actually find it relaxing. The frame is also heavy once you fill it with water, so it is not a garden to be moved often. It’s bulky too, but when the greenery starts to bloom it adds a ton of life and atmosphere to any room. That said, it’s still probably not great for a tiny home or apartment.
Pricing starts at $348 for the basic Farmstand that holds 12 shoots, but you can add levels and increase the capacity to as many as 36 shoots. The optional ring lights are $200 for the basic two-ring package and $50 for each additional ring. You also have to buy sprouted seedlings, which are $2 each, and it’s recommended that you replace them every few months.
This is another hydroponic garden option, but one that is decidedly better suited for a small space. The Gardyn upright grow system houses as many as 30 plants but takes up just 2 square feet. Individual shoots are watered via the tank and pump which circulates H2O on timer. Built-in LED lights — also on a timer — trigger that sweet, sweet photosynthesis. The Gardyn system self monitors with sensors and actual cameras so you don’t have a ton of work to do other than cleaning and refilling the tank every month or so.
While it does carry a hefty price tag — $899 to be exact, plus shoots — the Gardyn is every efficient. Just ask CNET’s own Bridget Carey who took the Gardyn for a lengthy test drive recently and had success growing herbs, tomatoes and lots and lots of salad greens. Read her full review of the Gardyn smart hydroponic indoor garden for everything you could possibly want to know.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.