Hydroponic systems can offer faster, fuller plant growth compared to growing plants in soil. Yet, the success of your indoor gardening depends on the method and system you choose. The wrong choice may keep you from growing fresh herbs and vegetables.
The selection of hydroponic growing equipment and approaches can be confusing for beginners. Some systems are complex while others only require a few simple steps.
Keep reading to explore the various types of hydroponics solutions, how they work, and how to find the best hydroponic system for your growing needs.
What’s the Best Hydroponic System or Kit?
Here are our recommendations for the top hydroponic systems based on a variety of criteria. We compared performance, ease of use, price, and other factors to narrow the selection. As you compare systems, think about the features that matter most to you, such as size or simplicity.
Whether you want the most popular hydroponic system, the most compact, or the top rated for beginners, we have options to suit your needs.
Best Overall: AeroGarden Bounty Elite
The AeroGarden Bounty Elite is a premium aeroponic system with space for growing up to nine plants. It features a stainless-steel nutrient reservoir and base with a height-adjustable LED grow light.
The system includes a 50-watt LED array to provide a full spectrum of light for optimal growth. After you start a new garden, the system automatically adjusts the LED grow lights to simulate the day/night cycle.
The three-step water level indicator lets you know when the reservoir needs more water while the nutrient indicator lets you know when to add plant food. You do not need any experience to grow big, healthy herbs and vegetables.
Editor note: If quality is your main goal. This is considered the best indoor hydroponic system on the market right now.
The streamlined menu is easy to operate and understand
Includes Wi-Fi connectivity and supports Alexa voice commands
The stainless-steel base holds up better compared to the plastic options
The adjustable light can be extended to support plants up to 24-inches tall
Empty seed pods and sponges are available for growing other plants
One of the more expensive countertop units
Best for Beginners: AeroGarden Harvest
The AeroGarden Harvest is essentially a compact version of the Bounty Elite with a plastic base instead of stainless steel. As with the larger option, the system relies on the aeroponic method to deliver optimal oxygenation. However, instead of supporting up to nine plants, the Harvest unit has space for up to six plants.
The AeroGarden Harvest is a small hydroponic plant system that can easily fit on any counter or desk. It comes with everything needed to start growing common kitchen herbs.
The menu includes just three buttons, including a water-level indicator, plant food indicator, and LED light switch. The indicators light up to let you know when to add water or nutrients.
It’s an affordable system that comes with everything needed to start growing
One of the easiest hydroponic systems to set up and maintain
Only requires a small amount of space on a counter or desk
The water pump is whisper quiet
The opening for adding water is small, making it easy to spill water
The design only supports plants up to 12-inches tall
Best Luxury: AeroGarden Farm 24Plus
The AeroGarden Farm 24Plus is AeroGarden’s ultimate in-home hydroponic system. Instead of six to nine plants, you can grow up to 24 plants with a single kit. The setup includes two adjustable 60W LED grow lights.
The set comes with seed pods offering a wide selection of leafy greens and kitchen herbs. As with the AeroGarden Bounty Elite, the Farm 24Plus allows you to grow plants measuring up to 24-inches tall.
It also includes a simple menu with indicators to let you know when to perform necessary tasks, such as topping off the water or adding more of the provided nutrients.
The stackable design allows you to connect multiple systems for vertical gardening
Includes space for growing up to 24 plants with heights up to 24 inches
The 60W LED grow lights help maximize photosynthesis for faster growth
Comes with 24 starter seeds and pods to quickly start your first garden
Costs significantly more compared to some of the options
Most Compact: Vegebox Growing System
The Vegebox Growing System is one of the most compact hydroponic systems available, taking up less space than the AeroGarden Harvest. It relies on an aeroponics system, which includes a continuous flow of water inside the small 1.2-liter reservoir.
The unit includes nine holes for growing up to nine plants. Each plant sits in a small foam sponge placed inside a plastic basket.
Due to the limited space, it may not work well with large vegetables and plants, but it offers an ideal environment for delicate herbs, such as parsley and basil.
One of the most affordable ways to try in-home hydroponics
The base measures just 14.7 x 17.5 inches and takes up less space compared to others
The design is easy to use, as it includes a single on/off button for the pump and light
The LED light is adjustable to support taller plants
Does not include any indicators for water level or plant food
Does not come with any seeds to try
The foam sponges may collect mold and algae
Easy to Use: Moistenland Starter Kit
The Moistenland Hydroponic System is another aeroponic kit with automated control to reduce the hassle of growing plants indoors. The system automatically turns the lights on and off and controls the flow of water.
The system includes 12 seed pods with biodegradable coir sponges. Unlike the AeroGarden kits, it does not come with seeds or nutrient solutions. However, the design is a little easier to operate.
After adding water, seeds, and nutrients, you just need to turn the device on and select the growing mode. Choose between vegetable and flowering modes to suit the growth cycle of your plants.
Includes a clear water indicator window for monitoring the water level
The one-touch button operation makes it one of the easiest hydroponic systems to use
Takes up minimal counter space and provides room for up to nine plants
Automatically controls the LED lights and water pump
Does not come with seeds or plant food
Only offers a maximum grow height of 11 inches
Great for Herbs: iDOO Indoor Herb Garden Kit
The iDOO Indoor Herb Garden Kit closely matches the Moistenland Starter Kit and AeroGarden Harvest in terms of size and ease of use. It is another countertop unit designed for growing herbs with limited space.
The system relies on LED lights for indicating the current operating mode. It includes a water reservoir and pumps housed in a compact design with an adjustable LED grow light.
The hydroponic kit includes seven plant pods and supports a maximum height of 14.57 inches, which is a little taller compared to the previous countertop kits. You can grow taller herbs, such as sage and lavender, without having to trim them early.
Cost-efficient option for growing kitchen herbs
Suitable for growing taller herbs, such as sage and lavender
The 24-watt LED is a little more powerful compared to systems in the same price range
Only provides space for up to seven plants at a time
Does not come with seeds
Best on a Budget: GrowLED Plant Indoor Garden
The GrowLED Plant Indoor Garden is simply an adjustable LED grow light with a tray. The tray measures 7.5 x 17.7 inches, offering space for about four small pots.
The LED grow light includes an automatic smart timer. It automatically stays on 16 hours and off for 8 hours each day. It does not include a water reservoir or pump.
However, you could technically use this grow light with a DIY bottle hydroponics setup. Position the bottles below the LED and adjust the light as the plants start to grow. You can also use the GrowLED Plant Indoor Garden with standard pots containing soil.
Low-cost LED grow light with a tray for convenient desktop or countertop use
Includes an automatic smart timer to switch the LED array on and off
Suitable for a variety of applications, including bottle hydroponics and potted plants
It is not a complete hydroponic system, as it does not include a water pump or reservoir
Best Vertical: Gardyn Home Indoor Smart Garden
The Gardyn Home Indoor Smart Garden uses the nutrient film technique (NFT) with a vertical hydroponic gardening configuration to grow more plants with less space. The plants sit in openings on one of two vertical tubes that extend from the base.
The water pump sends water up to the top of the tube, allowing the nutrient solution to travel down the channels and through the plant’s root systems. It is a costly system but offers one of the most efficient options for indoor growing.
The design also accommodates plants of all sizes, making it ideal for growing marijuana and other plants that require more space.
The light comes from two LED tubes that stand opposite the vertical growing channels. The two lights provide the equivalent of 75 watts of power and a full spectrum of UV rays for healthier growth.
Provides space for growing up to 30 plants
Includes everything you need to start growing, including seeds and plant food
Suitable for growing cannabis and other tall plants
Takes up minimal floor space compared to other systems with the same capacity
One of the most expensive in-home hydroponic systems
Most Simple: The Farmstand
The Farmstand is a compact aeroponics system with a unique design. It has a circular shape with modular trays that hold the plants. The stackable trays include openings for inserting seed pods and allowing the plants to grow.
The plant roots grow toward the center of the tray where they receive nutrients from the water reservoir. The water is pumped from the bottom of the base to the trays for a continuous flow of nutrients.
The innovative design takes up less space and involves less work. You just need to plug it in to start running the pump and remember to add water and nutrients.
Takes up less floor space compared to some of the other choices
The modular design allows you to add more trays without taking up more floor space
One of the easiest designs to operate and maintain
Does not come with a grow light for indoor gardening
Great Design: Miracle-Gro Twelve
The Miracle-Gro Twelve hydroponic system features an innovative design for growing a wide range of herbs and vegetables. While it only includes space for growing up to four plants at a time, the design supports larger plants. The LED grow light stands over a foot above the tray that holds the grow pots.
The Miracle-Gro Twelve is built with a steel frame and features a stylish design that should work well in any space, including your living room.
The system relies on an aeroponics setup, with the pots suspended just above the water reservoir. It is also a smart system. The connected mobile app provides notifications and allows you to monitor plant growth.
The stylish design is perfect for use in any room
The mobile app makes it easy to monitor the growth of your plants
Requires minimal maintenance to keep the system running smoothly
Surprisingly affordable for a hydroponic system that can support a large plant
Only includes space for growing up to four plants at a time
What Are the Different Types of Hydroponics Systems?
One of the hardest parts of getting started in hydroponics is choosing the right method. Each type of hydroponic growing system has separate pros and cons.
Most systems involve placing seeds in a growing medium suspended above a source of water. Nutrients are added to the water, which feeds the roots of the plants.
However, some systems are small and require minimal maintenance while others are complex and come with a steeper learning curve. Here’s a quick overview of the most popular hydroponic growing methods (or the most common hydroponic systems).
Ebb and Flow
Ebb and flow systems, also called “flood and drain”, typically requires the use of a growing medium with plants resting in a tray. Ebb and flow hydroponics involves flooding the plant roots with a nutrient solution at a set interval, such as every few hours.
The nutrient-rich water drains into a reservoir instead of having the roots continuously sit in water (Often referred to as a flood and drain cycle).
As the water drains, oxygen is sucked into the grow medium, creating an oxygen-rich environment. These systems are efficient, but often difficult for beginners to set up and maintain due to the extra steps involved.
A wicking bed is a type of irrigation system designed for use in arid regions with limited access to water. It is also a convenient way to grow vegetables at home.
With a wicking bed, the plants are placed in soil or a soilless grow medium. As with ebb and flow systems, a water reservoir sits below the plants. However, instead of flooding the plants, the roots use a wick system to suck water up.
A small wicking bed may include a nylon rope. Larger setups require layers of fabric sandwiched between a soilless grow medium and soil or compost.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The nutrient film technique (NFT) is often used for commercial growing but may be set up for in-home use. The plants are placed side by side in a long channel, which is typically made from PVC piping. A pump circulates the nutrient solution through the channel.
An NFT system may include one or more channels. Large commercial systems may include a winding maze of interconnected pipes. This method takes up less space compared to other commercial approaches and delivers consistent water flow.
Quick takeaway: The NFT method does not work well with certain types of plants, including plants with long root systems and plants that require lots of support.
Drip irrigation is another hydroponics method commonly used for large-scale commercial operations. It is also an affordable system to set up at home but requires more space compared to other in-home options.
As with most hydroponic systems, the plants sit in pots or containers with soilless growing media. A drip nozzle connected to a tube is positioned above each plant.
A water pump drip system allows the nutrient solution to gradually drip through the nozzle and over the plant. The excess solution is collected and recycled through the pump.
Quick takeaway: The drip system is cost-efficient but requires extra maintenance and monitoring to ensure the proper distribution of nutrients and water.
An aeroponic system uses a hydroponics method adopted by many of the in-home countertop kits, such as the AeroGarden.
The plants sit in pots suspended above a water reservoir. Depending on the design, nozzles deliver water over each plant or spray the roots with the nutrient solution.
As the plants are suspended in air, they are naturally aerated. This creates an oxygen-rich environment that allows the plants to thrive. The roots eventually grow down into the water reservoir where they soak up the nutrients as with other hydroponic systems.
Quick takeaway: Aeroponics systems are often compact, easy to operate and allow you to grow many small plants in tiny spaces.
The Kratky Method is a type of passive hydroponics. With passive hydroponics, you do not use an industrial air pump or any kind of pump to circulate water. The nutrient solution sits in a water reservoir below the plants.
The water level starts high, allowing it to saturate the growing medium containing seeds. As the seeds sprout and roots grow, they soak up more water. The water level gradually decreases as the roots grow and extend down into the reservoir, maintaining an air gap between the water level and the plant.
You do not replace the water or add nutrients during the growth cycle. By the time that the water is fully depleted, the plants should be ready to harvest.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
A deep water culture system is comparable to nutrient film technique (NFT) systems. Both methods involve placing the root system directly into the water.
The main difference between DWC and NFT is the configuration. With the DWC system, instead of placing the plants in a row in a channel, the plants are suspended in a container. The container may include multiple plants. Tubing connects the water pump to each container.
Quick takeaway: Deep water culture systems are simple to set up, as they do not use cycles of flooding and draining the nutrient solution. The water flows continuously. The drawback is that disease can quickly spread from one plant to the next.
A bottle hydroponics system is a type of passive hydroponics, as it does not require a water pump. It involves suspending a plant in a bottle partially filled with water and nutrients.
A wick system may be used to draw water up to the grow media during seed germination. The roots eventually grow down through the media and to the water below.
Bottle hydroponics is a popular choice, as bottles take up less space and you do not need any extra equipment. There are no moving parts to deal with, but bottle hydroponics does require frequent maintenance.
As bottle hydroponics do not typically use water pumps, you need to replace the water about once per week. A straw may also be needed to manually blow air bubbles for proper oxygenation.
How to Choose a Hydroponic System
The price may be a primary concern when choosing a hydroponic growing system. Luckily, most of the systems discussed are available to fit any budget. Other considerations include the types and number of plants you want to grow.
If you just want to grow a few herbs, you can start with one of the basic countertop hydroponic grow systems. If you want to grow enough veggies to feed a family throughout the year, you will require one of the larger setups with space for taller, fuller plants.
After you consider your budget and the types of plants you want to grow, think about your experience level, available space, temperature, and the needs of your plants. Here’s what you should know to make the right choice.
Your Experience Level
If you are new to hydroponics and indoor grow systems, you should start with a simple system. A large-scale commercial hydroponic growing system includes a lot of components and requires frequent monitoring of nutrient levels. Any mistakes could result in dead plants.
Luckily, several of our hydroponics system recommendations are incredibly easy to use. The compact indoor kits, such as the AeroGarden or the Farmstand, allow anyone to start growing.
Think about where you plan on setting up the hydroponic system. If you only have a little bit of space on a counter or desk, consider using a compact hydroponic kit.
For those with more space, you may set up a larger system. Hydroponic systems can be set up in areas measuring a few feet wide and deep or covering an entire basement.
The Ideal Temperature
The ideal water temperature for a hydroponics growing system is between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is not typically a problem for in-home systems, as the temperature in most homes is within the same range.
Yet, if you plan on placing the system in your basement, or if you live in a cold region, you may need to use a water heater to maintain the best temperature.
Substrates and Nutrients Required
Hydroponic systems require substrate to hold the plants. Most in-home systems use a type of soilless substrate, such as coco coir, peat moss, organic sponges, or perlite.
A liquid fertilizer is added to the water to supply the roots with nutrients. If you want a simple setup, consider using a countertop system that comes with a bottle of plant food and coir plugs for germinating the seeds.
If you are the type of person who tends to lose interest in projects over time, choose a hydroponic system that requires minimal maintenance.
You typically need to clean out the entire system at least once a month to remove calcium and iron buildup. Small units may only need an occasional wiping with a damp rag and a thorough cleaning between crops.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hydroponics?
There are several things you need to consider before thinking about setting up an entire solution of your own or choosing from one of the best hydroponic systems above.
- Plants grow faster compared to growing in soil, as the roots uptake more nutrients
- A hydroponics growing system reduces the need to deal with pests that live inside soil
- You can grow more plants in less space using a hydroponic system
- You can grow plants indoors year-round in almost any environment
- Setting up a hydroponic system often involves higher upfront costs
- Hydroponic systems tend to require more maintenance compared to outdoor gardening
- First-time growers often find that hydroponics involves a steeper learning curve
- Plant disease and parasites can quickly spread from one plant to all others in the system
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions that people have.
What Types of Plants Can You Grow with Hydroponics?
Countertop hydroponics kits are often used for growing common kitchen herbs, such as cilantro, oregano, parsley, and basil. Leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach, are also good for first-time growers. With experience, almost anything you grow outdoors can be grown indoors with a hydroponic system.
What’s the Best Hydroponics System for Beginners?
A compact all-in-one countertop hydroponics system is the best choice for beginners. The AeroGarden Harvest is a common recommendation. You simply add water, seeds, and plant food. LED indicators let you know when the system needs more water or plant food.
What’s the Best Commercial Hydroponic System?
The drip system and the deep-water culture (DWC) method are two of the most used hydroponic systems for commercial applications. These methods often involve lower costs and less frequent maintenance, making them well-suited for large-scale growing.
What Is the Most Popular Hydroponic Method?
The drip system stands out as the most popular commercial hydroponics method due to its efficiency. It tends to cost less and involves less work compared to most other hydroponics approaches. The setup includes fewer components, which means there are fewer things that can go wrong. However, the aeroponic method is commonly used for in-home kits.
How Do You Aerate Hydroponics?
Aeration is required to provide oxygen to the roots. The easiest method for aeration is to suspend the plants above the nutrient solution to prevent the roots from sitting in water. Air stone and air diffusers may also be used to aerate hydroponic systems. An air stone and diffuser release bubbles in the water to supply oxygen.
Do I Need to Test the pH of My Nutrient Solution?
Monitoring the water culture is necessary for maintaining a healthy environment for the roots. A high pH level means that the water is more alkaline, which reduces nutrient uptake. A low pH level can also inhibit growth. The ideal pH level for a nutrient solution is between 5 and 6.
How Do I Adjust the pH in My Hydroponic System?
Test the pH level after adding the hydroponic nutrients. Adding one teaspoon of baking soda per five gallons of liquid can help raise the pH level. A small amount of white vinegar or citric acid can help lower the pH level.
Along with household items, you can buy commercial products designed specifically for raising or lowering pH levels.
Do I Need to Clean My Hydroponics System?
Algae, bacteria, and calcium buildup can accumulate around nozzles, filters, and pumps. You should change out the water or flush the nutrient solution about every 7 to 10 days. You may also need to clean or replace nozzles and filters.
Are Indoor Hydroponic Gardens Worth it?
Indoor hydroponic gardens are worth it for those without the space or interest in growing plants outdoors. You can grow almost anything using a hydroponic system. Small countertop hydroponic systems are affordable and easy to use. A large-scale drip system is cost-efficient but requires more experience and space.
A hydroponic system allows you to grow all types of herbs and vegetables indoors, similarly to a grow tent. However, some hydroponic systems require more experience and space.
Beginners should start small. An in-home countertop hydroponics system or grow kit involves minimal work and maintenance and allows you to learn more about the hydroponics growing process. Our top choice for beginners is the AeroGarden Harvest. If you want to grow more plants, try the AeroGarden Farm 24Plus.
If you have a tight budget or limited space, the Vegebox is one of the most affordable and compact choices.