Companies like AeroGarden and Rise Gardens have made hydroponic growing way more accessible. After the initial cost of the indoor gardening system itself, you can inexpensively grow your favorite plants right on your kitchen counter with minimal effort, no green thumb required.
While there are many different plants you can grow in an AeroGarden, there’s one group of plants that are the easiest to tend and that will give you the biggest return on your gardening system investment.
THE EASIEST PLANTS TO GROW IN AN AEROGARDEN
Hands down, the absolute best plants to grow in any kind of hydroponic system/smart garden are herbs, specifically annual herbs that are out of season, plus the perennial herbs you use the most while cooking.
The second-best plants to grow would be salad greens. You can grow small leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, and spinach in an AeroGarden Harvest Elite, but you’d need a bigger model to grow larger plants like kale and Swiss chard. I personally feel that growing smaller leafy greens isn’t as worthwhile because they’re such fast-growing plants that you need to constantly refresh.
Let’s look more at the different options for herbs to grow in your garden.
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Annual herbs have specific times of year during which they can be grown. Even if you have a great garden setup, you won’t be able to grow these herbs outdoors when the temperatures aren’t right for them. Annual herbs include the following:
Dill and cilantro are cool season herbs that just won’t grow outside during the hot summer months. Even though parsley is technically a biennial, which means it can live for up to two years, I’ve struggled to grow parsley during the hot Texas summers. It grows beautifully in a hydroponic system.
Basil, in contrast, is a warm to hot season herb that has zero frost tolerance. That means you can’t grow basil from your first frost of the year until the last frost in spring. For those of us in the greater Austin area, we can typically expect to have frost from late November until mid-March or so. That’s almost four months without garden-fresh basil. And if you love homegrown basil, that’s about four months too long without it, you know? If you live in a colder climate, you have an even longer period during which you wouldn’t be able to grow basil outdoors.
With an indoor garden system like AeroGarden, you can have fresh basil year round growing right in your kitchen. Or you could grow basil outside when the weather is warm and switch to growing basil indoors over winter. When your cilantro and dill plants start to bolt (or go to seed) outdoors in the spring or summer, you can swap out the pods growing basil for cilantro and dill. That way, you always have these herbs on hand, no matter what the weather’s like.
My favorite thing about having an AeroGarden is being able to snip from my favorite herbs right next to where I cook and plate all our meals. Perennial herbs you can grow in an AeroGarden systems include the following:
I recommend starting with whichever of these you use most when you’re cooking… because you’re about to have a lot of leaves!
While perennial herbs are usually slow to grow from seed, their growth is accelerated in the AeroGarden pods. They can stay alive for a very long time in your indoor garden and will give you harvest after harvest.
A Complete List of the Top Herbs to Grow in an AeroGarden
- sweet basil
- purple basil
- Thai basil
WHY ARE HERBS THE BEST PLANTS TO GROW IN AN AEROGARDEN?
There are so many reasons I recommend sticking with herbs in your AeroGarden if you’re looking for something low-maintenance to grow indoors. This is especially true if you’re purchasing a smaller garden, which I assume most of you are. At $80 to $120 on sale, the Harvest line is the most budget-friendly option from AeroGarden. (I have the Harvest Elite Slim.) Bounty models start at $350 and Farm models start at $699.
So unless one of the bigger models is in your price point, it’s not a good idea to try growing fruiting plants like bell peppers and tomato plants. They just don’t do well in limited space and require lots of extra care. Root vegetables like radishes and carrots, by the way, are completely out of the running for AeroGarden plants.
With that in mind, let’s look more specifically at why herbs are the best option:
Herbs require the least amount of tending
Each of the grow pods from AeroGarden contains several seeds to ensure something will sprout and grow. If you’re growing leafy greens or a fruiting plant and multiple seeds sprout in each pod, you’ll have to do something called thinning. That means you’ll take a little pair of scissors and cut all but one plant per pod. There’s no need to thin herbs. You can actually have two to three plants successfully growing from the same pod. More harvests for you!
You also don’t need to support herbs plants, whereas fruiting plants need support as they grow tall and support larger fruits.
The only thing you’ll need to do besides refill the water tank and add more plant food every two weeks is harvest from your herbs frequently to maintain good air flow around the leaves and stems.
Herbs require the least amount of space
AeroGarden recommends that you skip every other space when you’re growing small fruiting plants like tomatoes or peppers to make sure each plant has enough room to grow. To me, it’s such a bummer to spend money on a garden with six spaces, only to have to limit yourself to three plants. Since herbs are so compact, there’s no need to skip spots.
Also, tall plants don’t work very well in the Harvest models because the lights can only be raised to 12″. Herbs can be kept short enough for this line without having to sacrifice potential harvests.
Herbs don’t need to be pollinated to produce
Plants like tomatoes and peppers grow best outdoors so they can be pollinated by bees and butterflies. If you’re growing fruiting plants, the company sends you a tool called “Be the Bee” to help you shake pollen loose, but that just seems like a lot of extra work. I’d rather grow fruiting plants outdoors and let nature do its thing. The actual bees and butterflies will thank you.
Herbs can be used fresh daily
Like I said before, herbs are the best plants to have on hand in your kitchen for seasoning meals or adding garnishes. I mean, what’s better than fresh herbs without even needing to step outdoors?
Herbs give you the most bang for your buck
You could probably only grow a handful of tomatoes from each tomato plant in a hydroponic garden, which would equal maybe $20 of fruit from the grocery store. I expect to harvest the equivalent of three plastic packets of herbs from the store each week. If each packet costs about $3, that’s $9 of herbs each week and $36 of herbs each month. If you do the herb math, your AeroGarden will have paid for itself long before the first year is up.
AEROGARDEN PROS & CONS
This is my first experience growing hydroponically, so I can’t speak to any of the other garden systems. I do know there are certain things I absolutely love and a couple things I dislike. If you’re still weighing which system to get, consider these pros and cons before making your decision.
- The pump in the water tank is really quiet and efficient.
- The Harvest Family line of AeroGardens have a small footprint on your countertop. They look sleek and attractive.
- You can find success without any prior gardening knowledge. Your main responsibility, besides regular harvesting, is simply to add water and fertilizer to the reservoir by lifting up the water cover. Pretty simple stuff!
- The water bowl and grow deck say they’re dishwasher safe to make them easy to clean before growing something new. The water bowl has wires and things that need to be unscrewed before cleaning. I find it better to clean by hand but spend at least 30 minutes disassembling and scrubbing.
- The grow light stays on for 17 hours a day for herbs, when 14 hours would be more than sufficient. Herbs can grow a little too fast with this much light, and no matter how often you prune, the top leaves will show signs of scorching from the light being so close to them because the top can only be raised to 12″.
- The garden attracts fungus gnats. I buy yellow sticky traps and stick them on the back of the garden to catch as many gnats as possible.
Something else to note: The grow lights are obnoxiously bright when you first start growing a garden. Once you have more plant material, the light gets better absorbed. Still, we have our garden set to turn off late so that it acts as a sort of nightlight in the kitchen. I can move around the kitchen without needing any other light source.
TIPS TO TEND HERBS IN AN AEROGARDEN
With proper care, each herb garden should last about 6 months before it’s best to start fresh. Here are some tips to keep your plants healthy:
Ditch the MiracleGro Plant Food
AeroGardens come with MiracleGro liquid fertilizer designed for hydroponic growing. MiracleGro is a synthetic fertilizer that poses health risks to humans, so it’s not really something I want to be pouring into a water tank near my food. I recommend switching to another well-balanced fertilizer for hydroponic growing, such as Dyna-Gro plant food (7-9-5) or Fox Farm’s Grow Big liquid plant food (3-2-6).
Pinch Taller Plants Early
You’ll want to remove the little plastic grow domes as soon as the plants have sprouted and are almost touching the top. Basil will typically be the first herb to germinate and grow. Since it grows so fast, it can quickly block light from the other herbs while they’re just getting started. It’s important to pinch the top set of leaves from taller plants like basil early and often to make sure every plant has enough light.
Check the Water Tank Often
When you first start a garden, you’ll only need to add water every 2 to 3 weeks. Then, as the roots really start to grow, they’ll absorb water at a much faster rate. I left my AeroGarden for a 2-week-long vacation expecting the reservoir to supply my young plants with enough water while I was gone. Instead, I came back to plants that had grown rapidly, depleted their water reserve, and then shriveled up. The thyme, parsley, and mint were saved by fresh water (a real testament to their hardiness), but everything else had to be replanted.
Plus, AeroGarden advises that it’s better to refill the reservoir with fresh water often instead of waiting for the red light to warn you that the water level is low. I refill when I hear the pump cycle working hard, which only happens when the water level is lower.
Lift the Light as Herbs Grow
Raise the light hood as herbs grow, leaving about 4″ to 6″ between plants and the LED lights. This distance is hard to maintain once your herbs are mature. I trim basil one day, only to find it scraping the light hood the next morning. Prune frequently, especially with basil. Remove any scorched leaves. (They’re still edible.)
Watch for Mold
Mold sometimes forms on the grow sponges. When this happens, I prune the base of the herbs heavily to increase air circulation, remove the pod label, and sprinkle some cinnamon. This takes care of the mold. You should add a new pod label once the mold is gone to prevent algae in the tank.
Take older, outer leaves from plants like dill and parsley, and cut basil and mint above leaf nodes. When your garden is mature, you’ll find yourself with an abundance of herbs! You’ll likely need to harvest more than you can use fresh. I recommend drying the perennial herbs and dehydrating or freezing the annual herbs.
Replant Every 6 Months
It’s a good idea to replant your AeroGarden every 6 months or so for two reasons: First of all, you’re supposed to rinse and refill the reservoir before adding more plant food once a month. I find this a pain to do and avoid it. The pump in the water tank functions really well, but after 6 months, there will be some algae that starts to grow. It’s time for a deep clean.
You’ll also notice around this time that your annual herbs like dill and basil are flowering, and the roots of all your herbs will be taking over the water tank. It’s time to start over with fresh plants. Parsley and any perennial herbs that still look healthy can be transplanted outdoors or into pots.
HOW TO INEXPENSIVELY REPLANT AN AEROGARDEN
If you’ve seen the prices of those little pre-seeded pods from the AeroGarden shop, you’re likely bristling at the thought of starting over. Don’t worry. There’s a much cheaper, more efficient way to replant than constantly stocking up on AeroGarden seeds.
For the price of one AeroGarden seed pod kit, you can buy individual seed packets for your favorite herbs or an herb garden sampler pack. Now you have hundreds of seeds ready to grow. If you have an outdoor kitchen garden, you can also save your own seeds to use in new pods.
In addition to seeds, grab an inexpensive kit for hydroponic growing on Amazon. I recommend the Hydroponic Garden Accessories Pod Kit, which includes 30 new grow baskets, plant grow sponges, and labels. All you have to do is soak the grow sponges in warm water for about 30 minutes before popping them into the baskets and adding your own seeds to the little hole on top. Place 2 to 3 seeds of one herb variety per grow sponge.
The only downside to using these kits over AeroGarden plant pods is that the grow sponges don’t stay down in their baskets quite as well. They tend to float up when first planted. You’ll need to push them back down to ensure the sponges aren’t drying out. Once the herbs are growing, this is no longer an issue.
I have found so much joy in growing my favorite herbs indoors, and I hope this encourages you to grab a smaller garden model and start growing your favorites too! Let us know if you have any questions about growing in an AeroGarden in the comments below. If you’ve grown herbs or something else hydroponically, let us know what worked best for you!