Looking to up your culinary game with some fresh produce? Our hands-on review of the 5 best indoor gardens available will help steer you in the right direction. We bought and thoroughly tested all of the products here reviewed from seed start to harvest. We also evaluated each garden for ease of use and the variety of plants that can be grown. The results of our work have been conveniently organized such that you can easily make comparisons across products, all but ensuring that you will find the right product for your home.If you've got a green thumb (or are hoping to foster one), take a look at our house plant and succulent recommendations. If you're looking to cultivate your outdoor space, we cover that too. From pots and planters and gloves and shovels, our horticulture experts can guide you in finding the best gardening products to help make your yard flourish.
Our Top Picks
The AeroGarden Bounty Basic is a user-friendly hydroponic garden that accommodates nine plants at a time and allows plants to grow as high as 2 feet. The unit boasts an intuitive LCD user interface that guides you through the set-up process as well as keeps you informed of the water level and feeding schedule. As if that wasn't enough to ensure plant health, the unit is also WiFi-enabled, allowing one to control the lights and check the garden's status remotely. The Bounty Basic comes with prepared seed pods (many varieties available for purchase) that promote rapid germination, helping to shorten the time to harvest.
The Bounty Basic has some of the fastest seed to harvest times (~5 weeks) that we observed, but this is in part due to the large size of the unit. While the ample proportions of this garden are not necessarily negative, those with limited countertop space may find it a bit too large. In which case, one should consider a more compact model. That said, this unit offers space for nine plants to flourish in a sharp-looking design that will make a splash on most countertops or window sills, making it a decorative as well as useful kitchen item.
The AeroGarden Harvest 360 is a fantastic little garden unit that maintains the classic rounded plant pot look. In typical AeroGarden fashion, this garden reliably brings plants to harvest in just over a month. Also, the garden is easy to set up and maintain with a user manual that boasts gardening tips that we found quite helpful. Other thoughtful design features are the water and fertilizer reminders that help to keep the garden healthy and thriving, which can be useful for those who may lack green thumbs. Lastly, AeroGarden's pre-packed seed pods come in a plethora of plant varieties and all but ensure successful harvests.
Despite the manufacturer's laudable efforts to remove chance and circumstance from healthy plant outcomes, there are some considerations to be aware of before pulling the trigger on the Harvest 360. Specifically, the unit's light array maxes out at 12 inches which will require a bit more pruning as compared to other models with more reach. Also, the unit accommodates just six plants, which isn't a problem, but other six-plant gardens have notably smaller footprints than the Harvest 360's 81 square inches. Despite these factors, this shapely hydroponic garden is a producer that will reliably bring a flash of fresh greenery to one's home.
The AeroGarden Harvest is a compact, effective indoor garden best suited to those with limited countertop real estate. Despite its dimensions, this little unit makes the most of the space it's granted with a capacity for 6 plants to grow up to 12 inches tall. As is par for the course with AeroGarden products, the set-up and operation of this garden is a cinch with instructions that are holistic and easy to digest. Additionally, the unit keeps the user apprised of the water level and fertilization schedule with helpful reminders that keep the garden on track.
While the Harvest is a sound hydroponic garden, there are some issues related to its compact size. For example, the relatively small water reservoir requires a lot of refilling and the pump becomes increasingly noisy as the water wanes. This issue is exacerbated by the plant's roots which take up much of the tank's capacity when they are developed. Moreover, the healthy root structure complicates cleaning the tank if there isn't an extra set of hands to hold the plants (and dangling roots) aloft while cleaning. Despite these frustrations, and the extra work they create, this unit remains in high esteem among our testers because it yields quality produce in just over a month while consuming little kitchen space.
The Click and Grow Smart Garden 3 is a basic but effective compact indoor hydroponic garden. The unit eschews a water pump, digital interface, and moving parts such as an adjustable light. Because of its simplicity, this machine is considerably more affordable than the competition. Given the minimalist design and affordability of this unit, it's a good choice for kids at home or in the classroom as well as small kitchens or even at a desk.
As is often the case with products like the Click and Grow, its strengths can be seen as weaknesses when taken out of their proper context. For example, the unit's small size means that it can only take three plants at a time. Additionally, it has a small reservoir that will require frequent cleaning and refilling and is not as low maintenance as other models. The lack of a digital interface means that all feeding and watering schedules will have to be maintained the old-fashioned way — manually. That said, the unit's simplicity means there is little that can break or malfunction.
The VegeBox Small struggled to meet the standards set by the other indoor garden in the class. However, it has some redeeming features that kept it in the running. Specifically, this unit will grow a whopping nine plants — significantly more than the higher-rated competing models. Also, this unit foregoes a water pump as well as a digital user interface. As such, there is little that can go wrong, save neglect from the gardener.
The flip side of our analysis reveals that the VegeBox is a difficult to manage hydroponic gardening system. For starters, the germination process is quite involved, requiring implanting the seeds (not included in purchase) into sponges with tweezers and then soaking for 24 hours prior to placement in the garden receptacles. Additionally, pouring water into the intake port is difficult due to the size and location of the opening. Lastly, the VegeBox's light array tilts to adjust, meaning the plants closest to the hinging point effectively can't grow beyond 9 3/4". For the right user, these shortcomings may be minor, but if ease of use is your goal we recommend looking at other products here reviewed.
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Research Analyst Michelle Powell and Senior Review Editors Penney Garrett and Nick Miley are all experienced cooks with nearly four decades of collective experience catering, running restaurants, testing kitchen equipment as well as making food for family and friends. These activities have taught this trio the value of having fresh herbs on hand to take the flavor profile of a dish to the moan-out-loud level. So, when the indoor garden market took off, these pros were thrilled to test some of the best products available.
Once the selection was settled on and the products arrived in the lab, the team made practical tests of performance while analyzing product features. For example, they looked at the time required to bring plants to harvest, the ease of operation, the seed starting process, and the variety of plants that the units accommodate. All told, their analysis covers every aspect of these indoor planters.
Analysis and Test Results
If you're in the market for fresh herbs grown in a convenient indoor planter unit, you've come to the right place. Our comprehensive analysis and hands-on testing looks at the practical functionality of the top models on the market. The results of our in-depth evaluation are organized to easily make comparisons amongst the various products under our review. Read on for the details of each test as well as the indoor gardens that performed well and why.
Time to Harvest
If you are interested in an indoor garden, you probably want fresh herbs in hand as quickly as possible. With this desire in mind, we recorded the time from planting seeds to harvest for each garden and closely monitored the progress of the plants between these temporal bookends. All of the AeroGarden models (Harvest, Harvest 360, and Bounty Basic) delivered rapid harvest times with the Click and Grow close behind. The AeroGarden models yielded a harvestable leafy canopy starting at approximately 30 days. The dill and basil plants required another week or so.
The harvest metric is not a complex series of tests. It is simply based on how long it takes to grow plants large enough to start cutting them for use. To standardize the process and make comparisons between the various products possible, we tracked the progress of each garden from sowing seeds to harvesting, making liberal use of photos and written documentation. Each product was rated in part relative to the other products reviewed.
Ease of Use
As the title implies, the ease of use metric takes stock of the user-friendliness of the indoor gardens. Analyzing these units from this perspective leaves no doubt as to the supremacy of the AeroGarden Bounty Basic. This model's straightforward set-up is guided by the LCD screen and the well-written user manual. Additionally, the onboard computer notifies the gardener of feeding schedules and water levels as well as allowing light cycles to be automated. The Harvest and Harvest 360 offer very similar features with the exception of an LCD interface.
Specifically, our ease of use evaluation considered features such as the adjustability of the light, the size and location of the water tank access port, and, of course, the set-up process. Additionally, we rated the water monitoring system, the accessibility of the plants for care and harvest as well as the seed sowing process. Finally, we noted anything we thought could be improved or was otherwise annoying or taxing to the user. Complaints of note were the difficulty of adding water (as was the case with the Click and Grow's narrow access port) and the difficulty of cleaning the water reservoir when there is a robust root system in place. This latter issue was common to most of the gardens reviewed here.
All of the gardens that we tested start plants from seed. While there is a good argument that seed starts are more robust than cuttings, they do add additional obstacles on the path to harvest. As such, we carefully appraised the garden kits for the methodology, features, and add-ons affecting the seed starting process. The Click and Grow and the AeroGarden Bounty Basic lead the class in this metric in part because of their plug and play pre-seeded pods (these pods are common to all AeroGarden models). However, it is the Bounty Basic's LCD interface guided process and the Click and Grow's simplified operations that put these two models ahead of the rest.
On the other end of the seed starting spectrum is the VegeBox. This unit requires that the gardener load the seeds into their starter sponges manually. This requires carefully following a poorly written user manual that outlines the 24-hour procedure. While manually loading the seed pods opens up the possibility of growing whatever plant variety one desires (more on this below), the added steps can prove daunting to the uninitiated indoor gardener.
As was discussed above, the most effective models for starting seeds are those with preloaded seed pods, however, preloaded pods limit the gardener to the plant varieties that the manufacturer produces. The AeroGarden models are the least limited in this regard as the manufacturer offers up a cornucopia of preloaded seed pods online. Moreover, if AeroGarden doesn't make a preloaded pod with a plant variety of interest, they sell a kit to make seed pods at home. While we did not test these aftermarket kits, they appear to be much more fleshed out than the system provided by VegeBox.
Other indoor garden features contributing to successfully cultivating a variety of plants are accessories such as trellises, support stakes, and adjustability in the light height. Again, the AeroGarden models — and in particular, the Bounty Basic — lead the class in this assessment. The Bounty Basic's light can easily be adjusted to heights ranging from 9 inches all the way up to 24 inches. Additionally, this model comes with a 9-inch trellis if you choose to tackle plants yielding weighty produce.
Our hands-on review of the leading indoor gardens covers every practical aspect of these products' functionality and performance. We tested each model for ease of use, the time from seed start to harvest, as well as the diversity of plants that the units will cultivate. The data derived from our research is put into context and organized to facilitate apples-to-apples comparisons of the products. So, get ready for the sweet, earthy aroma of fresh basil, the pungent, woodsy odor of fresh rosemary, and the soft citrus zest of fresh dill — and a whole lot more. Salud!
— Nick Miley, Michelle Powell, and Penney Garrett
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