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The best indoor herb gardens we tested in 2021

What to look for in an indoor garden



Steph Coelho/Insider


Light

Dr. Falcone recommends using a grow light on a timer when gardening indoors. Thankfully, most high-quality smart indoor gardens have the lighting automatically set for the user. Additionally, gardens with LED grow lights are a good choice because they’re cool to the touch and require less energy. 

Plants grown with plenty of light don’t just grow faster, they look sturdier and less lanky than those grown with speckled light. Companies that sell windowsill gardens and suggest you rely on sunlight are, frankly, full of BS. If you can’t garden outside in full sun, LED lights are the next best thing.

Ease of use and space 

I recommend looking for an indoor garden that has enough space for what you plan to grow. If you want a steady supply of greens to feed a family of four, go with a full-sized unit, which is about the size of a bookcase. If you just want fresh herbs from time to time to add to your recipes, opt for a smaller countertop garden. Whatever you choose, it should fit your space in both aesthetic and size. 

An indoor garden should also be easy to use and clean. If it’s not, you’ll find yourself neglecting it. Just like a well-designed outdoor garden is a pleasure to cultivate, a well thought-out indoor garden is more likely to become a routinely used household fixture.

Hydroponic vs. soil-based systems

A hydroponic garden is soilless. Plant roots sit in and get their nutrients directly from the water. By contrast, in a soil-based garden, the roots can’t grow past the soil pods and eventually become root-bound. 

In my experience, hydroponic units tend to produce plants with more life than units with soil-based pods. Herbs grown in a hydroponic system will last months and months as long as you continue to harvest them. Cut-and-come again plants, like lettuce, will also continue to produce until they send out a flower stalk — at which time they become bitter. 

And unless you’re looking for a fun indoor growing project to do with kids, steer clear of potted herb kits. The plants never last long, and they’re a pain to keep alive.

Smart features

Smart features aren’t a must, but they’re mighty convenient. Tracking growth in an app and receiving reminders to water or add nutrients is helpful for people who are new to gardening (or scatterbrained).  

Look for features like water sensors, automatic nutrient reminders, and harvest tracking. They’ll make your life easier. The Rise app, for example, even alerts you when it’s time to harvest plants. Sometimes the timing is a bit off, but the alert is still a good reminder not to let food go to waste.

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