You Don't Need a Yard to Grow a Garden: Just Do It Indoors
We tested an array of smart gardens to find the best model for every type of indoor gardener.
If it's incredibly fresh herbs and bright, fragrant flowers you covet on a daily basis, it might be time to consider getting your own indoor smart garden. When there's a recipe demanding muddled mint, a heaping helping of chopped parsley or a sprig of fresh rosemary, most of us have to run to the grocery or local farmer's market, weather permitting. However, with a personal smart garden, you can grow all sorts of greens, from herbs to vegetables, regardless of location or season.
With LED grow lights and self-watering mechanisms, smart gardens require almost no maintenance or attention. Many of the top smart garden companies will send seed pods or plant sprouts at a moment's notice to keep your smart garden in bloom in perpetuity. These days, smart gardens like AeroGarden, Click & Grow and Ingarden make gardens in all sizes and are designed to grow different types of produce. There are large smart gardens fit to house full tomato plants and smaller models that are better suited to grow microgreens, lettuce or herbs.
Most pod gardens, like the compactor the , couldn't be simpler to operate. Plus, they are small and light enough to be moved around the house. Others, like the Lettuce Grow Farmstand and the 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.
To find the best smart garden in 2022, we put several growers through their paces. The one thing they all have in common is you'll never have to lift a spade or clean soil out from under your fingernails.
I've tried this very unit and it's a perfectly sized smart garden for growing essential herbs like basil, mint and chives and salad greens. 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 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 to grow much in the way of vegetables, 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, all of which function in the same manner. These include the Smart Garden 9, which can hold nine seed pods, and the multilevel Smart Garden 27 which holds, you guessed it, 27 seed pods.
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 and flowers.
As the plants grow, the adjustable LED light stand can grow 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 walk you through the initial setup clearly, and the display alerts you when you need to add more plant food.
While the Click & Grow system has a reservoir and wicks water up into the soil pods, the AeroGarden uses a pump to circulate moisture. Fortunately, the pump sounds like gentle dripping rather than anything distracting.
A nutritionist might tell you microgreens are a vastly underused source of nutrition. As a bonus: They're rather easy to grow at home. Ingarden is a new sleek smart garden designed to do just that and it's compact enough to fit on your windowsill or bookshelf.
The Ingarden is completely soil-free but wicks water up into three seed pads that sit above a reservoir. LED grow lights under the handle run on a timer and keep the microgreens growing -- and they grow fast. You'll have sprouts in a few days and full-grown microgreens like mustard, radish and broccoli in about a week to sprinkle on salads and sandwiches, and into sauces and soups.
My favorite thing about the Ingarden is the simple sleek design made with only ceramic and metal and no plastic. Compact, clean and easy to use, it's the perfect smart garden for someone dipping their toe into the indoor garden game.
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.
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 5-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 as well as a garden.
I've personally used this indoor/outdoor farmstand and can tell you it's well-designed and easy to operate. The Lettuce Grow Farmstand works by pumping water mixed with nutrients up from the base, so that it 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's 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 find it relaxing. The frame is also heavy once you fill it with water, so it's not something 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, which 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.
As a bonus, the Lettuce Grow farmstand ships next-day.
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 gadget doesn't take up much space at all. The microgreens garden kit consists of the planter, soil and seeds for your first round of plants, all for under $30.
Unlike the Ingarden, this model has no LED lights so you'll have to keep it in direct sunlight most of the time.
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 water on a 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 -- $849, plus shoots -- the Gardyn is very 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.