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In nature, roots expand into the earth to access the water and nutrients that the plant needs to grow. Indoors, that earth is replaced with container systems that provide the same essential elements to the plant – usually more efficiently and with less effort than growing in the ground. In fact, many outdoor gardeners choose to use containers because it’s easier to grow bigger, more consistent harvests. Containers vary from just a pot and soil to an advanced hydroponic setup, and present the opportunity for you to create the perfect environment for each type of plant depending on its root growth.

In this blog we’ll explain how plants differ from each other, what the main styles of containers are, and what style is best for each indoor edible plant.   

Should all plants be watered the same way?

It should come as no surprise, but because plants have evolved to live in the earth’s diverse landscape and weather, there is not a “one-size-fits all” technique. A plant that’s used to being high on a dry, rocky medeteranian cliff prefers different soil so one native to a shaded river bank. You will find that some plants like to dry out between waterings, while others thrive on consistency. Beyond this, there are some advanced tricks that gardeners have figured out over the years – like fruits taste sweeter when they ripen in drier conditions, or that some leafy greens grow twice as fast hydroponically. Check out our other blogs if you are looking for specific guidance on microgreens, lettuce and leaf greens, early harvest vegetables, or ripe vegetables.   

 

Hydroponics vs. Self-Watering Planters vs. Potted Soil

Indoor Gardening with Pots and Soil

This is the simplest way to get started, and is familiar to most houseplant gardeners. You are basically recreating a small patch of earth indoors and replicating rainfall with regular watering. When setting up, you’ve got to size your pot properly and pick the right potting mix.

Pros to Indoor Gardening With Pots and Soil: 

  • Least expensive
  • Good for plants that don’t need frequent watering (like houseplants and a few edible ones) 

Cons to Indoor Gardening With Pots and Soil: 

  • Most work to manage 
  • Most plants prefer to have their ideal conditions with little variation. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to match the consistency of self watering planters and hydroponic sets with hand watering. 
  • Having to remember to water every few days (or even more frequently) isn’t just a hassle, but if you forget, your plant will come to a screeching halt. 
  • Even if you are diligent about watering regularly, it’s easier to overwater your plants as you don’t have a good gauge of what’s “too much”.

Indoor Gardening with Self-Watering Planters (SWPs)

Self-watering planters are a diverse category, with the common feature of a reservoir which constantly transports water to the soil. This means you refill it once a week or so, and the planter waters constantly in between. The most common types use some type of wick (either fabric or gravel) to draw the water into the soil, but we have found systems where a porous-ceramic wall controls the flow of water to work best (you read about our tests here).

Pros to Indoor Gardening With Self-Watering Planters:

  • Very consistent watering
  • Least work to manage
  • Provides the best growth for a wide variety of plants (from dry-loving to wet-loving given the right system)

Cons to Indoor Gardening With Self-Watering Planters:: 

  • Wick-based systems typically keep the soil too wet which can lead to root health problems in some plants
  • Porous-ceramic systems vary greatly depending on the manufacturer. They range from keeping the soil very dry to very wet, so need to be selected with care.

Indoor Gardening with Hydroponics

Hydroponic systems replace soil with nutrient enriched water. There are many different styles, and if you want to dive into this topic, check out our advanced blog and side-by-side tests here. While they are popular for commercial growers (it’s easier to fine-tune nutrients and maintain a clean, pest free environment) they are typically more work and more expensive than a SWP. However, a couple of edible plants love the hydroponic environment – so if you’re crazy about growing lots of basil or lettuce – it’s worth the extra investment. 

Pros to Indoor Gardening With Hydroponics: 

  • Select plants (like Lettuce and Basil) can grow twice as fast hydroponically
  • Cleaner to set up and wash out. 

Cons to Indoor Gardening With Hydroponics: 

  • For most plants there’s not a big yield advantage, and a greater risk of root disease
  • Can be noisy, costly, or complicated based on their design

 

The Best Technique For Each Type Of Plant: A Scientific Table To Help You Raise Happy, Well-Watered Plants 

Plants are really adaptable and can successfully grow in a number of different conditions. That being said, based on cost, maintenance needs, and plant productivity their are better plant<>system fits:

Potted Soil Self Watering Planter (Drier) Self Watering Planter (Wetter) Hydroponic
Fennel Beans Arugula Basil
Thyme Cilantro Chard Lettuce
  Chives Eggplant Microgreens
Cucumber Garlic  
Dill Kale
Oregano Mint
Rosemary Parsley
Sage Peppers
Strawberries Tomato

 But for those of you who are just starting out and want something that’s simple and zero-fuss, we have beginner-friendly Garden Trio Kits and Bottle Garden Kits that are perfectly designed just for you! Try them out and experience the joy of growing your own food right on you counter top or window sill.

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