Over the past few years, young people have gotten really into growing stuff indoors: The most recent National Gardening Survey noted a “big comeback” of indoor gardening, including in cities where people do said gardening in cramped apartments and on tiny terraces. For urban dwellers, growing fresh greenery feels like a whimsical fantasy: rooftops, gardens, or balconies are usually a luxury, not a given. Luckily, the variety and quality of indoor gardening and grow kits are better than they’ve ever been before.
That said, experts guided us away from overly complicated kits. “The best indoor gardens are the ones you can keep by your windowsill and water less than once a week,” says Krissie Nagy, owner of gardening company BK Bumpkin. As for the actual plants: “Know the lighting requirements of the different plant or plants you’re trying to grow, since they all require varying degrees of light.” For areas that get at least four hours of direct light daily, Nagy suggests cacti, succulents, miniature citrus trees, and herbs. For full-exposure sunny windowsills, she suggests growing basil, peppermint, chives, and shiso. Ahead, gardening experts — from a landscaper to a microgreens expert to a produce-centric chef — share their favorite tools and kits for indoor gardening.
Best garden kits for herbs
“My clients often want a year-round herb garden in their kitchen for cooking and making fun cocktails,” says Sera Rogue, owner of Brooklyn gardening company Red Fern. “Unfortunately, this can be a challenge: Generally, city kitchens do not have the full sun required to keep herbs alive. Also, the roots of herbs are somewhat simplistic. They require daily watering.” Her top pick for a kit that solves issues with watering and sunlight snafus is this click-and-grow style: It’s a self-watering planter with a built-in grow light, as well as “cool Keurig-style plant pods featuring ‘NASA-inspired smart soil,’ so you can watch your specimens grow from seeds,” Rogue says. She recommends watching the brand’s “helpful, straightforward” videos on how to put the system together.
This grow house is great for growing basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, arugula, and watercress; it’s pricier but beautifully designed. “It suits apartment life well, as it is modest sized and has a solid, quality-looking feel — no more plastic décor,” says Sofija Sutton, general manager of Sprout Home in Brooklyn, of this Modern Sprout Growhouse. It’s also got a fancy “tranquil fading” feature when the light transitions on or off, to mimic the effect of dawn or dusk. And it’s on supersale right now.
Here’s a reliable, albeit less stylized, option that comes with a built-in LED light. It comes with Genovese basil, curly parsley, and dill-seed pods, with other herbs and vegetables sold separately.
Vertical or pocket gardens are another great choice for growing herbs (as well as tropical plants and succulents). “These are visually amazing because they ‘grow’ on the wall,” says Gennaro Brooks-Church, director of landscaping firm Eco Brooklyn Living Walls. Just be sure to be ultradiligent with watering. “The one drawback is that these systems dry out fast,” he says.
Director of Design and Build at rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange Ceci de Corral recommends using these Wally Pro Pockets in areas where space is limited because “They’re easy to plant out and great for installing custom vegetation configurations.” She recommends installing the pockets close together, and “prioritizing plants with creeping/climbing tendency which will give you a very lush end product.” She agrees with Brooks-Church that, because the pockets have a “tendency to dry out quickly” she recommends “installing simple drip irrigation if possible.”
“I love this for its simplicity. It’s self watering and easy to do. Simply transfer an herb from a 4” grower’s pot straight into the container,” recommends Sara Gatanas, General Manager at Urban Garden Center. She also notes that, for best results, place your herbs in a bright, sunny room and “before you know it, you will be enjoying some fresh mint in your mojito.” The planters also come in tangerine, lime green, and turquoise to add a pop of color to any room.
Best garden kits for microgreens
In addition to herbs, consider diminutively proportioned plants. “Microgreens come in so many flavors, and they’re extremely healthy and fast to grow,” explains Nicolas Mazard, U.S. general manager of microgreens company Koppert Cress. Those who like spicy foods should opt for microradish and micromustard microgreens. While miniature versions of greens will bloom more quickly than their full-size counterparts, patience is still necessary for microbasil, which takes 21 days to grow. For something a bit speedier, try microradish, micropea shoots, microbroccoli, and microarugula, all of which take one week to grow. This sleek, compact set comes with soil, non-GMO, organic heirloom seeds from Seattle Seeds, and detailed instructions specifically tailored to each type of plant.
This garden–fish tank hybrid comes with a three-month supply of microgreens and wheatgrass. “If you Google ‘aquaponics,’ you will see a world of gear that can be intimidating,” Rogue says. “This kit is more straightforward: It has a single Beta fish that provides nutrients for your plants in a fish-fertilizing, self-cleaning system.” This could work for microgreens or for herbs.
Best garden kits for vegetables
Lindsey Arnell, owner of The Grow Room, an NYC-based gardening store that specializes in hydroponics and indoor growing recommends this “easy to set up, eight-site countertop hydroponic system” to grow your favorite lettuce at home. The electricity-free hydroponic kit uses “a wicking method (also known as the “Kratky method”) for delivering water and nutrients directly to the plants’ roots,” she explains. This method can grow vegetables up to thirty percent faster than growing in soil. Plus, “since it’s relatively low-maintenance, it makes a great intro system for those new to hydroponic gardening.”
The tower garden is a vertical aeroponic garden that comes with non-GMO seeds (beefsteak tomato, bell pepper, cherry tomato, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, and basil) and accessories for planting (i.e., germination kit) and tending to (pH test kit, plant food, etc.) your new greens. “Many of the schools we work with in New York and Chicago use our donated seedlings in their classrooms with tower gardens,” says Nicole Baum, director of marketing and partnerships at Gotham Greens. This one is self watering.
For a scrappier, DIY approach: “If you’re trying to start seeds indoors or supplement your ambient lighting, a basic grow kit and a high-quality grow light are all you need,” Nagy says. She suggests Hydrofarm’s Jump Start Germination Station, when paired with lighting kits from Hydrofarm’s Agrobrite brand. Nagy suggests growing heirloom tomato and pepper seedlings with this combo.
For a more advanced indoor hydroponic system that is still suitable for beginners, Arnell recommends the Hydrofarm Hydroponic Megagarden. “It uses ‘Ebb and Flow’ technology, to pump water and nutrients from the lower reservoir up into the growing tray (controlled by a timer), feeding your plants throughout the day and night for maximum growth,” she explains. And because the MegaGarden has 15 plant sites, “you can grow a decent variety of herbs, veggies or flowers all at one time.” The kit also includes seed-starter cubes, nutrients, and a pH test kit.
Best garden kit for seeds
While this kit can also be used for herbs, Arnell says it is “perfect for starting seeds, or for catering to your humidity-loving diva plants in our dry New York winters.” The kit comes with a high quality 10”x20” tray, a humidity dome and a high-output fluorescent grow light with a reflector that mounts directly onto the dome, she adds.
Best garden kit for fungi
A fun grow-at-home option is a mushroom kit. “It brings almost-instant gratification” Rogue says. Just mist the organic, plant-based soil infused with mushroom spawn, and you’ll have your own umami-packed caps and stems in a few days. As an added bonus: You can use the same kit for more than one mini-crop of mushrooms.
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