When it comes to indoor gardens, there are a lot of different options on the market. You can buy plant stands, hydroponic gardens, or even build your own garden. But which one is the best for you? In this blog post, we will compare five different types of indoor gardens and see which one comes out on top!
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What to look for in any indoor garden
Price & Plant Costs
These indoor garden kits are not a buy it and forget it item so they are not cheap, but they are well worth the investment (some more than others). There are two important factors to consider here: one time costs and on-going running costs. At the end of the day each time you harvest those herbs and vegetables will it be worth it.
A garden is only useful if you can get it setup and running properly. The gardens reviewed here run from coming fully assembled plug and play style to multi-hour assembly and wiring missions. We wanted to find out the fastest way to get you to your fresh herbs and growing plants.
For first time gardeners customer support is hugely important, we factor in here what resources are available, how fast is support, and what kind of reviews does each company have for their customer support. At the end of the day plant food and seed pods should be easy to use in all smart gardens and you should be supported while you do it.
Another thing to consider when choosing an indoor garden is how it will look in your home. Some gardens are very sleek and modern, while others are more traditional. Here we consider how the grow lights look in your home, how loud the watering system is, and how nice the seed starting kit might be. Choose the style that best suits you!
When choosing an indoor garden, it's important to consider the company's goals. Some companies focus on sustainability and environmentalism, while others focus on the smart garden technology emphasizing specialized plant food and full spectrum LED lights or other grow lights.
Comparing Different Types of Indoor Hydroponic Gardens
Across the indoor gardening market there are five main companies to choose from:
- Just Vertical
- Lettuce Grow
- Rise Gardens
We will deep dive into each of these and compare them specifically against our favourite and what we think the best indoor garden on the market is. Want to skip straight to our recommendation? Click here.
Just Vertical is a company that focuses on sustainability and environmentalism, which is evident in their products. All of their gardens are made from recycled materials, and they use hydroponic technology to grow plants without soil. Their system has led grow lights built in, allows for you to use your own seeds, and is perfect for a small space.
Just Vertical was started by two sustainability scientists and this shows in their product. They are one of the only companies to have both design and utility patents on their technologies. Their unique growing technology was developed by their co-founders while they were both Masters of Science students at the University of Toronto.
Just Vertical also lays claim to having the lowest seed and pod costs making it one of the cheapest gardens to run in the long term. They currently carry two main indoor gardens: the AEVA and the EVE.
The standout tech feature on their led grow lights is that they have dimmable light settings that are perfect for adding a romantic ambience to the room.
Lettuce Grow had its start in celebrity being founded by actress Zooey Deschanel and her former partner Jacob Pechenik.
The Lettuce Grow farmstand appears to be an outdoors first garden but it does have the option for additional lighting to bring it indoors. The Lettuce Grow farmstand has a unique, futuristic wavy look where the plants grow out of each 'wave' in the system. Whether you want to be growing in direct sunlight out outside or want your smart garden inside Lettuce Grows is a cool looking option.
While the Lettuce Grow has a unique property in being able to buy seedlings they come at a premium costing almost 300% more than comparable seed pods from Just Vertical.
Nutritower is a long time community player in the indoor garden market with their unique design being seen at schools and community centers.
Nutritower has a great educational aspect to their gardens that they pride themselves on with a specific section on their website dedicated to classroom gardening.
They have a specific focus on the Quebec area where they are based.
A more recent entry into the indoor gardening space Rise Gardens was founded by a seasoned entrepreneur and has been backed by large corporate bodies like Amazons Alexa Fund and TELUS ventures.
This has allowed Rise Gardens to come to market quickly with different sizes of hydroponic indoor gardens and a rise gardens app. Their plants grow out of horizontal shelves with led lights mounted above.
Rise Gardens is a fast moving brand with lots of potential for disruption if their significant funding is deployed well.
Similar to Rise Gardens, Gardyn has come to the indoor hydroponics market fast and furious and with lots of money behind them. They've brought in more than $15M in investments to date with a large portion of that coming from JAB Holding Company.
Gardyn's systems are comprised of columns of plastic pods (resembling 45 degree plumbing wyes) that sit atop an elegant water bucket and has two light strips down the front of the system.
They also offer an annual membership at $399/annually to access discounts and support.
Breaking it Down by Category
Now that we have a good overview of each company lets break it down by a few specific categories to get a better comparison:
- Price & Plant Costs
- Customer Support
- Company Goals
Price & Plant Costs
It is important that we consider both the upfront costs of each companies systems as well as the running costs to the system, specifically how much do their plants cost.
On up-front costs you can expect to spend anywhere between $1000 - $1400 dollars for the larger systems from any of the companies. There isn't much variety within the upfront cost department unless you are looking to go for a smaller version of the indoor hydroponic gardens.
If you are okay going with a slightly smaller garden, Just Vertical, Rise Gardens, and Lettuce Grow all offer smaller sizes that you can purchase for around $699.
Where there is a significant difference however is on the plant costs for the gardens. These costs vary wildly which can go as high as $5 per plant and as low as $1.5 per plant.
Though this doesn't seem like a big difference at first glance this can easily add up to more than the cost of the garden through its lifetime. If you were to select the garden with $1.50 seed pods vs. $5 per seed pods through three years of gardening you could easily save over $1300.... more than the cost of the whole garden!
The Winner: The winner by far in this category is Just Vertical. Their plants retail starting at $1.5 per plant and come with germination guarantees, free shipping above certain levels, and a great variety of choice.
The Runner-up: Nutritower seems like a great second choice. They don't price their seeds the same way as most other competitors so it is hard to make a 1 to 1 comparison but based on our math their seeds seem like a great deal as well.
The Loser: The loser by far here is the Gardyn system, their pods (called yCubes) start at $5 per plant. Unless of course you want to subscribe to their membership which can cost up to $400 per year. Their pricing was also incredibly difficult to find with constant pushes to sign up for their membership.
Setup and first impressions are everything, and none of us want our excitement to be killed by a lengthy setup or assembly process for our indoor hydroponic garden.
To assess this we looked through all the user manuals and set-up videos for the indoor gardening technologies assessed here. That being said not all companies were transparent with their assembly and set-up videos... which is never a good sign.
The Winner: Just Vertical is the only garden we could confirm comes delivered fully assembled. With their garden it is as easy as plugging it in and you are off to the races. They also had clear documentation right on their product pages.
The Runner-up: Lettuce Grows seems to have a fairly simple stacking process that we are a fan of. The Gardyn process also has very few components and comes together quite quickly.
The Loser: Rise Gardens seems to have the most complex setup process due to the way their product stacks. There have also been many complaints of unclear directions from the manufacturer for setup.
Having access to knowledge is important, these indoor hydroponic gardens are not only so you can grow plants but also so you can grow your own knowledge.
To assess this category we looked at the customer support experience, support response times, and teaching materials provided on the backend.
The Winners: We had a tie in this category and let us explain why. First off, Nutritower provided a wealth of resources and learning tools targeted towards teaching yourself and your family about the benefits of food. Just Vertical on the other hand had an instant support response time via the live chat on their website and has a wealth of blog articles for their users to learn.
The Runner-up: We chose two winners here so no runner-up is needed.
The Loser: The loser here seems to be Gardyn which seemingly has support enabled by their app subscription. Paying for support after spending $1000+ on an indoor hydroponic garden seems to be taking advantage of the customer.
This is always a hard category to compare because there are personal biases at play for each person depending on what kind of space they have available. For that reason we wanted to give you more of an informational take than just our favourite.
We like to look at three main things:
- Are the lights going to be a problem? Are they intrusive in the living space? Do they have any extra features?
- How much space does this indoor garden take up?
- Form factor: is it beautiful and did they think about design?
For lights there are some concerns around the designs of Lettuce Grow and Nutritower as their lights face down or out from the unit which could lead to significant light leakage in the space.
Some nice features we did see were a dimmer switch and built in light shade on Just Vertical (romantic dinner for your plants?), and Rise Gardens and Gardyn had built in app control so you could change the lights from your phone.
On Space: Most of these gardens are true vertical gardens built to grow up and not across. The one exception being the Rise Garden which has more of a cabinet feel than bookcase feel to it. There were two clear standouts here for how slim they both looked and actually measured out to be. Gardyn and Just Vertical both have slim and sleek profiles that only occupy about 3 square feet each.
Form Factor: For this we really looked at these gardens with the idea of did the designers think about how this would look or did they just cobble something together. In that sense there are some clear losers: Gardyn and Nutritower both are very industrial looking, and some clear winners: Lettuce Grow and Just Vertical
Lettuce Grow has a very futuristic almost spaceship looking design that took some thought.
Just Vertical has opted for a mid-century modern look contrasting the futuristic vertical farming component on-top with beautiful walnut cabinets on the bottom to tie it all together.
We all want the purchases we make to reflect our own goals and values. For this section we looked at whether or not the company has a mission statement, and whether they look like they are following through on that mission statement.
Many of these companies are doing amazing things for the planet so we wanted to crown not just one winner here but three winners who all had a clear mission statement and were more than just a business out to make a profit:
Lettuce Grows through their 1-for-10 partnership with Whole Kids is doing some amazing work building and growing healthy food for everyone.
Just Vertical through their at-home educational initiatives sent out thousands of seeds and indoor garden lessons to help parents with kids stuck at home during the pandemic teach their kids about where their food comes from.
Nutritower through their classroom gardens program is working to enrich kids education around the world.
Just Vertical's gardens came out in the top 3 in our rankings across every category we looked at. The major selling points for us were:
- They are the cheapest garden to run in the long run. If your indoor garden isn't less expensive than going to the grocery store what is the point in investing the time to grow at home.
- The design is thoughtful and elegant. This isn't just a garden it is a piece of furniture that looks and feels like it belongs in your home. This is something you can show off with pride.
- Setup & customer support is top tier for Just Vertical. They are the only garden on the market we found that arrived fully assembled (with the option for White Glove delivery too!). Their customer support was incredible, the response time via live chat on their website is instant (go try it for yourself!) and they have great resources available for self-learning.
- The mission of Just Vertical is clear and they are transparent about who they are and what they do. This isn't a company just out here to make a profit they have sustainability and social goals that are good for people and the planet. This is a company you can feel good buying from.
In conclusion if you are ready to start indoor gardening and want to look at smart gardens Just Vertical came out on top in our comparison. They are the cheapest to run, have beautiful designs, great seed options (from cherry tomatoes to thai basil) and offer incredible customer support. Their mission is clear and they are transparent about who they are and what they do. We highly recommend investing in a Just Vertical garden for your home.