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5 Best Hydroponic Plants for Beginners: Vegetables, Fruits, & Herbs That Grow Well

5 Best Hydroponic Plants for Beginners: Vegetables, Fruits, & Herbs That Grow Well

Hydroponic gardening is similar to hydroculture, as it involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water without the use of soil. This makes it an excellent method for beginners who want to explore gardening without the traditional use of soil.

The best hydroponic plants to grow include greens such as lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, various berries including strawberries, and a wide range of herbs. Further, several species of flowers, such as chrysanthemums and carnations are also excellent candidates for hydroponic systems.

In this article, we delve into the fantastic world of hydroponic gardening.
Stay with us to learn the basics of hydroponic herbs and plants, explore the best techniques for beginners (like Aerogardens, and deep water culture), and insights into the differences between indoor and outdoor systems.

Key Takeaways:

  • Setting Up: Indoor systems offer more control, ideal for sensitive plants like strawberries and bell peppers, while herbs and lettuce can thrive in both indoor and outdoor setups.
  • Seed Starting: Beginners may prefer starting with transplants, especially for more challenging plants like strawberries and bell peppers. Lettuce and spinach are more forgiving when started from seeds.
  • Care and Maintenance & Harvesting: It’s important to remember each plant’s specific needs for nutrients, light, and pH levels, as regular monitoring is key for healthy growth and timely harvesting. Additionally, learning the right time and technique for harvesting each plant is crucial to ensure the best yield and flavor.
Perfect red bell peppers growing in a large hydroponic setup.

Top 5 Hydroponic Fruits, Herbs & Vegies

1. Lettuce

  • Type: Leafy Green
  • Growth Time: 4-6 weeks
  • Care Tips: Requires consistent light and moderate nutrient levels; ideal for floating or NFT systems.
  • Setting Up: Thrives in both indoor and outdoor setups; a versatile choice for any hydroponic beginner.
  • Seed Starting: Easy to start from seeds, making it a great choice for learning the basics of hydroponic cultivation.

2. Tomatoes

  • Type: Fruit-bearing Vegetable
  • Growth Time: 8-14 weeks to fruit
  • Care Tips: Needs strong light and regular pruning; best in a drip or ebb and flow system.
  • Setting Up: Better controlled indoors, especially for temperature management.
  • Seed Starting: Starting from transplants is recommended for better success and ease of care.

3. Basil

  • Type: Herb
  • Growth Time: 3-4 weeks
  • Care Tips: Prefers warm temperatures and moderate light; suitable for most systems, especially DWC.
  • Setting Up: Can be grown both indoors and outdoors, adaptable to various environments.
  • Seed Starting: Can be easily started from seeds and is a good plant for beginners to experiment with.

4. Strawberries

  • Type: Fruit
  • Growth Time: 8-12 weeks
  • Care Tips: Requires full light and higher nutrient concentrations; best grown in vertical towers or NFT systems.
  • Setting Up: Indoor systems are ideal for providing the controlled environment they require.
  • Seed Starting: Starting from transplants is advisable due to the sensitive nature of the plant.

5. Bell Peppers

  • Type: Fruit-bearing Vegetable
  • Growth Time: 10-12 weeks to fruit
  • Care Tips: Needs strong light and stable temperatures; ideal in a drip system or DWC.
  • Setting Up: Preferably grown indoors for optimal temperature control and lighting.
  • Seed Starting: Best started from transplants to ensure healthy growth and better yield.

Best Plants to Grow in a Hydroponic System

VegetablesFruitsHerbs
TomatoesStrawberriesBasil
LettuceRaspberriesMints
MicrogreensMiniature Lemon TreesThyme
Bell  & Hot PeppersBlueberriesChives
BroccoliWatermelonCilantro
SpinachCantelopeWatercress
CeleryGrapesLavender
KaleCranberriesParsley
ChardDwarf Apple TreesCoriander
BeansMiniature Cherry TreesChamomile
OnionsDwarf Banana TreesRosemary
GarlicMost dwarf fruit treesSage
CucumbersStevia
RadishesOregano
PeasTarragon
SquashLemon balm
Bok ChoySorrel
LeekMarjoram
ZucchiniMost herbs
Scallions
Arugula
Mustard Greens

Vegetables You Can Grow Hydroponically

Hydroponic Vegetables Growing in Greenhouse

Vegetables are some of the most popular plants to grow in a hydroponic setup, whether for personal consumption or for the market.

Some of the best vegetables to grow in hydroponic systems include:

1. Tomatoes

One of the very best plants for hydroponic growers is without question hydroponic tomatoes.

Thanks to the high demand from local markets and the fact that each plant puts out countless fruits, tomatoes top the list of best vegetables to grow hydroponically.

  • Time to first harvest: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Plant height: 6 to 20 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Both

2. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are also a great option and one of the best veggies to grow in your hydroponic system is cucumbers. To grow properly, you’ll need to be mindful of the temperature and lighting, but other than that, cukes are quite easy!

Another highly marketable plant and one with nearly as many uses as tomatoes (eaten raw, as pickles, in relish, and more), cucumber plants are quick-growing vegetable plants that make enormous amounts of produce.

  • Time to first harvest: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Plant height: 6 to 8 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Medium
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Both

3. Lettuce

A staple vegetable in most classic gardens, hydroponic lettuce is among the fastest-growing vegetables in the world of hydroponic production and is commonly grown by both hydroponic hobbyists and commercial growers.

It’s a versatile crop, in general, and one with a high market value at farmers’ markets and commercial markets (like local restaurants and grocery stores).

  • Time to first harvest: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Plant height: 6 to 12 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

4. Spinach

Depending on the local market and your own dietary preferences, spinach can be just as lucrative as lettuce and microgreens.

It’s also one of the fastest-growing options that you can plant in a hydroponic system and is able to be grown all year.

  • Time to first harvest: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Plant height: 6 inches to 3 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

5. Beans

When it comes to fast-growing vegetables, beans, commonly grown in home gardens, are also well-suited for active hydroponic systems.

Not only is there a steady market demand for numerous types of beans, but most bean plants produce a high yield that just keeps coming.

If you’re looking for productive and low-maintenance vegetables, beans might be the answer!

  • Time to first harvest: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Plant height: 10 to 15 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Both

6. Microgreens

Microgreens, harvested within a month of germination, grow quickly and are nutrient-rich, making them ideal for hydroponic growing.

Microgreens are an excellent choice for indoor hydroponic gardeners who want a fast harvest and a boost of nutrition.

  • Average time until first harvest: 7-21 days
  • Plant height: 2-6 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Easy
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors? No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics? Indoor

7. Kale

Kale, a nutrient-packed leafy green, thrives in hydroponic systems. With its robust nature, kale can grow in a hydroponic garden faster and often more densely than in soil, making it one of the best plants for health enthusiasts.

  • Average time until first harvest: 50-65 days
  • Plant height: 12-36 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Moderate
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors? No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics? Both

8. Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are a popular hydroponic plant due to their colorful fruits and slightly sweet taste. Bell pepper plants can be grown in a hydroponic system to yield crisp and juicy peppers that often surpass the quality of soil-grown counterparts.

  • Average time until first harvest: 60-90 days
  • Plant height: 24-36 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Moderate
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors? Yes (manual pollination recommended)
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics? Both

9. Hot Peppers

For those who like a bit of spice, hot peppers are definitely on the list of plants you can grow hydroponically and are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They benefit from the controlled environment, producing fruits with consistent heat levels and vibrant colors.

  • Average time until first harvest: 60-120 days (varies by variety)
  • Plant height: 12-36 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Moderate
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors? Yes (manual pollination recommended)
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics? Both

10. Swiss Chard

Swiss chard, with its vibrant stems and tender leaves, is a delightful addition to any hydroponic garden and is grown widely by hydroponic hobbyists. This plant is not only beautiful but also rich in nutrients. Its adaptability makes it an excellent choice for hydroponic cultivation.

  • Average time until first harvest: 50-60 days
  • Plant height: 12-24 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Easy
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors? No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics? Both

11. Radishes

Radishes are root vegetables well-suited for hydroponics due to their rapid growth and compact size. When grown in a hydroponic system, radishes often yield smoother and more vibrant tubers compared to traditional soil-grown methods.

Their peppery flavor and crunchy texture make them a popular choice for hydroponic gardeners looking for a quick and rewarding harvest.

  • Average time until first harvest: 20-40 days (varies by variety)
  • Plant height: 6-12 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Easy
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors? No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics? Indoor

Best Fruits To Grow Hydroponically

Hydroponic Strawberries Growing in Rows

Growing fruit hydroponically is extremely profitable and creates a steady supply of extra-tasty fruit for consumption or sale. 

Among the best fruits for hydroponics are:

1. Strawberries

One of the most sought-after fruits in the world, strawberries are used in countless food products and recipes. Many consider them among the best hydroponic plants as they grow fast in a hydroponic system, and who doesn’t love a ripe, sweet strawberry? 

  • Time to first harvest: As quick as 2 weeks, as long as 3 years
  • Plant height: 6 to 8 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

2. Blueberries

Blueberries are highly nutritious and are easy to grow hydroponically. These fruits are an option for hydroponic growers who have plenty of space as the plants can grow rather large. They’ll grow well in hydroponic systems such as ebb and flow, but to grow and thrive properly, these plants need just the right growing conditions.

  • Time to first harvest: 3 to 5 years
  • Plant height: 6 to 12 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

3. Raspberries

One of the tastiest berries that exist, and a sort that comes with a steep price tag in stores and marketplaces is the raspberry.

Used primarily as an ingredient in pies, tea mixes, and muffins, raspberries are also delicious eaten raw, and yes, it is possible to grow them in a hydroponics setup.

  • Time to first harvest: 2 to 3 years
  • Plant height: 3 to 6 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

4. Watermelon

Perhaps not the first fruit that comes to mind when thinking of plants that are grown in hydroponic systems, watermelons are actually one of the faster-growing types of fruit to grow hydroponically.

Even more, they tend to be bigger and tastier when they’re cultivated with hydroponics. These fruits are one of the best to grow if you have lots of space and enjoy refreshing summer treats.

  • Time to first harvest: 10 to 12 weeks
  • Plant height: 15 to 24 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Medium to high
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Outdoor

5. Grapes

When thinking of grapes, visions of massive vineyards in France or California might come to mind, but not just vineyards are known for producing the juiciest grapes in the world. 

Hydroponic growers also share that honor (and their crops are higher quality, grow faster, and produce larger yields). 

  • Time to first harvest: 3 to 5 years
  • Plant height: 80 to 115 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low to medium
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Outdoor

Best Herbs To Grow in a Hydroponic Garden (Grow at Home)

Red Basil Growing Hydroponically

If you’re an impatient grower, herbs are for you. They are known for their speedy growth and, if pruned properly, their long-lasting harvest window.

1. Mint(s)

Spearmint, peppermint, and other species of mint top the list of the best herbs to grow with hydroponics due to their quick growing time and overall ease of cultivation as well as the large yields they produce.

  • Time to first harvest: 8 weeks
  • Plant height: 1 to 2 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

2. Basil

An herb with high demand in markets around the world, this popular herb is used in kitchens and restaurants everywhere.

Hydroponic basil is also one of the easiest and most profitable herbs to grow. It is often grown in commercial hydroponic production and should definitely be included in your plans.

  • Time to first harvest: 4 weeks
  • Plant height: 1 to 2 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Low
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

3. Watercress

Watercress is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the history of mankind, and it’s also a fast-growing plant by nature. When grown hydroponically, it’s going to grow super-fast.

  • Time to first harvest: 4 to 6 weeks
  • Plant height: 6 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

4. Sage

Sage is a study perennial plant made up of several different subspecies. That said, it’s an extremely fast-growing herb with the help of hydroponics and does well in indoor hydroponic gardens and outdoor setups too.

It’s also in high demand in local markets.

  • Time to first harvest: 2 years
  • Plant height: 2 to 3 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low to Medium
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

5. Chives

This popular and fast-growing herb is the smaller, mellower cousin of onions. It puts off beautiful little purple flowers and is used in home kitchens and fine dining restaurants.

Because chive grows in clumps, you won’t need to raise many plants in order to see high yields.

  • Time to first harvest: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Plant height: 12 to 18 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: No
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Both

Best Flowers for Hydroponics Environment

Flowers Growing in a Hydroponic Greenhouse

Surprisingly, hydroponics has been used to grow flowers for decades, even though it’s not commonly associated with soilless growing.

If you plan to grow a hydroponic vegetable or herb garden, be sure to leave some room for beautiful flowering plants that can simply be enjoyed or gathered into bouquets for indoor display.

1. Orchids

Touted as one of the hardest flowers to grow, orchids are an excellent species to grow hydroponically. They thrive indoors and bloom much quicker than when grown outdoors in soil.

  • Time to first harvest: 2 to 3 months
  • Plant height: 5 to 12 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Medium to High
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

2. Iris

These gorgeous flowers are another sort of plant that has a reputation for being a bit trickier to produce than the average flower. That said, hydroponic systems make growing them a breeze.

  • Time to first harvest: 1 to 2 years
  • Plant height: 8 to 40 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Medium
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

3. Chrysanthemums

One of the taller flowers that do well with hydroponics, these pleasant fellows are both easier to grow and bloom much quicker than most hydroponic flowers.

  • Time to first harvest: 4-8 weeks
  • Plant height: 1 to 3 feet
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoor

4. Daffodils

Daffodils may take longer to grow and bloom, hydroponically or traditionally, but they are well worth the wait.

That said, with the use of hydroponics, you can expect to see blooms much faster.

  • Time to first harvest: 3 years or more
  • Plant height: 6 inches to 36 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Low to Medium
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Both

5. Carnations

If you’re from the USA, you’re probably familiar with carnations from events such as your high school prom or wedding.

These stunning flowers are a symbol of love and one of the very fastest-growing flowers for hydroponics.

  • Average time until first bloom: 4 to 6 weeks
  • Plant height: 9 to 24 inches
  • Growing difficulty: Low
  • Needs pollination when grown indoors?: Yes
  • Better for indoor or outdoor hydroponics?: Indoors

AeroGarden vs. Deep Water Culture: Choosing the Best System for Your Needs

For optimal growth in hydroponic gardening, the choice of system (source) plays a pivotal role.
Deep Water Culture (DWC) is simple and effective, especially for leafy greens and herbs. It constantly supplies oxygen-rich nutrients to roots.

Aerogardens are an excellent choice for beginners and those with limited space, offering an all-in-one solution with built-in lights and automated nutrient delivery, ideal for small herbs and vegetables. For the more hands-on gardener, DIY hydroponic systems can be custom-built to suit specific needs and spaces, allowing for greater flexibility and potentially larger-scale gardening

For more ideas on hydroponic systems that you can use, take a look at our article on A Dutch Bucket.

Fastest Growing Plants for Hydroponics

Most plants tend to grow at least twice as fast in hydroponic systems. That said, some plants are even faster-growing when cultivated hydroponically.

Some of the fastest-growing hydroponic plants are:

  • Lettuce
  • Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Scallions
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Arugula
  • Strawberries
  • Watercress
  • Chives
  • Basil
  • Mints
  • Oregano
  • Carnations
  • Peace Lily
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Hyacinth

What Can Not Be Grown With Hydroponics?

For the most part, if it can be grown in soil, it can be grown hydroponically. However, that is not always the case. 

For example, large root vegetables are rather hard to grow hydroponically.

Plants that are hard to grow hydroponically include:

  • Yams
  • Turnips
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Rutabaga
  • Potatoes (technically they can grow hydroponically, but don’t always do well. You can grow potatoes indoors, though.)
  • Vine-growing fruits (excluding watermelons, which do well but require extra support for their weight, and grapes)
  • Full-size fruit trees
  • Herbs that don’t like a lot of water

Factors To Consider When Deciding Which Plants To Grow

Choosing the right plants to grow in your hydroponic garden is essential to ensure a successful harvest and to get the most out of your hydroponic journey.

While it’s tempting to start with your favorite vegetables or herbs, there are several factors every hydroponic gardener must consider:

Space & Plant Size

  • Vertical Space: Plants like tomatoes or certain flowers can grow quite tall, requiring ample vertical space. If you’re growing indoors or have a confined grow room, these might not be the best choice.
  • Horizontal Space: Some plants, particularly vining plants that grow and sprawl outwards, require certain accommodations. Ensure you have enough room, or consider training them vertically with supports.

Growth Rate

The allure of using a hydroponic system is often the rapid growth rate. If you’re impatient or want quick results, opt for the fastest-growing plants for hydroponics, such as lettuce or spinach.

Harvest Duration and Frequency

  • Single vs. Continuous Harvest: Some plants, like lettuce, are harvested once, whereas others, like basil or strawberries, can provide continuous yields throughout a season.
  • Turnaround Time: How often do you want to grow a new batch? Quick growers can be harvested and replanted multiple times in a season.

For more on this, have a look at the video below on how to plan your Hydroponic garden:

Nutrition and Fertilizer Requirements in Hydroponics

Different plants have unique nutrient needs. Ensure that your hydroponic system can cater to these requirements, whether it’s a higher nitrogen content for leafy greens or increased potassium for fruiting plants.

To meet these diverse nutritional demands, select a hydroponic fertilizer that is specifically formulated for the type of plants you are growing, ensuring that they receive the right balance of nutrients for optimal growth. For instance, a fertilizer with higher nitrogen is ideal for leafy greens, while fruiting plants benefit from a formula richer in phosphorus and potassium during the flowering and fruiting stages.

Here you can find more information about nutrient needs for hydroponics.

Lighting Needs

The intensity, duration, and type of grow lights can significantly impact plant growth. If you grow indoors, ensure you can provide the light spectrum and duration your chosen plants require.

Pollination

If you choose to grow plants that require pollination indoors, remember that you’ll need to assist, as there are no natural pollinators indoors. Plants like tomatoes will need manual pollination to bear fruit.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Hydroponics

Some plants grow best outdoors due to natural light and beneficial insects while others thrive indoors, protected from pests and environmental fluctuations.

Difficulty Level

If you’re new to growing plants in water, you might want to start with easy-to-grow plants before moving on to more challenging ones. 

Lettuce, spinach, and basil are often recommended for hydroponic beginners due to their straightforward growing requirements.

Aesthetic & Personal Preferences

Finally, grow what you love! If you’re passionate about culinary herbs, dedicate a section of your hydroponic garden to them.

If the sight of blooming flowers brings you joy, cultivate a variety of hydroponic flowers. Remember that the best hydroponic garden is one that brings you satisfaction.

Hydroponic Growing: Key Tips for Success

  1. Monitor Water Quality: Constantly check pH levels (ideal: 5.5-6.5), EC levels, and maintain water temperature around 70°F.
  2. Conduct Test Runs: Before starting real crops, practice with your system to understand nutrient mixing and system management. Prepare grow lights if indoors.
  3. Maintain Cleanliness and Water Change: Regularly change water, clean the reservoir, and adjust pH and EC levels after each change.
  4. Research and Understand Your Setup: Learn about different hydroponic styles suitable for various plants and environments. Continuously seek expert advice and research for optimizing system performance.