The 10 Best Plants to Grow in Hydroponic Gardens (And 3 to Skip)

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Brock Ingham
Brock Ingham

You can grow just about anything in a hydroponic garden, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should! Every hydroponic gardener must work out what the best seeds for their needs. There’s a few plants that are almost always more rewarding. There’s also a few that are almost always more trouble than they’re worth, too!

Cover hydroponic plants
hydroponic plants

Can all plants be grown hydroponically?

While almost all plants can be grown hydroponically, some are more rewarding than others. Leafy greens, nightshades, and culinary herbs are excellent choices for home hydroponics growers. Root vegetables, especially potatoes, are best avoided as they suffer from root issues and indifferent yields.

“Getting started with hydroponics is often an intimidating endeavor for most gardeners. However, with a simple introduction, most will find hydroponics an easy solution for growing plants as winter forces us to close our gardens. Urban gardeners with limited space or unsafe soil for vegetables will also find that hydroponic gardening offers new opportunities to grow vegetables year-round, even on concrete.”

Glen Bupp, Extension Educator, University of Pennsylvania

What are the best fruit and vegetables to grow in a hydroponic garden?

Here’s my hot take on the best hydroponic vegetables to grow in your home hydro setup. They’re the easiest plants to start growing when you’re starting out. Many are also grown in commercial hydroponic production systems so there’s a lot of good resources for novice growers. If you’re gunning for a flower garden instead of a bit of hydroponic farming, check out the best 11 flowers for hydroponics. 

Lettuce 

Lettuce
Lettuce

It’s hard to go past lettuce as a champion of all hydroponic plants grown indoors. They aren’t fussy and will grow in pretty much any hydroponics system. They are low maintenance and it’s possible to grow one in as little as a plastic bucket and a grow light. Most importantly hydroponically grown lettuce are always the freshest you’ll ever have. 

Spinach

Spinach
Spinach

Spinach is another of my go-to vegetables to grow in a hydroponic garden. It’s one of the easiest vegetables to grow hydroponically and a good option for hydroponic beginners. They thrive in pretty much any growing medium and just about any type of system. It’s grown widely by hydroponic hobbyists because it’s a reliable grower that’s very nutritious. They’re one of the most productive and low-maintenance vegetables you can get bubbling along.

Peppers 

Peppers
Peppers

It’s no secret I love growing peppers in my indoor hydroponic gardens. Bell peppers responsive and delicious. They are a great starter option too if you plan to grow more fiery varieties down the track.  One of the big benefits of growing pepper plants hydroponically is that you can precisely control their nutrients. This prevents common problems like blossom end rot or pests that take a nibble of your ripening fruit. Peppers do best in active systems like a Nutrient Film Technique or Ebb and Flow system, so if you want to branch out to active hydroponic techniques they’re a very fulfilling crop to choose.

Strawberries 

strawberries
strawberries

If you want fruit instead of leaves then strawberries are your best choice. Because they’re vining plants they fit beautifully into vertical gardens or tower style NFT rigs. They also have easy to meet nutritional needs so there’s not much fussing to be done over their solution. With a bit of effort you can keep them producing delicious spring fruit almost all year round.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes
Tomatoes

Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables you can grow using a hydroponic system. The depth of flavor on a home grown tomato is a true joy. One of the greatest benefits of growing vegetables hydroponically right in your home is that you can allow plants like tomatoes to fully ripen on the vine for maximum punch. They’re a bit more finicky than leafy greens but once you get the swing of it they’re easily one of the best plants for hydroponic growers.

Kale

Kale
Kale

Hydroponic kale makes the stuff grown in dirt taste like a sheet of green leather. It’s remarkably easy to grow hydroponically and much of the toughness and bitter flavor will disappear with the level attention recommended for hydroponics. They’re very hardy, and will tolerate an astonishing amount of beginner mistakes without dying off completely. 

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard

Chard is an excellent choice for passive systems, especially Deep Water setups like floating rafts. They’re a healthy choice too, with leaves rich in vitamins and minerals. They’re a tough crop, disease resistant and with a tolerance for fluctuating conditions that makes them great for the novice grower. It’s also one of the most beautiful of the leafy greens, with brightly colored ribs that give it its other common name, rainbow chard. 

What are the Best Easy to Grow Herbs for Hydroponic Growing?

I can’t emphasize enough how easy herbs are to grow in your hydroponic garden. Growing them at home brings an extra depth of flavor to your cooking that’s lost when the herbs are cut and transported for sale. Beautiful, fragrant and delicious too – they’re do so well in hydroponic systems you’ll never go back to dried herbs again.

Basil

Basil
Basil

Basil is an absolute beast in hydroponics.  It’s a fast and vigorous grower that’s fragrant from the moment the first leaves come out. Basil can be harvested after only a few weeks of hydroponic cultivation. It’s a spectacularly versatile herb that features in everything from pizza and pasta to Thai curries and beyond. I’ve even taken to using it as a salad green, purely because they grow that fast in a hydroponic system it’s a challenge to eat it all! 

Mint

Mint
Mint

Mint is another fast grower and one of the best hydroponic plants for beginners. It’s pest and disease resistant and like basil will perfume your grow room the moment it’s planted. These easy-to-grow plants are also going to be contained to the system too – unlike one in a garden bed, I know that hydroponic mint isn’t going to send out suckers that take over the whole bed!

Dill

Dill
Dill

While I love the fragrance of basil and mint, dill is a treat for the eyes as well as the palette. Their delicate feathery leaves are a joy to behold, and pretty straightforward to get growing too. They’re weedy growers that put up with wider margins than many herbs recommended for hydroponic growing. Like many leafy herbs the difference between fresh and dried is so astronomical they may as well be two totally different plants. 

What Plants Are Not Well Suited for a Hydroponic System?

Potatoes 

Potatoes
Potatoes

Root vegetables in general are a challenge to get moving in a hydroponics setup and potatoes are the worst of the lot. They love to spread, both above and below the soil line. They’re also monster feeders requiring a lot of nutrients and a regime that changes over time. Spuds also suffer from a bewildering range of root diseases if kept too wet. It’s a fatal flaw for plants that grow in the relentless moisture of hydro. 

Fruiting Trees

Friut tree
Fruit tree

Fruit trees are large, slow growing and very demanding when it comes to nutrients. They need a lot of space  that far outstrips what can be achieved in even a massive hydroponic setup. They grow best in soil with lots of room to spread out. They also take many years to reach maturity. It’s all time and space better dedicated to smaller, more fast-paced fruit like strawberries. 

Cacti 

Cacti
Cacti

The gold and ruby flesh of dragon fruits are one of my all time favorites. But I’m not about to rush out and plant one in hydroponics even though they stand next to no chance surviving outdoors here in Canada. 

Cacti of all sorts have shallow roots that need extended periods of time with completely dry roots to just survive, let alone fruit. And I really prefer to grow plants without great whopping spines!

What are the Best pH Levels for Hydroponic Vegetables?

Getting the pH right for when growing plants indoors will help keep them well fed and prevent root issues. Pretty much all plants need mildly acidic conditions to thrive and its no different if you grow herbs or vegetables. 

An acidic pH allows the best uptake of nutrients from your solution. Letting the pH climb can lock up vital minerals and result in nutrient deficiencies in your crop. Iron, zinc and magnesium become ‘locked’ in the solution if it’s too alkaline. 

Low pH also helps protect your crops from diseases that may otherwise become established in the warm moist conditions found in hydroponic systems. It also keeps a rein on the algae that loves to grow in hydroponic reservoir tanks and grow trays. 

FAQ

What is the best plant to grow in hydroponics?

The most commonly grown plants in home hydroponics tend to be leafy greens like lettuce and spinach. Some of this is practical – they are, after all, very easy to grow in hydro. It also skips the disappointment of a wilted salad from the fridge when there’s a crisp crop always ready to harvest.

Basil is a fantastic choice for home hydro for many of the same reasons as lettuce. It tastes better fresh off the plant, and it wilts and starts to lose flavor the longer it’s in transit to the store or sitting on the shelves. Basil is also one of the most charming plants you can grow. Even just touching it releases that wonderful fragrance. 

The best plant however will be the one you want to eat the most. There’s no point in growing a popular hydroponic crop if you can’t stomach the result!

What is the most profitable plant for hydroponics at home?

It pays to take a look at your market before you decide what you want to grow for profit. Many plants that turn a profit in one area won’t in another. In cool climates herbs and leafy greens are very profitable. Head south where these types of plants grow easily outdoors they’re much more common and won’t produce much return. Time of year matters too. Summer strawberries won’t be as profitable as winter ones.

What is the best hydroponic setup for beginners? 

There are so many different types of hydroponic systems that it can be overwhelming to pick your first rig. Hydroponic hobbyists and commercial growers alike choose their systems based on what they are going to grow, how much space they have and how much time and money they have to invest.

Passive Deep Water Culture systems are a good first step for the new hydroponic grower. These systems are ideal for the most common vegetables that are grown by beginners. There’s many easy to set up kits on the market, but they’re also very easy to build yourself. They’re a cost effective way to grow, since they can be run with little to no power. You won’t even need to purchase some grow lights if you have a well lit deck or outdoor space. 

Final Thoughts

Growing my own hydroponic fruit, vegetables and herbs at home has been a culinary revelation. The rave of vegetables that can be grown in hydro is astonishing and I’m always finding new ways to grow different plants indoors. Every delicious harvest renews my joy in growing plants in water.

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