Every hydroponic journey starts with identifying which plants are best and worst to grow. Years back, I was just like you—browsing across articles and journals to find which plants are best.
The best plants for hydroponics are those that have less space consumption, replicable environmental requirements, and growing habits that are not complex. More specifically, the top 10 best plants to grow hydroponically are 1) lettuce, 2) kale, 3) spinach, 4) watercress, 5) basil, 6) chives, 7) strawberry, 8) tomato, 9) pepper, and 10) cucumber.
Lettuce is one of the best and most popular vegetables to grow using hydroponics. It can be grown in nutrient film technique (NFT), deep water culture (DWC), ebb and flow systems, and even in wick systems.
When grown in a hydroponic system, the growth rate of lettuce increases by around 50% and it works well with either indoor or outdoor lighting.
Since lettuce’s plant structure is characterized by shallow roots and relatively short height, it is fit for hydroponic systems which are commonly smaller in size.
Kale only requires moderate temperature, making its environmental requirements easy to manipulate in a hydroponic system.
Kale is a great option for hydroponic gardening because it has a variety of nutritional benefits like vitamins A, K, C, folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and dietary fiber.
Moreover, it has a relatively fast growth rate which can take up to 45 days to harvest.
Spinach thrives well in highly oxygenated solutions which makes it great for active hydroponic systems.
If you want a vegetable that you could harvest as early as 20 days, then spinach is a great choice. It is also highly recommended to use the nutrient film technique (NFT) for optimum growth.
Watercress is a low-maintenance option for hydroponic growing because it can tolerate warm temperatures and can survive all year round.
This vegetable is best grown in a deep water culture (DWC), specifically in Kratky hydroponics, which is a passive hydroponic system.
In this system, you do not need an air pump to achieve a bountiful harvest. The plants are just suspended in water for a long time.
Basils grow as fast as 28 days through hydroponic cultivation. They are one of the many herbs that can easily thrive while growing in water and some growing medium instead of soil.
In order for them to grow, they require plenty of sunlight and moderate temperature.
The sunlight requirement can be manipulated using light-emitting diodes (LED) grow lights. Meanwhile, the temperature can be controlled by growing indoors or using grow tents and greenhouses.
The good thing about basil is that after maturity, you can expect a daily harvest!
Chives can survive with less water and can even live through low to high temperatures. Most hydroponic gardeners choose this herb for floating raft systems because it can grow with other crops well.
They grow for less than 60 days and have a 4-week interval between harvests.
A huge advantage for chives is that they can be propagated through division.
This means you can just separate the plant into two or more portions, plant them in different hydroponic net cups, and they will survive.
Strawberries are one of the best seasonal bearers to grow hydroponically. It takes around 60 days to harvest from roots.
This may be a shocking fact for some, but yes, hydroponics can handle growing strawberries!
They are known to have strict climatic requirements as most of the strawberry farms we know can be found in places with colder climates.
But that is the beauty of hydroponics—we can manipulate the environmental conditions.
To grow this, you just need to maintain an ideal temperature of 70°F. This can be done easily by gardening indoors, in a grow room, or in grow tents.
Tomatoes have several varieties and most of which are recommended to grow hydroponically. They can survive well in deep water culture (DWC) hydroponic systems.
Although they grow tall, tomatoes grown in hydroponics can be supported by deep water culture hydroponics, using clay pebbles as the growing medium.
Growing hydroponically in controlled environments also lessens insect and disease infestation. Thus, negligible damage from these pests is also a win for hydroponic tomatoes.
Furthermore, it is highly suggested to use supplemental light when growing indoors since they need at least 8 hours of light a day.
Peppers grow best in a deep water culture (DWC) hydroponics system. They require constant pruning and caring but can give excellent harvests.
Growing peppers need the use of supplemental light. This is because they need 14 to 18 hours of light every day.
However, if that sounds too expensive, studies have also found success in growing bell pepper in open-shaded areas. So may also try that!
The cucumber fruit is a popular choice among hydroponic gardeners. It has a fast-growing speed and may be harvested after 75 to 90 days.
To be successful in growing cucumbers, hand-pollinating is also suggested for better yield. Believe it or not, you only need a small paintbrush or a Q-tip!
To summarize the environmental requirements of the abovementioned veggies and herbs, here is a table with the best pH, temperature, and growing speed in days.
|Plant||pH Level||Temperature (0C)||Temperature (0F)||Growing Speed (days)|
Less space consumption, replicability of environmental requirements, and growing habit of plants are the 3 major factors to consider before growing hydroponically.
Plants to be grown in hydroponics must have lesser space consumption.
Always remember that one of the objectives of hydroponics is to be able to have a garden even in small spaces. With this, growing plants that are considerably big in size is not recommended.
In order to be successful in growing hydroponically, the environmental requirements such as pH, temperature, nutrients, and light must be easily manipulated.
Here’s a quick trivia for you! Did you know that hydroponic gardening is part of a global agriculture movement called Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)?
From the term of the movement itself, hydroponic gardening needs a controlled environment to be productive and successful.
Plants with vining and tall-growing habits are not recommended in hydroponics.
Plant stature and size are major considerations in gardening. For instance, plants that crawl need something to wrap themselves around. If you plan to grow vining plants, then you need to provide them with a trellis.
Trellises are additional structures that guide the plant as it grows. They could be made out of plastic pipes or organic materials such as bamboo, or moss!
Here is a tip! When considering cultivating a specific plant, you need to have an idea of how it will develop physically.
Ask yourself: How tall would this plant be after 1 month? How about 3 months? During those times, can I still control its pH, temperature, nutrient levels, microclimate, and lighting? If your answer is yes, then you may proceed with growing that plant in hydroponics. If not, think and consider other options.
At this point, you may be wondering—do we also have the worst plants to grow in a hydroponic system? The quick answer is yes. But to know the reasons why you need to move forward!
3 Worst Plants for Hydroponics
Generally, grains, vines, and trees are not recommended for hydroponic gardening.
Corn is not viable for hydroponic gardening because of its extensive roots and high sunlight requirement.
Its root system can grow up to 60 inches deep! Thus, even in a deep water culture hydroponic setup, corn can take up space inside the nutrient reservoir.
Another factor that takes corn out of the hydroponic world is its high sunlight requirement. Corn plants are usually grown in fields with full sun access. Normal light-emitting diode (LED) grow lights could not handle this prerequisite.
You can visit our article on grow lights to know what is best for hydroponic plants.
Squash and melon are not advisable for hydroponic growing because of their viny growing habit and large fruit size.
Most hydroponic systems are space savers. This factor makes growing squash and melon not feasible for hydroponics. Another aspect to consider is that squash and melon need a vine trellis.
Installing a trellis for a hydroponic system is work-intensive and impractical. This is because 1) it is an additional cost, 2) it would be complicated to change the nutrient water, and 3) the lighting system would be difficult to position.
Unlike tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, squash and melon fruits are way bigger! Thus, their weight and size are not fit for hydroponics.
Due to their tall height, complex root system, and high nutrient requirement, fruit trees are not recommended for hydroponic gardening.
The general rule in plant systems is that bigger structures need more nutrition and support.
Considering this, small hydroponic systems such as nutrient film technique, deep water culture, ebb and flow systems, and wick systems cannot support the growth of fruit trees like bananas and lemons.
However, bonsai trees can be grown hydroponically due to their dwarf structure.
Learn more about this topic in our article on can you grow trees hydroponically.
Can rice grow in hydroponics?
Rice is a grain crop that grows in paddy environments, so it may be possible to cultivate them using hydroponics. Moreover, recent scientific developments and breeding experiments are being conducted for the possibility of growing rice in hydroponics. They could grow in a hydroponic system but need transplanting to fully mature.
Can root vegetables grow in hydroponics?
Gardeners can cultivate root vegetables through hydroponics. Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, radishes, and turnips can grow hydroponically. It is possible to grow them in deep water culture (DWC) hydroponic systems, this can also be considered as the best hydroponic system for root crops.
A hydroponic gardener must consider space consumption, environmental requirements, and growing habits when choosing which plants should be grown in a hydroponic system.
Using these three criteria, the best plants to grow in hydroponic systems are lettuce, kale, spinach, watercress, basil, chives, strawberry, tomato, pepper, and cucumber.
Meanwhile, grain crops such as corn, vining fruits and veggies such as squash and melon, and fruit trees like banana and lemon are not advisable for hydroponic gardening.
- “Awareness, Knowledge and Attitude towards ‘Superfood’ Kale and Its Health Benefits among Arab Adults” by Alfawaz H.A. et al. in Nutrients 2022
- “Growing Bell Peppers in Soilless Culture under Open Shade Structures” by Hochmuth, R.C. et al. in University of Florida
- “How Fast Do Corn Roots Grow” by Hay, P.C. in University of Nebraska – Lincoln
- “Hydroponics rice paddy nursery: An innovative twist on growing rice in India” by Saxena, A. and Upadhyay, T. in International Rice Research Institute