AeroGarden keeps selling out online—we tried it to see why
This hydroponic garden grows lettuces, herbs, and flowers fast
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While we all try out our latest quarantine hobbies, many have turned to gardening—a term loosely defined to fit your lifestyle, whether it’s in a landless city apartment or a suburban home with an outdoor acre or more.
From fancy to basic, there are lots of herb gardens and planters that do well enough on your kitchen countertop to grow basil, cilantro, even lettuce, but I wanted to test one’s capabilities in growing flowers. So, I turned to the increasingly popular AeroGarden, which uses water, air, and LED grow lights to create a better-than-perfect indoor growing environment.
When I ordered our AeroGarden, several models were out of stock, including the Harvest Elite Slim, which is the model I wanted. I settled for the Harvest Elite, which isn’t as long but basically looks the same. Likewise, at press time, nine of the 16 different AeroGarden gardens are currently sold out, which you can read in a couple different ways: 1) Yay! People love them, and I will too! 2) I’m annoyed because I want one, and I don’t want to wait for it.
Bottom line: There’s still a great selection, so you’ll probably be able to find one that works for you.
Arrival and set-up
The AeroGarden arrived packed tight and unscathed despite its carrier trip through unfavorable New England weather, i.e. a snowstorm.
I opened the box to find exactly what I ordered: the 6-pod AeroGarden Harvest Elite garden system, an included 6-pod gourmet herbs seed pod kit, and three other kits that I selected, including a 6-pod Incredible Edibles flowers, a 6-pod lavender, and a 3-pod Lots of Dots polka dot plant.
Grow, babies, grow
On its website, AeroGarden says, “Most plants germinate within 7-14 days, are ready for harvesting in 4-6 weeks, and will keep producing continuous harvests for up to 6 months and longer.”
I saw my first sprouts after just three days, when the Durango marigolds peeked out of the top of the seed pods. After one week, the marigolds were still the only sprouts, but they were tall enough I could remove their mini-greenhouse grow caps.
Between weeks one and two, the remaining snapdragons, dianthus, and calendula sprouted but I still questioned whether or not my garden would be ready to harvest at the one-month mark.
At Week 3, my daughter shared with her remote third-grade class that I am growing a jungle in our living room, and turned the camera of her Chromebook to the AeroGarden. Indeed, my little babies had boomed, and it did kind of look like a jungle.
At this point, I hadn’t really lifted a finger in caring for these plants, except to water them about once a week—there’s a little window you can look into to see the fill line.
But, once we turned the corner into Week 4, they started, well, growing like weeds and guzzling water faster than I could water it—about a quart a day.
What I liked
The growing process is clean and easy
Setting up the AeroGarden garden system is pretty easy. Once you’ve got it out of the box, you basically just plug it in, fill it with water, and insert the seed pods. On the Harvest Elite device itself, there is a digital clock—which you’re prompted to set—and a daily counter to remind you how long your plants have been growing.
However, when actually setting up the AeroGarden for the first time, I had to make a few assumptions to keep the process moving forward. To further confuse the uninitiated (me), I had to sort through partial set-up directions packaged with the unit, partial set-up directions included in the seed kits, and partial set-up indicators on the unit itself. This didn’t sidetrack me too much—I’m the type of person that doesn’t usually follow set-up instructions, for better or worse—but I wanted to make sure that I was doing it right, especially for testing purposes.
I set the clock and indicated to the Harvest Elite what kind of plants I’d be be growing—I selected the “incredible edibles,” including snapdragon, calendula, Durango marigold, and dianthus. l poured in the appropriate amount of MiracleGro plant food, pushed the six seed pods into place, and covered them with clear, domed grow caps that act like mini greenhouses.
The plants really do grow fast
AeroGarden claims that “plants grow in water five times faster than in soil,” and from our observations, this seems to be true.
Growing during Weeks 1 and 2 was on the slow side, as the plants went from seed to sprout. I had a hard time imagining that they’d be as lush as AeroGarden’s website pictures by Weeks 5 and 6. But, in Week 3 and after, the plants took off, completely taking over the AeroGarden planter in Week 5.
At Day 31, I saw my first two marigold buds. At Day 36, I got my first bloom.
While I am using and testing the Harvest Elite for flowering plants, I would imagine that people using the planter to grow herbs and lettuces would find this even more beneficial because it means they can eat the plants soon and often without worrying about running out.
Kids find it fascinating, in person
My 8-year-old daughter loved watching the plants grow from day to day and week to week. It helped that they grew so quickly in the water, because it meant that she didn’t get bored by slow progress—attention spans at that age flicker like a moth in the wind.
She also loved the idea that flowers are edible, and she shared with me all of her ideas on how we could create a “welcome to spring” post for my Instagram account. These included her harvesting the flowers from the AeroGarden, as well as holding the flowers above her mouth and then chomping on them.
She kept her third grade class up-to-date on our plants’ development, telling them I was growing a jungle in my living room and showcasing the garden’s progress through the camera on her Chromebook. I’m not sure they all found it as enthralling. Insert shrug emoji here.
I you do have children you think would be interested, especially young ones, AeroGarden offers the AeroGarden Herbie planter with the special Herbie Kid's Snapdragon Puppet Show Garden Activity Kit and the Pizza Party Herb Garden Activity Kit.
What I didn’t like
Its futuristic look doesn’t jive with my home décor
On its own, AeroGarden’s Harvest Elite is a sleek machine with few frills and basic controls. I can appreciate that. My problem is that it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the décor at my house, which is more eclectic. My Christmas cactus loves its grow spot in a white, squirrel-adorned ceramic planter.
What’s more, the Harvest Elite’s hood, with all its fancy LED light diodes looks like a panel off a spaceship—or at least what I imagine that looks like, complete with bright pops of red, blue, and pale yellow-white.
There’s definitely a place for this hyper-modern design aesthetic, it’s just not for me.
Its low hood makes it annoying to water with a pitcher
This process reminded me of trying to water my Christmas tree … you just can’t quite pour all the water in because its stiff lower branches prevent the angle you need. Well, the Harvest Elite’s hood is those branches. When watering, I was only able to pour in so much water at a time because the handle of my pitcher and my knuckles hit the hood and prevented a good angle, which means I had to make two half-full trips to water it completely.
I will say that at Week 5, when the plants had grown so high that they were pushing against the hood, I finally realized that with some muscle you can move the height of the hood higher.
The bright lights on the hood can be distracting at night
No midnight snack runs for me while the Harvest Elite was plugged in. The lights on the hood of the Harvest Elite are so bright, they put blue light stimulation to shame. Seriously, it’s hard to look at after dark, and it was reflective on my LED TV screen, which was bothersome while I was watching it.
As for other operational distractions, the unit itself is quiet, except for the occasional sound of dripping water, which could be a relaxing challenger for my Calm app and is quite soothing.
The water level alert doesn’t seem to work
I let the water level on the Harvest Elite run low on a few occasions, to see if it would alert me that it needed to be filled.
Unfortunately, it did not. This is a minor issue, as long as you are good about watering the plants to the fill line every to every other, especially and the plants start to fill out. But, if you’re more of a wet it and forget type, then you may want to set a reminder on your phone or smart device.
With this said, the Harvest Elite’s plant food indicator—which you have to add every two weeks—worked like a charm.
Should you buy this?
AeroGarden’s Harvest Elite is a great hydroponic garden that stands up to its claims. I had a blast testing it and watching the plants grow, and my daughter did, too. It is easy to use and easy to clean, despite small inconveniences like super bright LED grow lights and a useless water level indicator.
Pro tip: AeroGarden is always offering coupon codes on its site, featuring huge discounts—currently from $30 to $345—on its gardens.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.