One of the most common questions for beginner hydroponic gardeners is “What can I grow?” The simple answer is that given the right setup and nutrient balance, you can grow any plant hydroponically. To choose what plants would be best suited for your home system, you should consider the following factors: what kind of system you have or wish to build, how much space you have, how much experience you have, and your reasons for choosing hydroponics.
What kind of system do you have?
The two basic categories of hydroponic systems are Solution, or Liquid Culture and Medium, or Aggregate Culture. In a Solution system, such as Aeroponics or Nutrient Film Technique the plants grow directly in the nutrient-filled solution. This type of setup works best with a fast growing, shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and herbs.
Medium systems, such as Wick Systems or Ebb & Flow systems, utilize a growing medium such as gravel, sand or Hydroton. Because the medium provides good support for heavy plants, these setups work well for vegetables and herbs with deep roots such as comfrey, chicory, and beets, or those that are more top-heavy and need support such as beans, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers.
If you don’t have a hydroponic set up yet, considering what kind of plants you wish to grow can help inform what kind of system you choose. If you love fresh herbs and salads, but only have a small amount of space to dedicate to your garden, you may do best with a small D.I.Y Wick System. If you are somewhat experienced and are looking for more exotic options or a way to upgrade your hydroponic garden, you may want to consider going for a more high-tech system such as Aeroponics.
How much space is available?
Space is a big factor to consider when choosing which plants to grow in your hydro garden. If you only have a small space to dedicate to your garden, you would do best to avoid squash, melons, and other large plants. Although technically you could grow these in a small system, you will never get the same quality of fruits or vegetables on your plants as those that have adequate space to grow. In small systems, the easiest and most rewarding choices are leafy greens and herbs. These are plants that grow quickly, can be continually harvested and do not need a lot of space to expand or develop fruit.
If you have a large space such as a greenhouse, garage or patio, you can move up to a more advanced system and grow those voluminous plants that need trellises and deep root support. Large gardens are perfect for experimentation—you could also try producing multiple different varieties of your favorite fruits and vegetables.
What is your experience level?
Your level of experience with gardening and your specific reasons for getting into hydroponics will also influence your choice of what plants you want to grow. If you are an absolute beginner, it would be wise to stick to quick growing, easy plants so that you can get the maximum benefit out of your experience without becoming discouraged. Although hydroponic gardens are simple and easy to maintain once you know the basics, it is easy to get discouraged if you start out with an overly complex system.
If you are experienced with hydro gardening and are looking to delve into more exotic or complex plants, your only true limit is yourself. Some gardeners even go so far as to grow whole fruit or nut trees hydroponically. If you have space and the will to experiment, the sky is the limit. A few ideas for more experienced gardeners are quince, tobacco, large melons, pumpkins, sunflowers and shrubs such as honeysuckle or blackberries.