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best plants for indoor aquaponics

Our Guide to the Best Plants for Aquaponics

Our recommendations for the best plants for aquaponics are Hydroponic Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds and Basil Seeds. Aquaponics gives you the chance to grow fresh produce year round. It is also an opportunity to try new varieties. With that in mind, we opted to makes the most out of our choices. Read on to learn more about setting up an aquaponic system with our list of the right plants.

Our Top Picks for the Best Plants for Aquaponics

  • Hydroponic Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds
  • Basil Seeds
  • Hydroponic Romaine Lettuce Seeds
  • HydroponicOakleafLettuce Seeds

What Is Aquaponics?

If you’ve ever had an aquarium with fish and live plants as part of the aquaculture, you know what aquaponics is. You were practicing it even if you didn’t know it was happening. Technically, the term describes a symbiotic or win-win relationship between fish and growing plants. The fish provide the nutrients to support the growth of plants. You can think of it as the ultimate in organic gardening.

Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics

Hydroponics is similar in that you use water as the medium for plants to grow. The difference is how each setup provides nutrients. In a hydroponic system, fertilizers are the source of plant nutrition. In an aquaponics system, the fish do the job. Fish waste is converted into nutrients that the plant can use by beneficial bacteria.

A series of chemical processes converts the ammonia to nitrites and finally to nitrates. It’s the same process that happens in the soil where dead plant matter and other organic materials are decomposed by bacteria. This nutrient cycling is Nature’s way of recycling. While it may sound modern, it is actually an ancient process that goes back to the time of the Aztecs.

Benefits of Aquaponics

If aquaponics gardening sounds interesting to you, you’ll be happy to know that it offers many benefits. There’s no labor involved. You needn’t till the ground to prepare it for seeds. There are no weeds. You don’t have to bother with pesticides or fertilizers. The fish supply everything your plants need. And best of all, there is no waste.

All waste is used because it is converted into nutrients for the plants. You can set up an aquaponics system anywhere there is a power source. You can enjoy fresh produce year-round. And you can feel good about the fact that you’ll minimize water use. Aquaponics uses a fraction of the water that you’d need to maintain a conventional garden outdoors with less hassle.

What You Need to Know about Aquaponics

We’ll begin with what you need to get started with an aquaponics garden. While it has commercial applications, you can easily set up an aquaponic system in your home. Most of the things you need are one-time investments. And you don’t need to put out a lot of cash. The best thing is that you’ll begin getting the return on your investment as soon as the plants start producing.

Basic Fish Setup

You’ll need a fish tank to start. The size depends on the space you have. Think of it as something you’ll place in a permanent location. Moving an established fish tank is a labor-intensive task. Each move will delay the next harvest of plants because it’ll take time for good bacteria to develop. As a rule, you should never remove more than ⅓ of its water at a time.

You should also consider where you’ll place the tank, whether on an aquarium stand or another piece of furniture. Bear in mind that water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. A 30-gallon tank will tip the scales at least 240 pounds—not including the tank weight, gravel, and other accessories. Choose your location wisely taking into account the amount of weight that it will support.

A Place for Plants

You’ll also need a place to grow your plants, commonly referred to as the grow bed. Plants exist separate from the fish. You’ll have to place a medium for the plants to grow. You can use gravel, lava rock, vermiculite, hydroton, clay pebbles, or other suitable products. The advantages of this setup are that it is easy for the hobbyist to get started with aquaponics. You’ll have no trouble finding these products.

Accessories

You’ll also need some other accessories depending on your set up. You’ll have to get an air pump for your fish tank to encourage good bacteria growth. You may also need a water filtration system and a water heater to maintain the ideal conditions for your fish. A grow light for your plants will keep them happy and flourishing.

Choosing Plants for Aquaponics

You’ll see plants marketed as both hydroponic and aquaponic. You can use either one. The difference is in the setup, not the plant. However, some aquaponics plants will fare better than others. A lot rests on the need for nutrients. That will, in turn, depend on the amount and size of your fish. Remember, they are the nutrient-producing machines.

This video from Purdue University explains the aquaponics in detail from the ground up, touching on the basic principles that make it work.

You will need to start your plants first before putting them into your d.i.y aquaponics system. You can follow the same practices that you’d use for growing seedlings for the garden. Instead of going into the ground, you’ll place them in the grow bed. The medium stands in for the soil. The filtered water from the fish tank will take the place of fertilizers.

Generally speaking, plants that produce fruits or vegetables like tomatoes require more nutrients, and thus, a larger setup than smaller plants like herbs and lettuces. There’s also a question of space. It’ll be a lot easier to make room for a batch of lettuce than a sprawling zucchini or cucumber plant. Think of the gardener stuck with a huge harvest of zucchini to give away.

Then, there’s the harvest. Smaller plants will produce food quicker than the two months required by vegetable and fruit plants to produce food. If you’re looking for a quick turnaround, these plants offer better options. They also offer the chance for a continuous harvest.

Our Recommendations: Hydroponic Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds and Basil Seeds

We like the whole idea of using aquaponics for producing food. And keeping on the convenience theme, we leaned toward aquaponic plants that are easy to grow and produce a quick harvest. We were also drawn to the idea of growing plants that we don’t typically see at the grocery store for your aquaponic crops. Think unusual varieties of herbs and lettuces.

The Hydroponic Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds gave us the best of both worlds. We liked the idea of growing a different type of lettuce than the boring iceberg. As a general rule, lettuces are super easy to grow, which stood out for us. With a harvest in 30 days, it’s an ideal way to reap the benefits of aquaponics right away.

The Basil Seeds product we chose includes four varieties of basil: cinnamon, Thai Lemon, purple, and Italian. We loved the idea of being able to try a variety of basils. It was easy to understand why it is the most popular aquaponic herb. Like lettuces, they grow quickly and easily. And the idea of fresh basil year-round was a deal maker for us.

Aquaponics offers an excellent way to enjoy fresh produce the year round. It is an opportunity to expand your culinary tastes to try new varieties and types of foods. With the right setup, you’ll reap the rewards quickly. Other popular aquaponics vegetables are squash, cucumbers, watercress basil, watercress chives, and cabbage.

Our recommendations for the best plants for aquaponics are Hydroponic Buttercrunch Lettuce Seeds and Basil Seeds. Aquaponics gives you the chance to grow

Best Plants for Aquaponics

Just like their fish counterpart, plants are one of the two crucial pillars of an aquaponics system. Even though you can grow pretty much anything you want – as long as your system is adequate for it – there are some that are considered to be the best plants for aquaponics because they absolutely excel in this type of gardening.

Some adapt better to smaller systems while others require larger ones but no matter which one you have, we’ll find the perfect fit.

Now before we start, there’s a very simple guideline that you should keep in mind when choosing plants for your system. Take a look at it below:

Smaller systems with low waste = low amount of nutrients
Larger systems with high waste = high amount of nutrients

This means that if a plant requires an high amount of nutrients, it’ll be better suited for a larger system with more fish waste (which leads to more nutrient concentration). Although these are general guidelines as every system is different, they’re a great way to accurately choose the best fish for your aquaponics system.

A smaller system is perfect for regular greens and herbs – as you’ll see below – while a larger one can take on Tomatoes, Peppers, Carrots and a whole variety of fruits.

Now without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Top 38 Best Plants for Aquaponics

These are the very best plants for aquaponics overall, each of them with their own little description and nutritional requirement. Use the Index to jump to your preferred section.

Index

Leafy Greens

Gorgeously fresh and with a multitude of uses, leafy greens are an excellent choice for any system, especially smaller ones due to their low nutritional requirement and size.

Lettuce

Nutrient Requirement: Low

An unmissable classic of the salad world, lettuce is a fantastic plant for smaller aquaponic systems.

They’re versatile in their use, taste wonderfully fresh and require little nutrients and maintenance to reach their full glory, hence their popularity in the home aquaponics world.

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Similar to wild cabbage, Kale’s unique look, good taste and extremely nutrient-dense leaves have made it explode in popularity in the last couple of years.

They’re easy to grow and have low nutrient requirements as well, making them a fantastic plant for small aquaponics systems.

Spinach

Nutrient Requirement: Low

The classic superfood that made Popeye into an unstoppable strongman, Spinach is one of the very best leafy greens you can grow.

They taste absolutely wonderful, are filled to the brim with protein, vitamins and minerals plus they offer all of this in a low-calorie package.

Swiss Chard

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Chard’s gorgeous colored stalks coupled with the tender deep green leaves make them a beautiful addition to any salad in both looks and texture.

They’re also very healthy, providing you with an explosion of vitamins even with their extremely low caloric content.

Arugula

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Popularized by its use in Italian cooking, Arugula leaves (also called rockets due to their unique shape) deliver an unmistakable visual and aromatic effect to any dish.

As a low-requirement and easily grown leafy green, it’s another perfect plant for small aquaponic systems.

Bok Choy (Pak Choi)

Nutrient Requirement: Low

This resilient and trendy Chinese cabbage is ridiculously high in nutrients (ranked #2 in nutriet density out of the top 41 nutrient-rich plant foods) and also contains glucosinolates which have been reported to prevent cancer in small doses.

Bok Choy is usually used when they’re still small for extra texture and their unique taste is often described as “spinach mustard”.

They’re exotic, offer an interesting taste and are a fantastic fit for low-nutrient systems.

Radish Sprouts

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Offering absolutely beautiful looks that give life and character to any salad or dish, Radish sprouts are a great choice. To go along with the visual effect, they also have a crisp texture and a spicy flavor that is beloved by many.

Not only are they super easy to grow, even in a very small aquaponic system, but they also sprout incredibly quick.

Herbs

With powerful aromas and characteristic tastes, herbs are fantastically versatile plants that can be grown in pretty much any system no matter how small. For either medicinal, visual or gastronomic use, you really can’t miss the chance to grow them!

Nutrient Requirement: Low

With more than a dozen varieties to choose from, all of which grow wonderfully well in any system no matter the size, Mint’s one of the very best plants for aquaponics.

It looks beautiful, spreads a fresh aroma and can be used in a multitude of ways from tea to food dishes.

Chives

Nutrient Requirement: Low

The beloved softer sibling of garlic, chives are a great choice.

They grow easily, look quite beautiful due to their trademark purple flowers and their culinary use is awesome too – they can be used to complement scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, salads and much, much more.

Basil

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Offering a characteristically tender texture, sweet smell and delicious taste, basil is considered by many to be an essential herb to have on their kitchen.

They grow like a charm, look and smell great plus they are excellent on pizza! It’s another wonderful herb for aquaponics.

Watercress

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Watercress grows very quickly, loves water and requires little maintenance, making it a perfect fit for aquaponics.

It’s used in a multitude of ways, such as salads or as garnish and its piquant flavor makes it stand out from the crowd.

Wheatgrass

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Beautiful looking and ridiculously easy to grow, wheatgrass is a trendy and very healthy plant.

Commonly used to make its unique and vibrantly colored green juice, it’s an extremely potent plant that contains over 90 minerals and brings with it a mountain of health benefits.

Cilantro (Coriander)

Nutrient Requirement: Low

A staple of culinary herbs all over the world, Cilantro (also known as Coriander) is an essential part of any kitchen’s arsenal.

From its characteristic smell to the deliciously unique taste, it’s a wonderful plant to grow. They adapt perfectly well to an aquaponic system, even if very small.

Parsley

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Even more popular and widely used than cilantro, Parsley is among the kings of culinary herbs.

It makes any dish pop with its vibrant color as well as lending them its fantastic flavor and aroma. It’s also incredibly easy to grow.

Oregano

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Oregano is super potent in taste and smell, making it a love or hate relationship for most people.

I personally love it and really couldn’t cook without it as I use it very often. If you’re into Mediterranean food then you can’t miss this one!

Rosemary

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Giving off an unmistakable fragrance coupled with soft and gorgeous colors, Rosemary is a truly beautiful herb.

It’s very potent and even acts as a natural pest repellent which is a great bonus. It’s widely used to flavor a multitude of foods and in some places it’s even burned due to its extremely pleasing smell.

It’s also incredibly easy to grow and highly resistant to the weather, making it a perfect little plant for aquaponics.

Lavender

Nutrient Requirement: Low

It’s one of the most popular fragrances in the world and with good reason.

Lavender is gorgeous in both looks and smell. Even though it’s often used as an ornamental plant or for fragrance extraction, it delivers a fantastically unique flavor to food that can truly make dishes come to life.

It’s not only low maintenance but it’ll also reward you continuously with its charming looks and smell.

Thyme

Nutrient Requirement: Low

Thyme is a stunning aromatic herb that’s similar to both oregano and mint.

It has a wide variety of uses – from culinary to medicinal and even ornamental – and it’s as easy to grow as it is resilient, making it yet another fantastic plant for small aquaponics systems.

Anise

Nutrient Requirement: Low to Medium

Incredibly unique in looks, taste and smell, Anise (particularly Star Anise) is a classic among herbs and spices that’s used widely all over the world to give dishes flavor, for drinks, candies and even for fragrances.

Keep in mind that although the Anise herb is very easy to grow, Star Anise is a medium-sized tree that needs substantially more nutrients and space to develop.

Chili Peppers

Nutrient Requirement: Medium

The world’s most popular spice, chili peppers are one of my all time favorite plants and I’m sure it’s probably among yours too.

With hundreds of varieties to choose from, you can easily find one that adapts to your climate and personal heat preference plus they are quite resilient in general and only have a moderate amount of nutritional needs.

They’re also a beauty to look at through all stages of development and they can become a permanent little bush on your aquaponics system.

Edible Flowers

Nutrient Requirement: Medium

Giving you stunning good looks and natural perfumes while also being great garnishes and unique flavor additions, edible flowers are another great choice.

You’ve got a world of variety to choose from although most of them are easy to grow even if they’re soft and delicate.

Fruits

Offering you their sweet and fragrant goodness, fruits are a beauty for the senses. They’re filled with vitamins as well and their taste, when homegrown, is incomparably better so do yourself a favor and give them a try on your aquaponics system if you can!

Strawberries

Nutrient Requirement: Medium to High

The most popular fruit to use on an aquaponic system, strawberries grow and multiply very easily which makes them a joy to have. They’re known for their delicious taste, powerful antioxidant effect and irresistible appearance and by having them growing at home you’ll get to enjoy all of their benefits with ease!

From smaller systems to larger ones, they’re a fantastic choice but as is the case with most fruits, they have a substantially higher nutrient requirement (as well as water ph levels and temperature) than simple herbs and leafy greens.

Dwarf Citrus Trees: Lemons, Limes and Oranges

Nutrient Requirement: Medium to High

Dwarf citrus trees are one of my personal favorites to grow with aquaponics. Although they need more care and much more nutrients than simple herbs and greens, they not only smell and look wonderful but their taste is just unbeatable.

They’re gorgeous all year round, making them a fantastic decorative piece, and they’ll keep on rewarding you with their fruits year after year. Plus, the sheer usefulness of having citrus fruits right at hand is beyond incredible.

Dwarf Pomegranate Tree

Nutrient Requirement: Medium to High

Delicious and absolutely gorgeous to look at, dwarf pomegranate trees are as good of a choice as the dwarf citrus. They need a lot of nutrients that you can usually only get with larger systems but their reward is more than worth it.

Don’t let the tree’s size fool you – the pomegranates will be incredibly big and just as good as the regular ones.

A beautiful choice in every sense.

Bananas

Nutrient Requirement: High

A classic among the big aquaponic systems, bananas are another excellent fruit to grow. Their trees are resilient, grow with ease and best of all – they’re a joy to look at.

The bananas themselves I don’t even need to go into detail as I’m sure you know that they taste absolutely wonderful. Due to the leaves’ large size, the roots’ strength and the tree’s nutritional and ambient requirements, these can only be successfully grown in large systems.

If you’ve got the space for it though, they are excellent.

Melons and Watermelons

Nutrient Requirement: High

Another great fruit to grow in an aquaponics system, melons and watermelons adapt very well to the method and are fairly easy to grow as well.

Due to their high nutritional needs and large, heavy size though, they’re only suited for large systems.

Pineapple

Nutrient Requirement: High

Although they can be tricky to pull off as you need to ace the temperatures and details of their ambient, nothing beats having your very own home-grown pineapples.

They require a large aquaponics system not only due to their nutritional requirements and size but also due to how long they take to fully develop.

Vegetables

The largest, most useful and giving you the chance to cook some rich meals, vegetables are an aquaponic gardener’s dream. Although they require large systems and great nutritional value, they’re more than worth it!

Tomatoes

Nutrient Requirement: High

As classic and popular as it gets, tomatoes are enjoyed immensely worldwide and they bring their incredible taste and aroma to an endless amount of dishes, drinks and more.

There is a fairly large variety of them, from very small berries to large and heavy ones, all of which have similar characteristics, colors and smells although differing tastes. They need high nutritious input in order to grow properly so they’re more suited for larger systems. If you’ve got the requirements for tomatoes and you love them as much as I and most people do, it’s one of the best plants for aquaponics you can have.

Peppers

Nutrient Requirement: High

Sweet peppers and every other similar type of pepper is an excellent choice for an aquaponics system. They need a high amount of nutrients like most other vegetables but they’re an absolute must-have in the kitchen, in my opinion, and they look as good as they taste!

They’re also rich in vitamin C and can be used in a lot of delicious ways.

Cucumbers

Nutrient Requirement: High

Sliced, pickled or cooked, cucumbers are always a treat to eat. Apart from the nutritional requirements, they also spread quite a lot due to their creeping vine nature and can produce fairly heavy cucumbers, making them more suited towards larger systems.

As a bonus, they also produce bright and beautiful yellow flowers.

Beans

Nutrient Requirement: High

Full of protein, iron and fiber, beans are a nutritional explosion that has won the hearts of many due to their fantastically delicious flavors and low caloric content.

There are many varieties to choose from, all of which are quite needy in terms of nutrition although they’re very easy to grow and care for.

Squash

Nutrient Requirement: High

Squash is gorgeous, stunningly delicious in any way its used – be it savory, sweet, solid or liquid – and somewhat of a cultural and historical icon, hence it’s immense popularity all around the world.

Like the others above, Squash comes in a very wide variety from the classic Pumpkin to Croockneck and more, all of which need highly nutritious soil or water to properly develop.

They also spread like creeping vines and yield quite the heavy fruit, hence why they’re mainly used in large to very large aquaponics systems.

Nutrient Requirement: High

Another great little vegetable, peas are tasty, good looking and can really bring a pop of both color and flavor to your culinary.

They grow quite easily as long as the room’s temperature (or weather if outside) is fairly cool and they’ve also got a decently high nutritional need.

Broccoli

Nutrient Requirement: High

The terror of children and even some adults, Broccoli has an unfair reputation. It’s not only an astonishingly powerful source of vitamin C and K but it also has very low caloric content and the taste, even if potent, is enjoyably bitter.

They’re also quite beautiful as they look like tiny tree formations.

Cauliflower

Nutrient Requirement: High

Similar to broccoli in both requirements and looks, cauliflower is a beautifully nutritious and great tasting plant that grows formidably well in an aquaponic system.

Even then, cauliflower is notoriously hard to grow (in any way) due to its common problems which include underdeveloped heads and poor curd quality (curd is the white head).

Cabbage

Nutrient Requirement: High

Very easily grown, highly versatile and a nutritional bomb, cabbage is among the most popular vegetables in the world.

They taste absolutely wonderful and can be eaten in pretty much any way imaginable from steamed to pickled, braised and even raw.

Onions

Nutrient Requirement: High

A vegetable that I couldn’t live without, Onions are one of the best vegetables in the world in my opinion and thankfully they’re also one of the best plants for aquaponics I’ve ever used.

Their use is varied and their taste is beyond excellent, making it a must-have in my book. If you’ve got the system for it, you can’t miss them!

Carrots

Nutrient Requirement: High

Carrots are a favorite of bunnies and people worldwide due to their unmistakable color, iconic look and wonderful taste. Be it for savory or sweet dishes, carrots are an essential part of any culinary cookbook no matter where you live and they’re also a pleasure to eat raw.

They are easily grown and produce quite quickly (90 to 120 days) although as a biennial plant they’ll only produce carrots every 2 years.

Conclusion

With these perfect choices by your side, you’re instantly on the right track to successful aquaponics. Although there are even more that you can grow, these truly are the very best plants for aquaponics out of all so choose your favorites (as well as the ones that adapt best to your system) and start cultivating!

7 comments

Joel Somosierra May 14, 2020

Thank you for this informative article. Am interested in Aquaponics and a beginner, hoping we can engage more along with these endeavors. Regards

Frank May 15, 2020

Hey Joel, I’m glad you found it useful – it’s my pleasure to help – and absolutely, I’ll be here if you need anything else!

Anto Joseph December 12, 2019

Hi Frank, I am interested in Aquaponics. I am a startup person keeping all hope to bring a sustainable food circle in our community. This page will help me to achieve my future dreams.

Aaron barasha September 23, 2019

Hello Frank, Great article! very informative. My name is Aaron and I have an aquaponics system I made from a 275gal IBC conatainer. I have not been very successful however. over the past 2-3 years I have struggled to keep my fish alive. they do well for a month or two then they die. Tomorrow morning I have 25 tilapia fingerling and 5 crawdads being delivered. I checked my pH today and it was high, around 8. In a panic, I drained and refilled half my water. pH is now 7.5. Do you think the fingerlings will be safe? Also, I seem to get a lot of algae in my tank. I know the fish need some algae but could I be getting too much? I would love to get your thoughts and any advice. I don’t want to throw the towel in but my wife is telling me this is my last chance with this aquaponics system. Look forward to hearing from you! Respectfully, Aaron

Frank October 5, 2019

Hey Aaron – first of all, don’t lose hope, you can always succeed if you try hard enough! For tilapia a water pH between 7.0 and 8 is great so 7.5 is the sweet spot. Algae is natural and good in regular doses, the problem is that at the start of an Aquaponics system they can really drain the necessary nutrients and interfere heavily with the water pH throughout the day. This messes with the whole cycle, causing it to fail – I’m willing to bet this is the issue with your system. At the start (first few months), be sure to clean the algae and remove them completely, only allowing a small amount to remain after the first couple of months. I’m sure that this is the problem and that by fixing this, you’ll have a perfectly successful aquaponics system – I hope I’m not too late and that you read this and achieve success. Best of luck Aaron!

Discover the best plants for aquaponics for any system, big or small, and ensure your success. From fruits to vegetables, herbs and more – read more today!