Tabletop Hydroponics Tutorial

In-home hydroponic kits are becoming increasingly popular, especially for those without the space outside to garden but want to grow their own healthy food at home. Some plants like lettuce, herbs, and leafy greens are best suited for indoor hydroponic systems. Most hydroponic systems work basically the same, but the keys to success are having the right amount of water and nutrients and giving your plants the proper lighting.

Setting Up Your Hydroponics Unit

Make sure to read and follow all directions for your set since each system is a little different. The system we are using is pod based.

White container with three inserts, plus two small packages holding plant pods
There are different systems available, but they all work in a similar fashion. UF/IFAS.

The plant pods contain a seed, growth media, and nutrients. Simply remove the plant pod, insert it into the growing chamber, and cover it with the clear germination dome. The growth chamber holds the pod and wicks water up into it. This is also a good time to label your pods with the plant names, so you don’t get them mixed up once they get growing.

Hands holding one of the unit's cups sideways to show the wick and a seed pod
The pod contains seeds, growth medium, and nutrients. The wick at the bottom of the cup will draw water up to the pod. UF/IFAS.

Next, fill the tank with water until the water level indicator reaches the top. Avoid using well or soft water because it can damage the system and affect the growth of your plants. 

A pitcher of water is being poured into an opening in the unit.
Fill the unit’s tank with water. UF/IFAS.

Then plug the garden into an electrical outlet in the morning. Most systems have a built-in timer that will automatically turn on the light for 16 hours per day, based on the time you originally plug it in. This timing will synchronize to your daily schedule and ensure that the light from your new in-home garden doesn’t keep you up at night.

Unit plugged in with light arm attached and on
This photo shows the unit with the light arm attached and its extension to accommodate plant height. UF/IFAS.

Once your garden begins to sprout, remove the clear plastic domes to allow the plants to keep growing. It should take 1-2 weeks before you’ll need to do this. Hold on to these domes because you will use them again when you start over.

Unit lit up with three baby plants
Don’t forget to hold on to the plastic domes that covered the pods; they’re reusable. UF/IFAS.

As the plants grow taller, you will need to adjust the height of the grow light by adding the lamp arm extensions to accommodate the height of the plants. There should always be a few inches between the top of your plants and the lamp. Keep the water float level at the top but be careful not to overfill.


Different plants grow at different rates, so be patient and you’ll have something to snack on before you know it. You can expect to harvest herbs in as few as 3-4 weeks and lettuce within 40 days. 

People are often pleasantly surprised by the amount of food these setups can produce, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to educate children and adults about how plants grow. It’s also convenient to add a fresh sprig of basil to your pasta or a leaf of lettuce to your BLT without having to run out to the store.

For more information about hydroponics and other gardening questions, contact your county Extension office.

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