Why buy an Aerogarden Ultra LED?
Features of the Aerogarden Ultra LED
Our Expert’s Aerogarden Ultra LED Review
Pros of the Aerogarden Ultra LED
Cons of the Aerogarden Ultra LED
Tips for Your Aerogarden
Our Expert’s Rating of the Aerogarden Ultra LED
Why buy an Aerogarden Ultra LED?
- Over-wintering herbs isn’t effective in extremely hot or cold zones
- Aerogarden Ultra LED is a better way to start seeds than seed mats or greenhouses
- Access to non-GMO, hydroponically grown herbs makes every meal better
- Ultra LED model has 7 pods and LED hood saves money over the long run
As an avid gardener and cook, I’ve always tried to grow herbs year-round, with varying levels of success. Unfortunately, we live in the USDA region 6a or 6b, depending on which map you use, which means we can see a low of nearly -10F. And in the past few winters, some very extreme late-season events have really taken a toll on my garden’s long-term health.
Over the years, I’d tried planting herbs in pots, then putting them in a sheltered location and letting them go dormant or bringing them inside. An ice storm one year completely destroyed my rosemary, which never recovered. Delicate herbs like basil (our favorite) died at the first serious frost.
Enter: the Aerogarden Ultra LED. Over-wintering plants seemed like a bad idea, even with grow lights – plants kept outdoors always seemed to introduce outdoor pests. I’d been researching building my own hydroponic garden, but felt like it was too much of an undertaking. After research, I selected the Ultra LED because (at the time) it had the most pods (7) and had the LED lights, which I felt would produce more yield and save me from having to replace the bulbs. And I’m happy to report I was right. I’ll give you the complete scoop here in this detailed Aerogarden Ultra LED review.
The Aerogarden Ultra LED Indoor Garden is a hydroponic, self-contained indoor garden that allows you to grow herbs, vegetables, and flowers year-round.
The Aerogarden Ultra LED offers many features, including:
- Soil-free, hydroponic design
- Detailed LCD screen tells you when to add water or nutrients
- Full spectrum LED lights use 30 total watts
- LED lights rated at 20,000 hours
- Up to 24″ total growing height
- Includes 7-Pod Gourmet Herb Seed Pod Kit that contains: Genovese Basil, Thai Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Curly Parsley, Dill and Mint
- Measures:19.2″ x 14.8″ x 34″
- 1 year manufacturer’s warranty on the garden, 6 months manufacturer’s warranty on the lights
Our Expert’s Aerogarden Ultra LED Review
- Access to year-round fresh herbs improves every meal and saves money
- LED model is a hands-down win
- Most maintenance is painless
- Do-it-yourself refills save money
After running my Aerogarden Ultra LED for over a year now (nearly continuously), I’ve learned a lot about its pros and cons. Having access to fresh herbs year-round saves money and time, and elevates every meal to a gourmet level. And I’m happy that I chose the LED model over the CFL model – I haven’t had to replace the lights once. Likewise, most other maintenance is painless – adding water or nutrients is effortless.
The one thing I take issue with is that it’s clear Miracle-Gro is trying to make an insane amount of money off you every time you refill your Aerogarden. The cost of their refill kits is absurd. And despite their seed warranty (they’ll replace anything that doesn’t grow) I was not terribly impressed by the quality of the seeds we got with the garden.
The good news is that you don’t have to be beholden to Miracle-Gro for refills. There are lots of tutorials and products out there that allow you to “cut the cord” (as one reviewer put it) and I’ll show you how I’ve done it. The only exception for me is the Aerogarden nutrients, but I’ve consciously decided I don’t want to tinker with hydroponic nutrients (yet). Later in this Aerogarden Ultra LED review, I’ll share with you how to “DIY” your own refills and save money with better results.
Pros of the Aerogarden Ultra LED Indoor Garden
- Effortless day-to-day maintenance
- On/off timer for lights can be customized to your schedule
- Fantastic yield of herbs
- Would be excellent for starting seeds or hard-to-get exotic plants
As part of my Aerogarden Ultra LED review, I’ll share what I think are the best benefits of having this Aerogarden model.
The first pro of the Aerogarden Ultra LED is that it’s so easy to maintain it’s practically effortless. The LCD screen will prompt you to add water or nutrients and provide growing tips as your garden matures. (As an experienced gardener, the tips weren’t particularly helpful, but for a novice they might have some value.)
Another feature of the garden is that the timer that controls when the growing lights turn on and off can be customized to fit your family’s schedule. The light from the LED is so bright, we’ve found that it’s important to time it according to when we want to wake up and go to sleep so that it doesn’t light up our entire house. (Our bedroom is on the same level as the kitchen.)
The yield of the Aerogarden Ultra LED is phenomenal and more than enough for our household of 2 adults. I’ve planted 3 rounds in the Aerogarden: the standard herb garden, and 2 rounds each of a 50/50 blend of heirloom Italian basil and slow-bolt cilantro. The standard herb garden was OK, but my replants have produced so much I’ve had to give herbs away. Later in this Aerogarden Ultra LED review, I’ll show you how to replant for great yield.
Finally, though I haven’t tried it yet, I think my Aerogarden Ultra LED would be fantastic for starting seeds for transplant. I have an unnatural obsession with ghost peppers and hot peppers in general; I’m probably going to try to start some seeds over winter and then put them under grow lights. The speed at which the Aerogarden germinates seeds is absolutely unreal.
Cons of the Aerogarden Ultra LED Indoor Garden
- Aerogarden branded refills are expensive
- Some elements are cheaply designed (the magnetic floater that detects water level)
- Cleanup between plantings is time-consuming
- Some third-party accessories are cheaply designed (foam seed starter tray)
While I really like my Aerogarden Ultra LED, there are some things that I’ve learned about it that make it less than perfect. These cons are important to call out as part of this Aerogarden Ultra LED review.
My first issue is that Aerogarden branded refills are incredibly – insanely! – expensive. The Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Grow Anything Kit for a 7-Pod Garden contains 7 Grow Sponges, Grow Domes, Grow Baskets, and Labels, plus 3 oz. of nutrients is just too expensive for my meager bank account – no thanks! Don’t get me started on the cost of the kits where they have seeds included….
The second issue I’ve had with the Aerogarden is that some pieces are poorly designed, which can cause issues once your garden is mature. For example, the method they use to detect when the water level is low is using a magnetic “floater” inside a small plastic tube. The problem with this mechanism is that over time, the roots of the plants will wind their way into the tube, and keep the floater from floating up or down, preventing your garden from accurately reporting whether it needs water. (This showed itself in my mature garden as a permanent “Refill with water” light that would not go off.)
Another slightly-less-than-ideal aspect of the Aerogarden Ultra LED is how long it takes to replant. The cleanup required can be time-consuming, and always requires a trip to the bathtub (or a very large sink) and elbow-length gloves. It also requires quite a bit of scrubbing to get into all the nooks and crannies of the water trough. And if you’re going to DIY your replanting setup to save money, stuffing the sponges into the baskets can take some time.
Finally, I do wish that there were some better accessories for the Aerogarden Ultra LED. I mentioned that I wanted to start seeds. However, the only AeroGarden Seed Starting System for 7 pod models available on Amazon is made of styrofoam. I do wish that Aerogarden would make an “official” seed starting tray for this model that was of better quality. (Note that not all the available models of seed starter trays are made of styrofoam, just the 7-pod model.)
Tips for Your Aerogarden Ultra LED Indoor Garden
After 3 rounds of planting my Aerogarden Ultra LED, and over a year of nearly continuous use, I’ve figured out how to get the most out of my garden without a lot of hassle. I’ll share these with you as part of this Aerogarden Ultra LED review.
Tip #1: Use the extra light from your Aerogarden Ultra LED to help other plants
The Aerogarden Ultra LED puts out so much light, I’ve moved other plants near it during the winter so they can benefit from it. Our house doesn’t get that much sun in any given space, but by using the Aerogarden’s extra light output, my other household plants thrive even during the darkest winter months. I’ve also used the extra light to nurse sickly plants back to health.
Tip #2: Dealing with pests on your Aerogarden Ultra LED
In having other plants in proximity to the Aerogarden Ultra LED, I introduced a little problem with spider mites. I hate spider mites. Looking for a natural way to deal with them, I stumbled on neem oil. I use a combination of RO water, cold-pressed Neem oil, and Dawn dish soap – applied lightly to the plants, and mostly to the surface of the Aerogarden (which continues to have a light “Neem sheen”, which I refresh from time to time). I also applied it to the household plant, especially the top of the soil. I can’t guarantee this will work for you, but it did for me. (YMMV).
Tip #3: DIY Refills for your Aerogarden Ultra LED
The most important tip I can give regarding your Aerogarden Ultra LED is: save your grow domes and buckets. Really, all you need is the grow buckets (you can use cut, rubber-banded plastic bag in place of a grow dome). When you’re ready to replant, clean the baskets well, and you can either purchase a “bulk” sized Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Seed Starter System Refill Pack with 70 sponges, or try cutting up standard grocery-store sponges like this article suggests.
One tip on the “bulk” sized refill pack: even though those sponges look like they’re the right shape for your baskets, they’re too short for the Aerogarden Ultra LED. I’ve had to chop mine up into little bits and stuff them into the baskets – but my plants don’t seem to mind in the least!
Combine that with a set of high-quality seeds (I prefer David’s Garden brand, also available on Amazon) and the only limit to what you can grow is your imagination. (If you’re a cilantro fan, I bought these Calypso cilantro seeds in October 2015, have planted them twice, and have had outstanding yield. HUGE, fat leaves and slower to bolt than what is packaged with your Aerogarden from the factory.)
Our Expert’s Rating for the Aerogarden Ultra LED Indoor Garden
My overall rating for the Aerogarden Ultra LED is a solid 4+ stars. The Aerogarden Ultra LED loses a star for some design flaws and lack of quality accessories, plus the cost of refills (branded by Miracle-Gro) is ridiculously high. It gets 4 stars for being a great product that you will use continuously and enjoy thoroughly. If you enjoy fresh herbs and are an avid chef and gardener, I believe it will also save you money and time.