Last Updated on July 18, 2021
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EDITOR’S NOTE: See the end of this post for updates about accessories we purchased to go with this garden and how things are growing so far.
When I was in high school, my family went on a vacation at Disney World. I remember being impressed and intrigued by the giant greenhouse at Epcot that features cutting-edge gardening methods, including hydroponics. Hydroponics is a form of gardening that doesn’t involve soil. Instead, plant roots are bathed in water (often with liquid nutrients or fertilizer).
This spring, Aldi decided to dip its toe into the world of hydroponics with a smart indoor garden. I eagerly awaited the day this garden would hit store shelves, and I was fortunate to be able to find one in my local store. This is the first time I’ve seen Aldi sell anything like this.
The Ambiano Smart Indoor Garden cost $39.99 at the time of publication. That’s a bargain compared to most other indoor garden systems I’ve seen, with a few in the $50 range but with most running you $100 or more.
This garden is an Aldi Find, which means it’s only in stores for a short time. Aldi does not offer online ordering for its specials, so once this sells out at your local store, it’s gone.
I’m new to hydroponic gardening and will be figuring this out as I go, but to get started, this set includes the garden device itself along with four grow baskets, a power adapter, an instruction manual, and a three-year warranty card.
The garden’s features include:
- A cyclical 12-hour timer to control the included LED lighting
- A time-controlled watering system
- A water level indicator
- Four grow baskets for use with standard grow sponges or seed pods with a maximum diameter of 1 inch (Important: grow sponges or seed pods not included)
The garden comes with a three-year warranty serviced by Monolith.
The package indicates this garden can grow kitchen herbs or small ornamentals. The manual includes a chart listing several common herbs and their sprouting and maturation times, with a recommendation that you choose plants with similar growing times for best results. I probably plan to grow basil and cilantro/coriander in my garden, and other options include parsley, mint, chives, thyme, rosemary, and chili.
The garden comes mostly assembled straight out of the box. All you have to do is lift the grow basket holder to remove the power adapter and grow baskets.
Then plug the power adapter into the back of the garden, and replace the grow basket holder and drop the grow baskets into the holder.
Besides seeds or plants, one key component is missing from this garden, and you’ll have to make a separate purchase. It does not come with grow sponges or seed pods. I’d love to be able to run out to my local garden center or hardware store today to pick up some and get started. However, it looks like these are not on the shelves at my local Home Depot and Menards stores, although I can order them from those retailers. I’ll probably order some from Amazon.
Upon the recommendation of an Aldi Reviewer reader, I may also order some liquid fertilizer and some grow domes (small caps that go on top of the grow baskets and help retain moisture after first planting seeds).
I’ll probably purchase these all under the Aerogarden brand name, as that appears to be one of the most common names in the market for indoor gardening systems. Hopefully their grow sponges (made with peat moss) will fit the Aldi garden’s grow baskets.
You have several choices to get you started.
- You can simply buy just grow sponges. Amazon sells Aerogarden and other brands of sponges in bulk packs of 25-100 starting around $10-$15. I think I saw some packages that contain grow sponges and fertilizer as well.
- Aerogarden also has seed pod kits that include grow sponges, grow baskets (the Aldi garden already has grow baskets, though), specific seeds, grow domes, and fertilizer. Seed choices range from various gourmet herbs to Italian herbs and more.
- Or if you want to use your own seeds Aerogarden also makes a Grow Anything kit that includes everything except the seeds.
Depending on what products you buy and in what quantities, these additional supplies will generally set you back at least $15.
Once I get some seeds and my grow sponges and any other accessories arrive in the mail, I’ll be able to truly get started.
Operating the Garden
In the meantime, I filled this Aldi garden with water and put it through the paces. The water tank has a window in the back that shows minimum and maximum water levels required for operation. You don’t want to let the water level fall below the minimum water mark or the pump may be damaged. The tank also has a window in the front to allow you to view plant roots as they grow, which I think is cool.
It goes without saying that you’ll want to be careful using this garden because it uses both water and electricity, and the manual offers plenty of safety warnings upfront.
Once you plug the garden in, water will start to circulate through the grow baskets. This feature runs for 5 minutes, then pauses for 55 minutes, and then repeats the cycle as long as the unit is plugged in. I’ve been letting it run, minus the plants/seeds, to see if it works as advertised, and so far so good.
To operate the light, give the light switch button on top of the garden a gentle tap. Touching the light switch starts an internal timer, and the light will run for 12 hours, then shut off for 12 hours, and repeat. Each time the power is disconnected, the internal timer will reset.
When you first plant seeds in this garden, the manual recommends lowering the light unit all the way down until a gap of only about 0.6 of an inch remains open. As your plants grow, adjust the height of the light unit. You don’t want your plants to touch the light.
To refill the water tank, pull off the little rubber stopper on top of the grow basket holder and pour your desired amount of water in, and then replace the stopper.
Occasionally you’ll want to take apart the garden to clean it and remove dirt buildup or algae growth, including from inside the tank and around the water pump. The manual has instructions for doing that, but clearly I’m not ready for that just yet.
I’ll update this post after my grow sponges and other accessories are delivered in the mail, so check back later for more information about how this garden works.
UPDATE (5/13/2021): I bought an Aerogarden seed pod kit for about $15 on Amazon that includes a variety of pre-seeded grow sponges, additional grow baskets, grow domes, and liquid fertilizer to go with the Aldi garden. There were several types of seed options and I went with the kit for gourmet herbs, including basil, thyme, chives, mint, dill, etc.
The grow sponges and grow baskets are not the exact same dimensions between the Aldi and Aerogarden brands, but with a little jimmying I think I made it work.
The Aerogarden grow baskets and grow sponges are taller/longer than the Aldi grow baskets.
If you try putting the Aerogarden grow sponges in the Aldi grow baskets, the sponges stick out of the top farther than I prefer. I ended up using the Aerogarden grow baskets in the Ambiano garden and storing the grow baskets that originally came with it.
The Aerogarden grow baskets don’t sit as low in the holes in the Aldi garden, but I think they’re low enough that I won’t have problems. I had to turn and reposition a few of the Aerogarden baskets to keep them from bobbing up and out of place in the garden unit, but I eventually got them into positions that seem to work. The grow domes don’t fit tightly on top, but I think that’s just how they are and it’s not because they’re made for a different brand of hydroponic garden.
The herb seed packets I had around the house were older, which is why I went with a kit that included seeds, but in the future, I’ll probably purchase the grow sponges that do not already contain seeds, so I can add my own seeds. I might also use the Aldi grow baskets in the future because they naturally fit the unit better, but I would experiment with trimming the grow sponges I purchase to better fit the shorter Aldi grow baskets.
Mechanically/technically, the garden seems to be working as it should, and now I’m just waiting for the seeds to sprout. I’ll update later with additional progress.
UPDATE (5/25/2021): I planted seeds/grow sponges on May 13th, 2021, and here’s what they look like after not quite two weeks.
The dill and Thai basil are growing great.
The chives and mint are coming along more slowly, but they’re growing. I wasn’t sure if the chives would sprout because that grow sponge developed fuzzy mold (I eventually took off the plastic grow dome to see if that would help), but there is one small sprout growing.
I’ve had to raise the light by a good amount, and at the rate the basil and dill are growing, I anticipate some small herb harvests soon.
One other observation is that the LED light timer doesn’t seem to be on an exact 12-hour cycle. Maybe more like 12 hours and 15 minutes. As a result, the light cycle timing changes slightly each day. It’s not a big problem to me, though, and when it gets off by too much I turn off the light manually by tapping it, and I turn it back on when I want to restart the light cycle.
UPDATE (6/29/2021) — The garden is growing great at this point. The basil and dill grow quickly, and I’ve had to prune and harvest them more times than I can count to keep them from overtaking the LED light, but that’s great if you want lots of fresh herbs to cook with. The mint and chives grow more slowly and less abundantly, and that may be partly due to the fact that I’ve had to move the light up farther away from them because their neighboring plants are such vigorous growers.
My only real challenge now is keeping the water tank full. With larger plants growing in the garden, they tend to be water hogs and I have to refill the tank every two or three days max. There have been a couple of times when I wasn’t paying close attention and the water line got below the minimum level, which can be bad for the pump. If you plan to go out of town for more than two or three nights and you have larger water-sucking plants, I recommend leaving this garden with a friend who can keep the water tank full and share in the harvest.
UPDATE (7/18/2021) — My basil and dill have been growing so vigorously and are such water hogs that I left my garden at a friend’s house so she could keep the water tank filled while I was on vacation for a couple of weeks. By the time I returned and picked up my garden, my friend was adding water to the tank twice a day.
I decided to experiment with gently pulling the basil and dill out of the smart garden and planting them in pots on my patio. The dill came out pretty easy, but the basil had such an extensive root system and the grow hole is so small that it lost a lot of its root system when I removed it from the smart garden; it has enough remaining roots that I think it will be fine.
I planted the dill and basil with the plastic grow baskets because there’s no way to separate those from the live plants at this point. I’ll disentangle the grow baskets in the fall after the plants die off.
While I was clearing the dill and basil roots out of the smart garden, I gained access to wipe some green algae growth off the front display window and the rear water level indicator window. Now I just have mint and chives growing in the smart garden, and I think they’re on the small side because I kept having to move the light farther away from them because their dill and basil neighbors grew so quickly. I have several more pods with seeds and grow sponges from Aerogarden, so I might try planting some new things, or I might simply let the mint and chives grow on their own for a while.
The Ambiano Smart Indoor Garden is an opportunity to try your hand at growing herbs or small ornamentals using a hydroponic method, which primarily uses water instead of traditional soil as a growing medium. Before you can get started, you’ll need to purchase extra supplies such as seeds and grow sponges, and possibly grow domes and/or liquid fertilizer. If you’re lucky, you might find these things in your local garden center, but I ordered them via Amazon. Our garden has done well and yielded plentiful harvests of herbs.
I just picked one up yesterday (Wednesday, May 12th) Gardena, California location. There were only 3 left!
I’m going to wait for your updates before I give it a go. Can’t wait!
I’ve updated this post with information about the grow sponges, etc. that I ordered. Good luck with your garden!
I stumbled on your blog when I was looking up the grow sponges/seed pods as I bought it yesterday morning (before this one was posted – I read your original one) I ordered from Amazon and they’ll be here tomorrow. I am SO excited to grow my own herbs! I was looking through your blog & am subscribing – love the Aldi reviews! I’d love to hear an update with yours as you begin to grow
Welcome to our blog! I’ve updated this post with information about grow sponges and other accessories I ordered. Good luck with your garden!
I’m trying to find a wiring diagram. Any leads?
I’m not sure the garden came with any information that detailed.
I just purchased today. I’m a little nervous about this. I have never grown a plant in my life in my 40+ years. I wanted to grow some rosemary for my favorite rosemary chicken recipe. I’m thinking it might be cheaper just to buy rosemary at the store. I will give it a go but I’m definitely nervous.
A suggestion for seeds, and sponges:
1. you can use generic sponges. Even if the sponges are long, you can cut the sponges to fit. Areogarden is pricey for its brand. Use tweezers for dropping seeds in the sponge openings.
2. If you want to continue growing throughout the year, go to Everwilde Farms site https://www.everwilde.com/
Order the smallest packet size. Especially with only 4 openings for the smart garden. The seeds are in darkened, resealable packets. Excellent if you are growing greens and are continually harvesting!
Plus you have the choice of heirloom and organic seeds!
I bought one and ordered generic sponges (I had to use
1-1/2 per basket because they were short so I cut the one in half and put it at the bottom. The I bought seeds and Maximo powder fertilizer. Fingers crossed this works. I’ve used larger Aerogardens in the past but they seemed like more work.
I bought Organo Republic heirloom seeds and am going to try seedlings in household sponges.
I ended up buying the Aerogarden sponges, fertilizer, dome and baskets. Last week, because I’m so impatient, rather than waiting for my Amazon package I cut a piece of kitchen sponge and placed Basil seeds in it. The seeds have germinate and my Basil plant is sprouting.
bought one at Aldi got it home no seeds no sponges will be returning
That’s what our review notes. You can certainly return it if you really want to. I’ll say, though, that even with the cost of ordering seeds and sponges the Aldi one is cheaper than most other gardens like this one. There are plenty of places online, and possible some in-store, where you can buy sponges and seeds. See the review for examples.
Thanks Joshua, mine was 45.00 I’m going to try and make a go of it by ordering from Amazon what ever else I need but I’m a bit disappointed. I hope after I order I sure hope it does the job. I been very happy with what ever I have gotten from ALDI, but if I had seen the little tiny statement about accessories not included I don’t think I would have brought it.
I agree but I bought it for 39.99 and then another 15.00 for accessories but I got what I wanted seeds will post after I get sprouts!
I thought started seeds and sponges came with purchsse!
Yes so did I, my son put it together for me and is going to see if it lights up and everything before I spend more money to get the accessories. I was a bit disappointed because my granddaughter had brought a Different one for my daughter that came with everything two weeks ago and is now sprouting. I thought I was getting a Bargain.
Bought all that I needed to start,from amazon! will post more later so far easy!
I have been using this garden for one week so far, and can’t see the water level. Is there a way to determine when to refill the water reservoir? I purchased the Aerogarden seeds, spongers and fertilizer from Bed Bath and Beyond. I am thrilled with this item and saved money at the same time even with the purchase of the Aerogarden items.
The back of the garden has a viewing window with lines marked for minimum and maximum water levels.
got sprouts basil so far easy issues with light but have that controlled for now!
i have not been able to find seed pods that fit. I have already returned 2 different packs; one was too long and skinny, the other too wide. I fear I may have to return the appliance (of course, I can’t find the receipt).
I used the one from aero garden. I used it out of pkg not with the basket in the smart garden! Longer but it is sprouting perfect.
Very satisfied with using Aerogarden inserts in my Ambiano set purchased from Aldi. All four pods are growing. My only problem is the differential in how fast the various herbs grow and knowing whether it is O.K. to move the light upward. I’m keeping the light off the plants but then it gets further & further away from the slow-growing herbs. Any suggestions welcome.
I am only growing basil but it is really growing fast I keep pruning and adjusting light I say prune the tallest ones