As you delve further into the world of container gardening, you might come across a new term: grow box. This piece of equipment can transform your humble container garden into an efficient, highly productive operation. But what is a grow box? And how do you select the right one for your garden?
While you can start a successful container garden with little more than a pot and some soil (and a plant, of course), growing your container garden past this point requires some more advanced equipment. This is where a grow box enters the picture.
What Is a Grow Box?
A grow box is a self-contained planter. Grow boxes have, to some capacity, the ability to regulate environmental factors like water uptake, temperature, and nutrition. While a grow box requires some level of initial setup, the required ongoing maintenance is nothing compared to traditional growing methods. Grow boxes are the "set it and forget it" of the container garden world.
Grow boxes come in many different complexities. Some are just a typical planter with a self-watering reservoir. Some go so far as to include a grow light and air filter — these often have a closed cabinet that truly isolates your plants from the outside environment. Most grow boxes, though, fall somewhere in the middle.
While the exact features of a grow box depend on the make and model, the biggest benefit of using a grow box is that it is self-watering. Whether you're away from home often, are too busy for regular maintenance, or are looking for a more efficient way to garden, a grow box is a great tool.
What about other self-watering systems?
There are many different self-watering systems in the gardening world. Whether you choose to use them for your container garden is up to you, but most offer only a portion of the benefits a grow box does. Here are a few of the most popular ways to add a self-watering feature to your container garden:
Watering globes can be added to any plant or soil, though some plants do better than others with this method of watering. These are great for thirsty houseplants that normally need daily watering.
Watering globes are not a replacement for regular plant care. You must remove, clean, and refill them on a consistent schedule. The benefit of water globes comes from the steady flow of water into the soil over the course of about a week, instead of one heavy watering by hand.
Downsides of this method are that the globes can be difficult to fill and that they do not last very long. While these glass orbs will keep your plants hydrated over a long weekend, you'll need to come up with a different solution if you plan to take a real vacation anytime soon. You can find watering globes at almost any hardware or gardening store, or on Amazon.
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- A THOUGHTFUL GARDENING GIFT: Incredibly efficient and dynamically practical, our gorgeous watering globes make the...
Watering stakes work just like a watering globe, but use a detachable plastic water bottle to hold the water. While they are very similar to watering globes, they are a bit easier to fill and clean than their glass counterparts. These can also be found in your local store or on Amazon.
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- GREAT CONVENIENCE: Travel more without having to worry about finding someone to water your plants.
Watering probes are a more advanced version of the globes and stakes mentioned above. They make the probes from water-permeable ceramic, which allows the soil to pull in water when it needs to. However, when the soil is saturated, it also keeps the water in the ceramic cone.
Watering probes connect to an additional water source, such as a large bowl of water or a sink. This allows them to "hold" much more water than a watering globe or stake. The ceramic probes do require occasional removal and cleaning, but you only need to do this every few months. You can find a starter set of watering probes on Amazon.
- Useful tools: the self watering probes are simple and effective ways to water your plants when you are on vacation,...
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Self-watering planter insert
These planter inserts create a water reservoir in the bottom of your normal pots. While you will need to remove any plants and soil to install the insert, most come with a refill tube for easy upkeep.
A self-watering planter insert can help regulate your soil's water uptake, but it is no different than using a planter with a built-in reservoir. Unless you have your heart set on using a specific pot for your container garden, you might as well just purchase a planter already equipped with a reservoir. Self-watering planter inserts can be found at some gardening stores and on Amazon.
- BENEFITS- Transforms any container into a convenient, self-watering planter, reduces watering chores and provides a...
- PRODUCT DETAILS- Built-in fill tube and handy water level indicator, can be used with pots that have a drainage hole in...
- MATERIALS-Made of durable polypropylene
Who should consider a grow box?
Grow boxes are a great tool of convenience for any gardener, but some people will find a grow box particularly helpful. Some of the types of gardeners who might want to consider upgrading their container garden to a grow box include:
Choosing the Best Grow Box
There are plenty highly-rated grow boxes on the market, so it can be hard to choose the best one for your container garden setup. Some factors to consider, aside from customer ratings, are the size, soil capacity, and what features — self-watering, fertilizing, temperature control, etc. — the grow box has.
To help you navigate the current offerings, we've reviewed some of the best grow boxes on the market. This list should help you narrow down your choices to one that will truly meet your and your garden's needs.
How We Reviewed
For our review, we focused on grow boxes that advertise self-watering as their main feature. This allowed us to compare each product against the others more directly. While there are plenty of very advanced grow box systems, these are simply outside of the scope of our review.
We looked at the functionality of each grow box — how it works as well as set up and maintenance requirements for the user — in addition to customer reviews, pricing, and availability. With each product, we included a recommendation for the best type of situation for each grow box.
- Specially designed for the Garden Patch Grow Box, this attractive faux bamboo staking system supports tomatoes, beans,...
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- Unique construction, grows as your plants grow and stows away when not in use
This grow box is advertised for tomato plants, but almost any vegetable or ornamental plant will do just fine. The Garden Patch Grow Box was given a 93 percent approval rating by the National Home & Gardening Association and was the recipient of the 2007 MGA Green Thumb Award.
The Garden Patch Grow Box features a Nutrient Patch that delivers fertilizer and maintains the proper soil temperature. The Nutrient Patch also acts as a spacing guide when first planting your crop or flowers. With the use of the Nutrient Patch, you can use regular potting mix without worrying about nutrient deficiencies. This grow box holds a little over 23 gallons of potting mix.
Assembly is similar to any other reservoir-style self-watering planter. The Garden Patch claims it only takes five minutes to set up. The reservoir holds four gallons of water, enough to keep plants properly hydrated for several days, even in hot weather. The grow box's cover keeps additional rainwater out, so your plants won't drown. Top and bottom soil aeration prevent fungus and disease from attacking your plants' root systems.
The Garden Patch Grow Box was rated 4.1 out of 5 stars by Amazon customers. Customers who were happy with their purchase saw quick sprouting, large plants, and huge produce. Customers who had a less-than-optimal experience with the Garden Patch Grow Box cited issues with fertilizer burns, the reservoir cracking, and plants dying or never growing. Some customers also recommended buying the version with a tomato cage if growing tomatoes.
The Garden Patch Grow Box goes for $30 to $85. If you're interested in purchasing the Nutrient Patch alone for replanting, they run for $7 to $12. You can find The Garden Patch Grow Box at the Garden Patch website and on Amazon.
- Award-winning, maintenance Free gardening system
- Controls soil conditions and eliminates guesswork
- Includes: 4-piece gardening system (EarthBox container, aeration screen, water fill tube, 2 B/W mulch covers), 1-pound...
This grow box is very similar to The Garden Patch Grow Box, but with some slightly different features. Since their inception in 1994, EarthBox claims to be the pioneer of container gardening. EarthBox advertises that their grow boxes are recyclable, American-made, and award-winning.
Instead of a fertilizer-infused soil cover like The Garden Patch Grow Box uses, the EarthBox grow box uses separate fertilizer and mulch covers. The Garden Kit also includes caster wheels, making the EarthBox grow box easily portable despite the added weight of water and soil. The EarthBox Garden Kit holds 15 gallons of potting mix.
The EarthBox Garden Kit uses a reservoir self-watering system, but it is a slightly different style than The Garden Patch's grow box. EarthBox's grow box uses an aeration screen placed several inches above the planter's bottom. You place the watering tube and add the potting mix on top. Water moves up through the screen, and you can replenish it through the watering tube with a hose or watering can.
The EarthBox Garden Kit was rated 4.4 out of 5 stars by Amazon customers. Happy customers love the space-saving quality and ability to grow plants they never could before. Dissatisfied customers were unhappy with the way the EarthBox Grow Kit looked and that their plants died.
The EarthBox Garden Kit goes for $20 to $70, depending on what size you decide to buy. You can find the EarthBox Grow Kit on the EarthBox website and Amazon.
- DELTA 20 is the perfect way to bring your windowsill to life
- Made in Germany of durable frost and UV resistant PP plastic for indoor use
- Simple yet elegant design complements any decor
The Lechuza Delta 20 Planter is a smaller version of the grow box format. This planter sits on a windowsill and supplies regulated water and nutrients to your plants. The Lechuza grow box is for indoor use only. It is a great option for apartment dwellers without a deck or balcony.
Since the Lechuza Delta 20 Planter goes indoors, there is no real need for a soil or mulch cover. Lechuza has its own specially formulated substrate, called Lechuza Pon, that separates the water reservoir from the soil and releases fertilizer. The Lechuza Delta 20 Planter is much smaller than the others in this review, holding just over one gallon of potting mix. Because of its small size, this grow box is better for growing herbs or flowers instead of full vegetable plants.
This planter has a typical reservoir, but with the addition of an above-soil water level indicator. This makes it easy to monitor the water level and ensure your plants don't go dry.
The Lechuza Delta 20 Planter was rated 5 out of 5 stars by Amazon customers, but keep in mind there are only a few reviews at this time. Customers who left reviews mentioned that this planter was great for lazy gardeners and travelers. Some also praised the planter's aesthetic design.
The Lechuza Delta 20 Planter goes for $15 to $85, depending on size. You can find the Lechuza Delta 20 Planter at the Lechuza U.S. website and on Amazon.
- KEEPS PLANTS LUSH AND GREEN EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT AROUND - Self watering system is a must
- EASY WORKING HEIGHT MINIMIZES BACK & KNEE STRAIN - Elevated design protects plants from rabbits, gophers & pets
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The CedarCraft Self-Watering Elevated Cedar Planter features eco-friendly wood. This is a refreshing change from the plastic in our other reviewed planters. Its elevated design makes an excellent container garden for those with limited mobility and protects plants from small wildlife and pets.
The CedarCraft Elevated Planter does not include fertilizer, substrate, or a mulch cover. This grow box holds a little over 32 gallons of potting mix.
The water reservoir holds up to six gallons, so your plants can stay hydrated for a long time with no maintenance. Like the Lechuza Delta 20 Planter, this grow box features a water level indicator. This lets you know when it's time to refill.
The CedarCraft Elevated Planter was rated 4.4 out of 5 stars by Amazon customers. Satisfied customers referenced quick assembly, pest control, and happy plants. Most negative reviews blamed a leaking water reservoir for their dissatisfaction — there is some evidence to suggest this is part of the planter's intended design.
The CedarCraft goes for $200 to $300. You can find the CedarCraft Elevated Planter at the CedarCraft website and on Amazon.
Between The Garden Patch Grow Box and the EarthBox Garden Kit, we prefer the EarthBox product. With a water-filling tube and the inclusion of caster wheels, it is easier to move and maintain than its competitor. The slightly higher customer reviews also don't hurt the EarthBox. With very few past customers experiencing any issues with the Garden Kit, you can buy with confidence. That said, the price of the Garden Patch Grow Box is almost half of the EarthBox Garden Kit. If the price is important to you, the slight benefits of the EarthBox product aren't worth the extra money.
As for the other two grow boxes in our review, they each have their place in the container gardening world. The Lechuza Delta 20 Planter is ideal for indoor gardeners or those who don't need the soil capacity of its larger counterparts. The CedarCraft Self-Watering Elevated Cedar Planter is best for large spaces and gardeners with mobility issues. One is not necessarily better than the other; they simply suit different circumstances.