Miracle-Gro Twelve Indoor Growing System review: A nearly foolproof means to fresh herbs and lettuce year ’round

Once you’ve tasted fresh herbs and greens plucked from your own garden, you’ll never be satisfied with the produce supplied by your local grocery store or—even a farmers’ market. The Miracle-Gro Twelve Indoor Growing System lets you grow all manner of herbs and green leafy vegetables indoors all year ‘round with practically zero effort

Despite living on a 10-acre parcel in sunny northern California, I’ve never been able to grow much in the way of fresh vegetables. I know how to do it, and I obviously have the space, but two factors always get in the way: The time to do the tilling, planting, and—ugh—weeding, and the colonies of ground squirrels that live in the olive orchards surrounding my home. I tried starting outdoor gardens a couple of times, but the squirrels ravaged my plantings long before any veggies were ready for harvest.

You don’t need land, know-how, much in the way of labor, or even sunshine and warm weather to grow plants with Miracle-Gro’s system. You simply need about two square feet of your home’s floorspace, a nearby electrical outlet, a few gallons of water, seeds (or seedlings), and a little time. The one drawback is the cost of the system: With a list price of $299 (plus ongoing expenses for electricity, seeds, fertilizer, and miscellaneous supplies), you shouldn’t expect the Miracle-Gro Twelve to pay for itself anytime soon by lowering your grocery bills.

lettuce sprouts in miracle gro twelve Michael Brown / IDG

Plants grow quickly in the Miracle-Gro Twelve system. This lettuce mixture sprouted from seed in much less than a week.

I’ve been using the system for several months and have successfully grown a variety of lettuces and cilantro from seed; and oregano and sage from seedlings. I never realized how crisp and flavorful lettuce could be, and the herbs—I used the cilantro in some homemade salsa, and the sage went in a variety of dishes—were incredibly aromatic. Apart from performing a few tasks when the system prompted (adding water and nutrients, which I’ll get into later), all I needed to do was drop the seeds and seedlings into pots. The lettuce was ready to harvest in five weeks, and the cilantro was ready a week after that. The seedlings, of course, took even less time.

Growing indoors offers several benefits beyond letting you ignore the seasons. You don’t need to worry about weeding, since there’s no chance for weed seeds to make their way into the pots. And pests—insectoid, mammalian, or what have you—won’t be able to get to them. Weeds and insect pests could get into your home if you buy seedlings at a nursery or grocery store, but those problems should be relatively easy to manage given the size of your plantings.

miracle gro set up plants Michael Brown / IDG

Inform the app what types of plants you’re starting, and it will offer guidance as to how long they’ll need to grow before harvest.

That size benefit is also the system’s biggest limitation: You can’t realistically grow much more than herbs, leafy greens, and perhaps small flowers destined for arrangements or for drying. You could probably start larger vegetables like zucchini, green beans, or tomatoes with it, but you’d need to move them to other containers, or more likely into an outdoor bed, in short order.

The components and the feature set

The system comes completely disassembled, and it took me about 30 minutes to screw everything together. Miracle-Gro uses two sizes of Torx screws to hold the legs, water reservoir, planting frame, cover plates, and light shade together, but helpfully includes an L-shaped driver in the package.

The kit also comes with seed-starting and transplant kits (net cups, fiber pots, and peat-based sponges), two packets of fertilizer for recirculating water-based plantings, and cover plates should you decide to leave any of its four planting locations vacant. You’ll need to provide your own seeds or seedlings, along with a couple of gallons of water.