Great news for anyone who’s ever been told to log off and touch grass! Whether you’re a natural green thumb or not, it’s easier than ever to grow plants inside. Don’t know when to water your plants? There’s an app for that. Need a constant stream of fresh basil for all your pesto needs? Hydroponics will solve your problems. Some tech startups are even manipulating the DNA of plants to make them bioluminescent, or better at purifying the air. When it comes to techy gifts for plant lovers, the world is your oyster plant.
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I have a bit of a plant problem. I have exactly 26 plants in my one-bedroom apartment, and I can tell you that precise number because I use a plant-watering app called Greg, and I counted them all. Each of my plants has its own custom watering schedule constructed by the Greg app, taking into account numerous factors: the species of plant, the size and material of its pot, its proximity to a window, which direction the window faces, how close it is to a heater or AC unit… the list goes on. It would be pretty hard to remember the specific needs of each one of my plants, but I don’t even have to think about it. Greg tells me my Monstera is thirsty, and I listen.
But Greg can even learn from your own behaviors — for example, maybe you’ve noticed that your philodendron’s leaves are super droopy, but per Greg, you’re not supposed to water it for a few more days. Trust your intuition. That plant needs water! And when you tell Greg that you watered your plant early, it’ll learn and grow, just like your plants.
The market for plant apps is a bit saturated — I hopped on the Greg train early because I wrote about them when they first raised seed funding (yes, a plant app raised seed funding), and I fell in love with the app. But Planta is perhaps more popular than Greg, and offers similar services.
I’ve tried out Planta for the sake of comparison, and hey, it’s a good app. Unlike Greg, it has a light meter, and its watering schedules are a bit more precise, giving you alerts to mist plants or fertilize them too. But Planta operates by grouping your plants depending on which room of your house they’re in. This doesn’t quite work for me, though others might find it useful. Yeah, my snake plant is in the same room as my cacti that sit directly in a brutally hot south-facing window, but the snake plant is 15 feet back from the window, and thus needs a bit of a different watering regimen.
Each app has its own built-in community forum, where you can pose questions about your plants to a community of experts. As an anxious plant owner who still thinks that “bright indirect light” is subjective, I’ve found the forums very helpful.
Both Greg and Planta charge a monthly or yearly fee for their services — Greg costs $30 per year, while Planta costs $35.99 for the year. Whichever you buy for the plant lover in your life, you can’t go wrong.
Hydroponics: Click + Grow
Home hydroponics have been popular for quite some time, and they remain the kind of gift that keeps on giving. Every time your loved one sprinkles their homegrown cilantro on their tacos, they will think of you. For less expensive, consumer-grade growing systems, you’re going to come across AeroGarden and Click + Grow, but honestly, I just think the Click + Grow models look much more modern. Then again, my grandma has had an AeroGarden since I was a kid, and she’s happy with it, so you have options. But when I decided to buy my mom a hydroponic garden one year, I went with Click + Grow, and we’ve been pleased with the results.
Like its competitors, Click + Grow sells seed pods — perfectly sized clumps of soil with seeds in them — that you drop into the machine. Then, all you have to do is fill the water reservoir every once in a while. Most Click + Grow models aren’t app-compatible, but they have a built-in clock that’ll turn the grow lights on and off. If you really want to get precise with it, you can buy some automated plugs to customize your light schedule.
Click + Grow can grow edible veggies like tomatoes, peppers and kale, but you need to have a large system to be able to grow anything quite substantial, or else you can only enjoy the novelty of eating two or three home-grown cherry tomatoes. That’s why these systems are best used for herbs, which can spice up your meal with just a few leaves.
Though it may be more romantic to give your partner an actual bouquet of flowers, you can indeed buy flower pods for your Click + Grow. That bouquet may last a week or so, but what if you could continually grow your own petunias? (My mom, for one, has preferred to grow petunias instead of lettuce.)
Click + Grow’s least expensive model retails for about $100, but they often go on sale — at the time of writing, you can grab it 25% off. The Smart Garden 3 can only grow three pods at once, but it’s small and chic enough to sit on your kitchen counter without taking up too much space.
Indoor farming: Rise Gardens
If you’re willing to shell out a serious chunk of change to jumpstart your new life as an indoor farmer, a countertop Click + Grow or AeroGarden won’t do.
We’ve been following Rise Gardens since their seed round (again, the puns write themselves) in 2020, and after making over a million dollars in sales, they raised another $9 million round the following year. Some of these more advanced systems can cost nearly $1,000, like the Gardyn, which is absolutely beautiful, but far out of most people’s price range. Rise Gardens has some hefty machines too, but you can buy the 12-pod model for $349, giving you more bang for your buck than a Click + Grow.
Rise Gardens’ larger models can break four figures, but they’re designed to look like a living piece of furniture, made of steel and wood. If you have the money, it’s like buying a piece of artwork that you can also eat? Is that weird?
These systems are easy to maintain — just fill the water reservoir once per week — but more advanced home gardeners can up the ante if they get bored with the luxury of fresh basil on demand.
“We wanted something that would be flexible because once you have mastered a hobby, you will get bored,” said founder Hank Adams in a previous interview with TechCrunch. “You can start at one level and swap out tray lids to grow more densely. We have a microgreens kit you can add, or add plant supports for tomatoes and peppers. You can also build a trellis to vine snap peas.”
Plants that defy nature: Lightbio and Neoplants
So, maybe you want to keep things simple and buy your loved one a plant. Sure, I could tell you that a purple inch plant is an easy way to bring color into the home, or that a snake plant is really easy to keep happy (but it’s toxic to pets, so beware!). But what if you could buy a freak-of-nature, Mewtwo-esque plant that has been bioengineered to be cool as hell?
Lightbio, an Idaho-based startup, just got approval from the US Department of Agriculture to sell its glow-in-the-dark petunias. The company genetically engineered these plants to glow by using the DNA of a bioluminescent mushroom. Glowing plants aren’t a new discovery — one of the founders, Dr. Keith Wood, was part of a team that first made a plant glow in 1986, using firefly genes. But Lightbio might be the first company to make these plants more readily available for purchase.
You can sign up now to get on the waitlist to buy your very own bioluminescent plant, but the company told TechCrunch that its recent USDA approval will speed things up significantly.
If you’re more interested in clean air than a firefly-like plant, Neoplants has engineered a plant that’s designed to help you breathe easier at home. The company claims that one of their plants has the same ability to purify air as 30 normal houseplants (this is great news for me, someone who — as previously established — has precisely 26 plants).
As our own Romain Dillet explained when he interviewed Neoplants’ founder last year, these plants target a specific kind of indoor pollutant that tends to evade traditional air purifiers. While plants usually metabolize carbon dioxide, Neoplants’ Neo P1 has modified DNA that allows it to metabolize air pollutants.
You can get your very own Neoplant for $179, but you’ll need to get on a waiting list before you can get your hands on the world’s wackiest air purifier.
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