Is It Safe to Buy Hydroponic Gardening Equipment Online?

Over half of all purchases made annually are made online.  E-Commerce is a huge industry and most people don’t give shopping online a second thought.  But what if you are purchasing items that could be misinterpreted as questionable (read: illegal) activity?

Is it safe to buy hydroponic gardening equipment online? Yes, it is perfectly safe to buy hydroponic gardening equipment online, as long as you buy from reputable websites and take precautions to protect yourself from identity theft.

Several online stores – particularly those specializing in home improvement, such as Home Depot – have dedicated sub-menus specifically for hydroponic equipment.

Hydroponics 101

In ultra-simple terms, hydroponics is gardening without the soil.  A more complex explanation is hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a soil-free nutrient solution.  Perlite, rockwool, clay pellets or peat moss are used as an alternative to soil.

Hydroponic gardening allows the plants to have access to direct oxygen and nutrients without the bugs and cold weather worries.  If you provide proper light and water, hydroponic plants can grow 30-50 percent faster. (Information courtesy of Greentrees Hydroponics)

There are a variety of hydroponic systems available to purchase.  The systems are either active or passive. An active system is the preferred method because they are more effective in moving the nutrient solutions throughout the plants, usually via a pump. A passive system relies on a wick or medium to pass along the absorbed nutrients onto the roots.  (“Medium” refers to the materials used to make the plants grow.)

Types of Hydroponic Systems

  • Wick System

The simplest and least expensive system, the Wick System uses the candle wick to absorb the nutrients into the growing medium.

  • Water Culture

Comprised of a styrofoam platform that holds the plants, the platform floats directly over the nutrient solution, providing water to the roots.  Leaf lettuce is the only plant that works well with this system, making it popular among elementary school teachers.

  • Nutrient Film Technique System

In the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) System, plants are placed in net pots, which are then partially submerged in a channel that hovers above the main reservoir.  The channel has a constant flow of nutrient solution running across the bottom of the channel (the “film” part of the name) that drains into the larger reservoir.

  • Aeroponic System

The Aeroponic System is considered the highest tech of the different systems.  The plants are suspended from the air in a basket and misted with the nutrient solution.  The misting occurs at preset intervals that can be adjusted to your liking.

The Ebb And Flow System drench the plants in the nutrients and then drains the solution into the reservoir via a pump with a timer.

  • Continuous Drip System

Perhaps the most popular system, the Continuous Drip System utilizes a timer-controlled pump that trips the necessary nutrients onto the plants.

Online Vs. In-Store Purchasing

When considering the merits of online shopping against in-store shopping, it is important to keep in mind convenience, customer service, warranties and returns/exchanges.

The biggest advantage of online shopping is the convenience of not having to find a parking spot, brushing your hair or fighting the crowds.  Shopping online is virtually hassle-free. You can purchase your item with the click of your mouse instead of waiting in long check-out lines for the next available register.

While good or bad Customer Service is a reflection on the store itself, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Customer Service employee as to whether your experience is excellent or poor.

Online Customer Service is a fantastic option if you prefer not to deal with people face-to-face.  However, that lack of human interaction can lead to a feeling of impersonality and lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Many retailers offer free or low-cost shipping options when it comes time for your order to be delivered.  More and more stores now offer in-store pick-up, where you order online and if a local store has it in stock, you can go there to pick it up the same day that you order it.  That option is dependent upon whether the store physically has the item on-hand, so it may not be particularly feasible in rural areas. Online retailers also allow you to have the item shipped to your local brick-and-mortar store to pick-up instead of directly to your home or office.  

When you shop for an item online, you are faced with a plethora of merchants available.  It can be difficult to know which ones are real and which are scams. Unless it is a well-known chain-store, proceed with caution.  Do your due diligence and research the stores if they seem the least bit sketchy.

Warranties offer guaranteed protection if the item you purchase breaks or has other issues.  Some companies void warranties if the item is purchased online, so that is important information to weigh when making online purchases. So, again – do your research if you plan to make big-ticket item purchases.

Returning or exchanging an item is easier in-store than it is online.  It is certainly quicker. To return an item online — assuming the company allows returns — you have to fill out the return paper, repackage it and take it to the post office, where it has to be shipped and processed.  Returning an item to an online store could take days or even weeks if you purchased from an overseas company.

When you weigh the pros and cons of online shopping and making your purchases in-store, online shopping is certainly more efficient and convenient.

Tips for Purchasing Hydroponic Gardening Equipment Online

Any purchase online is a gamble.  Websites can be susceptible to hacking and your information being stolen.  If you purchase online, your credit card information can be readily available if the website is hacked.  Some websites also sell the addresses and phone numbers of their customers to other companies. While that isn’t likely to affect your credit card, being inundated with unwanted phone calls and junk mail can be an inconvenience.

Another potential option in online shopping is to buy your equipment through eBay or Craigslist.  eBay is a legitimate wholesaler that also allows users to sell items secondhand.

Craigslist is a bit trickier, though.  Like eBay, it allows its users to post items for sale, but there’s no oversight regarding the quality of the merchandise.   It’s akin to a giant internet garage sale. Unless you’re up for a long drive, items are usually purchased locally and picked-up in person.  Money is typically exchanged during the pick-up and it can be a dangerous situation. The best thing to do when using Craigslist is to have a friend go with you to pick-up the item you’ve purchased.  

Related Questions

Is it illegal to own hydroponic equipment?

The short answer to this question is no.  The longer answer is much more complex and depends what you want to grow, as the topic of legalizing marijuana has drawn a lot of undue attention to hydroponic equipment sellers.  Some states in the US are taking steps to legalize cannabis for medical use and recreational use. Other states are taking the opposite stand and cracking down on marijuana offenses.

What is a grow shop?

A grow shop is a retail store that sells hydroponic and other supplies for growing plants indoors.  Unlike merchants that sell a variety of inventory, grow shops are dedicated solely to the booming indoor growing niche. The store can be an online business or a brick-or-mortar store.

What Can You Grow With Hydroponics?

If you can grow it in an outdoor garden, the chances are that you can grow it in an indoor greenhouse as well.  Rooting, stalking and vines crops (such as potatoes) can be difficult because they require more depth for growing.  

Herbs, salad greens and vegetables are among the most popular choices in hydroponic growing.  Flowers grow well, too. Some flower ideas are marigolds, carnations, roses and even sunflowers.

What Are The Benefits to Hydroponic Gardening?

Gardening is a hobby enjoyed by people in many countries around the world.  Most people think of garden as being outdoors, but there are many benefits to indoor gardening:

  • Indoor and outdoor growing year-round

Not all climates are friendly to outdoor gardening.  Hydroponic gardening allows people to grow their plants indoors during the colder months and transfer them outside in the warmer months if desired.

  • Saves water and damage to soil

Plants grown using the hydroponic system get their food from water and nutrient solutions instead of soil.  Many systems have recycling water systems.

  • Plants grow faster

It is proven that hydroponic plants grow 30-50 percent faster with higher yields.

  • No pests or weeding necessary

Growing indoors prevents plant-killing pests from infecting the plants.

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About the Author

Oscar Stephens
Oscar Stephens
I am a gardening and tech enthusiast! Stumbling across the world of Hydroponics, Aquaponics and Aeroponics by accident I've decided to create TheHydroponicsPlanet to put all of the best information I can find in one easy to navigate place. I'll continue to add more content as I discover new things!