Urban Gardening: Fish-friendly Plants for Small Aquaponics Systems

Urban gardening has surged in popularity as more people seek sustainable ways to grow fresh produce in limited spaces. One innovative method gaining traction is aquaponics, which combines aquaculture (raising fish) with hydroponics (growing plants in water). This symbiotic system not only maximizes space efficiency but also promotes eco-friendly practices by utilizing natural waste as nutrients for plant growth.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is a closed-loop system where fish and plants mutually benefit from each other’s existence. Fish waste, rich in ammonia, serves as a nutrient source for plants. In turn, plants naturally filter the water, creating a healthier environment for the fish. This method requires minimal water and eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers, making it a sustainable choice for urban environments.

Benefits of Fish-friendly Plants in Aquaponics

Choosing the right plants is crucial for the success of an aquaponics system, especially in small urban settings. Fish-friendly plants not only thrive in nutrient-rich water but also contribute to the overall balance of the ecosystem. Here are some excellent choices for your small-scale aquaponics setup:

1. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Benefits: Lettuce is a popular choice due to its quick growth and shallow root system, which makes it ideal for aquaponics. It absorbs nutrients efficiently from the water, helping to maintain water quality for fish.

Varieties: Butterhead, romaine, and leaf lettuce are commonly grown in aquaponic systems.

2. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Benefits: Basil thrives in aquaponics due to its high nutrient requirements. It adds flavor to your meals while helping to filter out nutrients from the water.

Varieties: Sweet basil, Thai basil, and lemon basil are popular choices for aquaponics.

3. Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla)

Benefits: Swiss chard is nutrient-dense and grows well in aquaponic systems. Its vibrant leaves add color and variety to your garden.

Varieties: Rainbow chard and Fordhook Giant are well-suited for aquaponics.

4. Mint (Mentha spp.)

Benefits: Mint grows vigorously in aquaponic environments and helps to naturally purify the water. It also repels pests and adds a refreshing aroma.

Varieties: Spearmint and peppermint are popular choices for aquaponics.

5. Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala)

Benefits: Kale is nutrient-packed and grows well in aquaponic setups. Its robust leaves provide a continuous harvest throughout the season.

Varieties: Curly kale and Lacinato (or dinosaur) kale are suitable for aquaponics.

Tips for Successful Aquaponics Gardening

Maintain Water Quality: Regularly monitor pH levels and ammonia concentrations to ensure a healthy environment for both fish and plants.

Choose Compatible Fish: Opt for species like tilapia, trout, or perch that produce adequate waste for nutrient cycling without overcrowding the tank.

Provide Adequate Lighting: Plants require sufficient light for photosynthesis. LED grow lights are energy-efficient and ideal for indoor aquaponics setups.

Harvest Regularly: Harvesting plants promotes continuous growth and prevents overcrowding, ensuring optimal nutrient absorption and water filtration.


Urban gardening with aquaponics offers a sustainable solution for growing fresh produce in small spaces while minimizing environmental impact. By selecting fish-friendly plants like lettuce, basil, Swiss chard, mint, and kale, you can create a thriving ecosystem that benefits both your kitchen and the environment. Embrace the future of urban agriculture with aquaponics and enjoy the rewards of healthy, homegrown food year-round.

Whether you're a novice gardener or an urban dweller looking to maximize your space, aquaponics provides a rewarding and eco-conscious way to cultivate plants and raise fish together in harmony.