Indoor vs Outdoor Aquaponics: The Differences Explained

Growing plants in aquaponics, or without soil and just inside of water, has become more and more popular in today’s world. Now, anyone can start doing this for themselves, and the big question is, do you want to do indoor or outdoor aquaponics? You might think that the location doesn’t matter, but it actually does. 

Indoor aquaponics is great for people with limited space and changing weather conditions. However, it’s more expensive and high-maintenance. Outdoor aquaponics systems are better for people with large spaces but they aren’t suitable for extreme weather conditions. 

Keep on reading to see the benefits of starting each of the different types of systems and even the benefits of having both going on at once! 

Factors that Make Indoor and Outdoor Aquaponics Different

Here’s a table that shows the differences between having an aquaponics system indoors and outdoors because these are things you will have to take into account when selecting your system. 

SystemIndoor AquaponicsOutdoor Aquaponics
Weather EffectCan be used year roundVulnerable to changing weather and severe winters
ExpensesCostlier due to the lighting and temperature control needed, as well as the size of the systemCheaper to set up and maintain
Space NeededCan be done in areas with very limited spaceCan take advantage of larger outdoor areas such as backyards
Products ProducedAny plants and fish can be grown, year roundLimited to fish and plants that can survive the current weather conditions/season
Maintenance NeededMore parts for indoor systems equals more opportunities for things to breakLess maintenance on parts, but the water will need to be changed more often

Now, let’s analyze all the features and examine the pros and cons for you. 

How the Weather Affects Your Aquaponics

The first factor that affects your choice between an outdoor and indoor aquaponics is weather. Both of them have advantages and disadvantages that you can consider depending on your conditions. 

Indoor Aquaponics  

One of the advantages of an indoor aquaponics system is climate control. Whether you live in a hot, cold, or temperate area all year round, you won’t have to worry about the outdoor environment getting into your aquaponics. That means no outdoor pests, no extreme weather conditions, or other issues causing trouble for your fish or your plants. 

Indoor aquaponics also allows you to have a wide array of plants and fish for your needs, and you can quickly produce food that would otherwise be sensitive to the temperature changes of the outdoors. Plus, you won’t have to shut down the system and the production for the winter, which is a huge benefit. 

However, building a climate-controlled system can be expensive, even if you just have it set up in a small apartment. The lighting needs to be just right; you need to install heat lamps and might need to make additional changes to mimic the outdoors perfectly. It does cost a lot of extra cash, but once it’s set up, you won’t need to worry about the environment. It will be perfect for the plants and fish, and they’ll both live longer and produce more. 

Outdoor Aquaponics

If you have an outdoor aquaponics system, you’ll need to collect some more data into the weather patterns in your area and the types of plants and fish that can survive that type of weather. Once you have a list of what can reasonably be grown inside of your aquaponics garden, then you can start populating it. 

Since the sun and wind provide everything you need, you won’t have to spend extra money mimicking an outdoor environment. However, you’ll need to spend that cash on protecting your aquaponics from outdoor pests, disease, and severe weather. 

You may also have to shut down your aquaponics garden if the winters are not mild in your area. Plus, you can’t have temperature-sensitive plants and fish. 

However, outdoor aquaponics can be made much more productive and also much bigger than indoor systems, so even if you aren’t producing the entire year, you can make up for it when your garden is operational. 

Aquaponics Expenses

For indoor aquaponics running out of an apartment or basement, you’ll have to spend some money. Not just for the tanks, pumps, and systems themselves, but also for everything you will need to mimic an outdoor environment. You’ll need proper lighting, temperature control, drainage, and perhaps even reinforcement for the floor to make sure it can hold all the extra weight of your aquaponics. 

Some aquaponics farmers will even build a greenhouse to store all their items in, which helps cut back on most expenses. However, building the greenhouse requires spending some cash. 

Outdoor systems are a bit less expensive, as stated above. They also cost a lot less to maintain, and the money you’ll spend depends on the size of the greenhouse itself. Still, no matter which option you choose, you will be spending money to get your aquaponics operation up and running. 

The Space Needed

One of the reasons that aquaponic farming is so popular is that it takes a lot less space than traditional soil-based agriculture. However, the space requirements for indoor and outdoor aquaponic farms are different.

Indoor Aquaponics 

You can do indoor aquaponics in areas as large as a basement and in areas as small as a traditional fish tank. In fact, the fish will be the main factor in the size of the system. 

The fish and the plants work together in an aquaponic system, where the fish create waste that becomes food for the plants, and then the plants filter the water by removing the waste. If the size of the tank is not adequate for both of these, then the system won’t work. The tank’s size depends on what exactly you want to do with the fish. 

If you simply want to have fish to look at and keep as pets, you can build a small system similar to a traditional aquarium. For example, you can store about one 1-pound (450-gram) fish inside 5 gallons (19 L) of water, and the amount of water the tank can hold will determine the number and size of the fish you can keep in it. 

Now, if you want to breed the fish and potentially turn the animals into a food source, you’ll need a tank that can hold 50 gallons (190 L) of water or more, and you’ll also need to keep it maintained. Once you have the fish tank all put together, that will determine the size of the growing bed that you will use for your plants. A standard ratio that most people use is one cubic foot (0.03 cubic meter) of grow bed for every six gallons (23 L) of the fish tank. 

So, depending on your purpose for keeping fish, and the number and size of the fish, your indoor system can vary greatly in size. That’s why the first thing you need to do is see how much space you can reasonably spare for your indoor aquaponics tank. 

Outdoor Aquaponics

If you have a large outdoor area, such as a backyard, you won’t be as limited by space requirements. You’ll need to take the fish and plants you produce into account, but you’ll have far more space to work with. However, you should make sure that the larger space still gets the sun and the exposure it requires for the plants to grow, which could be a challenge depending on the layout of your backyard. 

If you’ve got the space, start building your own outdoor aquaponics space and you’ll be good to go! 

What Can You Grow in Your Aquaponics?

There are many different plants and fish that you can populate your Aquaponics with, and some plants grow very well in a water-based environment. Your tastes and the temperature the plants and fish are naturally comfortable in will determine what plants you can keep. 

Indoor systems give you more options due to temperature control. For example, here are some temperature-sensitive plants and fish that can be grown in an indoor system better than an outdoor system: 

  • Marigolds 
  • Ferns 
  • Peace Lilies 
  • Chives 
  • Kale 
  • Peppers 
  • Onions 
  • Parsnips 
  • Tilapia
  • Goldfish 
  • Catfish 

While several of these plants and fish survive in very picky climates, you won’t have to worry about that with an indoor aquaponics system. However, if you have an outdoor aquaponics system, you’ll need to make sure that your plants and fish can survive the outdoor weather. Unless you have a very mild winter, you should also ensure that your system is shut down during severe weather events.

If you want some good plants and fish for an outdoor aquaponics system, then you will have some more variety with your fish depending on the space of your outdoor aquaponics system and also the weather in your location. Here are fish that will work well in most outdoor climates:

  • Catfish
  • Bass
  • Koi
  • Perch
  • Cod
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia

As always do some research on if the fish will survive in your current climate, but most of the fish listed above will survive in most climates as they are very hardy.

Maintenance on Your Aquaponics System

Having an indoor system, especially one that you set up for the first time, can be filled with many moving parts and machines. You’ll need to spend some more time maintaining both the controlled environment of the aquaponics system and the machines that keep the system going. If one breaks down, it can threaten your entire aquaponics ecosystem, so getting everything repaired and well-maintained is essential. 

If you don’t want to spend most of your time fixing and maintaining the aquaponics, an outdoor system might be your best bet. Maintenance is still essential for an outdoor system, but you won’t have as many moving parts to worry about. Additionally, if something breaks down, the entire system won’t shut down because of it. 

Still, you’ll need to keep an eye on your aquaponics system, and repair any problems that come up quickly. The more maintenance you do, the healthier your aquaponics system will be! 

Having a Combined System

You can create either an indoor or outdoor aquaponics system and there are some benefits to having each. But what if you don’t want to choose? Or what if you’ve done both types of aquaponics before and want to branch out into a combination? 

One of the first benefits is for those who want to use their aquaponics for breeding fish. Often, they’ll have a minor indoor system used for the fingerlings (baby fish) while the adults are kept outside in the outdoor system. Once the fingerlings have outgrown the smaller tank, they’re carefully transitioned to the outdoor system. 

You can also use a combined system to have a wider choice of plants. Some farmers have a smaller indoor aquaponics system that only grows essential items or things they want to have access to all year round. The second outdoor system is much larger and grows seasonal crops. It also holds more fish and allows them to breed and lay eggs to repeat the process all over again. 

Greenhouses can also combine the temperature-controlled benefits of an indoor system with the space maximizing and the sunlight exposure of an outdoor system. If you have the space and want to grow food year-round, investing in a greenhouse could be an exciting option for a combined system. 

Suppose you want to take the challenge or perhaps even want to commercialize your aquaponics products. In that case, you can undoubtedly reap the benefits of both systems with a combination aquaponics setup. 

Which Aquaponics System is Better for Beginners?

If you are a beginner in the world of aquaponics and have the space available, an indoor system would be best. You can set up the system easily with the help of beginner kits. 

You also have far more control over the types of plants and fish that you end up selecting for the system, and it will produce and continue to produce all year round. After getting comfortable with that, you can move to building your own system, transitioning outdoors, and experimenting with the fascinating world of aquaponics! 

You can also save money and time by buying some kit or pre-built system. This way, you’ll reduce the risk of mistakes and get your aquaponics system to produce food faster. Once you have a grasp of how the process works, you can focus on building your own system, whether it’s indoors or outdoors! 

Indoor vs Outdoor Aquaponics: Pros and Cons

Even though the process is mostly the same, the differences between growing your aquaponics indoors or outdoors are still worth noting. Here they are: 

Indoor Aquaponics Pros

  • Requires less space: Indoor systems can be grown inside of apartments or other small areas and only requires as much space as an average fish tank would take up. 
  • Can be controlled: You can pick any species you want for your system, and as long as you keep the environment controlled explicitly for that species, you have no limits. It’s perfect if you want to grow certain plants year-round. 
  • Allows you to have your own food when you want it: You’ll save money and time being able to pick your own plants and even your own fish right from the comfort of your own home. No more being tied to the prices at the grocery store! 
  • Gives you a functional aquarium: Finally, if you want an aquarium that does things for you and the environment around it, aquaponics is the perfect solution because the fish help the plants grow! 

Indoor Aquaponics Cons

  • Can be expensive: Indoor aquaponics can be costly. You’ll need to pay for the system itself, as well as any temperature-controlling items that your aquaponics will need. Additionally, the cost for maintenance is also going to come out of your pocket. 
  • Can be hard to expand: While a simple build-it-yourself system can be helpful when you’re just starting out, you might outgrow it. So, it can be tough to expand your indoor aquaponics production if you don’t have enough space. 
  • Might require reinforcement of floors: Many people forget that water is weighty, and by placing every gallon of it on a floor or on a table, you’ll place extra weight that pushes down on the surface below. If you live in an apartment building or a place with weaker floors, you might want to take extra precautions to make sure they can withstand the moisture. 

Outdoor Aquaponics Pros

  • Can produce on a large scale: If you want to grow a lot of plants, breed fish, or use your aquaponics commercially, you’ll need an outdoor aquaponics system. The extra space will do you good. 
  • Requires less maintenance: Since the majority of the work is done by the sun, you won’t need to worry about heat lamps, temperature control, or other machines that an indoor system would need. You might need to replace the water or top it off on occasion, though. 
  • Gets you outside: If you love being outside and enjoy spending time around things that grow, having an outdoor aquaponics system you can look after can be a great project. 

Outdoor Aquaponics Cons

  • Limits the fish and plants: Since the outdoor system is exposed to the elements, you’ll have to make sure everything you grow can survive the elements and the environment’s temperature. 
  • It’s useless in big winters: If you live in an area where significant winters are typical, you’ll need to shut down and protect your aquaponics system during the colder months because nothing will grow. 

What Is the Difference Between Aquaponics and Hydroponics?

If you’ve never heard of aquaponics, you should at least have heard of hydroponics. 

Both systems use water instead of soil to grow plants. But with aquaponics, fish, and plants are placed together in the same environment, while with hydroponics just the plants are grown in the water. 

Aquaponics uses the fish waste to feed the plants, while hydroponics relies on chemical nutrients to act as a fertilizer. Plus, the high levels of nutrients in the water can sometimes cause more salt to build up in the system, which can harm the plants. 

Additionally, aquaponics simulates a natural ecosystem by having all the food come from fish waste instead of outside chemicals. This process helps keep the plants more productive and the fish healthier, which is better for you whenever you harvest them for yourself! 

Both options are great ways to grow food without the need for soil and just with water, but if you want a healthier option and a more hands-on option, you should be focused on growing an aquaponics system.

Does Aquaponics Help the Environment?

Aquaponics helps the environment by preventing us from using our overfilled and nutrient-depleted soils to grow crops. Plus it prevents common issues such as weeds, pests, and chemicals from entering the crops. 

All of these factors allow you to grow healthy and natural plants and fish for consumption, which can be beneficial to your health and the environment. Plus, who wouldn’t love being able to grow plants for themselves anywhere? 

You can also provide a healthy and pollutant-free area for fish to live and breed. Whether you’re placing fish in your aquaponics to have a small aquarium or to use them as food, you’ll be giving them a much better life than they’d get otherwise. 

If you care about the environment around you and want to grow healthier and chemical-free foods, getting even a tiny aquaponic garden can be perfect for you. You can expand it to suit your tastes and needs, and can be healthier as a result! 

Final Thoughts

Indoor hydroponics is fantastic for beginners with small spaces and a desire to learn about caring for fish and plants. It can also give you a lot of customization regarding what exactly goes into your garden and what you want to access. 

Similarly, outdoor hydroponics is great for people who want to take advantage of ample space and focus on a lot of production. 

No matter which aquaponics system you choose, growing your own food and raising your own fish is an excellent lesson in self-reliance and sustainability.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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