The Best Vegetables to Grow in Your Garden - Choosing the Tastiest, Easy-to-Grow Plants
How to Choose Vegetables to Grow
Growing a vegetable garden can be a fun, rewarding way to provide fresh produce for your family to enjoy. However, the choices of what vegetables to grow can be a little overwhelming at first. Luckily, you can use your local climate, the time of year you’re planting, and even your own personal tastes to narrow down your options!
Choosing Veggies for Your Climate
Select warm-season vegetables if you’re planting during the spring.Vegetables are designated either "warm-season" or "cool-season," depending on the weather they need in order to grow. Warm-season vegetables require warm soil and high temperatures, and will usually be killed by frost. They should be planted after the average date of the last spring frost.
- Popular warm-season vegetables include snap beans, corn, cucumbers, cantaloupes, peppers, and tomatoes.
- To find the average date of the last frost in your area, visit .
Choose cool-season vegetables for an early summer or late fall harvest.Cool-season vegetables grow steadily at temperatures 10–15 °F (6–8 °C) below those needed by warm-season vegetables. They can usually endure some frost, and will often turn bitter in hot weather. You can plant them in the very early spring to harvest in the early summer, or plant them in late summer for fall harvest.
- Popular cool-season vegetables include beets, broccoli, carrots, peas, and strawberries.
Opt for vegetables that thrive in your hardiness zone.In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed a plant hardiness zone map that shows the climate of different regions in the country. This zone map is printed on the back of most seed packets and can be used to tell you when to plant a certain vegetable, as well as whether a specific vegetable will survive in your climate.
- You can view the USDA zone map by visiting .
- Similar maps have been produced for other countries based on the guidelines developed for the USDA map. If you live outside of the U.S., try typing "plant hardiness zone map" along with the name of your country into a search engine.
Pick vegetables that are listed as drought-tolerant for your area.These plants won’t need as much watering or special care, so you’re more likely to get a healthy vegetable yield.
- Drought-resistant vegetable varieties for the West Coast include Armenian cucumber, Jackson Wonder lima beans, Gold Coast okra, and Anasazi Sweet corn.
- Some vegetables, like hot peppers and green beans, grow better in drier conditions, so make sure your area's annual rainfall doesn't exceed the plant's water needs, which can be found on a seed packet or by searching online.
- If you live in the U.S., you can find the annual rainfall for your state by visiting .
Look for plants that grow naturally in your area.These usually require the least care and the least water, and they often produce higher yields.
- In North Carolina, for instance, squash, corn, and beans were frequently grown together by Native Americans in a practice known as the Three Sisters.
- Crops native to Central and South America include beans, avocado, corn, pumpkins, and sweet potato.
- In addition to providing a low-maintenance option for your garden, native produce is usually inexpensive, and you can often find both seeds and seedlings at your local farmer’s market or a local garden center.
Picking Plants Suited for Your Garden
Select larger vegetables if you have lots of room for them to grow.Some vegetables need plenty of space and they can overshadow other plants if they’re crowded together too closely. When you’re planning your garden, take into account the space you have and plan accordingly.
- For example, corn, cucumbers, and pumpkins all take up a lot of space in the garden.
- You can find the space requirements for specific plants on their seed packets.
Choose vining plants if you don't have a lot of space.If you provide a trellis or fence for vining vegetables to grow on, they’ll grow upwards instead of outwards. This is a great way to maximize space in a smaller garden.
- Vining plants include cucumbers, green beans, and peas.
- Growing your vining plants on a trellis will also help reduce pest problems and make it easier to harvest your vegetables.
- Another option if you don't have much space is to plant your garden in containers. Tomatoes, strawberries, radishes, lettuce, and herbs all grow well in pots.
Select plants that require well-draining soil if your soil is sandy.If you rub a little soil between your palms and it seems gritty, then you have sandy soil. Many vegetables grow well in soil that is slightly sandy, although you may need to add compost or manure if you notice that your garden seems dry soon after you water it.
- Plants which grow well in sandy soil include dill, sweet potatoes, green beans, and leafy vegetables.
- Putting a layer of mulch (such as chopped straw) on top of the soil around the plants can help retain water.
Choose plants that prefer high water retention if you have clay soil.If your soil feels greasy when it’s wet, then you have clay soil. Clay is very dense and it tends to hold water, so the plants you choose will have to tolerate a lot of water.
- Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage often do well in clay soil because they grow better when their roots are firmly anchored in the earth. Squash, pumpkins, and rice also do well in clay soil.
- You can help loosen clay soil by adding chunky organic matter like garden compost or chopped leaves to the earth between plantings.
Plant warm-season vegetables where they’ll get 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.Most warm-season vegetables grow well when they can bask in the sunlight during the day. Planting your crops where they’ll get full sun will help them produce bigger, tastier veggies.
- Veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and squash need full sun to thrive.
Choose shade-loving plants if you can’t get full sun.Although most vegetables prefer getting as much sun as possible, you might have to contend with a few shady spots in your garden. If you have an area that doesn’t get as much light, fill that spot with plants that prefer getting a little break from the sun.
- Vegetables that will grow well in shade include carrots, peas, potatoes, radishes, and a number of greens, including arugula, cabbage, chard, kale, and escarole.
Narrowing Down the Selection
Choose foods that you like.Once you've determined which vegetables will grow best in your climate, think about what you like to eat. It doesn't make sense to plant a vegetable that grows well if your family won't eat it.
Look for vegetables that grow quickly if you are a beginner.If you don’t have a lot of experience gardening, you might not have much luck with finicky, slow-growing vegetables. Instead, choose plants which can be harvested quickly so you don’t get frustrated.
- Loose-leaf lettuce plants, like spinach, arugula, and mustard greens, can be harvested as soon as 3 weeks after you planted them, and then they’ll be ready for a second harvest about 2 weeks later.
- Radishes are another great option for beginners. They grow quickly, can be grown in small containers, and are frost tolerant. However, be sure to plant them early in spring (4-6 weeks before the last frost), because they grow best in cool weather.
Pick vegetables that like to grow together to get a better yield.Some plants grow better when they’re paired with each other, a practice called companion planting. This is sometimes because one plant produces a chemical that repels insects and protects the other plant, or the plants may use different chemicals from the soil, allowing them both to get plenty of food even when they're grown close together. You can find information on companion plants in gardening books or by searching online.
- For instance, tomatoes grow very well when planted near basil, carrots, celery, lettuce, or peppers. However, they should not be planted near broccoli, kale, corn or potatoes.
- Beans grow well near broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, and tomatoes, but should be planted at least 4 feet (1.2 m) away from garlic, onions, peppers, and sunflowers.
Choose companion plants that discourage pests.While some companion plants encourage each other to grow, others are great for helping get rid of insects that can destroy your crops. They may do this by repelling the insects, or in some cases, the bugs may prefer the companion plant, so they ignore the other plants in your garden.
- Marigolds are bright and cheerful, but they can also repel slugs, beetles, nematodes, and even deer, all of which can devastate a vegetable garden.
- Nasturtium is another helpful flower to add to the garden. Aphids are especially fond of nasturtiums and will ignore other plants if the flowers are around.In addition, nasturtiums are edible, with a flavor similar to that of arugula.
Choose your plants based on how much each vegetable will produce.Some vegetables only produce one crop each season, but others will continue providing throughout the season. This will help you as you’re planning how much space to devote to each vegetable in your garden.
- Plants like tomatoes, peppers, and squash keep providing throughout the season, so you may not need as many plants.
- Carrots, radishes, and corn produce only once, so if you plan on eating a lot of these, you may need to devote a bigger portion of your garden to them.
Plant herbs in your garden if you want to add extra flavor to your meals.Herbs don’t take up much space, they’re usually low maintenance, and they are a great, natural way to season your food. In addition, certain herbs can act as companion plants for your vegetables.
- For instance, when you plant dill and basil near your tomatoes, the herbs can discourage tomato hornworms.
QuestionWhat vegetables can be grown in partial shade, only morning sun?Top AnswererMany vegetables do well in partial shade, including carrots, peas and potatoes. See a long list at GrowAGoodLife.com/vegetables-that-grow-in-shade.Thanks!
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