Not sure what to plant in your vegetable plot? Ponder no more. From low-maintenance basil to earthy asparagus, there is something for every gardening style, season, soil type, climate, and culinary taste in this collection of 214 easy growing vegetables.
USDA hardiness zone map for the United States.
USDA plant hardiness zone map applied to Europe.
The great potato may not look like much, but it can be grown in almost anything and offers endless cooking possibilities. But it’s not for the lazy farmer: it requires full sun, very loose soil, plenty of water, and just the right nutrient makeup to thrive.
Your potato prep work will be the toughest part of cultivating the famous tuber; take the time to get it right and maintenance, harvesting, and cooking will be a breeze.
Potatoes should be planted two weeks or less before the last big frost of the season (they don’t tolerate extreme cold well).
When it comes to potatoes, you won’t just go out and buy a packet of seeds. You’ll either purchase or make your own “seed potatoes”, which are small potatoes or small pieces of potatoes that are allowed to start growing eyes.
To make your own seed potato, simply cut a large potato into pieces with at least one eye per piece or select small-sized potatoes with eyes. Each seed potato should be no larger than an average egg and should have at least one eye. For potato pieces, wait 1-3 days before planting them to toughen the skin against disease.
While you wait, mix a generous amount of manure or compost into the soil you plan to plant. Potatoes thrive in nutrient-rich soil.
Make sure your plot of choice contains loose, well-drained soil, as too much moisture can cause your potatoes to rot—but they need to be kept moist to flourish, so drainage is crucial. If you have high-clay soil, consider planting in containers or mixing in lighter soil to compensate.
Once the prep work is done, it’s time to plant. Place each seed potato 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) deep in the ground and about 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
The most important thing you can do for your potatoes is to cover them with a layer of soil (called “hilling”) every few weeks to ensure they’re not exposed to the sun; sunlight causes the potatoes to become green and toxic to consume.
Do your best to keep the soil moist, but not soaked, at all times.
Potatoes aren’t completely immune to “buggery” just because they’re under the ground. Common pest problems include:
Weed maintenance also goes a long way in keeping pest problems from getting out of control.
On average, potatoes take 2-3 months to mature, although some varieties take much longer.
The easiest way to tell when potato plants are ready to harvest is when their greens become wilt-y and brown.
Cut back those dying greens and wait as long as two weeks before harvest—the longer you leave tubers in the ground, the thicker their skin will be and the longer they’ll last in storage. Don’t wait longer than two weeks, though, or they may rot.
If your soil is loose enough, it’s best to dig with nothing but garden gloves—shovels and other garden tools could damage your potatoes and shorten their lifespans. Push dirt away with your hands or a blunt tool, then wrap your fingers gently around each tuber.
Harvested potatoes should be stored at about 40°F (4°C) for the longest possible shelf life.
The beautiful thing about potatoes is that they can be grown in just about anything that meets the above qualifications, including:
Peppers are warm-season, sun-loving nightshade plants that need frequent watering and high-quality, well-drained soil to flourish. Given the right prep work, however, peppers are fairly easy to grow and yield a delicious variety of sweet and savory fruits.
Peppers need a soil temperature of at least 70°F (21°C) to germinate, so start your seeds indoors about 10 weeks before the last frost to give them a head start.
Keep in mind that peppers can’t just be transplanted from indoor to outdoor homes. They need to be “hardened off”, which is the process of gradually acclimating plants to their new outdoor environment.
Start by bringing them outside for just an hour or two per day, gradually increasing their exposure to the outdoors. Give them a bit more sun access every day for a week or more—you can even leave them out over night on the last several nights if there’s no danger of below-freezing temperatures.
While you’re preparing your plants for a healthy transition, make sure to prepare your soil too. At about the time when you start hardening off your pepper plants, introduce compost or other high-quality natural fertilizer into the soil.
You should provide additional nutrients when your first fruits take shape to help them become robust, healthy fruits faster.
Peppers need frequent watering to grow, but be careful—the soil needs to be well-drained and, if it isn’t, you may need to water less frequently to avoid drowning the plants. Peppers won’t tolerate droughts well so, in extremely hot and sunny climates, they may need to be watered liberally every day.
Once both your soil and plants are prepped and the danger of frost has passed, it’s time to transplant. Place your seedlings about two feet (.6 m) apart from one another; however, keep in mind that pepper plants grow best in close-together pairs, as the leaves from each plant help protect the other from sun damage.
Pepper harvesting is a fairly straightforward task. They’re ready to harvest when they reach your desired size—just cut them off with sharp scissors or knives to avoid damaging the plants.
Bell peppers can be left on the plant longer to increase their nutrient content and give them a sweeter flavor. They can also be harvested while they’re still green for a milder flavor.
Whether it’s garnish or salad greens you’re after, lettuce is a great vegetable to grow. It requires fertilizing and thinning, so it’s not for the faint of heart in the labor department. But its versatility pays off. It can be grown in both the fall and spring, loves partial sun, and matures in 2-3 months.
Lettuce grows quickly (some varieties are ready for picking in just over a month) so the best approach is to plant in small batches every 10-14 days for the duration of the growing season.
That said, there are several factors to consider before you plant.
Lettuce isn’t a free-for-all vegetable: its soil needs to be fertilized a week before and 3-4 weeks after planting. It flourishes best with plenty of compost and nitrogen.
Lettuce loves cool soil, so take a few easy steps to ensure it doesn’t get too hot to grow properly.
Before or after planting, water your (well-draining) soil thoroughly and then cover it with organic matter, like straw or mulch.
Your lettuce needs shade in the warmer months, but sometimes it’s hard to find the right spot for it. To keep your lettuce cooler and provide that partial shade, plant taller veggies in the rows surrounding it—so, in other words, stagger your rows.
Lettuce is pretty intuitive to grow once it gets going, but the harvest requires a little know-how. Like chard and many other greens, lettuce plants grow in circular layers, and the outside layers mature first. So work from the outside in, allowing the inner layers more time to grow before harvesting them.
Many varieties will even net you a second harvest if you use scissors or a sharp knife to cut the leaves off cleanly about an inch above the ground.
Have less-than-ideal soil or little space? That’s no problem for lettuce. Grow it in porch pots, raised beds, greenhouses, or even straw bales—lettuce is the perfect veg to get creative with.
If you’re not quite at the beginning of the season, you can also start lettuce seeds indoors or in a greenhouse. Use separated trays or small pots and fertilized soil, and plant the seeds about ½ inch deep.
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The versatile onion is reasonably easy to grow with nutrient-rich and well-drained soil and a full-sun environment. They’re early spring planters that need consistent fertilization and a little moisture to thrive.
The most complex part of growing onions is the soil preparation; after that, a little minor maintenance will yield beautiful bulbs.
For the best results, mix in generous amounts of manure or compost to your intended onion plot in the fall, then plant in the early spring. This gives the compost and manure time to release their nutrients into the soil; because onions “leech” nutrients in large amounts, it’s important that they have access to plentiful quantities. That’s also why you’ll have to fertilize periodically after planting.
When it comes time to plant (usually at the start of spring), use nitrogen fertilizer on the plot. Continue using it every 3-4 weeks until your bulbs start to peek out through the soil.
Onions don’t need constant moisture, but more water does tend to mean more flavor (to a point). To help retain moisture when you can’t quite keep up with watering, place a layer of mulch over the onion plot.
Onions tell you they’re almost ready to harvest through their tops. When the tops turn yellow, break them; then, a few days to a week later, dig up the onions and allow them to cure in the sunlight.
Much like with the yellow tops, color changes let you know that onions are done “curing”. When they turn brown in the sunlight, remove them from the garden and allow them to finish drying (if necessary). Then you can store them in the basement or another other cool location.
Don’t let the fall set in before harvesting your onions if they’ve signaled they’re ready to come up. The change in temperatures can cause the onions to rot.
Don’t poke and prod your onions any more than necessary at any stage—if they bruise, they’ll rot.
Cabbages aren’t the easiest plants to grow—they’re heavy feeders that require consistent moisture, take up lots of space, and are plagued by many pests—but, for those with space and time on their hands, the culinary reward is well worth it.
Cabbage requires care from start to finish, but its nutrient-dense and flavorful leaves are a favorite across cultures.
Cabbage can be picky about the weather it tolerates (cool, but not cold or hot). Therefore, it’s important to start seeds indoors in trays or pots about 2 months before the last major spring frost.
Cabbage plants are heavy feeders—meaning they need a steady flow of nutrients to thrive. Mix generous amounts of compost or manure into the soil when it’s soft enough to work.
Cabbages can get huge—as large as 3 feet (1 meter) in width. Give them plenty of room to sprawl in your garden.
Once you’ve transplanted your cabbage seedlings, place mulch on top of their bed to help retain moisture and keep the soil cool.
Unfortunately, pests and diseases alike love cabbage as much as people do. Some of its more common foes include:
Endives are Asian-native leafy vegetables that can be grown with minimal maintenance in the spring or fall. With soil temperatures above 60°F (16°C), full sun, and well-drained soil, you can foster a healthy endive crop in as few as 80 days.
The great thing about endive plants is that their seeds can be planted directly in the ground. They tend to “expand”, so you’ll need to thin them halfway through their growth to 6-8 inches apart, but they are otherwise a pretty maintenance-light crop for the busy gardener.
Nonetheless, ideal growing conditions will yield you better-looking and better-tasting endive plants.
Endives (and their relative, escarole) prefer full sun. You can later cover (or blanch) them to reduce their slightly bitter taste to suit your preference.
Endives prefer well-drained, light, and nutrient rich soil, but they’ll tolerate just about anything. Just make sure to water them regularly—too-dry soil may force them to bolt, ruining your crop.
Endives are relatively labor-free crops but do require some periodic maintenance: their soil should be kept moist, and they fare best with regular fertilizations every 2-3 weeks.
For the space- or soil-challenged gardener, endives are a great solution. They can be grown indoors from seed to harvest.
Use a bucket or a large, deep plastic tray with holes in the bottom and plant the seeds in rich, well-drained soil.
Then, store the containers in a cool (50-60°F/10-16°C) place. Keep the plants moist by dunking the bottoms of the containers in water (watering upside-down, in other words).
Indoor endives are usually ready to harvest within 6 weeks. Most will re-grow, so lob off the top portion cleanly but leave the bottom portion.
Corn is used in just about everything: after all, it’s cheap, grows amazingly fast, and grows best in large quantities. But it requires a very specific environment: you’ll need a spring planting, heavily fertilized soil, heavy watering, and some knowledge of corn to succeed.
Corn is often thought of as a largescale farm crop, but you can grow it in a big garden too. Just make sure to plant it in a block or square, not in a single row: it needs to be grouped together for pollination purposes. Be sure to choose a sweet corn variety, too, as standard field corn is primarily grown as animal feed.
Plant seeds directly into the ground in the springtime—corn doesn’t do well indoors.
Before you do, fertilization is key. Corn eats like an elephant, so you should aim to use copious amounts of compost or manure in your soil the fall before your spring planting; if that isn’t possible, work it in as soon as your soil can be worked in the spring.
Fertilize your corn plants again 5-6 weeks after planting.
Your corn will also need full sun and balanced, well-drained soil to thrive.
Corn doesn’t do well in dry conditions, so it’s important to keep its soil moist at all times. For larger plots, consider a simple home irrigation system, but small squares of corn plants can be watered by hand.
Knowing when to harvest corn is fairly simple, as its texture and appearance let you know what stage of the growing process it’s in.
The “silks” that stick out from the end of corn ears turn a dark brown when the corn is ready to harvest.
The corn kernels will also emit a milky substance when the ear is ripe for picking. If it’s too thick, the corn is past its prime and should be discarded; if the substance is clear, the ear isn’t ready yet.
You can also wrap your hands around the ear to make sure it’s plump enough to be worth picking. Thin and straight ears typically aren’t ready for harvest yet.
Corn is simple to harvest. Just hold the stalk steady with one hand, then twist the ear and bend it as necessary until it comes off. It’s not unlike harvesting a tomato from a vine.
Broccoli is a relatively easy to grow Brassica vegetable that thrives in full sun, well-drained soil, and cooler weather. Plant it in the spring or fall—either from seed or as a transplant—for delicious off-season “fruits” of your labor.
As with any plant, the most important step to achieving a successful broccoli crop is setting up a broccoli-friendly environment.
Broccoli likes exceptionally well-drained soil—so much so that sandier soil is preferable if it’s available. Its seeds can germinate in soil as cold as 40°F (4.5°C), but use caution—if it’s exposed to outside temperatures that stay cold for too long, it won’t continue to grow.
Broccoli needs a lot of nutrients to flourish, so it’s advisable to get it started right by mixing compost or manure into the soil before planting.
Fertilize as-needed but at least one additional time after planting—about one month after your seeds have been sown.
If the leaves of your broccoli start to turn yellow, your soil may be deficient in nitrogen. Fertilize again immediately.
Once you’ve prepped a proper plot for your broccoli, it’s time to plant. Each seed should be about a foot apart from its neighbor—broccoli gets rather large, after all.
Broccoli needs constant moisture to thrive, so it’s not for those who are rarely home to tend their garden. But beware: you should avoid getting the heads wet while watering (although, with rain, it can’t be avoided) or you’ll risk mildew problems that can spoil your crop.
Broccoli is fairly easy to harvest—you know it’s ready when the tiny buds on the heads are hard, but not yet yellow or black—the latter can be a sign that they’re past their prime.
Broccoli tastes best when it’s been harvested in the morning, so aim for an early-AM harvest—before the sun has gotten to it—if you can.
The humble pea is much more delicious fresh than canned. Plus, it’s easy to grow: cool weather, full or partial sun, and well-drained soil are about all the pea plant needs to succeed.
Peas grow fast but have a short growing season, so preparation is key to getting the most out of your crop.
In the fall before your planting, amend your intended pea-plant bed with manure or fertilizer.
Peas are more flexible in this department than other plants—4 to 8 hours of sunlight will suit them plenty.
Peas don’t need a ton of water to thrive: just make sure the soil stays moist. If it’s totally dry for extended periods, you may not see pods at all.
Peas can be grown in a variety of locations.
Harvesting peas is, luckily, almost as easy as growing them.
Harvest the pods when they are big enough for your needs—it’s that simple.
Harvest your pea pods in the morning. They tend to have the best flavor and crunch when they’re picked early.
Simply pinch off the pods with your fingers or twist them off the stem. Harvest the pods often to encourage new growth and a greater overall yield for the season.
Depending on the variety you plant, peas can be used in a range of dishes, and they can be enjoyed cooked or raw.
The edible pod varieties are great in stir-fries and salads or eaten raw for a crunchy, nutrient-rich treat.
The pea-only varieties can be used as a classic side dish, added to soups, or even canned or frozen if you grow a large crop.
The ever-popular lentil has a variety of culinary applications and is an easy-to-grow, cool-season crop. However, due to their small size, lentils are best grown in large quantities, and they like full sun and moist soil.
The most important step, as always, is to stake out a suitable plot for your new legume venture.
Lentils grow best in full sun—that means at least 6-8 hours of full sun access every day.
Lentils love nutrient-rich, well-drained soil; however, like many legume plants, they will make due with most anything you throw at them. To give them the healthiest possible start, work organic material like manure or compost into the soil in the fall before planting.
Lentils do best in moist soil, although they will tolerate periods of dry soil better than many plants.
Lentils should be planted from seed about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) deep and 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) apart. Depending on the success of the germination period, plants may need to be thinned—as they mature, they should be given about 5 inches (12 cm) of space between plants and 2 feet (.6 m) or more of space between each row.
Lentil plants can also be started indoors about 2-4 weeks before you intend to transplant.
If your soil is less-than-ideal or you want to switch things up, lentils can also be grown in containers—but they have to be big ones. Make sure the containers are at least 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) deep, and grow only one lentil plant per container. This is a great way to add interest to a garden, but remember, you still need many lentil plants to achieve a worthwhile yield.
Most often, lentils are left to harden on the plants for about 100 days, then stored in the same way as dry beans or grains. They’ll last about a year this way and can then be cooked for use in soups, stir-fries, and salads.
You can store them fresh after allowing them to mature for 70-80 days, too, but they’ll only last for about a week in refrigeration.
Mint is a hardy, easy-to-grow, full-sun herb that requires little care (but constant pruning) to thrive. It has a tendency to spread, so keep it under control with barriers and cut-backs as often as necessary.
Mint is refreshingly easy to grow. Give it moist soil that’s well-drained and within reach of full to mostly full sun (5-8 hours of sun per day). It will provide you with a variety of culinary, decorative, and medicinal possibilities for years to come.
Mint is typically planted as an already-grown plant, but can also be grown from clippings. The clippings will even grow roots in a glass of water if you’re not quite ready to add them to the garden yet.
Regardless of whether you’re using clippings or pre-grown plants, give them ample space in their new garden bed—they should be planted 2 or more feet (.6 m) apart, as they’ll fill a large amount of space in no time.
Mint leaves are best when they’re young, although you can pick them at any time. Pick the leaves regularly and use them while they’re still fresh for the best results.
Sure, you can’t use mint as the main attraction on a dinner plate, but it has plenty of other applications.
Basil is an easy herb to grow—hot weather, moist soil, and full sun will allow you to reap the benefits of this Mediterranean classic throughout the summer.
Basil can be started indoors up to two months before the last spring frost, and it can also be planted directly from seed. Whether they’re started from seed or planted as transplants, basil plants fare best when they’re planted between 1 and 2 feet apart (.3-.6 m).
But before planting, it’s important to find the best spot for your basil to thrive.
Basil grows best in full sun (6 hours or more of sunlight per day). It also needs moist, well-drained soil and frequent watering to thrive. Those in especially hot climates may need to water daily.
Like many other plants, leaf growth on basil slows or stops if the plants are allowed to flower freely. When you notice flowers starting to bud, pinch them off or cut them from the plant.
Basil is a hot-season crop, but that doesn’t mean it won’t feel the effects of harsh summers. To keep basil moist and cool in the hottest periods of summer, add a layer of mulch over their plot or build it up around the plants themselves.
Basil should yield constant harvests during the height of summer. Pick the leaves regularly and freeze or dry any excess—if basil plants aren’t thinned back regularly through harvesting, the leaves won’t grow as quickly.
Basil can be used in everything from sauces to sandwiches. To enjoy some summer-y basil classics, try your hand at:
Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits in existence (although many people think they’re a vegetable). They’re a relatively easy to grow spring and summer crop, but they are extra-susceptible to diseases and pests and need supports to grow properly, so make sure you have the time to keep an eye on them before investing in a tomato crop.
These juicy, colorful fruits require a little soil and staking love in the beginning, but are often hands-off crops once established.
Before planting, it’s crucial to provide your tomatoes with nutrient-rich soil—mix in several inches of compost and a high-quality fertilizer, preferably one specifically made for tomatoes. Fertilize as necessary throughout the season, providing extra nutrients if the leaves become discolored.
Tomatoes need 6-8 hours of full sun to thrive, so it’s best to give them their own plot out of the reach of trees and structures.
There are two ways to buy tomatoes—as seeds or seedlings (tomato starters). If you’re buying tomato seeds, you’ll want to start the seeds in trays indoors about 6-8 weeks before you plan to transplant them. Don’t plant them until the soil is warm enough to work comfortably.
How to plant tomatoes
A successful planting venture requires three main components—deep planting, good watering, and staking or caging.
Tomato plants do best when they’re planted deeply enough that their roots can take a firm hold early. To that end, trim off the bottom layer of baby leaves on your transplants, then plant the stalk and cover it with soil up to the new bottom layer of leaves.
This is even more effective because tomato stems have little hairs on their stems. If these hairs are covered with soil, they will often develop into full-grown roots, which provide you with a stronger root system.
Immediately after planting, give the baby tomatoes a good watering to help them get established after the change in environment. Keep watering regularly throughout the season to avoid issues such as cracked fruit.
Stakes and cages should both be added immediately after planting to encourage proper (and stable) growth of your young plants.
Stakes and cages serve one primary purpose—and that, of course, is to keep them growing upright instead of dragging their fruits on the ground.
Why is that important? Tomato plants are far more prone to infection by diseases and pests if left untethered.
Aside from straight stakes and round cages, there are a few more creative ways to support your tomato plants. For example, you can try trellises (overhead supports, often used as a decorative feature and usually requiring that tomato vines be tied to the support with string).
Tomatoes can also be held up with row-long stake designs with several layers of twine running between two poles across the row. For this method, you also need to secure each plant to the twine using twist-ties, string, or similar materials.
Some gardeners say that pruning non-productive new stems (sometimes called sucker stems) is a must for increasing tomato yield and growth speed—less branches to feed should mean more energy going to the fruit. Others say it makes no difference. The scientific verdict is still out, but if you choose to try pruning, here’s how:
Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones addicted to tomatoes. Many pests and diseases are, too.
The cucumber is a great plant for the beginning gardener—it loves hot weather, wet soil, and plenty of nutrients, but that’s about all it needs to succeed. Plus, you don’t need any harvesting expertise, as they can be picked as soon as they’re big enough to suit your needs.
Cucumbers are fairly easy to grow under the right conditions. Select a site with full sun, create healthy soil conditions, and plant mindfully to create a fast-growing and healthy cucumber crop.
First, it’s important to know that cucumbers need plentiful nutrients, so work in compost and fertilizer before you plant.
Cucumbers do tend to be finicky about the weather. They absolutely cannot survive a frost, so make sure that danger is about 2 weeks in the rearview mirror before planting.
The soil also needs to be 70°F (21°C) or hotter for germination to occur, so those in cooler climates will benefit from laying down plastic or mulching thoroughly to encourage warmer soil temperatures.
Once conditions are right, it’s time to plant. Seeds and seedlings should be planted about an inch deep and 3 or more feet (0.9 m) apart. If you plan to trellis your cucumbers to keep them clean and avoid disease, they can be planted as close as 1 foot (.3 m) apart.
As the plants establish themselves, the main thing they’ll require is water—if the soil is dry, it’s past time to water. If you don’t, the fruit won’t have that sweet, watery quality many people love.
While cucumbers need copious amounts of water to thrive, their leaves require quite the opposite. Water the soil directly (as opposed to showering the plants) with a hose; or, better yet, install a simple irrigation system to keep the leaves dry.
Otherwise, you may develop issues with leaf mildew, which requires vigilant fungicide use to salvage the plants.
We all know the reason most people grow cucumbers—to turn them into pickles. But they’re a more versatile vegetable than many people think:
Beans are a full-sun, medium-maintenance plant with a variety of types and culinary applications. They require little more than regular watering once established, but are very susceptible to pests and require a vigilant gardener to keep them safe.
With the right soil composition, frequent watering, and a careful eye on nutrient consumption, your beans will flourish in no time and can keep you fed throughout the season.
Most bean varieties don’t take well to extremely nutrient-rich soil, and too much nitrogen can keep your plants from growing fruit. So fertilize sparingly—a good layer of composted manure at the get-go should keep them healthy for most of the season.
Beans do best in well-drained soil. Avoid or amend soil with too much clay.
Beans need moist soil to thrive. Set up a drip irrigation system for larger plots, point your hose head at the soil, or water when the sun is on “full blast”—if the bean leaves stay moist too long, it can encourage mildew and other plant health issues.
Beans don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so weed gently but diligently to keep invaders from endangering your crop.
After amending the soil with composted manure, bean planting becomes pretty simple.
Just plant the seeds about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep—but do start them in the ground from seed, as beans don’t tend to do well as transplants.
Each seed should be 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) from the next.
For smaller “bush” beans, you may not need any kind of support. But, for climbing bean varieties, trellises or “walls” that the beans can climb are absolutely necessary. Put these in at planting to avoid disturbing the roots.
If your bush beans sustain damage due to wind, rain, or other weather conditions, or if the stalks are too thin, they can be staked as necessary.
Beans should be harvested when the pods are firm and large. Either clip or pinch them off the vine with your fingers.
Unfortunately, the ease of growing bean plants can sometimes be outweighed by the number of pests that want share your crop.
Spinach is an exceptionally cold-tolerant plant that thrives in full sun but can tolerate partial, too. It’s an early spring or fall planter. Its biggest boons are that it can survive below-freezing temps and usually won’t require an ounce of fertilizer to thrive in healthy soil.
Spinach tends to be a labor-light vegetable crop, but there are still a few important factors that determine the green’s success.
Your garden bed should be in a well-drained area with well-drained soil and should use soil with minimal clay content. Otherwise, the soil may not allow enough air in, and standing water could “drown” your plants.
Plant your spinach seeds about ½-inch deep; the spacing won’t matter too much at the get-go, as you’ll separate the plants to about 2-5 inches apart when they reach 2 inches in height.
Another great thing about spinach is that knowing when to harvest requires zero gardening knowledge. Start picking away when the leaves are big enough to eat—but don’t wait till the plants bolt (flower and seed) or you’ll end up with bitter and unappetizing leaves.
Spinach pests, diseases, and other perils are limited, but can include:
Note that these plant plagues are pretty universal across leafy vegetable varieties, as are their solutions.
Spinach doesn’t have to be limited to an in-ground garden. Get creative with raised beds, covered beds for cool winters, straw bales, or even decorative “potted crop” gardens—it’s versatile enough to suit almost any planting option.
No matter where you harvest it from, spinach is just as delicious raw as it is cooked. Toss it up with a salad, blend it in a smoothie, or sauté it with pasta—it’s equally enjoyable every way!
Chard, is one of the more fun vegetables to grow because it’s easy and straightforward. It can be planted in both the spring and fall, and springs right up about a week after planting. It needs a little fertilizer and well-drained soil for best results, but the extra effort is worth it: it’s so pretty that people use it for decoration.
Chard, like spinach, requires thinning post-emergence, but is otherwise a pretty simple leafy green to grow.
You want your chard to live in an area that’s well-drained and nutrient-rich (or that you can fertilize well). The soil should be light and not too full of clay or other hostile soil types.
Chard fares best in full sun (although it will tolerate partial), so aim for a spot where it will have six hours or more of uninterrupted sunshine for the best results.
It can tolerate a great deal of moisture so long as the area is well-drained. Chard is also hardy enough to tolerate a mild frost, but plan your planting to avoid this—frosts can sometimes force chard into a premature bolt, effectively ruining your would-be harvest.
Plant your seeds an inch or so apart; when the plants mature to three inches tall or more, separate them so they sit at least 4 inches apart.
Chard is an ideal veggie for interval planting since it’s a quick-growing crop. Plant your chard in sections every 10-14 days for 4-6 weeks to keep your crop gracing your table for longer.
Low on garden space or experiencing wonky weather at the start of your season? That won’t affect your chard crop for now—just soak the seeds in water for about a day, then plant them 1/2 inch deep in the soil of indoor pots and wait about 1-2 weeks for sprouts to show.
Harvest your chard leaves before they’re overgrown (they’ll lose their flavor) and before they bolt (which makes them bitter).
Chard grows in layers (inside and outside). Harvest the outer leaves first by cutting the leaves 1-2 inches above the ground (don’t “pluck” them off entirely, or they won’t grow back). That leads us to another great thing about chard—if you harvest correctly, you’ll get two full rounds of growth from the same plant.
Asparagus is a unique but much-loved vegetable. It takes several seasons to grow and is only for the deeply patient gardener. But its harvests make the wait well worth it—the same plants yield delicious spears for 10 years or more, so you may never have to re-plant.
Like its single-season counterparts, the most important thing to do before planting asparagus is to find and prep the right spot for a bed.
Because asparagus is permanent enough to become a part of the family, pick a place for its bed that you’ll never have to disrupt—preferably a small distance away from other beds that will be dug up or rotated more often.
Asparagus has simple tastes: it likes full sun, nutrient-rich soil, and a well-drained place to call home.
In the fall before your spring planting, treat the soil with several inches of compost or manure. Mix it in to the soil thoroughly.
For optimum success, you’ll also want to make sure your asparagus bed is as weed-free as possible before planting—the plants don’t like to be disturbed.
If you have weed issues, consider doing several rounds of thorough weeding or stifling weed growth with a plastic cover.
Asparagus doesn’t do well in standing water (and the inground part of the plant doesn’t like to stay wet), so good, loose, well-drained soil is crucial.
First off, you won’t plant asparagus seeds—instead, you’ll use “crowns” (one-year-old plants) or seedlings (baby plants) transplanted into a permanent bed.
More specifically, you want to plant as soon as the risk of frost has passed and the soil is loose enough to work.
Your asparagus plants like to be rooted firmly in the ground, so dig a depression in the soil that’s between 6 and 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) deep.
Asparagus is not a low-profile plant, so it’s recommended that the young plants be placed between 10 and 18 inches (25 to 46 cm) apart. Cover their roots and the bottom of the crowns with soil after planting, then water them thoroughly.
Some people prefer white (blanched or sun-deprived) asparagus, while others prefer the green variety. If you prefer white (often considered the nuttier and less sweet variety compared to green), you’ll need to make one simple change to your growing practice: keep your asparagus plants covered as they grow. To do this, you can hill them (cover the spears in soil), install a row cover, cover the spears in mulch and plastic, or cover each plant individually with large containers or buckets.
You may wait three full seasons before your asparagus is ready to harvest. In the meantime, it needs a few simple things to stay strong and healthy through the passing of seasons.
Asparagus will need periodic “refills” on the nourishment front. Add compost and/or plant food several times a year (primarily during the summer) to keep it growing strong.
Toward the end of its first summer—after the plants have had a chance to grow significantly—add a layer of mulch over the thoroughly weeded bed to discourage further weed growth.
Then mulch yearly as needed.
Or, more accurately, remove dead growth—limp, dead, or browning foliage can be removed from the plants every fall and as-needed in between. If you’re growing white (blanched) asparagus, you’ll need to re-cover the plants after every clipping.
Asparagus should be watered regularly during the spring and summer unless you’re in a high-precipitation location. Make sure to water gradually so it doesn’t sit in standing water for extended periods of time.
A few simple asparagus harvesting tips and a little precision will have you harvesting delicious spears for up to three weeks every summer.
If you’re growing white asparagus, you’ll need to remove your row covers or soil from the spears every time you want to harvest, then cover the spears again when you’re done.
Cauliflower is a labor of love for the serious gardener: it takes several months to mature, is finicky about temperature, and needs just the right soil and sun conditions to succeed. For those with time and patience, however, the tiny white “trees” of the cauliflower plant make for a delicious reward.
Most spring or fall seasons aren’t long enough to bring cauliflower to maturity from seed to harvest, as this labor-heavy brassica plant requires consistent temperatures between 60 and 70̈°F (15 and 21°C) to succeed. For that reason, the first and most important thing to do for your cauliflower is to start it indoors pre-season.
While your seeds grow indoors, give your cauliflower a head start by preparing the perfect bed.
Cauliflower needs full sun (6 hours or more) to thrive. However, if it will be exposed to high heat at any point (which is highly discouraged), it also needs to be in a spot where it can be shielded from the sun if necessary.
Cauliflower needs nutrient-rich soil to succeed. Mix in a liberal amount of manure and/or compost (or composted manure) before planting.
Note: Throughout the growing process, add a nitrogen supplement or a nitrogen-rich plant food several times as needed to keep your cauliflower well-fed.
Cauliflower crops can be ruined by the wrong soil temperatures or extended periods of dry soil. So it’s not just important to water it regularly; it’s also important to help the soil conserve moisture by mulching upon transplant (and as needed throughout the growing season).
Cauliflower requires a great amount of patience—many plants will take a full three months from transplant to be ready to “head” to your kitchen.
When the heads look almost ready to harvest (1-2 weeks before you plan to cut them), tie the outer leaves around the nearly mature heads. This is called blanching (which means depriving the heads of sunlight) and helps create the bright-white color you see in store-bought cauliflower.
Don’t worry: If you don’t have time, you don’t have to do this. Your cauliflower will just be green instead of white.
Once you’ve cut off the blanched heads (with leaves intact to help preserve the heads), you should use them in your cooking quickly—they only last for about a week before they spoil.
Too much cauliflower? That’s okay. It doesn’t last long in the fridge, but it can be easily frozen—or, of course, pickled and given as a gift or used as a side dish at dinner.
Cauliflower can be a finicky little (big) thing, so some people opt to grow it in containers for greater control. With the same growing conditions in mind, use a large pot, barrel, or even a creatively painted pile of tires for each individual cauliflower plant.
Container cauliflower endeavors are usually not practical for large-scale growth but can be perfect for just a few plants.
The artichoke is a delicacy (or just a rare treat) in many areas. But you can grow and eat it in your home garden with a little patience—and the plants often return with bigger harvests for years to come. They need full or partial sun, loose soil, and lots of fertilization to thrive.
Artichokes, left to blossom, are actually beautiful flowers—but what you want to eat are the flower buds.
First, know that the weather is a huge factor in your artichoke outcomes: in order to get multiple harvests, you need to live in an area with mild winters and summers. Too many frosts can kill your plants.
Choose your artichokes’ location knowing that they could be there for 3-5 years. They likely won’t take well to moving.
Beyond the weather, artichokes also need:
Artichokes need space to grow—they’re not tiny, after all. Plant them 3-5 feet apart from each other.
Make sure your soil is composted thoroughly before adding your artichoke seeds or seedlings. Compost helps with drainage and the dispersal of nutrients to your young plants.
Artichoke maintenance is pretty simple in their active growing season (spring and summer). During this time, make sure to water them thoroughly without drowning them and fertilize 1-2 times per month with plant food or liquid fertilizer.
Artichokes also love to be mulched—it helps regulate soil temperatures and keeps weeds away.
You can—but don’t have to—remove the mulch when you notice tasty buds blooming. In its place, use compost for a burst of extra nutrients. This may or may not be necessary depending on the health of your soil.
If you live in a mild-temperature area, try to keep your artichokes alive during the off-season by:
If you anticipate some mild snows and frosts:
Kale is a relatively easy-to-grow spring and summer planter with a wealth of delicious culinary uses and few problems with pests. It tolerates cold well and will be happiest in well-drained, fertile soil.
Kale is almost as versatile on the planting front as it is in the kitchen. Plant it in the spring or summer and harvest it in the fall or early winter.
The one thing your kale asks of you is that you give it a nutrient-rich bed to lay in. To that end, mix compost into your garden bed before planting your seeds or seedlings.
Then, fertilize as necessary throughout the season: kale loves nitrogen and potassium in particular, but don’t overdo it. Compost may be plenty nutritious for your plants, but if the leaves start to look sickly, it’s time to fertilize.
Kale seeds or seedlings should be planted 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) deep and 1-2 feet (.3-.6 m) apart from each other, as they grow to an impressive size.
If you’re planting from seed, consider planting them closer together (6-8 inches apart) and then thinning them after a few weeks so it’s easier to maintain the young plants in their early stages.
Although kale usually won’t continue producing harvests all the way through the winter, it can remain alive, well, and ready to pick at temperatures as low as 20°F (-7 °C). Regardless of the time of year, kale leaves can be harvested when they’re about 6-7 inches (15-18 cm) in length.
To keep your kale going strong in the colder months (or the first few, at least) try adding a row cover.
Add a thick layer of mulch throughout your kale bed after the first frost or when the weather remains reliably cold to help regulate temperatures, promote good drainage, and nourish the plants.
In milder climates, your kale may continue producing leaves through most or all of the winter.
Radishes are the lazy farmer’s dream. Many varieties can be harvested just a month after planting, and they require very little maintenance beyond consistent sun exposure and some modest watering. They are also one of the only vegetables that will grow in any type of soil.
Preparing the radish bed will be the most work your radishes require before you harvest. To do so, simply:
That’s all there is to radish prep, believe it or not.
Because radishes are such fast growers, there’s no need to start them indoors or in containers. Plant the seeds directly into the garden in ½-inch (1.2-cm) holes, with each seed about 1-2 inches (3-5 cm) from the next.
Keep in mind that, in all likelihood, you will need to thin your radish seedlings once their greens have started growing. Each one should be given 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) of space during the thinning process.
Harvesting radishes is even easier than planting them. When they’ve reached the desired size, simply dig the rooted bulbs—the part most people eat—out of the ground.
You should cut the greens from the radishes immediately after harvesting, and save them for cooking if you’re feeling adventurous. They’re perfectly edible (contrary to popular belief).
Radishes can be added to just about any dish. Try them:
The greens, although prickly when raw, are delicious when cooked. Use them to add a bit of green flavor to:
Squash plants are a medium-difficulty crop that require a little upkeep and full sun to thrive. Most varieties should be planted several weeks before the last spring frost, and all need moist, well-drained soil and a weed-free existence to thrive.
First, plan out their plot. Look for a spot with full sun and good drainage, and make sure they’ll have loose, fertile soil.
Once you’ve chosen your squashes’ home, it needs to be prepared with plenty of nutrients. Mix compost into the soil before planting, and be prepared to fertilize as necessary throughout the season.
Squash fruit sits directly on the ground as it grows (it’s heavy, after all) and the plants don’t take well to weed-y soil. Weed at least once before it comes time to plant, and make sure to mulch after planting to keep weed growth to a minimum.
Squash won’t grow well in soil cooler than 60°F (15°C), so be prepared with a soil thermometer—or, if you must start the plants early, warm the soil with dark mulch or plastic beforehand. If you can’t get the temperature up, hold off on planting.
Squash plants do best as direct seeders, as their roots are very fragile.
Once your squash plants are settled in to their new homes—several feet apart, please, as they grow to large proportions—you want to mulch to keep weeds down and moisture levels up.
Squash plants need plenty of water to thrive. Keep the soil moist with one or more thorough waterings a week all the way through to harvest time.
Again, squash are heavy feeders. The compost will likely get them off to a sufficient start, but as the fruits near maturity, fertilizing several times pre-harvest (and during harvest weeks) will lead to larger, healthier fruits.
Harvesting squash plants
Because squash are fruit-bearing plants, it’s relatively easy to tell when the fruits can be picked. As a general rule, squash take 2-3 months to reach maturity. If you’re not confident in using time alone as a guide, most summer varieties are ready 1-3 weeks after the plants start to flower.
Winter squash can be harvested when the rind—its outer layer—is hard. This is contrary to summer squash, which should be picked while the rind is still soft.
Of course, squash can be used in just about any dish, but what do you do with it while you wait to cook it?
You’re thinking: “You mean pigweed?” Yes. And although it can be a pest, purslane is an insanely hardy, nearly labor-free succulent that will grow anywhere or in anything in the summer months—as long as it gets plenty of sunshine. Add it to cold salads or soups and you’ll see what the fuss is about.
Your first option is to see if it’s hanging out in your yard or garden bed already. If it is, the work is done for you! You can cultivate seeds from the flowers, move the whole plant, or lob off some of its stems to re-plant it.
If you’re growing it from seed, don’t worry about the conditions of the soil, although its succulent tendencies mean purslane prefers dry, aerated, well-drained soil.
You can water it from seed and then ignore it for the rest of the season. It’s one of the few plants that thrives in dry soil (although rain won’t harm it unless it’s excessive).
Purslane does not like the cold, so do your best to grow it in full sun and try to ensure that it’s planted at a time when temperatures won’t get down below 50°F (10°C).
Harvesting purslane is as effortless as growing it. Cut off as many stems as you’d like at a time, pick off the leaves (if you’re patient) or simply pluck the whole plant.
As a plant with weed-like tendencies, purslane is determined. So, to get the most out of your plant, you can leave a couple of inches of the stem intact when you harvest, and it will likely regrow. Beware: After a couple re-growths, the stem may become too unpleasant to eat.
And now, let’s address the question that’s been on your mind: What do you do with an edible weed? Aside from enjoying its unique flavor—it’s kind of like a crunchy cucumber flavored like a tangy lemon—it can be enjoyed cooked or raw.
You may not find much use for the stems, so if that’s the case, clamp your hand around the stem firmly and pull against the “grain” of the leaves to remove them from the stem en-masse. Then:
Beets are medium-difficulty root crops that fare best in high-quality soil, grow quickly, and tolerate frost well. Plant them in the early spring or fall, and be prepared to water liberally or make use of a home irrigation system: these colorful plants need plenty of moisture, nutrients, and drainage to thrive.
First, make sure your soil nutrients are up to snuff by mixing in some manure and a phosphorus supplement. Be wary of nitrogen: unless you know that your soil is deficient in it, it can actually impede the healthy growth of your beets.
Beets aren’t as forgiving as other vegetables, so steer them clear of extremely clay-heavy soil for drainage purposes. If you have high-clay soil, mix in a liberal amount of lighter soil to compensate.
Don’t drown them, but you should certainly keep your beet plants’ soil moist at all times.
Mulch is an all-around good idea—it discourages weeds and can look more attractive, after all. But it’s important for beets in particular because it can help keep soil temperatures down and keep the soil moist, both of which keep beets growing happily, healthily, and quickly.
The great thing about beets is that you can harvest them pretty much whenever you want—take a look at the size of the top of the root and get a good grip to yank it out when it’s the size you want.
Oftentimes, the roots are more flavorful and sweet when they’re a smaller size, so this is a great time to pick them if you have a larger crop.
The greens, however, can be picked at any time, and they will usually regrow to yield another round of nutritious leafy vegetables.
Leeks cost a lot in the grocery store, but they’re cheap and easy to grow at home. They take up little space and like to be started indoors as early as 10-14 weeks before the last frost. Give them full sun, rich soil, and plenty of water—plus some patience for their slow grow time—and you’ll have a successful crop.
Leeks are like milder, sweeter onions with a smaller bulb at the end (and edible leaves). They even have similar requirements for growth.
Once you have this down, your leeks are pretty much golden (or white, as it may be).
Start your seeds in indoor containers as early as 10-14 weeks before the last frost to get a head start on their very slow grow time (4 months or more). Make sure to place them in an area that gets plenty of sun. Water them regularly.
Plant your seedlings after the frost when the ground is soft and easy to work.
Leeks love compost, so it’s recommended to mix in or replace some of your regular garden soil with a generous layer of compost. Dig a hole that’s 6-8 inches deep, plant the young leeks in your soil and compost mixture, and cover them with a layer of soil that reaches their green leaves.
Leeks are pretty self-sufficient, but they do require a little love and care to keep them at their finest.
You can and should add more soil if the white bases start peeking out of the soil as they grow.
Leeks love moisture almost as much as they love being protected, so keep the soil moist till harvest. However, the deeper they’re planted, the more resistant to dryness your leeks will generally be.
Leeks prefer not to be baked, so add a layer of straw or mulch on top of their garden bed in hot weather to help the soil retain moisture and coolness.
Celery is a finicky little plant that likes moisture like we like air, prefers full sun, and requires as long as 160 days to reach maturity. However, for those with patience, space, and experience, the crunchy, hydrating “fruits” of the labor can lead to a whole host of culinary options.
Celery can tolerate one mild frost but won’t make it through a second, so make sure to plan your planting accordingly.
Because most areas don’t have long enough springs and falls for celery’s growing period (often three months or more), most gardeners choose to start their celery indoors. To expedite the process, try soaking your celery seeds in water for a day before planting them in trays.
Make sure your soil is prepared to welcome celery with open arms: there should be generous amounts of fertilizer or compost mixed in before planting occurs.
Because celery is on the larger side, each seedling should be planted about a foot from the next. Make their holes about ¼ of an inch deep.
It’s no wonder so many people think “water” when they think “celery”. Starting immediately after transplant, celery’s soil must be kept moist or totally wet; even a brief period of dryness can toughen the stalks and make them unappetizing.
Don’t worry too much about over-planting celery. It can stay healthy and edible for 2 weeks to a month in your refrigerator, and you can use it in just about everything:
If ever there was a root vegetable for the lazy farmer, carrots are it. They require little more than full sun, loose (and well-drained) soil, and 2-3 months to mature to flourish.
Plant them in the early spring, and make finding the right soil your number one carrot-related priority.
Carrots love sandy soil—or soil that’s well-tilled, at the very least. That’s because they have to push through the soil to grow, and tightly-packed, poorly-draining soil will stunt or disfigure them.
This is the same reason why your carrot plot should be free of stones—although they do produce some funny shapes when they grow into rocks and other barriers.
The roots of carrots (the part you eat) won’t be happy if exposed to sun for extended periods of time, so cover them in a layer of mulch or soil to help them stay moist and safe from the sun.
They do best in full sun but will tolerate a slight partial shade. Just try to minimize it.
Carrots should be planted directly into your garden bed about 3-4 inches apart. You may need to thin them as they grow so they don’t grow into each other.
Carrots are generally pest- and disease-resistant, but heavily weeded areas make the spread of diseases and pests to your crop more likely. Weed roots can also impede the grow of your carrots, so make sure to keep your carrot crop weed-free for the duration of its stay in the soil.
Carrots absolutely need moist soil to germinate, and since their germination period is quite long, it’s important to keep them moist during those crucial first weeks—and beyond, although they become more tolerant as they grow.
The interesting thing about carrots is that they can be “stored” in the ground as long as the weather stays mild (no frozen soil); then, just pull them out when you’re ready for them.
Carrots that are left in the ground will spread their seeds and re-germinate for the following season, so carrot-lovers won’t have to worry about re-planting.