The Easiest Vegetables to Grow at Home
Want to grow your own produce, but not sure where to start? Tomatoes, garlic and lettuce can get a garden going in just one season.
Starting a fruit and vegetable garden is accessible for anyone with an outdoor area and a good amount of sunlight. While many vegetables, like cucumbers and squash, need ample space to sprawl (and most plants will benefit from more space), there are abundant options for patio gardeners, too.
Before you start planning and planting, here’s a tip on timing: Know your last frost date. The last frost date is the average date of the final frost in your area and it’s a turning point for vegetable gardening. Some spring produce can be planted before your last frost date but summer veggies like tomatoes and peppers need to wait until after. Research your date online; your state’s Extension Service information is typically the most accurate and reliable.
Now for the fun stuff. Here’s a list of crops you can try at home with a good likelihood of success. Start small, and after a season, you won’t settle for anything but homegrown.
Once you realize how easy it is to grow garlic at home, you’ll never buy it at the store again. The trick is to start with seed garlic, which is selected for its size and resilience while growing, rather than garlic from the grocery store. You can order seed garlic online or find at a garden center. Garlic needs to be planted in fall and left to grow over winter and through spring for an early summer harvest.
Start from seed in spring or fall, and thin seedlings (meaning to pull some seedlings out if they start coming up too closely together) to allow the roots room to grow. The Easter egg radish variety is a personal favorite for its mix of pretty pastel colors.
Growing carrots is very similar to growing radishes. Start with a short variety to decrease the growing time. When the tops of the carrots start popping up through the soil, they’re ready to harvest.
Best grown during spring and fall, or in light summer shade in cooler locations, lettuce is easy. Lettuce starts easily from seed, but you may need to thin plants as they come up to allow room for growth. Leaf lettuce is easiest because you don’t need to wait for the plant to form a head. Choose leafy varieties, such as green leaf, red leaf, oak leaf or frisee, and pick from the outside of the plant often. It will just provide more and more, growing from the interior.
Like lettuce, other greens are best grown during the cooler season or in light shade in warmer months. Start kale, arugula, mustard greens, collards, spinach and other myriad greens from seed. In my warm climate, they survive all winter long.
Peas, particularly sugar snap peas, are one of my all-time favorite vegetables to eat and grow, and may be my best recommendation for new gardeners. Plant seeds early in the spring and give them a small trellis for support. I actually use small tomato cages. Pick often and eat them right out of the garden. They’re also a great first plant for kids to try.
Start with sets (immature bulbs) or bundles of bare-root seedlings in spring. Plant close together to harvest as green onions (which are just young onions, also called scallions) before the bulbs start to mature. You can also space further apart and grow the onions to maturity, but this takes longer. While green onions will grow well in an in-ground garden or raised bed, they’ll also do well in a pot on a patio and can even be tucked around other vegetables or flowers.
We could talk about herbs for days, including why it’s insane to spend money on mint at the store. But just know this: You can grow your own herbs at home, even if you have zero outdoor space and need to grow indoors. Basil, parsley, cilantro and dill are one-season crops (annuals or biennials, meaning you have to plant them every year), while mint, thyme, rosemary, lavender and oregano (all perennials) come back year after year.
Tomatoes wouldn’t normally top my list of easiest vegetables to grow at home, though they are surely everyone’s favorite. Why? It takes time for the fruit to mature on the plant, which is also time for diseases and other problems to arise. However, cherry tomatoes are a simpler option because the smaller fruit matures more quickly, and one plant can produce so abundantly. I recommend starting tomatoes from transplant plants rather than from seed to give you a leg up on the season. And yes, you can buy transplants online. When choosing varieties to grow in pots, look for terms like patio tomato and dwarf tomato, which are plants bred specifically for small spaces.
In my experience, hot peppers are easier to grow than sweet peppers (like bells), primarily because it takes less time for the actual pepper to mature than for a larger bell pepper to fill out. Hot peppers also have built-in defenses — the natural chemical, capsaicin, that makes them spicy also repels pests. (Some gardeners even sprinkle cayenne pepper in their garden to keep rodents and rabbits out.) You can start easily from seed in late spring, but transplants are also readily available, including online.
Start from seed in late spring to summer, grow these guys vertically on trellises and you have a virtually care-free plant. Or try bush-type plants, which don't need support and can grow in pots. Just be sure to pick daily during harvest season or your plants will get away from you. There’s a reason beans feature prominently in fairy tales — they’re easy to grow from seed, they grow and produce prolifically and the seed is simple to save, making them truly magical.
Many gardeners talk about harvesting summer squash, like yellow crookneck and zucchini, by the armfuls. My experience hasn't been quite so dramatic, but I have found the plants easy to grow from seed and productive, if the pests don't overtake them. Why just summer varieties and not winter ones like butternut or acorn? Because those plants take so much longer to grow from planting to harvest and require a lot more space.
Cukes are similar to summer squash in how they grow, because the plants are cousins. Start from seed and let them run, or support on trellises to keep the fruit off the ground. Pick often during harvest, whenever you see the vegetables reach a size of about six to eight inches – or you'll have cucumbers that grow well beyond their tastiest size.
Kelly Smith Trimble is an editor, writer, and gardener living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her book Vegetable Gardening Wisdom, a collection of seasonal advice and inspiration for edible gardeners, was released in April 2019. Kelly is currently the senior digital editorial director for HGTV, and she has also been a writer and editor for Southern Living, the National Park Foundation and Bonnie Plants. She completed master gardener training in Alabama.