The beginner’s guide to 15 easy vegetables to grow this year

which vegetable should beginners grow

If you’re just getting started out with gardening, you don’t want to mess around with vegetables that are known as “high maintenance”.

These are vegetables that need very specific conditions, climate, or soil in order to produce a harvest. Even as an advanced gardener, there are some vegetables I don’t grow anymore because they’re just too difficult in my particular garden in zone 5.

Cauliflower, watermelon, and canteloupe would be a few of the vegetables on this list.

There is a range of climates and gardens out there, which means we will all have varying experiences growing different vegetables. But, many experienced gardeners will agree that there are some things that are easier to grow than others for most skill levels.

If you’re a beginner, you want to try to focus on growing some of these vegetables, herbs, and flowers so you’re rewarded with success during your first few seasons. Your objective should be quick wins, fewer frustrations, and an overall positive experience that encourages you to keep going and learning.

Growing your own food is not easy. There are a lot of things to learn. But, like any new skill, the learning comes in stages as you familiarize yourself with growing food and build upon your experience season by season.

I’ve been a garden educator for 17 years and I’m still learning new things about gardening every season. That’s one of the aspects I love about it – the depth and mastery involved.

So, if you’re just starting out with a new garden this season, I’m sharing the top fifteen vegetables I always recommend for people who are just starting to explore the wonders of growing their own food.

I encourage you to incorporate some of these vegetables into your garden plan this year!

vegetables for beginning gardeners

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Gardening Ideas for Beginners: Easy Vegetables to Grow

Direct Seed vs. Transplant

Before we get started, it’s important to know there are two very different ways of planting vegetables: with a seed or with a plant. This is important because you need to know whether you need seeds or plants for each vegetable you want to grow.

Taking a seed directly out of the packet and planting it right into your garden bed is called direct seeding.

When you take a vegetable plant, dig a hole in the soil, and plant it into your garden, it’s called transplanting. The vegetable plant is usually called a seedling or a transplant. It’s a baby plant grown from seed by you in your home or by a nursery or farmer in a greenhouse.

In the list below I’ll note how you should plant each vegetable. If you want to read more about direct seeding vs. transplanting check out this article: How to Know When to Sow a Plant or a Seed in Your Garden

 

growing vegetables for beginners

15 Best Vegetables for Beginning Gardeners

These recommendations will likely work best for you if you live in a temperate climate between US zones 3-8. If you live in a hot climate like Florida or Texas in the US or an extremely cold climate, you may want to seek out gardening information from sources closer to home.

I live and garden in zone 5, Wisconsin, so my experience is with colder climate gardening.

It’s also important to know that there are a few important factors that influence how a vegetable will perform in your garden.

Sun: Most vegetable plants do best in full sun (8 hours or more) in northern climates. If you’re planting in partial shade your plants likely won’t grow to full size or produce as much as they would if they had more sun.

Soil: It’s critical that plants are able to source the nutrients they need from your soil. I’ve had issues with soil nutrients in the past at my house, which is why I recommend that all gardeners add an organic fertilizer every time they plant seeds and plants in their gardens. You can read more about that here.

Okay, let’s dive into these fifteen vegetable gardening ideas for beginners!

Beans

Beans are a beloved summer staple of the garden and luckily, they’re very easy to grow. There are actually two different kinds of beans – pole and bush.

Pole beans are a vine. They continue to grow upwards throughout the season, so you need to grow them on a trellis or a teepee. Bush beans are usually planted in a row and grow into individual plants that are lower to the ground and well, bushy!

Advantages

The advantage of pole beans is that they have a continued harvest. As the vine puts on new growth it will flower and continue to produce beans until your first frost in fall.

If you only grow a couple of vines, you will probably harvest a few handfuls a week, but you’ll never get a large number of beans for a huge meal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since it can be easy to be overwhelmed by bush beans during the summer.

Instead of a continuous harvest all season long, bush beans will grow to maturity, start to flower, and then grow the majority of their beans within a 2-3 week window. Then the plant will be done producing.

The advantages of bush beans are that it’s pretty easy to get a lot of beans within a few weeks, so if you like to preserve beans by canning or fermenting, or if you just love beans, you might like the idea of getting a few big harvests.

Another advantage is that you don’t need to have a trellis in order to grow bush beans.

Disadvantages

You need to keep your eye on both types of beans during the harvest season because the pods can go from small and tender to overgrown and tough very quickly.

It’s best to go out and check your plants about every other day and harvest beans. If you don’t want a vegetable that needs that much attention then beans probably aren’t for you.

Bush beans only produce for 2-3 weeks and then the plants start to turn yellow and die. If you love beans this might not be a long enough harvest for you!

You can plant several rounds of beans spread out by a couple of weeks between each planting if you have the room. That will result in a longer harvest.

Don’t just grow the boring green beans you find at every grocery store. This is your chance to try yellow, purple and other unique varieties.

My take on beans: With experience, I’ve found that I often forget to harvest pole beans, probably because I don’t love them, and they often get too big and tough to be edible. This feels like a waste of food and space.

So instead, I grow bush beans and only have to pay attention to them for a few weeks, instead of the entire season.

I like beans, but they’re not my favorite summer vegetable, so I don’t mind if I only get a few weeks of harvest. They’re also inexpensive and plentiful at the farmers market, so if I want more beyond what my garden produces, it’s easy to just go out and buy some.

When to plant: After all danger of frost has passed in spring. (See this post on how to figure out when that is for your garden.)

Direct Seed or Transplant: Direct Seed. Bean seeds germinate easily in warm soil, so they’re a great beginner direct-seeded vegetable.

How many days until you get a harvest: 50-65 days

Harvest Season: Summer and early Fall

How much food will you harvest? Bush: 2-3 weeks of harvests per planting, Pole: many weeks of harvest as the plant puts on new growth

Common Pests: Japanese beetles like to nibble on the leaves.

Favorite Varieties
Pole: Triofono Violetto (purple), Blue Lake (green)

Bush:

Maxibel (green)

Trilogy (green, purple, yellow mix) This is the one I grow in my garden every year.

Dragon Tongue – Beautiful pink striping makes these beans one of the most beautiful on the market. They’re also popular with kids – not sure if it’s the name, the taste, or the coloring!

vegetables for beginners

Beets

If you turn your nose up at beets because of your experience as a kid, I don’t blame you! Many of us were fed mushy, acidic beets out of a can.

Beets were a vegetable I refused to eat before I started growing them myself. But, please know that a freshly harvested beet out of the garden is a completely different experience than its yucky canned cousin.

This is another opportunity to grow unique varieties you can’t find or are expensive at the grocery store.

Advantages

The advantages of beets are: the seed germinates easily, especially in spring; they don’t have any major pests that destroy the crop; they grow fairly quickly to harvest size; and you can plant them throughout the season multiple times if you want several harvests of beets.

Disadvantages

There aren’t many disadvantages to growing beets. They’re not always the most popular vegetable, so make sure the people in your house are willing to eat them before you plant a big row!

My advice is to find some recipes you really love that feature beets.

My personal take on beets: Beets are easy to store in your fridge all winter long, so we eat a lot of them at our house during the long Wisconsin winter. That means by spring, I’m pretty tired of eating them.

So, I don’t plant spring beets. By the time they’re ready in late spring or early summer there are lots of other things coming from the garden that I’d rather eat.

Instead, I sow a big planting in July that is usually ready for harvest when fall rolls around, just the time when I’m ready to start eating beets again!

When to plant: You can start planting four weeks before your average last frost in spring and plant anytime up until about six weeks before your average first frost in fall.

Direct Seed or Transplant: Direct Seed

How many days until you get a harvest: 45-60 days

Harvest Season: Spring – Fall, depending on when you plant

How much food will you harvest? Each beet plant will grow one beet.

Common Pests: Leaf miner larva live in and eat plant tissue. On beets, it only really bothers the leaves, not the root.

Favorite Varieties

Detroit Dark Red: The classic red beet, a reliable performer.

Chioggia: The candy cane beets! Red and white stripes make this beet extremely unique.

Touchstone Gold: Striking color and a fun complement to red beets.

Or buy a 4-pack or a seed mix.

best vegetables to grow beginning garden

Cucumbers

Like green beans, cucumbers are another symbol of the summer garden. Many gardeners grow them, which is probably because they’re reliable performers. Garden-grown cucumbers are usually a lot less bitter and seedy than grocery store cukes.

There are two main types of cucumbers – slicers and pickling. Slicing cucumbers are the most common type found at the grocery store, and are long, slender and mild tasting.

Pickling cucumbers are usually shorter and used for making, you guessed it – pickles.

If you’re looking for salad cucumbers, I suggest growing slicers. If you like to make pickles, you should grow pickling cucumbers. I love turning my pickling varieties into fermented sour New York-style pickles. Read about that here.

There are also many unique varieties of cucumbers out there that will help you go beyond the standard green cuke.

Advantages

The advantage of growing cucumbers is that they produce all season long as they continue to put on new growth on the vine. That means you’ll be harvesting cucumbers for many weeks.

Disadvantages

While not necessarily a disadvantage, cucumbers plants are vines, so it’s best to grow them on a teepee or a trellis. If left on the ground the fruit is more likely to get eaten by animals and rot from moisture.

I love growing mine on this easy DIY vegetable trellis.

Like beans, they also can go from small and tasty to huge and bitter in a short amount of time. That means you need to monitor them regularly and make sure you’re picking them every few days once the harvest season starts.

Each vine can produce a lot of cucumbers, so make sure you don’t plant too many, or you could be overwhelmed.

Unless you want a lot for making pickles, of course!

My personal take on cucumbers: I definitely grow them in my garden each season. Usually, I plant 2-3 slicers, but no more than that. I love fermenting pickling cucumbers, but I often just buy a big bucket at the farmers market instead of growing my own because they’re so cheap at the height of the harvest season.

When to plant: Cucumbers don’t like cold weather, so don’t start planting until all danger of frost has passed in spring.

Direct Seed or Transplant: Direct seed or transplant – your choice! Order a packet of seeds or purchase some plants from the farmers market or nursery.

How many days until you get a harvest: 50-65 days

Harvest Season: Summer – Fall

How much food will you harvest? Once the harvest season begins you should get 3+ fruits from each vine per week.

Common Pests: Cucumber beetles can be a problem in some areas.

Favorite Varieties: Diva, Homemade Pickles, Lemon

ideas for beginning gardeners

Garlic

If you like to cook from scratch, it’s likely you use a lot of garlic and onions. Me, too! Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to grow if you’re a cold-weather gardener.

It’s very unique in that you don’t plant it in the spring or summer, you plant it in the fall. It then stays in the garden all winter, starts growing in the spring, and then gets harvested in the summer, usually in July.

Advantages

It’s easy to grow. Once you plant and mulch it in fall there’s not much to do until the harvest eight months later.

It’s generally not affected by many pests or diseases.

Garlic can be planted 6″ apart, so you can fit a lot in a small space.

It starts growing early in spring, so you have green plants in your garden right when you need it, after a long winter!

Disadvantages

Garlic can be challenging to grow if you don’t live in a cold climate.

It stays in its place for a looooong time. From planting to harvest takes more than eight months. That means garlic is taking up space in your garden for most of the season.

If you’re interested in delving deeper into growing garlic, you can start with this post: Why You Should Plant Garlic This Fall. It is always one of the top three most popular articles on my site year after year!

My personal take on Garlic: I have a big garden and I love growing garlic. I plant around 220 cloves each fall. If you grow the right type you can store it for many months of the winter in your house. I use my own garlic all year round and never buy any from the grocery store!

When to plant: October/November

Direct Seed or Transplant: Direct seed. If you’re planting garlic for the first time you’ll need to order seed garlic. After that, you can save some of what you grow for seed the next fall.

How many days until you get a harvest: 8+ months

Harvest Season: Summer (July)

How much food will you harvest? You’ll plant individual garlic cloves and each clove will turn into a bulb.

Common Pests: Garlic is generally pretty pest-free.

Favorite Varieties: Music, German Red

vegetables for beginner gardeners

Kale

If you buy kale from the grocery store on a regular basis you should definitely try growing some of your own. There are a lot of interesting varieties that can’t be found at the store and it’s a very easy vegetable to grow.

It even thrives in the cool weather of early spring and late fall and can survive the first few touches of frost in early winter. Amazing!

Advantages

You get a long harvest period. Kale is planted in the spring and keeps growing all season long into the fall and even early winter.

It doesn’t take up a lot of space, so you can plant a few kale plants in a small area.

Disadvantages

Kale is susceptible to cabbage moth, which is very common in a lot of gardens. It’s a white moth that flies around and lays eggs on all of the plants in the brassica family, including kale. The eggs hatch into green worms that eat their way up and down the leaves.

You can read more about cabbage moth in this post: What’s Eating My Broccoli? (and Kale and Brussels Sprouts…)

My personal take on Kale: Even with the cabbage moth in my garden I still plant kale every season. I grow around 15 plants and once it gets going I don’t have to buy any kale from the grocery store for the rest of the year.

Kale is also very easy to freeze, so I put away a lot for winter and use it in all kinds of recipes. Read about freezing kale here.

When to plant: Kale is frost tolerant, so you can start planting it four weeks before your average last frost in spring.

Direct Seed or Transplant: If you want big kale leaves like you buy at the grocery store you should transplant kale seedlings. If you want baby kale you can plant seeds tightly in a row in your garden and they’ll stay small.

How many days until you get a harvest: 50-65 days

Harvest Season: Spring-Fall (into winter if you live in a mild area)

How much food will you harvest? A few full-sized leaves per plant per week. Kale plants will continue to put on new leaves all season long.

Common Pests: Cabbage Moth

Favorite Varieties: Red Russian, Lacinato, Winterbor

    ideas for beginning gardeners

Potatoes

In general, growing potatoes is pretty easy in most climates. And, you can grow fun colors you can’t find in the grocery store, like purple, blue, and pink. Summer potato salad, here we come!

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated and are planted differently. So, this section is about your regular old potatoes.

Advantages

Kids love growing potatoes! They’re harvested by digging into the soil with your hands and garden tools, which delights kids every time.

You can grow unique colors you won’t find in the store.

Disadvantages

Potatoes require a few steps for planting and maintenance. You need to dig trenches, plant, mound the soil over time, and then mulch. When you’re ready to plant you can read this post which walks you through the process.

The Colorado Potato Beetle can be a menace! My last house was next to a vegetable farm and a community garden, which meant a lot of people were growing potatoes. That brought in a lot of potato beetles! You can pick them off, but it can be laborious. I actually stopped growing potatoes there since it was too much work.

My personal take on potatoes: I prefer sweet potatoes over regular potatoes, and I just buy them from the farmers market, so I don’t usually grow regular or sweet potatoes in my garden.

When to plant: Spring

Direct Seed or Transplant: You should purchase seed potatoes from an online seed company or a local nursery.

How many days until you get a harvest: 70-120 days

Harvest Season: Summer-Fall

How much food will you harvest? Depending on the variety you should get between 5-10+ potatoes for each one you plant.

Common Pests: Colorado Potato Beetle

Favorite Varieties: All Red, Magic Molly

vegetables for beginning gardeners to grow

Radish

Radishes are always one of the first vegetables to show up at my local farmers market in spring. And their cheery red orbs are a site for sore eyes after a long Wisconsin winter.

There are really two types of radishes, the quick-growing spring ones that are more familiar, and the longer growing spring and fall radishes that are more specialty varieties (like Beauty Heart and daikon).

They’re both grown the same, but the specialty radishes take a bit longer.

Advantages

Radishes grow very quickly, which makes them fun to grow in early spring. You’ll get a quick payback since they’re ready within 30 days.

The bright colors of radishes make them fun to grow!

They’re also a good one to grow with kids. They don’t always like their spiciness, but the short wait time is a plus for young gardeners.

Disadvantages

Radishes don’t like hot weather, so you need to plant them early for them to be happy. If it gets too hot they bolt, or send up a flower stalk and turn bitter.

My personal take on radishes: I grow them in my garden in spring because I like the quick harvest time. I like to experiment with some of the longer growing specialty varieties such as black radishes and daikons. I also plant them again in late summer for a fall harvest.

When to plant: Spring, late Summer for fall harvest

Direct Seed or Transplant: Direct seed

How many days until you get a harvest: 21-50 days

Harvest Season: Late spring/summer, late Fall/Winter

How much food will you harvest? Each radish seed produces one radish

Common Pests: Flea beetles can attack the leaves in spring, but they won’t affect the radish.

Favorite Varieties:

Cherry Belle: The standard red variety, which is still pretty!

Easter Egg Blend

Black Spanish: There aren’t many black vegetables, so when I saw these in the seed catalogue I had to try them. They’ve become a staple of my spring and fall garden.

Watermelon: These have a bright pink center that makes me gasp with delight every time I cut into them.

ideas for beginning gardeners

Salad Mix

Salad mix is the mixed baby leaves you can buy from the grocery store, usually in a plastic clamshell. It’s also called mesclun mix.

The great thing about growing it at home is that it lasts much longer in the fridge than store-bought salad mix and has a lot more taste.

Advantages

Salad mix is quick-growing, very similar to radishes. You should get a harvest in under a month.

Home grown salad mix is way tastier than the bland varieties you get from the grocery store. It also lasts much longer in the fridge.

There are many, many different mixes you can buy – gourmet, spicy, super greens, kale, mustards and more. You can basically tailor your salad mix choices to your personal tastes.

The colors of salad mixes are so pretty in the spring garden.

Because it’s quick growing and you only get a harvest for a few weeks, you can plant something else in the same space when it’s done.

Disadvantages

Salad mix doesn’t like hot weather, so you need to plant it early in spring. It has the tendency to bolt (start flowering) as the weather turns towards summer, which turns it bitter and inedible.

Its dislike of summer weather means its difficult to grow all season long. I have the best luck in spring and fall.

Salad mix does stop producing after a few rounds. You should expect 2-3 harvests from the same row of salad mix. After that, it doesn’t grow back as well. At that time I rip it out and plant something else.

My personal take on salad mix: I grow salad mix in my garden in both spring and fall. I personally like spinach better and think it’s more worth it to grow, but salad mix is so easy and pretty that I always plant a few rows.

When to plant: Early spring, late summer for fall harvest

Direct Seed or Transplant: Direct Seed

How many days until you get a harvest: 25-40 days

Harvest Season: Late Spring/early Summer, late Fall/early Winter

How much food will you harvest?  Expect between 2-4 cuttings per row. They grow back a few times after you harvest them if you leave enough of the leaf.

Common Pests: In wet climates or times of year slugs can be a problem.

Favorite Varieties: See a bunch of different options here.

ideas for beginning gardeners

Summer Squash

There’s a reason for the fictitious summer game that revolves around leaving a summer squash on a neighbor’s doorstep and then ringing the doorbell and running away.

Summer squash plants are prolific producers!

This means they can be very satisfying for a newbie gardener to grow, just be careful you don’t plant too many or you’ll be drowning in squash.

Summer squash goes beyond just the standard green zucchini. There are many other varieties that are fun to try. I haven’t noticed that they taste much different, but they sure are pretty to grow.

Advantages

Once it starts flowering, summer squash will pump out fruit for the rest of the summer.

There are a lot of unique varieties to grow that are way more interesting than the green zucchini you find at the grocery store. There are yellow summer squash, round green, patty pan, orange, striped varieties and more!

Disadvantages

One summer squash plant can produce a lot of fruit. If you plant too many plants you may end up with more than you could ever use.

The plant gets very big width-wise, make sure you don’t plant it too close to small vegetables or they might get smothered.

If you don’t keep on top of harvesting, like checking the fruit every day or so, they can get HUGE! Overgrown squash are tough and seedy. I usually compost them.

Summer squash plants are susceptible to squash bugs which can cause the plant to suddenly wilt and die. It is very disappointing to come out one day and find a dead plant.

My personal take on summer squash: Most seasons I plant two summer squash plants in my garden and have plenty to eat during the summer. I usually grow one green zucchini and then another more interesting variety.

I don’t find that summer squash is very appealing frozen or dried for the winter, so I just try to eat all of mine fresh in summer.

When to plant: After all danger of frost has passed in spring.

Direct Seed or Transplant: You can either direct seed or transplant. Because I only grow two plants I usually buy them at the farmers market.

How many days until you get a harvest: 45-60 days

Harvest Season: Summer- early Fall

How much food will you harvest? 3+ squash per week

Common Pests: Squash bugs can be a nuisance. Also, in humid areas, the leaves can also suffer from powdery mildew. This is a white mildew on the leaves that eventually kills them. The plant will keep producing as long as some of the leaves are green and it can continue to photosynthesize.

Favorite Varieties:

Round Zucchini Summer Squash: Looks like a small green ball.

Cocozelle: Similar to a green zucchini, but with more interesting coloring.

Cube of Butter Yellow Squash: Long like a zucchini, but yellow.

Patty Pan Blend: These types of squash are such a neat shape!

beginning gardener vegetables to grow

Swiss Chard

Chard is similar to kale in that you plant it in spring and it keeps producing leaves all season long. You simply cut some off with a knife when you’re ready to cook with it and the plant will get back to the work of growing new leaves to replace them.

Rainbow chard adds some pretty pops of color to complement the various shades of green in your garden.

Advantages

Chard can be planted early in the spring and will keep producing all season long until it gets really cold in the fall/early winter. If you live in a mild area it might keep going all winter long.

Chard is such a pretty plant! So many of the vegetable plants we grow are green, but chard stems come in yellow, red, pink, orange, and striped candy cane.

Disadvantages

There aren’t really any disadvantages to chard that I can think of unless you don’t’ like to eat it!

My chard leaves get damaged by leaf miners, sometimes pretty badly.

My personal take on Chard: In all honesty, I like eating and growing kale better, but chard is so pretty that I can’t resist growing two or three plants each year. Like kale, it’s easy to throw into the freezer for winter recipes when you have more than you can eat during harvest time.

When to plant: Starting four weeks before your average last frost in spring.

Direct Seed or Transplant: Transplant – If you want large chard leaves like you buy in a bundle at the grocery store you’ll want to make sure you’re growing individual plants. Direct seed – If you want baby chard, like you would find in a salad mix, then you can sow seed in rows like you would carrots or beets.

How many days until you get a harvest: 50- 60 days

Harvest Season: Late Spring-early Winter

How much food will you harvest? Several bunches/month, or a few leaves whenever you want!

Common Pests: Leaf miner is more of a problem with chard than beets since it damages the leaves. Did you know these two vegetables in the same family?

Favorite Varieties: I recommend growing a mixture of colors like this 5 Color Mix or Bright Lights. Peppermint Stick is also an interesting variety!

vegetables for beginning gardeners

Tomatoes
Tomatoes might be the most popular vegetable to grow in many garden plots around the country! And there are literally thousands of varieties to choose from.

No summer grill out is complete without at least a few tomatoes on the table.

The most fabulous part of growing your own tomatoes? You can choose unique varieties and colors that you’ll never see at your local grocery store.

There are two types of growth styles for tomatoes – determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes only grow 2-3 feet and then ripen all of their fruit in a short amount of time.

Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and setting fruit on the new growth right up until frost. My tomatoes often grow up to 10 feet tall! Indeterminate types are more common and need a tall, beefy trellis or cage to support their vigorous growth.

Advantages

Tomatoes are a great vegetable for beginners because the plants are easy to find and they grow well in many different climates.

There are hundreds of varieties, colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors to choose from.

Homegrown tomatoes taste a bazillion times better than their pale, tasteless grocery store cousins. This is truly one fruit that is so worth it to grow yourself for taste alone!

Disadvantages

Tomatoes are susceptible to a lot of diseases and blights. Luckily, most of them primarily affect the leaves and not the fruit, so even though your tomato plant might look a little sad by the end of the season, it should still be pumping out fruit on a regular basis.

Cherry tomato plants will produce hundreds of tomatoes over the summer. You’re going to have to keep on top of them on a daily basis if you want to take advantage of the harvest!

There are so many varieties it can be confusing to pick which ones to grow. I help guide you in picking tomato varieties that are best suited for your situation here: How to Choose Which Tomatoes to Grow

My personal take on tomatoes: Once upon a time I used to grow 35 tomato plants in my garden! I’ve scaled it back to about 13 slicer and paste varieties and two cherry tomatoes.

I eat some of my tomatoes fresh, but I actually prefer to cook most of them down and freeze them for use all winter long.

When to plant: After all danger of frost has passed in spring.

Direct Seed or Transplant: Transplant

How many days until you get a harvest: 55-85 days

Harvest Season: Late Summer-Fall

How much food will you harvest? 20-50+ tomatoes per plant depending on variety, 100’s for cherry tomatoes.

Common Pests & Diseases: There are a lot of soil-borne diseases that commonly affect tomato plants, mostly the leaves. Late blight can affect the fruit.

Favorite Varieties:

Amish Paste: My favorite for sauce tomatoes to cook down and freeze. They’re huge!

Sun Gold: The best cherry tomato IMHO.

Green Zebra: These tomatoes are green with yellow striping when ripe. They’re very mild and great for folks who don’t like a strong tasting tomato.

Moonglow: Hands down my favorite orange tomato of the last 17 years of growing a garden!

Or try seven different varieties

what vegetables should beginning gardeners grow

HERBS

There are so many reasons to grow herbs in your garden: most of them are very easy to grow, you’ll save a lot of money at the grocery store if you regularly purchase herbs, they smell great, they’re easy to preserve for off-season eating, and you’ll be able to harvest plenty to share with friends and family.

Depending on where you live, some herbs are perennial, which means the plants will come back every year. In contrast, some herbs are annual, which means you’ll have to buy plants or seeds every spring.

When buying herb plants I recommend going to your local nursery or farmers market. It’s not worth it to start your own seeds for most of the herbs in the list below.

You should be able to get away with one plant for each of the herbs, besides basil, because they all tend to grow fairly large and you only need a small handful of fresh herbs for most recipes.

what to grow beginning gardeners

Basil

If you’re growing tomatoes you have to plant some basil as well so you can make the quintessential summer dish of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella!

Pesto is also incredibly easy to freeze for later, but you’ll need a lot of basil to make it. If that’s your plan, make sure you plant several seedlings.

Advantages

Once basil gets going in the heat of summer it grows quickly. That means you can usually take a big harvest from the plant once a week, or smaller harvests several times a week.

Disadvantages

Basil is an annual, so you will have to buy plants every season. Or start your own at home!

It does like to go to flower often, so you have to keep pinching it back in order to encourage it to keep producing leaves.

My personal take on basil: Each season I plant about 12 basil plants. I like to make lots of pesto and other herb sauces to freeze for winter so I don’t have to buy herbs from the grocery store. I mostly grow green basil, but always throw in a few purple plants and a cool newer variety called Perpetuo (see below).

When to plant: After all danger of frost has passed in spring.

Annual or Perennial Herb? Annual

Direct Seed or Transplant: Transplant

How many days until you get a harvest: 60-85 days

Harvest Season: Summer-early Fall

How much food will you harvest? Several larger cuttings per month or a small handful of leaves every few days.

Common Pests & Diseases: In wet climates or seasons basil can suffer from downy mildew. 

Favorite Varieties:

Italian Genovese: The most common green variety that’s still delicious!

Purple Ruffles This variety has a gorgeous frilled basil leaf.

Perpetuo: A new variety that doesn’t flower, so you don’t have to continually snip back the flower stalks. It’s also variegated, which is very rare for a veggie plant.

Or grow a blend of different varieties

easy vegetables for beginning gardeners

Oregano

Oregano will start leafing out early in your garden and will keep growing all season long until winter. You’ll never go without oregano in your dishes all season!

This is a great herb to grow yourself because most recipes only call for a tablespoon or less, so it can be difficult to use an entire bunch of oregano from the store.

Advantages

Starts growing early in the season and is a perennial in most areas. That means you’ll likely only have to buy a plant once and then it will last in your garden for many years.

Disadvantages

Oregano can be a vigorous spreader! If left unchecked it can start taking over your garden. I grow mine in my herb spiral so it has a natural border to keep it in check. (Read about my herb spiral here.)

My personal take on oregano: I have one plant in my herb spiral that offers me plenty of harvests all season long. It’s also easy to dry, so you could save some in a jar for winter.

When to plant: Four weeks before your average last frost in spring

Annual or Perennial Herb? Perennial in most areas.

Direct Seed or Transplant:  Transplant

How many days until you get a harvest: After you plant a seedling it’ll take a few weeks for it to get established in your garden and start growing.

Harvest Season: Spring-Early Winter

How much food will you harvest? You’ll have plenty of oregano for weekly recipe use.

Common Pests: None

Favorite Varieties: The most common are Greek or Italian

best vegetables for beginning gardeners

Parsley

In colder weather gardens like mine in Wisconsin, parsley is an annual and I have to plant it every spring. If you live in a warmer climate it may survive the winter. Although it tends to go to flower and set seed the second year.

There are two kinds – flat and curled leaf.

Even though it’s an annual plant it does produce a lot of parsley. I usually plant two or three in my garden and that’s plenty for the season.

Advantages

Parsley provides a harvest from late spring until early winter.

It’s a host plant for the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. See above photo. It will eat a little of your parsley leaves, but it’s such a cool insect that it’s worth it!

Disadvantages

Parsley is an annual in most climates, so you’ll have to replant it each spring.

My personal take on parsley: I’m not a big fan of curly parsley (too many bad associations with buffets!) so I only grow flat leaf. I plant three plants in my herb spiral most seasons and often find Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on my plants.

I use parsley for making soup stock, on top of lots of dishes, and I make herbed sauces to freeze for winter.

When to plant: Four weeks before your average last frost in spring

Annual or Perennial Herb? Annual in cold climates

Direct Seed or Transplant: Transplant

How many days until you get a harvest: After you plant a seedling it’ll take a few weeks for it to get established in your garden and start growing.

Harvest Season: Spring-Early Winter

How much food will you harvest? Several leaves every week from each plant.

Common Pests: None

Favorite Varieties: Flat Leaf, Curled

herbs for beginning gardeners

Sage

Yum! Sage is the flavor and smell of winter dishes like roasted winter squash and Thanksgiving dinner.

Common Sage is the most widely available variety. But, if you look around you might find some other interesting varieties like Tricolor and Pineapple.

The common varieties should be a perennial in most climates. Sometimes the specialty varieties don’t survive the winter in colder climates.

Advantages

Once the plant gets established it will yield plenty of sage all season long.

Disadvantages

None that I can think of!

My personal take on sage: I have one plant of common sage that comes back every year. I sometimes plant the specialty varieties just for the beauty of them, but they often die over the winter. Sage is easy to dry for storage year-round in a spice jar!

When to plant: Starting four weeks before your average last frost in spring

Annual or Perennial Herb? Perennial in most climates

Direct Seed or Transplant: Transplant

How many days until you get a harvest: After you plant a seedling it’ll take a few weeks for it to get established in your garden and start growing.

Harvest Season: Spring-Early Winter

How much food will you harvest? You’ll have plenty of sage for weekly recipe use.

Common Pests: None

Favorite Varieties: Common, Tricolor, Golden, Pineapple

 ideas for beginner gardeners

Thyme

Thyme should also return every year as a perennial herb. There are actually a lot of interesting thyme varieties and flavors out there, so I’d suggest looking around to find one you like. The photo above is of silver-edged thyme.

Advantages

Once the plant gets established it will yield plenty of thyme all season long.

Disadvantages

None that I can think of!

My personal take on thyme: Like sage, I grow a standard variety that comes back every season. I sometimes experiment with the specialty varieties that are unpredictable – they may or may not return after a cold winter.

When to plant: Starting four weeks before your average last frost in spring

Annual or Perennial Herb? Perennial in most climates

Direct Seed or Transplant: Transplant

How many days until you get a harvest: After you plant a seedling it’ll take a few weeks for it to get established in your garden and start growing.

Harvest Season: Spring-Early Winter

How much food will you harvest? You’ll have plenty of thyme for weekly recipe use.

Common Pests: None

Favorite Varieties: Lemon, Orange, Creeping, Silver-edged

ideas for beginning gardeners

FLOWERS

No vegetable garden is complete without flowers! I highly suggest you tuck flowers into your garden beds here and there to add color, interest, beauty, and food for pollinators.

It’s always fun to head to the farmers market or local nursery and browse the annual flowers. I’ve discovered lots of new favorites this way!

Here are some of my easy to grow favorites:

Calendula: Pacific Beauty, Zeolights

Marigolds: Tangerine Gem, Lemon Gem

Nasturtiums: Climbing Phoenix, Cherries Jubilee

Zinnias: Queeny Lime Orange, Queen Red Lime

 

gardening ideas for beginners

When to Start Planting Vegetables

The next step after deciding which of these vegetables you want to plant in your garden is to create a custom planting schedule based on your average last frost.

You can visit the post below where I walk you through how to determine your average last frost date and provide a printable calendar you can personalize with dates you should be planting each vegetable based on your average last frost.

Read it here: How to Grow More Food with a Custom Planting Schedule

beginners gardeners what to plant

Gardening Ideas for Beginners: Where to Buy Seeds & Plants

My favorite seed companies offer many of the varieties you learned about in this article:

Johhny’s Selected Seeds

High Mowing Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Botanical Interests

Renee’s Garden Seeds

Baker Creek Seeds

Etsy: I gathered some of my favorite varieties from different sellers at this link.

Amazon: Find my recommended varieties, tools, supplies, books, and more in my Amazon storefront here.

I also wrote an article Where to Buy Vegetable Seeds and Plants! Don’t Make These Mistakes.

beginning gardeners what to plant

Additional Resources for Beginning Gardeners

gardening planning book

 

 

Set yourself up for a successful season with the Smart Start Garden Planner. It keeps garden planning practical, down-to-earth, and fun!

Get a sample of the book so you can peek inside here. 

 

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I have how-to video series for lots of exciting seasonal topics, including how to grow, harvest, and preserve herbs! And most of the videos are filmed in my awesome front yard garden. Check the list out here.

The following blog articles were mentioned in this post:

If you’re just getting started with gardening, welcome to the wonderful world of growing your own food! It’s an amazingly satisfying experience to create something with your own two hands nowadays. My advice is to start with a small garden, plant many of these fifteen easy vegetables, and take it slow!
There’s a lot to learn over the years, but for the first few seasons, I suggest focusing on having fun and appreciating the skills you’re building through the process.

Learn how to get better results.

Let's starting with talking about the top 5 mistakes most gardeners are making.

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