8 Tips to Decide What to Grow in Your Garden

How to choose what you should grow in your garden - 8 tips!

What should you plant in your vegetable garden?

It can be hard to choose what fruits and vegetables to grow in your garden, whether your garden is in the ground, in raised beds or in containers.

Every spring you can walk into big box stores, farm stores, feed stores and more and find a large display of seeds. Hundreds of packets of seeds with bright, eye-catching photos of gorgeous plants and flowers.

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Or go online to look at seed websites, where even more beautiful photos encourage you to buy their seeds.

It's too easy to pick up packet after packet until your hands are full and you're beyond excited to get them all in the ground.

But when you get those seeds home, you might realize you overbought and don't have enough room for all those plants. 

Or you wonder why you bought that packet of kale seeds when no one in your family is going to eat kale. Or eggplant. Or whatever it was that caught your eye.

Deciding what to plant is hard.

These 8 tips will help you decide what's best to grow in your vegetable garden this year.

1. Grow what you love to eat

That's a no-brainer, right? If your family doesn't like kale, don't grow kale. 

If you love salads, grow a variety of salad vegetables such as loose leaf lettuce and other greens, radishes, green onions and so on.

What should you plant? How to choose seeds for your garden.

2. Grow what's expensive to buy at the store

I'm sure you've noticed that some fresh fruits and vegetables are really expensive to buy at the grocery store. 

I love fresh berries, for instance. While strawberries aren't too terribly expensive as long as you buy them in season, raspberries and blackberries are extremely high in price.

And those two are my favorites! Needless to say I was thrilled beyond measure when I realized we have blackberries growing wild in our back pasture. 

Blackberries are expensive to buy in the grocery store. Grow your own instead!

(And when I braved the thorns and chiggers and the occasional snake, I realized just why blackberries are so expensive.)

I planted blueberries in the garden last spring and I'm planning to add some raspberry bushes this year.


3. Grow what's on the "dirty dozen" list

Each year the Environmental Working Group updates their list of the twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue. Source

Consider growing the foods on this list that you enjoy eating, so you'll know they are organically grown and safe to consume.

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In 2020, spinach, kale, tomatoes, celery and potatoes were the vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides. Fruits including strawberries, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries and pears rounded out the list.

4. Grow vegetables and fruits that taste so much better fresh

Let's face it, canned asparagus tastes nothing like fresh, crisp asparagus harvested at just the right time.

You can roast, grill, sauté, and prepare fresh asparagus in so many ways that are impossible with limp, soggy asparagus from a can. (Try my recipe for cream of asparagus soup here - an absolutely delicious way to enjoy spring asparagus.)

And frozen spinach bears no resemblance to fresh spinach.

I'm sure you can think of a few other vegetables and fruits that taste so much better when fresh.

What should YOU grow in a garden? How to decide what plants to grow.

5. Grow what grows well in your growing zone

My daughter who lives in the Rocky Mountains has such a short growing season that she can barely grow cherry tomatoes. Trying to grow beefsteak tomatoes, which require much more time to mature than cherry tomatoes, would be a waste of her limited garden space.

Likewise, trying to grow lettuce all summer in my Oklahoma garden would be a waste of my efforts. Lettuce and other cool season crops don't flourish in our very hot summers.

You can find your garden zone here at Garden.Org, and your first and last frost dates here at Dave's Garden, which will also tell you the approximate length of your growing season. 

For instance, my growing season here in zone 7b is approximately 208 days according to Dave's Garden, while my daughter's growing zone is only 114 days on average.

You'll find relevant information on the back of seed packets, with maps of growing zones and the number of days until harvest so you'll know if those seeds will grow well for you or not. 

The seed packet will also tell you when to plant - in early spring or after all danger of frost, for instance. 

Some warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and peppers are best started indoors and transplanted when the weather is warmer. In this case, the seed packet will tell you to "sow seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost date." 

Now that you're armed with your last frost date (which you obtained from the Dave's Garden site), you can subtract six weeks from that date - and now you know exactly when to start your seeds indoors.

6. Grow what fits in your space

If you have a small garden, you might not want to grow space hogs like squash and melons (although you can grow those plants vertically and save space).

Homegrown stuffed summer squash.

Or if your garden consists of containers, choose smaller varieties that are better suited to small spaces. You'll find loads of information in my post on growing vegetables in a container garden.

7. Grow plants that will grow well in your garden's location

Most fruits and vegetables grow best in full sun, so if your garden space is less than ideal, choose varieties that can tolerate some shade. My ebook How to Grow Vegetables and Herbs in a Shady Garden can help you.

8. Grow "ingredients"

If you're new to gardening, you might still be wondering what you should grow. How do you go about making a list of plants for your new garden?

Consider what you buy at the grocery store, fresh, frozen or canned. You know your family will eat these vegetables and fruits and you know what dishes you can make with them.

But don't stop there. Think of a garden as a place where you'll grow ingredients.

What prepared items do you purchase now? Pickles, for instance. Tomato sauce. Fresh and dried herbs and spices. These items are made from "ingredients" that you can grow instead of buying.

Cucumbers can be eaten fresh in salads but can also be pickled. And don't be intimidated, making pickles isn't difficult!

Tomatoes are one of the most versatile foods you can grow. As well as being delicious when eaten fresh, you can cook them into tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce and ketchup, and make salsa or stuffed tomatoes. 

Add your homegrown tomatoes to tomato-based dishes such as elephant beans and chili. Make tomato juice and tomato soup (click there for my recipe!). Dehydrate tomato skins for tomato powder you can add to soups and stews. 

Homegrown fruits can be used in smoothies, made into jelly and jams, canned, used in desserts such as pies and cobblers and more.

Think of ways you can use those vegetables and fruits other than as just a simple side dish. Think of them as ingredients instead.

These are the seeds you should buy. These are the plants you should grow.

Need more advice to decide what you should grow in your garden? Sixty gardening experts share their advice and their favorite vegetables in this post.

Where I buy my seeds

I buy most of my seeds from two sources:

Mary's Heirloom Seeds - Mary sells over 700 varieties of open-pollinated, non-GMO, heirloom seeds. I love supporting small businesses, and I've been happy with the quality and germination of the seeds I've ordered from Mary.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds -  Baker Creek also has a large selection of open-pollinated heirloom seeds.

For even more information

Here's how I keep my seeds organized so I don't end up with six kinds of tomatoes and no carrot seeds.

If you don't use all the seeds in your packets this year, here's how to store them correctly so you can plant them next year.

Common garden words and phrases for beginning gardeners

Learn the steps to planning and planting a homestead orchard in this post.

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What should you grow in your garden? Use these 8 tips to help you decide.


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