So many people are intimidated by gardening! They think it’s only for pros. I’m here to say that gardening can be EASY! Plant the 5 best plants for beginner gardeners to feel like a success right away!
Gardening is the best hobby out there
I normally like to keep all the cool stuff for myself, but I’m not that way with gardening. I think EVERYONE should have a garden unless you are allergic to soil, sunlight, or chlorophyll.
As someone who can be way too stuck in my mind, gardening helps me stay grounded and active. In fact, gardening can be a gateway to seasonal living!
I also love how gardening requires patience. There are no plants that germinate overnight. However, time passes anyway, and I am always shocked by how quickly plants grow and mature.
All gardeners, even experienced farmers, deal with crop failures and weather issues every year. With that said, there are some plants that tend to be easier to grow. I’m a big fan of “ego boost” crops that make me feel like a successful gardener even if everything else is failing!
The 5 Best Plants for Beginner Gardeners
Arugula is literally my favorite “ego boost” crop. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and can usually grow it from spring to early fall with a brief break during midsummer.
It germinates very fast as a brassica, so on really warm, sunny days, I can get mine to germinate in as few as 2-3 days. In the earlier spring, it may take closer to 5 days.
Plus, arugula matures quickly, too. In just a few weeks, you can go from seed to harvest!
notes on arugula flavor & use
The leaves have an amazing, slightly peppery flavor. I really, really appreciate that arugula is not thin and papery like most lettuces. It is great served raw in a salad or wilted over hot, fresh pasta. Because it is so flexible in the kitchen and easy to grow, I count this as my number one must-grow crop and recommend it to ALL new gardeners! It’s also ideal for your fall garden!
Buy quality seeds that will last
If you buy high-quality seed from a great seed company, your seeds will last a long time! Even though I garden on a smaller scale, I buy seeds in bulk from Baker Creek Seed Company and Sustainable Seed Company. The seeds are a better value and I always have them on-hand ready to plant!
Okay, I know that I just said how much I like arugula because it is NOT a regular lettuce, but I still like regular lettuce! It’s a winner for many of the same reasons as arugula: fast germination and quick time to harvest.
However, lettuce is great because it can be grown in a few different arrangements: full heads or a cut-and-come-again salad bowl.
Growing lettuce for heads
If you want to grow your lettuce to a full-size head (think a head of romaine from the grocery store), you can! It just needs more time and space between plants.
Growing lettuce for salad greens
If you plant lettuce seeds close together and harvest them when they are small for salad greens, the plants will regrow and you will get another harvest (or 2!). This is a cut-and-come-again salad method, which I personally love.
Plus, it is fun to grow mixed lettuce blends where plants of different sizes, colors, and textures grow together. Lettuces are also sown usually on top of the soil or just barely under the soil, so there are no complex measurements for planting.
Personally, I love growing this European Mesclun mix from Baker Creek Seeds!
Keep your fridge stocked with fresh salad
Succession plant your greens every 1-2 weeks to have fresh greens for months! Try different varieties and look for heat-tolerant lettuces for summer growing.
why is my lettuce getting so tall?
When the days start getting longer, you will notice your lettuces jumping up in height and looking ruffled. This is called bolting. The lettuce is trying to grow seeds.
Bolted lettuce has a strong bitter flavor. We don’t recommend eating it at this point, but it will be great for chickens or in your backyard compost!
You can replant lettuce later in the summer and it’s wonderful for fall gardens!
There are 3 basic ways to grow onions: seeds, starts, and sets. To know which type of onion plant is right for you, you need to understand a little bit about onions in general.
Onions are biennial plants, which means that it takes two years for them to grow a flower and go to seed. That means that onions can be grown all summer one year and picked while the plants are still immature and then be replanted the next year to bulb up. This is what many companies do to offer home gardeners an easy and reliable way of growing onions.
In addition to this, onions are long-season plants. They take typically 110-120 days to mature. Your growing season is likely not that long, which means you need to give your onions a head start!
Which type of onion plants should you grow?
Unless you live somewhere with a very, very long growing season, skip the seeds. They are fussy and even many farmers buy onion starts from plant nurseries!
Either onion starts or onion sets are great plants for beginner gardeners! They both are easy to plant and will give you a great crop. They’re also very inexpensive, typically $3 or so for 50-100 plants!
One thing to know about onion sets…
Remember how we talked about onions being biennial crops? This means they don’t flower their first year. It takes an onion two years to produce a flower.
Onion sets are small onions from the previous year that you are regrowing in their second year of life.
This means that your little baby onions are on a mission to bloom this year, which is not great for food storage. When the onion sends up the large, sugary stem, the onion bulb that we eat starts to break down. You can absolutely still eat onions that have bolted, but they will likely not store well during the winter.
Therefore, my recommendation to you is to find…onion starts! They are first-year plants, meaning no bolting and they’ll store well over the winter. They’re also just as cheap as onion sets and super easy to grow!
I promise you’ll feel like a pro when you bring basket after basket of spring onions or bulbs into your kitchen.
Learn how to cure and dry onions for storage here.
When I updated this post in 2022, I moved the previous #4 potatoes to the honorable mentions category and added kale instead. Why?
Well, in ALL of my time growing, probably the best thing I grow is kale. That’s not really about me…that’s about the kale.
Why’s kale so darn great?
- Incredibly easy to grow from seed & sprouts quickly
- Tolerant to heat (won’t bolt in the summer) and cold (will survive snow!)
- One kale plant will feed you all year (small, tender greens in the spring and full-sized leaves in the summer)
- Excellent in a fall garden
- When kale flowers after the winter, you’ll get kale flowers (raab!) that are like broccoli
There are so many types of kale, too! We love Lacinato (dino) kale for salads and almost always grow it. Although I used to be picky about kale in the past, I’m not now. Curly kale, Red Russian, Lacinato, Dazzling Blue, Dwarf Blue, Redbor and more – they’re all good!
You can even get a blend of different kale seeds to try them all.
Kale is susceptible to aphids, so be sure to keep an eye out. Use this simple aphid spray recipe to get rid of them!
5. Green beans
Beyond being delicious, green beans tend to grow very easily! We’ve only had pest problems growing them for one season. Other than that, we usually have lots and lots of beans. Perfect for canning dilly beans!
Beans are also nitrogen fixers, so they are GREAT for the soil! Clearly, they are one of the best plants for beginner gardeners!
Great for succession planting
Just like lettuce, keep planting green beans every few weeks to ensure a consistent supply during the summer.
types of green beans
The main thing to know about growing green beans is that there are two types: pole and bush beans.
Pole beans need to vine out and climb, often surpassing 10 feet. They also take a longer time to grow and are harvested after bush beans get started.
Bush beans do not need to vine or be staked at all. Simply plant, water regularly, and let them grow! They tend to flower & ripen before pole beans.
our favorite green bean varieties
We usually grow bush beans, although we make it a point to set up a trellis for our all-time favorite variety: Rattlesnake! Oh my goodness, they are so flavorful! We have a hard time bringing them in the house to cook because they’re actually slightly sweet raw.
Besides Rattlesnake, we also grow Dragon’s Tongue, which is the closest comparison to Rattlesnake I’ve tried. Pick these ones when they’re speckled purple & cream (no green). We love these so much that I typically plant 2-3 packs of them each summer!
Jade is a wonderful fully-green green bean and I tend to prefer it just slightly to the classic Bush Lake variety.
I grew up eating yellow wax beans my grandma canned herself, and because of that, I can’t help but grow them each summer.
If you’ve never had a Romano bean, you should try them! They’re meant for stewing down, not fresh eating like regular beans. They’re a pole bean variety although there are some bush versions too!
What’s your favorite type of bean to grow?
Honorable Mentions: Summer Squash & Potatoes
Is summer squash good for beginners?
Believe it or not, summer squash is a plant I did not grow for years because it is so easy to purchase and inexpensive to buy at farmers markets! As a former market manager, I had better uses for my limited garden space than large plants that needed lots of space when I could stock up on squash for ~$1/lb.
One of the perks of summer squash plants like zucchini is that they are prolific! You really can supplement your grocery budget with these plants! They also grow anywhere and often show up in people’s compost piles unintentionally.
Challenges with summer squash
These plants take a lot of space & are susceptible to insects, powdery mildew, and blossom end rot. For several years, I had problems growing squash and stunted, weird fruits that didn’t grow well.
Many beginners have amazing & prolific experiences with zucchini, so it won’t hurt to try it!
Are potatoes a good vegetable for beginners?
This one is a little tricky because so many beginners have amazing success with potatoes! I have had some great harvests and just a few issues with rot. However, I know lots of beginner gardeners who have poor potato harvests, too.
My best potato growing experiences were when I grew a local heirloom called Ozette. It’s a fingerling type of potato and is very disease-resistant. Plus, it has a super cool history!
I’ve also grown more conventional potato types like Yukon Gold with some success. Western Washington can be really damp and I’ve had issues with hollow heart, black heart, and rot in my potato patch, too.
But beyond that, I’m growing in a limited space. Potato plants are large and they’ll be in your garden bed from about mid-March through early summer. This is usually the time of year I’m desperate for more garden space, but the potatoes have taken it all!
Since potatoes are so inexpensive to buy, you might just want to buy these at the farmers markets or grocery store.
Want something a little easier? Check out these adorable kitchen herb sets from Urban Leaf!
Remember, no gardener ever has a perfect, faultless year. There will always be crops that grow poorly or not at all and others that thrive unexpectedly! Just keep going and be sure to plant some ego boosters to help you feel great about the work you’re doing!
Tell me – do you agree with my selections or disagree? Which plants do you think are easy crops for beginner gardens? Comment below!
Make the most of your garden harvest
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