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 easy crops for beginner gardeners to feel like a success right away!
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. 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!
5 Easy Crops 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! 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!
Note: 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. 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. 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!
PRO TIP: Succession plant your greens every 1-2 weeks to have fresh greens all summer long! Many beginner gardeners plant one set of seeds for greens and when they are done, they are done.
3. Onion Sets
There are two ways to grow onions: sets and seeds. Seeds, of course, are little black seeds that take most of the year to grow. 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 and easy and reliable way of growing onions.
Onion sets are often available at gardening centers in the spring, often for 50 sets for a few dollars. I very rarely have any problems growing onions from sets and they always make me feel like a good gardener! They are very easy crops for beginner gardeners. Just plant them in the spring and water regularly. They can be pulled as green onions early in the year or left to bulb. Just know that these plants are on their second year, so they will want to bolt later in the summer. When this happens, they will form a large sugary stem in the middle of the bulb. They can be eaten when they are bolting, but they are not desirable and will not store well.
Onion seeds can be fussy business and generally, the only people I know who grow onions from seeds are (myself and) professional farmers.
So this one may be controversial as there are many risks to growing potatoes…But, I’ve generally had very good and easy experiences with this plant, especially as a beginner gardener! I often buy these at the same time and the same stores as onion sets. You can try to regrow potatoes from the grocery store, but those may be less consistent or have pesticides, etc. I always just buy seed potatoes or save seed from my own crop the previous year. My favorite varieties to grow are Yukon Gold or a local heirloom called Ozette.
Just know that if you are growing potatoes, you’ll need to dig them pretty deep. I always plant on St. Patrick’s Day, and I try to water them regularly. You may need to “hill” your potatoes if the soil near the roots of the plants is exposed. Potatoes that are not hilled can turn green from too much sunlight. You don’t want green potatoes! To hill potatoes, simply add more dirt to the bottom of your plants.
This year, my plants were so massive that the leaves shaded the soil. I did not hill them at all because there was so little sunlight hitting the ground anyway! However, several of my potato plants were hit with a fungus or disease that caused the plants to totally rot overnight. I had to watch my plants carefully to make sure this wasn’t spreading and I immediately pulled out any diseased plants. There were probably 3 with this issue that I removed, but the potatoes underground were not affected and I had a great harvest!
4. Green Beans
Beyond being delicious, I rarely have germination or pest problems with green beans! You’ll get a good harvest off the plants and be able to pick them for a couple weeks! I really love succession planting green beans for a harvest all summer long. Plant a variety of beans, including regular green beans (like the Blue Lake variety), my all-time favorite Dragon Tongue, then a yellow wax bean, and then probably even more Dragon Tongue! I even buy bean seeds in bulk!
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. Bush beans, however, do not need to vine or be staked at all. Simply plant, water regularly, and let them grow!
Beans are also nitrogen fixers, so they are GREAT for the soil! Clearly, they are easy crops for beginner gardeners!
Honorable Mention: Summer Squash
Believe it or not, summer squash is a plant I often do NOT grow 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.
Why didn’t this make the list for the top 5 easy plants for beginner gardeners? Squash plants have a few cons besides taking up a good amount of space: they are susceptible to insects, powdery mildew, and blossom end rot. Even as a rather experienced gardener, half of my squash plants this year have blossom end rot and needed supplementary calcium. In the past, I had issues with small, dried out squashes and plants that just did not produce well. This is one plant that has been tricky for me every time I grow it when many other novice gardeners grow it with no problem!
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!