Start your home gardening journey with this list of 12 easy-to-grow vegetables and herbs for beginners. Whether you’re growing in containers or garden beds, you’ll find recommendations — plus 3 bonus veggies and herbs! — and growing tips that will help you nurture a successful harvest your first time out. So, get your green thumbs ready, and let’s take a look at the best vegetables to grow for beginners.
As a 30+ year vegetable gardener, I’m obviously very biased in favor of growing edibles in the home garden. When I was young — stay with me now, it’s a very short story lol — most everyone in the neighborhood grew vegetables. Just a small plot in the backyard with some tomatoes, green beans, and maybe bell peppers. It was no big deal, it’s just what we did.
Today, I’m the only person in the surrounding area with a backyard garden, except for the community garden on church property behind me. I don’t know why growing vegetables at home fell out of favor. Maybe people confuse gardening with homesteading or small farming, thinking that the effort has to be large and expansive in order to be worth it.
But even with my experience and passion for vegetable gardening, I don’t grow to stock the larder for winter or to sell at farmers’ markets. Both are great reasons, but I grow for the simple joy of a fresh tomato salad with burrata and basil. Or the brief run of homemade salsa with homegrown tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, garlic, and cilantro, all freshly picked. Or the special treat that is pickled green tomatoes at the end of the season.
So if you’ve been wanting to grow something at home but are afraid you’re not up to the task, let me reassure you that you are. Because you’re not alone. And I don’t just mean that I’m here to help with information.
It might sound goofy, but Nature is already on your side: Food is literally meant to grow from the ground. Of course, not everything will grow everywhere — tomatoes will not grow in the Arctic — but if you’re in the United States, something will grow in the environment where you live.
How do I know what will grow here?
The answer to this one is easy: Visit your local garden center and see what they have to offer. Local businesses will only sell what can be supported in the area’s environment, so take notes — buy a starter plant if you must (and I always must, I can’t resist, lol) — and plan your garden from there.
You can also do some research online, if you’re curious about vegetables that the local stores don’t carry. This information is readily available and almost all seed sellers include some kind of information about environmental requirements for every plant, whether it’s minimum-maximum temperatures or growing zones (learn more about hardiness zones and how to find yours).
Easy to Grow Vegetables
I love and regularly grow all of the vegetables on this list, and I’ve ordered them more or less by what goes in the ground first. Radishes, for example, are cool-weather crops that can be sowed as soon everything stops freezing the heck over, while garlic must wait until fall (for a next-spring harvest).
I’m adding a “hands-off” rating to indicate how much ongoing effort it takes to maintain the plants once they sprout (so, not including initial seeding/planting and watering):
1 = no effort: plant, wait, and harvest
10 = a lot of effort
Now, effort is not a bad thing at all, and tooling around the garden and doing a little pruning or fertilizing is a completely lovely way to enjoy a summer morning. But I wanted to give you an idea of what you’re looking at when you choose your vegetables.
I’ll also note whether it’s better to plant seeds or buy starter plants from the garden center. Some vegetables are ridiculously easy to grow from seeds while others might have a degree of germination failure (or have special requirements, like tomatoes), so it’s safer to buy starter plants. (Note: all gardeners experience seeds that don’t sprout or thrive. It’s not a personal failure or lack of skill; it’s more a matter of one’s patience and tolerance for risk.)
So, let’s get to the list, and don’t forget the three bonus edibles at the end!
These fast-growing root vegetables can be easily grown from seed and harvested in as little as three to four weeks. They’ll grow quite happily in both containers and garden beds and can tolerate the cool/cold temps of late spring quite well. You don’t need to fertilize and you’ll encounter few, if any pests, during their quick growing season.
Effort: 1 (seriously: sow the seeds, wait until you see the colorful globes starting to peek from the ground, pull, eat, enjoy. The leaves are edible, too!)
A cool-season crop that’s ideal for beginners, lettuce grows well from seed in either containers or in garden beds. You can also buy starter plants to get a jump on harvesting. Individual leaves can be picked as you need them throughout the growing season (or you can pull the whole head at once).
Lettuce does not like heat, so if your spring temps take an unexpected swing upwards — here, it always hits the 90s over Memorial Day weekend, and then drops back down to normal — you’ll need to protect crop from the hot sun if you want to extend the growing season (e.g., drape a shade cloth over some stakes to form an airy tent).
Like lettuce, this nutrient-rich leafy green is easily grown from seed and thrives in spring’s cool temperatures. It can be grown in both garden beds and containers. With a relatively quick growth cycle, spinach can be harvested multiple times throughout the season by just picking what you need, allowing you to enjoy a continuous supply of fresh, tender leaves.
Additionally, spinach is quite forgiving, tolerating a variety of soil types and partial shade, which means it can flourish in a range of garden conditions.
Peas including snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas, are a delightfully easy crop for beginner gardeners to grow. These cool-weather-loving legumes can be planted in early spring or late summer, providing you with a delicious harvest during cooler parts of the growing season. They’re very easy to grow from seed.
Peas can be grown in both garden beds and containers, and their compact size makes them an ideal choice for small-space gardening. Pea vines are quite long, however, so you will need to get them off the ground by trellising them up on a support of some kind. But they’re otherwise low maintenance. (Learn more about how to grow peas)
Green beans are an excellent choice for all gardeners due to their carefree growth and low-maintenance requirements. Available in both bush and pole varieties, these versatile beans can be grown in containers (try a bush variety with a simple cage for support) or garden beds (try a pole variety with trellis support), making them suitable for a range of gardening setups.
Green beans thrive in well-drained soil and full sun, and they typically produce a bountiful harvest with minimal care. The plants are relatively hardy and resistant to common garden pests, reducing the need for extensive pest management. As the beans mature, they can be picked multiple times throughout the growing season, ensuring a continuous supply of fresh, flavorful beans.
Carrots are an accessible and rewarding crop for beginner gardeners, known for their adaptability and low-maintenance requirements. These root vegetables can be grown in both garden beds and containers, making them suitable for various garden setups.
Carrots thrive in well-drained, loose soil, which allows their colorful roots to grow and expand long and straight. Although they prefer full sun, they can tolerate partial shade, making them a flexible choice for gardens with varying light conditions.
Carrots are easily grown from seed and come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors (white, yellow, orange, red, purple), offering an opportunity for gardeners to experiment with different varieties. While they may require thinning to prevent overcrowding after sprouting, carrots generally need minimal care throughout the growing season.
One caveat, however, is the foliage. Carrots produce a beautiful, landscape-worthy canopy of leafy, edible greens. Unfortunately, these greens are irresistible to deer, who will eat them down to the ground. Sowing in a fenced area is recommended.
Do I ever love growing sweet potatoes! The most difficult part about growing sweet potatoes is obtaining the “slips”: bare-rooted sprouts that are best purchased from experienced growers (easily found online, including Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, etc.).
Once you plant the slips (just as you would a regular starter plant), however, you just stand back and watch it go! The potatoes grow beneath the soil, of course, while the plant up top produces long and lush-leafed vines.
You can grow sweet potatoes in either a container or in the ground. Note, however, that the plants are prolific viners and will need a fairly large plot — say, minimum 6′ x 6′ — for the vines to roam.
If you go the container route, I recommend purchasing a potato grow bag (like this one) to help manage the plant and harvest the tubers with minimal damage. You’ll still need plenty of room for the vines to roam.
Note that standard white potatoes, which are not botanically related to sweet potatoes at all, grow vertically, so the photos you’ll see for grow bags are likely featuring bushy white potatoes, not vining sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes get a medium effort rating because you have to take care when harvesting at the end of the season. The potatoes grow in large clusters underground and there’s no way to know exactly where until you start digging. And sometimes you have to dig deep to get them all out. Worth it! (Learn more about growing sweet potatoes)
Bell peppers — or, really, any pepper variety — are wonderfully easy to grow, and are hardy plants that thrive in either containers or garden beds. You’ll need to keep up with watering during dry stretches, and fertilizing throughout the season.
But they’re pretty free from pest and critter problems and will produce peppers throughout the season until cold weather stops them … well, cold. They thrive in both containers and garden beds. Whether in the ground or in containers, they’ll need support of some kind, such as a stake or slim cage.
Peppers can be grown from seed if you can start late winter/early spring, and have the setup indoors to manage light and heat. Most garden centers carry the popular varieties, so purchasing a starter plant is a great idea.
Also note that bell peppers are edible at all stages of ripeness, from green to red. The green bell peppers you buy at the grocery store are just unripe red bell peppers.
It’s very likely that you’ve heard the (sub)urban legend of zucchini gardens so prolific that neighbors find mystery donations lol of the summer squash on their porches in the mornings.
It’s not far from the truth. Zucchini plants can be very, very prolific to the point where it’s hard to keep up with the harvest. Because no matter how much you love spiralized zucchini, there’s only so much a person can eat in a day.
Summer squash in general is a fairly low-maintenance plant: easy to grow but is susceptible to diseases like powdery mildew that you have to stay on top of.
Very easy to grow from seed, but you should also be able to find starter plants at the garden center. Ideally, you’ll grow at least three plants located together in the garden. Keep in mind that summer squash is a mid-sized viner, and will need a little room to spread (not as much as sweet potatoes, though).
You need multiple plants because zucchini produces two types of flowers, male and female, and both need to be blooming at the same time, with pollinators, such as bees, present to move pollen from the male flower to the female flower. The more plants you have, the better the odds of producing fruit. (Learn more about squash pollination.)
My garden just isn’t complete without a crop of cucumbers. Cucumbers are related to squash, like zucchini, so right off the bat, you can guess that you’ll need room for their vines.
They’re vines are long, but slender and lightweight, and are better trailed up a support of some kind, like a trellis or fence. The plants can be grown close together, so you can plan on 5 or 10 plants in a relatively small space (4′ or so).
Cucumbers are easily grown from seed, but to get a head start, you can buy plants from the garden center. Mine usually carry several varieties, including field cucumbers (the long, smooth green cukes you find at the grocery) as well as the smaller pickling varieties.
I’ve tried them all, and my preference is the pickling varieties, even for fresh eating. They’re sweet and crispy and perfect for salads and dipping.
These are truly magical plants for the cook and home gardener. Scallions are a member of the onion family and grow in small, slender lengths, about the size of an extra-long pencil. Cooks value them mostly for the green tops, which have a mild and astringent onion flavor that makes a beautiful garnish for all types of dishes, including tacos, chicken salad, brothy Asian soups, etc.
The fascinating part, however, is that when you’re growing them in the home garden, you don’t pull the entire plant at harvest, the way you would a standard globe onion. Instead, you snip off the greens, leaving an inch or two behind, with the small white, rooted bulb still in the soil. That bulb will regrow the scallion!
Because I’m an avid cook, I grow green onions in large window boxes on a sunny porch near my kitchen door. They can absolutely be grown in garden beds, but in containers, I can be sure they’re protected from furry woodland creatures stomping through my gardens at night.
You can grow scallions from seed, or you can actually buy organic green onions at the grocery store — make sure they come with roots — and plant those. Give them a week or so in the soil before doing the first “harvest.”
Garlic is my second favorite crop behind tomatoes to grow in the garden. So wonderfully easy for such as complex-looking vegetable. You plant cloves in the fall and next spring/early summer you’ll have a beautiful crop.
You’ll need to source garlic from actual growers, but no worries there: you can find beautiful seed garlic at just about every online nursery. Crops are harvested in June and July, after which the bulbs need to be cured for a bit for longevity. So if you want to grow garlic next year, start looking online in July and August for the best selection.
Or stop by your local farmers’ market to see if your favorite sellers have garlic bulbs. Don’t buy grocery store garlic: They’ve been treated with growth inhibitors so that they don’t sprout during shipping or on the shelf at the grocery store.
Garlic can be grown in either containers or in garden beds, but if you plant them in a container, give the pot lots of protection, such as bringing it inside — such as an unheated garage — to protect it from extreme winter weather. Learn more about planting and caring for garlic.
Bonus vegetables and herbs
You might have noticed that I didn’t include tomatoes in the list above. It’s not that tomatoes are particularly difficult or complex to grow, but rather that the overall effort is a solid 10 out of 10. From the day they’re sowed to the day their transplanted to the ground to the day the ginormous plants are torn down at the end of the season, tomatoes are definitely not hands-off.
But as my very favorite thing to grow in the garden, they’re absolutely worth it. I did, however, bump them to this bonus list in case the commitment is a bit much for the first year. Honestly, I would say, give one plant a try, but I do want to be upfront about the effort.
For the first year, I recommend buying starter plants from the local store, or ordering them online. Starting tomatoes from seed isn’t complex, but it has to be done indoors under proper conditions and is not a hands-off situation.
Don’t believe what you might read about some patio or dwarf tomato varieties not needing staking. I’ve grown a hundred varieties of tomatoes, and if they’re happy, they’re going to be heavy plants that need support!
Staking or fencing tomatoes is not a big deal, but it’s one of the very not-hands-off factors in growing tomatoes. In fact, the most popular and flavorful tomato varieties grow quite large and most definitely need support.
Here’s a photo of one of my past gardens, with (slightly blurry) tomatoes in the back rows lining an 8′ tall privacy fence. These tomatoes actually scaled the top and cascaded down the other side — a good 12′ worth of vines.
Make no mistake: Happy tomato plants get big! Dwarf and patio varieties will grow in a pot, but they’ll still need support and attention.
Even though this list is really about vegetables, I just had to include some herbs. And one of my favorites to grow is mint. Fresh mint is so lovely, and I add it to everything from iced water with lime to green salads.
This is one plant that I highly recommend you grow in a pot, rather than planting it in the ground. Mint spreads aggressively underground and once established, it’s very difficult to get rid of. But, it’s a beautiful potted plant that returns year after year. Learn more about growing mint.
Mint is not easily grown from seed, so you’ll want to buy a starter plant early in the spring and transplant to a roomy pot.
And I’ll cap off this list with one last herb that goes so beautifully with summer’s fresh veggies. Basil is easily grown in either containers or in garden beds. There are many, many varieties of basil to choose from, and most garden centers usually carry a nice selection. You can grow from seed, but you shouldn’t have trouble finding basil starter plants near you.
Basil leaves can be picked throughout the growing season as you need them. Prune off any flower buds that appear to keep the plant focusing on leaf production rather than seed production.
Sometime in mid-summer, give the plant a haircut by pruning it back by half. This will cause the plant to send out new branches and produce even more leaves.
I hope this list of easy-to-grow vegetables has inspired you to plant something this year. Get your feet wet (literally and figuratively) and discover the joy of growing edibles at home!