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Vegetables

Vegetables

Growing and harvesting one's own vegetables is one of the most satisfying gardening experiences. But even if you don't want to transform a whole section of your landscape into a vegetable garden, you can grow quite a few vegetable types in small sections, in a container, or even interspersed with non-edibles. To learn how to grow the vegetables best suited to your preferences and location, the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia provides key information such as growth characteristics, mature size, and requirements such as sun, shade, and moisture for each vegetable. You'll also discover how different vegetables perform in different climates, and find out how best to integrate vegetables into your landscape. View a list of vegetables by common name or scientific name.


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57 Vegetables
Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa
Light:
Part Sun, Sun
Height:
Under 6 inches to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Parsnip is a vegetable that might not sound exciting, but it's absolutely delicious in soups and stews, where it adds a sweet note. Parsnips are also great boiled and mashed up with potatoes, adding sweetness and depth to that classic dish.

For the sweetest, nuttiest flavor, allow the cream-color carrotlike roots of parsnips to mature in cool weather. Sow seeds two weeks before the average last frost date in your area. Grow parsnips in raised beds or deep, rich loamy soil to permit the long roots to develop fully.

Pea, Pisum sativum
Light:
Part Sun, Sun
Height:
From 1 to 20 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Peas of all types are among the most coveted of spring vegetables. Peas are a cool-season crop, best grown in spring or fall in most regions. The three main types of garden peas are based on pod type. Most varieties grow best when trellised or trained on a fence.

Green peas -- also called English, pod, or shell peas -- are best picked just an hour or two before serving before their sugars can convert to starches. Be sure to plant plenty, because after all the shelling, there's almost never enough to sate everyone. Tender, sweet spring peas are a treat that's hard to get enough of.

Increasingly popular are snap peas, which bear plump, tender pods that are eaten pod and all. They're gaining fans because they don't need time-consuming shelling and no part of the pod goes to waste.

A favorite for years has been snow peas, which produce flat, tender pods that are eaten before the peas inside the pod swell to full size. They're great in stir-fries and Asian dishes.

Peanut, Arachis hypogaea
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

How fun is it to grow peanuts? They're a great project to do with kids to show how this fascinating plant grows underground. The peanut plant is a warm-weather legume that blooms with yellow flowers. After the flowers fade, short stems called pegs form; in about 10 days, the pegs push their way underground, where shells and nuts form. Plants grow best in well-drained but evenly moist soil.

Potato, Solanum tuberosum
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Tender potatoes, harvested from your backyard, and then boiled and served with plenty of butter, are nothing short of heavenly. Growing potatoes is especially rewarding because there are so many new varieties. Try delicious fingerling and other potatoes, which often come in a rainbow of colors. Skin colors include red, white, blue, tan, and brown, and flesh colors include traditional white as well as yellow, red, blue and bicolors. Pick them small for the most delicate garden treat. Let them get larger if you want to mash or store them.

Potatoes are usually grown from pieces of tuber, called sets or seed potatoes, rather than true seed. Plant them two to four weeks before the last spring frost. After sprouts emerge, mound soil around the stems to shade developing tubers from sun. Exposed tubers turn green, bitter, and mildly toxic (cut out any green portions before serving.)

Pumpkin, Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

From giant pumpkins that can weigh hundreds of pounds to tiny miniature pumpkins that fit neatly in the palm of a child's hand, there's a pumpkin for just about every need, taste, and desire. Growing pumpkins requires ample space. Give pumpkins, especially the larger ones, plenty of space to sprawl. There's a reason they call it a pumpkin patch -- these autumn treasures need room and sprawl several feet out in all directions. Traditional orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins are fun for carving, but also try other-colored pumpkins, from white to buff, blue-green, and scarlet.

Different varieties, to some degree, control the size of pumpkins. But for the very largest pumpkins, be sure to provide a constant supply of moisture, sunshine, and fertilizer.

Radicchio, Cichorium intybus
Light:
Part Sun, Sun
Height:
Under 6 inches to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Radicchio is an excellent addition to salads, adding crunch and a distinctive nutty, pleasantly bitter flavor. Its burgundy color is also gorgeous in among green leaves. Plant radicchio in spring a month before the last frost date or in mid-summer for a fall harvest. Best quality occurs when plants mature during cool weather. After harvest, remove the leaf veins to reduce bitterness.

Radish, Rhaphanus sativus
Light:
Part Sun, Sun
Height:
Under 6 inches
Type:
Vegetable

There are few vegetables that grow as quickly and easily as radishes. (A great reason to plant them with children.) In less than a month from planting from seed, these crunchy, peppery radishes will be ready for serving in salads.

Some types are ready in as little as three weeks from seeding. Larger types, called daikon or winter radishes, require 50 to 55 days to mature. Because they germinate and grow so quickly, radishes are ideal to seed interspersed with slow-to-emerge crops such as carrots and parsnips. The radish seedlings break the soil crust for the slower-growing root crops, and by the time the carrots or parsnips need more space, the radishes will be ready to harvest.

Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Zones:
2-9
Type:
Vegetable

When the first rhubarb is ready to harvest, you know it's spring! This old-fashioned favorite is excellent in pies, crisps, and other desserts. Its distinctive tangy flavor is a classic with strawberries. And it could hardly be easier to grow. Just give it a sunny spot and good sun and your rhubarb plant will reward you with harvests of tart, colorful leafstalks for decades. (The leaves contain oxalic acid, which in certain concentrations is an irritant and mild poison.) The plant grows best in rich, well-drained soil and cool temperatures. Divide plants every six to eight years, or when leafstalks become thin from overcrowding.

Rutabaga, Brassica napus
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Rutabagas aren't just for your Grandpa. A cross between a cabbage and a turnip, rutabaga produces large yellow roots with a sweet, nutty flavor. They are simply delicious boiled and mashed in with potatoes, or even on their own -- something fancy restaurants are doing. Or add them to soups (especially chicken-broth based soups) where they'll add a rich, sweet note. When the roots are young, slice them raw and serve with a dip.

The plant grows best in cool conditions. In warm-summer regions, grow it as a fall crop.

Spinach, Spinacia oleracea
Light:
Part Sun, Sun
Height:
Under 6 inches to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Growing spinach is one of the most rewarding gardening experiences. Tender young spinach, picked fresh from the garden, has no equal -- certainly not in the supermarket. You might not even recognize homegrown spinach as spinach! Use spinach fresh in salads. As the leaves get larger as the season progresses, cook them lightly by steaming or sauteing just for a moment in olive oil with garlic.

The nutritious leaves of spinach are loaded with iron, calcium, protein, and vitamin A. Plant this cool-season crop in early spring or late summer. Wondernig how to grow spinach? In spring, sow as soon as the soil is workable -- four to six weeks before the last frost date. In late summer sow more spinach for fall harvest or to overwinter in a cold frame.

Summer squash, Cucurbita pepo
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Zucchini is the most well-known summer squash, but are other types worth growing, such as crookneck squash. Useful, all-purpose vegetables, summer squash of all sorts are delightful sliced or chopped into salads of all kinds, including pasta salads. It adds a texture and crunch all its own. Or use summer squashes in soups, simmering lightly to preserve their texture. For a simple summer side dish, saute in olive oil, garlic, and oregano.

Summer squashes come in quite a variety. They can be long, straight, and thin like zucchini, have a swollen base and thin, bent top like crookneck squash, be round like a baseball, or even be shaped like a flying saucer. Grow bush types in hills 2 to 3 feet apart in rows 3 to 5 feet apart. Plants are notoriously prolific producers, so you may need only one or two to supply your needs.

Sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas
Light:
Sun
Height:
From 1 to 8 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Sweet potatoes are undergoing a renaissance. Once a sticky, frumpy food eaten only at Thanksgiving, a renewed appreciation for this root vegetable's powerful nutritional value has made it popular once again. Go ahead and mash sweet potatoes with maple syrup or use them in a marshmallow-studded casserole, but also try baking them like regular potatoes or cutting them into strips, tossing it with oil, and roasting at a high heat for sweet potato oven fries.

The fleshy roots of sweet potato are often mistakenly called yams, which are a different tropical root crop. Sweet potatoes require a long, warm growing season to mature -- which is why they've been a Southern favorite. Plant slips (sprouts) of sweet potatoes after spring weather has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. In cool-summer areas, plant the slips through slits in black plastic mulch, which will warm the soil and speed development.

Tomatillo, Physalis ixocarpa
Light:
Sun
Height:
From 1 to 8 feet
Type:
Vegetable

If you love to eat Mexican food, grow tomatillos! Resembling tiny green tomatoes, they have a delightfully citrusy, acidic flavor that's wonderful in salsas for dipping and sauces for cooking, as in chile verde. Grow tomatillos as you would tomatoes. Plant in rich soil after danger of spring frost has passed. Cage or stake plants to keep fruit off the ground. The 2- to 3-inch diameter fruits will develop inside intriguing papery husks.

Tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum
Light:
Sun
Height:
From 1 to 20 feet
Type:
Vegetable

What could taste better than a perfect red garden tomato still warm from the sun? Tomatoes are the most popular homegrown vegetable for good reason. Growing tomatoes is cost-effective because not only will you eat them, but they can save you big on your grocery bill, especially if you freeze them whole or make spaghetti sauce.

Tomatoes need heat, water, and fertile soil to grow their best. Wait until after danger of frost has passed to set out transplants, provide regular water throughout the growing season, and fertilize monthly to ensure abundant harvests. Tomato plants are classified either as indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate plants grow all season, continuing to bloom and produce fruit as long as weather conditions are favorable. Determinate plants grow to a certain size, set fruit, and stop growing.

Turnip, Brassica rapa
Light:
Part Sun, Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Turnips were once the most popular choice for home gardens, and for good reason. They're easy to grow, and once you start using them in your cooking, you'll never look back. These cabbage relatives grown for their spicy greens and mild tasting roots. The roots are a good addition to salads, pickled, or cooked in soups, stews, and side dishes. Or try them boiled and mashed in with potatoes. They add a sweet note to whatever dish they're included in. The greens are a classic cooked with ham or bacon in Southern dishes. Or add them fresh to salads or toss a few handfuls, chopped, into a stirfy.

Turnips grow best in cool conditions, so plant them early in spring or in late summer for a fall crop.

Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Grow a summer feast! A single homegrown watermelon makes a refreshing hot-weather dessert or special snack for a crowd. And there's a vast array of different types of watermelon out there to grow, too. They may be round icebox types or oval picnic types. The flesh may be red, yellow, orange or pink, and the size ranges from a few pounds to nearly 200 pounds. Watermelons require heat to germinate and grow well. Wait until two weeks after your last frost date to sow seeds, or in short-season regions, start seeds indoors four weeks before the last frost date. Provide plenty of room for plants to sprawl, and keep them watered well to speed development.

Winter squash, Cucurbita_ spp.
Light:
Sun
Height:
1 to 3 feet
Type:
Vegetable

Winter squashes are a welcome late summer and fall addition to seasonal meals. Stuff them, roast them, bake them, or turn them into hearty soups and stews. And grow plenty, because they store beautifully for months at room temperature. Winter squashes come in an amazing array of shapes and colors. All need rich, fertile soil and adequate heat and water to produce their best. In cool-summer areas lay black plastic mulch over the planting beds to warm the soil and sow seeds or set transplants through holes in the plastic. Provide 1 to 2 inches of water per week through the growing season. Give the plants an extra dose of fertilizer once the vines begin to run.

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