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 below.
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Grain amaranth is prized for its highly nutritious, golden seeds. High in protein and well-balanced in amino acids, amaranth has become popular in recent years as a flour. It is also popped and flaked and used like other cereal grains like wheat and oats. Grain amaranth is part of a large genus of plants that includes popular ornamental amaranth, such as love-lies-bleeding with its ropelike strands of flowers and Joseph’s coat with its technicolor foliage. Grain amaranth is less showy, but its culinary uses give it garden accolades. Harvest young leaves for use in salads a month or so after seeding.
Artichoke is a bold plant with huge silvery-green leaves that are finely cut and divided, giving them a thistlelike appearance. The plant’s big flower buds (the outer petals end in thorns that soften when cooked) rise above the clumps of foliage. They have been prized by gourmands for decades, making them some of the more expensive vegetables at the grocery store. If you love these buds, too, growing your own artichoke is a great way to save money. Harvest the flower buds before they bloom, then steam or boil them before scooping out the fleshy inner layer of each bract, as well as from the heart at the base of the bracts.
This South American plant is a close relative of cardoon, and like cardoon, grows well in large containers, garden beds, and borders. This plant behaves as a perennial in Zones 7 and warmer. In areas with colder winters, it can be treated as a long-season annual if started early in spring with harvest in late summer to autumn.
Although arugula has been grown since ancient times, only recently has this member of the cabbage family (it looks like lettuce though) gotten the attention it deserves for its bold, peppery flavor. It’s easy to grow, so plan on planting some so you can toss it into your salads and other dishes. Make sure to harvest the leaves while young. (Mature leaves tend to be bitter.)
Add a touch of the exotic to your vegetable garden with Asian greens. They come in a fascinating array of colors and textures. Some have curled or rounded leaves, while others produce feathery, deeply lobed leaves. Leaf colors range, too, from deep red to light green. Flavors vary from mild to spicy, so experiment -- an easy thing to do because they're fast and easy to grow from an inexpensive packet of seeds.
Plant Asian greens in early spring or late summer so that plants will mature in cool weather.
Like all vegetables, homegrown asparagus is rich in nutrients and abounds in flavor. Asparagus takes a couple of years to get established before producing crops of the bright green stems. Once started, the perennial crop thrives for 10 years or more in many locations.
A cinch to grow in any full-sun garden, beets are a fast-growing, early-spring crop that can be planted a second time in midsummer to yield a fall harvest. When growing beets, keep in mind that both the leaves and the fleshy roots are edible—which makes this vegetable exceptionally productive for small spaces. Beet varieties range from those with deep crimson roots to ones with golden yellow and candy-stripe red-and-white roots. Plant a couple of varieties and explore the different colors. And enjoy the flavor of garden-fresh beets, which is a delicious combination of sweet, rich, hearty, and earthy.
A cinch to grow in home gardens in most regions of the U.S., bell peppers are much more than the classic green bell these days. Survey the supermarket and you’ll see a rainbow of bells for the picking. It is a little more challenging to grow purple, red, and some orange peppers at home as they require an exceptionally long growing season. Green fruits are actually immature peppers. If you leave them on the plant, they eventually will develop one of the other colors, most commonly red, and become sweeter. In growing Zones 7 and up, large multicolored bell peppers are attainable. In Zones 6 and below, grow small sweet peppers and enjoy the same rainbow of hues and crisp, sweet flesh.
Growing broccoli for the first time can be surprising because this vegetable demands just the right conditions to grow perfectly: extended cool weather in spring and fall (or during winter months in mild areas). Instead of gigantic supermarket-size heads, the home gardener will likely get smaller ones—but they’ll also be very tender. The edible part of the plant is actually a cluster of flower buds. Most varieties produce one large head 50 to 55 days after transplanting into the garden. If you leave the plant in place, smaller secondary buds will develop on side shoots. Other cool-season vegetables from the same species (Brassica oleracea) include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi.
Broccoli raab resembles its close cousin broccoli, but it develops multiple clusters of buds instead of one big head and it has a more pronounced flavor. Thankfully, it’s just as easy to grow as broccoli. Plus, it’s ready for harvest much sooner after planting. Simple to start by seeding directly in the garden, nutrient-packed broccoli raab develops tender foliage and stems as well as intense flavor in cool spring and fall weather. Sow a small crop every week for 4 to 6 weeks in early spring for a harvest that extends into early summer.
Brussels sprouts, a slow-growing cool-season vegetable, is a cinch to grow in your garden or in a container. That’s good news because this tasty vegetable is full of vitamins and minerals. You’ll also love the interesting visual character Brussels sprouts brings to plantings.
Grow cabbage in your garden, and you're sure to gain a new appreciation of this ethnic favorite. Cabbage, after all, is a classic vegetable that's been a staple in Western diets for hundreds of years.
If you've ever endured eating overcooked boiled cabbage, you'll enjoy finding better ways to use the tender, homegrown version, especially if you experiment with the many interesting varieties available. There are early, midseason, and late varieties; round, conical, or flat-head types; smooth leaves or savoyed (crinkled) foliage; and colors ranging from yellow green to blue green, deep green, or purplish red. Each has a distinct flavor, with the red types being among the most sweet.
Use homegrown cabbage fresh. Shred and add by the handful to mixed salads. When it's young and tender, it has a more mild flavor. Use it in classic or innovative slaws, too, and you'll find them a treat. Try stuffing large leaves. And, of course, you can always cook them, pickle them, or even make sauerkraut.
Homegrown carrots boast a taste and crunch that is vastly different from their grocery counterparts. Enjoy the snappy crunch of this vegetable’s tap root when eaten raw. Cook carrots (their sweetness intensifies) to create dishes that dance the line between sweet and savory. Full sun and loose, well-drained soil will produce baskets of carrots throughout the growing season.
Growing your own cauliflower requires a little bit of science and a little bit of luck. Meaty, mild, nutty-sweet heads of cauliflower develop in cool weather. An early summer heat wave can thwart the most carefully tended spring cauliflower crop. Similar challenges exist in the fall. But don’t let that stop you from growing this vegetable with its complex flavor and delightfully tender texture. It is worth the effort!
This old-fashioned relative of celery also goes by the name celery root. The edible part is actually an enlarged knob of a stem that grows underground. Peel off the buff or tan outer layer to reveal the crunchy white edible interior.
You can eat it raw, but it's used most often to impart a mild celery flavor in soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, and other hearty baked dishes.
At the end of the 19th century, celery was considered a rare gourmet treat. Hostesses purchased beautiful crystal vaselike celery servers just to showcase this elegant vegetable. Today, we rely on celery as a crunchy, low-calorie treat and the basis for flavoring soups and stews. It's readily available at the supermarket, but you'll have fun growing it at home and will appreciate smaller celery heads, which are more tender and mild flavored.
Homegrown celery is delicious raw in salads and appetizers or cooked in sauces, soups, and stews. It requires a long growing season (at least four months) and grows best in moderate temperatures. Because it takes a long time to mature, start seeds indoors 10-12 weeks before your area's last frost date. Transplant seedlings to the garden after danger of frost has passed.
If you're tired of the same old vegetable side dishes, grow Swiss chard. You'll find dozens of different ways to serve it. The classic preparation is to lightly saute; it in olive oil and garlic. But also use its greens raw in salads. Or sliver the leaves and stems and had several handfuls to a pot of soup.
Swiss chard is an attractive plant, and the newer "rainbow" Swiss chards available are very striking -- and still taste great. You can even include them in a flowerbed! Although flavor is best in cool weather, chard tolerates the heat of summer quite well.
There are two types of Chinese cabbage, Napa and bok choy. Napa types are barrel shape with tightly packed heads. Bok choy types form tall narrow heads with thick white stalks and deep green leaves. Napa types may be shredded and substituted in salads for lettuce. Both types are used stir-fried or steamed.
A staple of bountiful Southern tables, this delightful green is usually "cooked down" with bacon or ham, sometimes by itself and sometimes with an assortment of other greens. It's also great to chop or shred and add to Southern-inspired soups, such as a ham-based or black-eyed pea soup. Plant plenty of collards because even an armload of these greens will cook down to just a few servings.
Collards are closely related to cabbage. Collard stalks and leaves are tough and best eaten cooked. Tear the leaves off the stems and shred them by hand before sauteing them or adding them to soups or stews. For a summer crop, sow seeds four weeks before the last frost date. For a fall crop, sow three months before the first fall frost.
Few things say summer like sweet corn, picked just minutes before eating. Sweet corn starts converting its sugars to starch the second you pick it, so it's hard to find sweet corn more tasty than that from your backyard.
Sweet corn takes space. It's essential to plant a number of rows (more is better) because the ears are wind pollinated and they need the critical mass for best production. For this reason, it's most efficient to plant corn in a block of short rows or hills rather than in a few long rows. Most stalks produce just one or two ears of corn, so plant plenty!
And do what the professionals do: Plant early-, mid-, and late-season varieties to ensure the longest season of harvest, several weeks in late summer. Choose from standard sugary (su), sugar-enhanced (se), and supersweet (sh2) varieties with yellow, white, or bicolor kernels.
This cool-season green has spoon-shape leaves with a mild nutty flavor. Also called mache, it's a gourmet salad green that fetches top dollar at the supermarket. But you can save money by growing it yourself to enjoy its mild nutty flavor right from your garden.
It is sometimes called lamb's lettuce because sheep graze it in Europe. Make successive plantings every three weeks while weather is cool to ensure a steady harvest. Plants lose their nutty flavor as they age. Use corn salad raw in salads or steam or stir-fry with olive oil and garlic. It is hardy to 5 degrees F, so harvests can extend well into fall or winter.