Get the very best flavors from your summer garden by recognizing the clues each crop gives when it's prime for picking.

Wondering if you're pulling up your radishes and carrots at the right size? Or are you worried about picking watermelons too early and plucking your tomatoes too late from the vine? Each type of fruit and veggie has an ideal window for harvesting, so once you know the clues to look for, you can take a lot of guesswork out of the equation. The perfect month or week to harvest can vary by region and growing conditions, but you can always rely on your produce to let you know when it's ready to be picked; keep an eye out for these signs in your veggie garden for the best time to harvest cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, and more.

Patio tomatoes
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

1 Tomatoes

Why do garden-fresh tomatoes taste so good? Their sweet tang comes from fully ripening in the sun. Pick ripe, juicy tomatoes from the plant to your plate every time.

Harvest Season: Yield times vary, but most types are in bumper-crop mode from mid-July through September.

How You Know It's Ripe: The tomato uniformly reaches its mature color (whether it's red, orange, or yellow) and pulls easily from the stem.

Test Garden Tip: Keep picked tomatoes at room temperature; refrigeration diminishes flavor and texture. If the first frost is coming soon, harvest all full-size fruits, even if completely green; keep them in a cool area, and most will eventually ripen.

ear of corn growing on stalk in garden
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

2 Sweet Corn

After maturing in your garden and roasting on your grill, this sweet corn can't wait to jump on your plate. Corn on the cob is a delicacy for every backyard barbecue and family get-together. You truly can't get quicker, or sweeter, corn on the cob than that.

Harvest Season: Successive sowings of corn in spring bring yields from mid-July to September.

How You Know It's Ripe: The silks turn brown but not dry. Kernels are formed and full all the way to the top. Dimpled kernels are past peak.

Test Garden Tip: Sugar-enhanced (SE) hybrids, such as Peaches & Cream and Kandy Korn, retain their sweetness longer than older types, which start mellowing the moment they're picked. Store SE types (in their husks) in the refrigerator for up to a week, or blanch and freeze for up to a year.

box full of garlic cloves from garden
Credit: Jeff Kauck

3 Garlic

Spice up your food with your own ripe and juicy garlic from your garden! A great seasoning for any hearty dish, garlic is always the answer to the "it's missing something" question. This deliciously pungent bulb is worth the nine-month wait between planting and harvesting.

Harvest Season: Unlike its spring-planted onion cousins, garlic is planted in fall and harvested the following summer, in late July or after.

How You Know It's Ripe: The cloves are full and firm. As soon as the tops of plants start to turn brown, dig up one bulb to check. If cloves are plump, not shriveled, they're ready to harvest.

Test Garden Tip: Cure bulbs (with leaves attached) for two to four weeks in a warm, shady spot, then cut off the tops. Store bulbs up to six months in a cool place.

stack of picked watermelons
Credit: Andy Lyons

4 Watermelon

Serve juicy watermelon at any summer get-together. This summer favorite is worth the three-month wait for a tasty treat. You might've heard thumping is the traditional test for ripeness, but it's not the best test for when to harvest watermelon.

Harvest Season: Most melon varieties mature in late summer and early fall.

How You Know It's Ripe: The green, curly tendrils near the stem start to dry out and turn brown.

Test Garden Tip: Another way to know if your watermelons are ripe? Carefully lift them up and check the spot on the bottom that's usually resting on the ground; when the melon is ripe, it'll change color from pale green or white to yellow.

'Marketer' cucumber
Credit: Jay Wilde

5 Cucumbers

In a pickle over what to use these veggies for? If you're not in the mood for a salad, try canning your cucumbers to create homemade, juicy pickles. Or use fresh, crisp cucumber for you next spa day. Cool, crunchy cukes can be picked at any stage, from gherkin-size to full-size.

Harvest Season: Cucumbers come on strong in the heat of midsummer. With regular picking, vines will continue to produce through early fall.

How You Know It's Ripe: The spiny, bumpy skin of a small cucumber smooths out. However, small cukes are crisper and less seedy, great for eating and pickling! At their peak, most varieties are about 2 inches in diameter and 5-8 inches long.

Test Garden Tip: It's best to err on the immature side, as cucumbers can turn from just right to overripe overnight. Refrigerate for up to a week.

potatoes in wheelbarrow
Credit: Marty Baldwin

6 Potatoes

Make some extra-cheesy potatoes au gratin or garlic mashed potatoes from your very own garden. Dig up spuds at any size, from small new potatoes to full-size keepers.

Harvest Season: Potato hills can supply your meals with a fresh daily starch from July through October.

How You Know It's Ripe: For mature storage potatoes, harvest when plant tops die back. For new potatoes, begin harvesting two weeks after plants bloom.

Test Garden Tip: Potatoes keep longer in storage if they're left in the ground until skins toughen up. Don't water after the tops die back. Cure mature potatoes in a cool, dark, humid place (such as a basement) for two weeks. Ideal winter storage is darkness and a temp of 40-45°F, so your garage or basement might provide perfect conditions.

Thai Hot pepper
Credit: Marty Baldwin

7 Hot Peppers

Some like 'em hot. Others opt for incendiary. Spice up your plate with some hot peppers that will be sure to have you sniffling. Spiciness varies by type and degree of ripeness.

Harvest Season: All peppers produce from midsummer until frost.

How You Know It's Ripe: A fruit reaches full size and begins to color up. This is when flavor and heat peak. However, most peppers are delicious at any size.

Test Garden Tip: Before frost, pick all peppers, even small ones. Fresh peppers last a week or more refrigerated; excess can be frozen, dried, or canned.

onions sitting on soil in garden with sprouts
Credit: Jay Wilde

8 Onions

Don't cry over onions (or should you?). Pick some extra-teary onions this year for delicious dishes. It's easy to reap a year's worth of this kitchen staple from just a few rows.

Harvest Season: Early summer to fall.

How You Know It's Ripe: The green tops flop over in midsummer, signaling that onions have reached full size. For young scallions, harvest when shoots reach 10-12 inches.

Test Garden Tip: Cure storage onions in a shady area or garage for a few weeks. Once skins are dry, cut off tops and store in a cool place indoors.

Comments (1)

Better Homes & Gardens Member
July 14, 2018
Great advice! Don't always know when to harvest veggies. How about sweet potatoes? When to harvest them? Also, zucchini? I had trouble growing them.