What to Grow in Your First Vegetable Garden

lettuce in first vegetable garden

Romaine lettuce grows in window boxes on a deck.

Time at home and concern about the global pandemic have prompted a lot of folks to consider planting a vegetable garden this year, maybe for the first time. We love that! And, you can check out our resource hub for information or register for one of our free webinars on vegetable gardening.

But what to grow in that first garden?

The cardinal rule of vegetable gardening is grow what you eat. So, even though tomatoes are the most popular vegetable to grow in the United States, try something else if you don't like raw tomatoes. You also want to choose vegetables that match your light conditions. If the sun shines less than 6 to 8 hours a day in the spot where you are growing your vegetables, your best bet may be lettuce and other greens, which still produce in shadier conditions. If you are growing in containers — a good option for smaller gardens or deck gardens — purchase "starts" of plants that don't get too big. Your local garden center is open and can help you choose the right plants for your garden -- many have great online resources and curbside pickup.

Here's what I would choose for a first garden.

Lettuce and radishes: Plant some lettuce (either starts or seeds) and radishes now. These will grow and fill out by mid to late June when the other plants in the garden get bigger. Or, you could start some now, then start a new batch every four weeks for a more continuous supply.  Both are super easy and quick to harvest.

Beans and summer squash. When the weather gets warmer in late May, plant some pole beans and summer squash nearby. If you have more room, bush beans are great too. You will need a support, such as a trellis or bamboo teepee structure, to give the pole beans room to grow up.


Many varieties of tomatoes do well in containers. They are a good choice for a first garden.

Tomatoes or peppers. Finally, purchase one or more tomato or pepper starts and plant them in early June. These like heat and sun and will be ready for harvest in August, depending on the type you plant. Personally, I think the cherry tomatoes are easier to get a good harvest from, but if you like a big, old slicing tomato -- go for it! Support, such as a tomato cage, helps keep the plants off the ground.

Be sure to keep your vegetable garden well-watered -- the equivalent of an inch or more of rain per week — and enjoy the harvests.

For more links to vegetable gardening articles, videos and other resources, please check out our Resource Hub.

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  1. Kathy Carlson on May 8, 2022 at 2:44 pm

    When should you plant pumpkin seed?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 8, 2022 at 4:04 pm

      Pumpkin and other winter squashes like a warmer soil. Wait until after the last frost date and the soil is above 50 degrees. You could also start some seeds indoors in pots and plant them out after they have a couple of sets of leaves.

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