These 11 Easy-to-Grow Plants Are Perfect for First-Time Gardeners

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Few moments are as satisfying as your first bite of a garden-grown tomato or making a batch of pesto with basil you harvested yourself. Whether you're digging a backyard plot or planning container plantings for your patio, deck, or fire escape, you can grow your own vegetables, flowers, and herbs this season—and these plants will help even beginners and black thumbs make it happen.

Here are 11 of our favorite easy plants to grow in your garden.

Meet the Expert

Alexandra Jones is a certified master gardener in Philadelphia. As an indoor and outdoor gardener, Jones is an author in topics like gardening, climate, urban farming, and sustainability.

01 of 11

Lettuce

closeup of red and green lettuces in garden

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  • Botanical Name: Lactuca sativa
  • Sun Exposure: Light shade to full sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–6.5

Tender greens like lettuce are some of the quickest, earliest, and easiest vegetables you can grow in spring. Plant seeds as soon as the ground can be worked, and you'll be making salad with your very own greens in as little as 4 weeks.

Look for cut-and-come-again varieties, which regrow after harvest, or plant new successions every 2 weeks to have a continuous supply through spring. Other varieties, typically head lettuce like Summer Crisp, can be planted into warm summer weather.

02 of 11

Radishes

red, white, purple, and gold radishes freshly harvested from garden

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  • Botanical Name: Raphanus sativus
  • Sun Exposure: Light shade to full sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0-7.0

Radishes are another easy-growing garden crop: Seed them in late winter or early spring for harvest as soon as three weeks later. There are tons of colorful varieties beyond your basic reds—mild French Breakfast, tiny Cherry Belle, and multicolored Easter Egg are some of our favorites.

A few popular varieties, like spicy Nero Tondo black radishes and trendy green-and-pink watermelon radishes, take longer to grow but provide beautiful color and lots of flavor.

03 of 11

Kale

white person's hands inspecting curly kale leaf on garden plant

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  • Botanical Name: Brassica oleracea var. acephala
  • Sun Exposure: Light shade to full sun
  • Soil Type: Rich, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.5–6.8

You can never have too much kale for smoothies, salads, sautees, and tons of other recipes. Different varieties of kale, like curly, lacinato, Red Russian, and Winterbor, are all easy to grow from seed in early spring.

Watch out for pesky orange-and-black harlequin beetles, which will chew holes in the leaves of brassicas like kale, cabbage, mustard greens, and arugula. Pick them off and drop them in a bucket of soapy water, or cover your kale with a floating row cover to protect them after planting.

04 of 11

Peas

snap peas growing on leafy pea plants

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  • Botanical Name: Pisum sativum 
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–7.5

Peas are one of our favorite early summer harvests, especially sweet, juicy varieties like snow peas and sugar snap peas in which the whole pod can be eaten. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked while the weather is still cool—February through April, depending on your growing zone. Your harvest will be perfect for salads, sautés, and stir fries.

Peas are ready to pick when they're plump and juicy—just don't leave them on the plant too long, or they'll become tough and lose their sweetness.

05 of 11

Sunflowers

closeup of yellow and brown sunflower with green and orange plants in background

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  • Botanical Name: Helianthus annuus
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Loose, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–7.5

You probably planted sunflower seeds in a paper cup when you were a kid—these big, beautiful flowers are just that easy to grow. There are a ton of varieties available, from lower-growing types that are great for cut flowers to giant cultivars that tower 12 feet tall at maturity.

Plant them in a spot where you won't mind having sunflowers year after year, as the plants can reseed aggressively.

06 of 11

Cherry Tomatoes

basket of red and yellow tomatoes on patio with garden and watering can in background

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  • Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Rich, well-draining soil
  • Soil pH: 6.2–6.5

If you're new to gardening, it's tempting to try growing your favorite heirloom veggies—but some of those tomatoes can be tricky. Cherry tomatoes, however, are easy to grow, with an abundant harvest you can snack on while you pick. They're great for containers on your patio, porch, or fire escape, too.

Be sure to pinch away suckers, the shoots that grow from where branches and the main stem meet, to help concentrate growth into flowers and fruit. Use a tomato cage or stakes and string to support your plant, as cherry tomatoes can grow big and bushy by high summer.

07 of 11

Marigold

bright orange marigolds growing in garden

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  • Botanical Name: Tagetes
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–7.5

Some plants are just good for each other. That's the idea behind companion planting, in which different plants are paired to help one (or both) grow better.

Marigolds and tomatoes have long been planted together, and now we know why: The flowers release a compound called limonene, which helps keep pests like whiteflies away from other crops like tomatoes. Plus, the cheery orange and yellow color of marigolds makes a beautiful border around your tomato plants.

08 of 11

Basil

basil plants in orange terra cotta pots on windowsill

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  • Botanical Name: Ocimum basilicum
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–7.0

Tomatoes and basil go together in so many delicious dishes, so it's only natural that they'd be BFFs in the garden, too. This fragrant herb makes another excellent companion plant for your tomato plantings—plus, it's great for pestos, pasta, and tons of other preparations in the kitchen.

Once your plants have about six leaves, pinch off the top set to encourage them to branch out into a fuller, bushier shape. Do the same when blooms appear—you want the plant to focus on making more foliage, not flowers.

09 of 11

Nasturtium

nasturtium plants in garden with orange and yellow flowers

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  • Botanical Name:  Tropaeolum majus
  • Sun Exposure: Light shade to full sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.5–7.5

This attractive flowering herb does double duty: Its bright red, orange, and yellow flowers beautify your garden, while both blooms and leaves can be harvested to add spicy, peppery flavor to salads, pestos, and more.

Soak seeds in water the night before planting to help with germination, then direct seed in the ground, as nasturtiums don't transplant well. Spilling varieties make great additions to window boxes and containers, while climbing varieties are best trellised to give them some support.

10 of 11

Potatoes

freshly dug white potatoes on soil with pitchfork in background

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  • Botanical Name: Solanum tuberosum
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Rich, loose, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 4.8–5.5

Yes, you can grow your own potatoes—and freshly dug spuds are so delicious, you won't want to go back to store-bought. Source seed potatoes in spring or save organic potatoes from the farmers' market, and keep them on the counter until the eyes have begun to sprout. Cut the potatoes so each piece has a few eyes, then let them sit out for three to five days to allow the cuts to callus.

Plant the pieces in early spring with their eyes pointing up in garden beds or large containers. When the vines begin to die back in early to midsummer, they're ready to harvest.

11 of 11

Garlic

pile of purple garlic bulbs

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  • Botanical Name: Allium sativum
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: 6.0–7.0

Garlic is the ultimate set-it-and-forget-it crop. Plant seed garlic in late fall, putting each clove in the soil pointy side up. Mulch with a few inches of hay, straw, or chopped-up leaves, which will insulate the garlic over the winter and help the soil hold moisture and keep weeds down in summer. By late winter, the plants will sprout. Weed as needed, and only water in extended hot, dry, weather.

For hard-neck varieties, you'll want to harvest the scapes, or flower stems, in early summer to concentrate growth in the bulbs. Cook with them or make them into pesto. When about a third of the foliage has begun to die back—typically in late June to July—pull up the plants and lay them out or hang them to dry in a cool, dry, shaded spot for a few weeks.

Once dry, trim away the stems, leaves, and roots and remove the outer layer of skin. Store garlic in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place and use it in all your favorite recipes.

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