Love the idea of cooking with homegrown herbs and veggies, but aren’t a genius in the garden? Don’t worry: these 10 options are simple to grow even if you lack a green thumb. Most can be grown in containers as well as in the ground, and can be adapted to different planting zones, which range from 10 in the deep South to 3 up in the North. Check the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to learn yours.
Chives in bloom. (Credit: Herbco.com)
Chives have a reputation for being the number-one easy-to-grow herb, with the ability to tolerate a variety of soil and light conditions. They do best in zones 3 to 9—everywhere except extreme desert or cold climates—and thrive in full sunlight, though they can handle partial shade. They like relatively well-draining soil, but otherwise aren’t too picky. Plant them in containers or in the ground. As a bonus, their pink-purple flowers are pretty.
Luscious, green, prolific mint. (Credit: HarvestToTable.com)
Mint is so easy to grow, it can even get a little out of hand. It’s an excellent choice for a container garden, since the pot keeps mint’s aggressive nature in check. Varieties include peppermint (best for zones 3 to 8), spearmint (best for zones 5 to 10), apple mint (best for zones 5 to 10) and lemon mint (best for zones 5 to 9. Peppermint is the most popular and versatile.
Plant mint after the last frost if you live in a zone that experiences winter. Otherwise, it’s fine to plant mint throughout the season. Morning sun, afternoon shade, and rich, well-draining soil are its favorite conditions, but it will grow relatively well even if you can’t give it a perfect environment.
Harvest mint sprigs before the plant begins to flower, and prolong the life of your harvest season by pinching off the flowers as soon as you see them.
A fresh crop of cilantro. (Credit: Sunset.com)
Not quite as foolproof as chives and mint, but still pretty simple—and a delicious addition to all kinds of dishes, especially Mexican. Cilantro likes soil with good drainage and full sun, and grows quickly in spring and fall, when the weather is cooler. In hot weather, cilantro can “bolt,” meaning it grows very tall very fast, and produces flowers while the leaves lose their taste. Bonnie Plants recommends giving cilantro “its own patch in the garden where you can harvest, then ignore, then harvest again.” The seeds that appear on cilantro stalks, by the way, are coriander. You should harvest them, too!
You can also plant cilantro in a pot: Sunset magazine recommends “a bowl-shaped container at least 18 inches wide and 8 to 10 inches deep.”
Bright green, pesto-ready basil. (Credit: OregonLive.com)
Basil is a crowd-pleaser, excellent for summer pastas and a tomato’s best friend. Plant basil in full sun, keep the soil moist and you’ll have an ample supply of leaves. It works in pots, and even indoors on a sunny windowsill. Pinch off the flowers when they appear to prolong your harvest.
Thyme, with flowers. (Credit: NeighborhoodNotes.com)
With its little lavender flowers and delicate leaves, thyme is lovely as well as fragrant. It’s an easy-going perennial—just put it in full sun and give it relatively dry soil. (As a Mediterranean herb, it prefers conditions on the warm and arid side.) Thyme thrives best in zones 5 to 9. To harvest, snip a few stems at a time. Even the flowers are edible when freshly bloomed.
Rosemary needles. (Credit: BlueHeronHerbary.com)
This evergreen is a good choice for containers, and if you live in a frost-free climate, you can plant and grow it any time of year. Or, if you place your rosemary in a small pot, you can simply bring it indoors for the winter. Like thyme, rosemary is a Mediterranean plant and prefers hot, dry conditions. It thrives best in six to eight hours of full sun, and in slightly sandy soil.
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A juicy bunch of tomatoes. (Credit: DavisGardenShow.com)
Plant them in containers or beds—either way, tomatoes are easy to grow and add bright color to your garden. They enjoy full sun and rich soil with lots of compost. Water them well—about 2 inches per week during the summer, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. With dozens of varieties from heirloom to cherry, tomatoes also offer tons of options, and can be adapted to virtually any growing zone. For an easy way to start your own tomato container garden, check out this tutorial, courtesy of ApartmentTherapy.com.
Salad in the making. (Credit: HarvesttoTable.com)
It’s hard to imagine a fresher salad than one that you snip directly from your garden. With its frilly leaves, lettuce is a beautiful plant, and good news: it’s one of the simpler veggies to grow. If you’re using beds, you can easily tuck lettuce among flowers, and it does well in container gardens, too. It prefers full sun, but—unlike most other vegetables—it doesn’t mind a little shade. Moist, rich soil with good drainage will help your lettuce thrive. It does best in temperatures on the cooler side, between 45 to 80 degrees, making spring and fall the most ideal times for planting.
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Radishes fresh from the ground. (Credit: AgricultureGuide.org)
Add some crunch to your salads and a colorful garnish to all kinds of plates. Radishes do well in gardens and containers alike, and can grow fast—in as little as three weeks. In fact, they’re so famous for their quick, easy growth that pro gardeners often recommend them as good first plants for kids. Six hours of sun per day is ideal, and you should water them in moderation. Radishes are available in numerous varieties—experiment with heirloom types for fun colors and shapes.
10. Summer Squash
Summer squash with blossoms. (Credit: LovelyMorning.com)
Zucchini squash, yellow squash, round squash, oval squash, tromboncino squash—all are types of summer squash, and all are easy-growing, productive plants. Summer squash are fans of good sun, good drainage and compost. Since they’re relatively large plants, they’re usually planted in beds, spaced widely (3 to 6 feet) apart, but certain varieties will work in containers, too. Make sure you don’t miss out on the tasty edible blossoms, which you should pick off when they’re still fresh. You’ll want to harvest the squash itself regularly once it appears, to keep the plant from getting weighed down.