21 best crops for your edible garden

Our top picks for veggies and fruits to grow at home, from tomatoes to greens

Sweet corn

A warm season crop

The plants may be too tall (5 to 10 feet) for some small gardens. But a sweet corn such as ‘Kandy Korn’, ‘Sweet Symphony’, and ‘Silver Queen’ is worth growing in a sunny plot―you’ll never find a sweeter corn in markets.

Good enough to eat right off the plant when picked at peak ripeness. Sunset zones 1B, 2B-24, H1, H2.

Once standard sweet corn is picked its sugar changes to starch quickly. By rushing ears from the garden to boiling water, you can capture their full sweetness.

Find your climate zone and learn about growing corn


Warm-season crop

Make room for at least one cuke in your summer garden and you won’t regret it; think of all those ways to serve the fruits―as appetizers (sliced and topped with deviled eggs), in salads, and cold soups.

Vining types ramble to 25 feet or so (or choose a bush type). We love the round, yellow, mild- flavored Lemon cuke, and the long, pale green Armenian cukes. All zones.

Plant 5-6 seeds in hills 6-8 inches high and 3-6 ft. apart. Thin to the 2 strongest plants.

How to grow cucumbers


Warm-season crop

The large, deep purple fruits of ‘Black Beauty’ and small, slender ‘Hansel’ are stunners. Both are delicious grilled in olive oil, or paired with ripe tomatoes in Eggplant Parmigiana.

To produce a crop, plants need 2 to 3 months of warm days and nights. A well-spaced row of these eggplants makes an ornamental border. Sunset zones 1-24, H1, H2.

Start from nursery-grown plants; they're much easier than seeds.

Find your zone and learn about growing eggplant


Warm-season crop

Cantaloupes taste so sweet and juicy when fully ripe, they’re worth the long wait―4 months of steady heat― to harvest. We love ‘Ambrosia’ for its fragrant, extra-sweet flesh. But ‘Lil’ Loupe’ fruits are smaller beauties, each not much bigger than a baseball. Zones 2-24.

Compact early cantaloupes thrive in containers at least 18 inches wide and deep; a half wine barrel works well. Let vines ramble over the edges, or trellis them.

Find your climate zone and see how to grow melons


Warm-season crop

We grew mildly spicy ‘Mariachi’ peppers in large pots in Sunset’s outdoor kitchen, and quickly deemed them keepers on our “grow ‘em every summer” list.

Their fruits are elegant: long, and tapered, often in shades of yellow, red, and orange on the same plant. Flavor is mildly hot and spicy. Sun; all zones.

In regions with cool or short seasons, extend growing time by using floating row covers and clear plastic mulches.

How to grow peppers

Slicing tomatoes

Warm-season crop

‘Early Girl’ bears tasty red fruits on vining plants, and sets fruit at lower temperatures than other tomatoes. It’s a great all-purpose tomato.

‘Tigerella’, an heirloom type, has red- and-orange striped fruits with a tangy flavor. All zones. 

6 plants grown in open ground can supply a family of 4 with enough tomatoes to eat fresh and use for canning or sauce.

How to grow tomatoes

'Sun Gold' cherry tomatoes

Robin Cushman

Cherry tomatoes

Warm-season crop

'Sun Gold' cherry tomatoes are pure candy for tomato-lovers; their 1-inch golden-red fruits, which hang in clusters on vining plants, have unsurpassed sweetness.

Pop the ripe fruits in your mouth fresh off the plant. All zones. 

Make planting holes extra deep, then carefully pinch of the lowest 2 sets of leaves. Set in seedlings (video: see how) so that the lowest remaining leaves are just above soil level. Roots will form on the buried stems.

How to grow tomatoes


Warm-season crop

What’s a summer picnic outdoors without watermelon? And we don’t mean just any watermelon, but the cute, ‘PureHeart Seedless’ variety whose round fruits are mini or personal- sized. Vining plants need room to sprawl, though. Zones 1-24, H1, H2.

To save ground space, grow small melons on sun-bathed trellises; support the heavy fruit in individual cloth slings.

Find your zone and see how to grow watermelon


Warm-season crop

All it takes is one or two zucchini plants to deliver a bumper crop, but, yes, they’re worth the effort.

Plants are easy to grow, and you can eat both the fruits and blossoms. We’re partial to yellow types such as ‘Gold Rush’ (territorial seed.com), which bears golden yellow zukes with white flesh on compact plants. All zones.

Roots need regular moisture, but leaves and stems should be kept dry to prevent diseases.

How to grow zucchini


Cool-season herb

Tender leaves of this tap-rooted annual are indespensible for flavoring guacamole, salsas, gazpacho, and more.

Cilantro is easy to grow from seed in low, wide bowls; you just snip off outer leaves when plant reach about 8 inches tall. Plants need light shade in hottest climates. All zones. 

Cilantro grows and flowers quickly. Keep it coming by succession planting every couple of weeks.

How to grow cilantro


Warm-season herb

If you only have room to grow one basil plant, make it ‘Genovese’; this variety is the best for making pesto and bruschetta, dropping into tomato salads and more. Video: See how to make pesto

Glossy green leaves make showy garnishes, too. The plant thrives in pots, and makes a pretty edging in herb beds. All zones as an annual; zones 13-17, 19, 23, and 24 as a perennial.

Leaf production stops when flowers come into bloom, so pinch out flower spikes as they form.

How to grow basil


Warm-season herb

Of all the mint we grow, two are hands down favorites. Chocolate mint, because its leaves recall the scent and taste of a peppermint patty. And spearmints (pictured), whose quilted, dark green leaves add freshness to cold drinks and jellys; ‘Kentucky Colonel’ is the best in mojitos.

Replant about every 3 years; propagate from runners.

Grow all mints in low, wide bowls; otherwise, their roots will take over garden beds. Zones A2, A3, 1-24. 

Find your climate zone and see how to grow mint

Tricolor sage

Leaves of this shrubby perennial are flavorful and aromatic. But what we love most is their gray green leaves with creamy white borders; new foliage is flushed with purplish pink. It makes a pretty edging for eggplants. Zones 2-24, H1, H2.

Plant from nursery containers with the base of the plant slightly above the ground's surface.

How to grow culinary sage


We love the Northern Highbush types such as ‘Bluecrop’; the shrubs grow to 6 feet tall and need winter chill to bear fruit. But their large blue berries have a delicious sweet-tart flavor, and they’re high in antioxidents.

In mild climates, try a Southern Highbush type such as ‘Sharpblue’. (Sunset climate zones 2-9, 14-17), or Rabbiteye blueberries (zones 8, 9, 14-24 ).

Blueberries have fine roots near the surface. Avoid cultivating the soil around them, and apply a 3- to 4-in. thick layer of mulch to conserve moisture.

How to grow blueberries


Few things taste sweeter than a plump, sun-warmed strawberry picked at peak of ripeness; it’s dessert right off the plant.

If there was ever a fruit to grow yourself, this is it; most commercial varieties are subjected to too many pesticides. ‘Quinault’ is a flavorful everbearing variety, but we also love ‘Sequoia’ (a June-bearing variety, one of the tastiest around) and ‘Seascape’, tasty fresh and in jams. Zones A1-A3, 1-9, 14-24, H1, H2. 

Standard strawberries yield 5 to 10 quarts of berries per 10 ft. of matted row.

Find your zone and see how to grow strawberries


'Eureka' is aptly named; this lemon tree rarely without gorgeous yellow fruits in the right climates; it literally bears all year.

The standard market variety, it grows 20 feet tall. As a dwarf, it’s a dense tree with large dark leaves. Zones 8,9,12-24, H1, H2.

Fruits ripen only on the tree. Judge ripeness by taste, not rind color. (Many varieties may turn yellow before they are ripe.)

Find your climate zone and learn how to grow lemons

Leaf lettuce

Cool-season crop

All leaf lettuces (ones that grow in loose rosettes rather than heads) are great in salads, but ‘Oak Leaf’, ‘Red Deer Tongue’, and ‘Red Sails’ are especially pretty when tossed together. Fresh cut as baby greens, they’re sweet and tender.

Plant in sun; part shade in hottest climates; all climate zones.

Nursery starts often have 2 or 3 plants to a cell. Tease them apart and plant separately for a bigger crop.

How to grow lettuce


Cool-season crop

This root crop is super easy to grow―and very fast! ‘Cherry Belle’ is short, round, and red, an early variety that grows best in cool weather. It thrives in pots and raised beds. Takes sun in mild climates, part shade where weather is hot. All zones. 

In containers, sow seeds 6 in. apart in a diamond pattern. When the tops are up, pull out every other plant; you can eat the small roots of the thinnings.

How to grow radishes

Swiss chard

Cool-season crop

What’s not to love about chard? Leaves and stems are pretty in pots and garden beds, they taste great in soups and stir fries, and the plant produces over a long season.

At the top of our chard list: ‘Bright Lights’, which has leaves ranging from green to burgundy and stalks in shades of yellow, orange, burgundy, and more; and ‘Rhubarb’ with ruby red stalks. All zones.

You can begin to cut outer leaves for the table when the plants have reached about 1½ ft. tall. New will leaves grow up from the center of the plant.

How to grow Swiss chard

Snow peas

Cool-season crop

‘Oregon Giant’, an edible podded pea, is a must-have plant for our cool-season garden. Pods are tasty in stir fries, and they add crunch to salads.

We prefer them fresh off the vine (pods taste very sweet). Best of all, this variety is a bush type, not a vine, with extra large pods. All zones.

When peas reach harvesting size, pick all pods that are ready. If seeds are allowed to ripen, the plant will stop producing.

How to grow peas

Lacinato kale

Cool-season crop

‘Nero di Toscana’ is especially versatile; its bumpy gray green leaves are ornamental, extra hardy, and tasty in a variety of dishes (try pan-frying them in extra virgin olive oil with lemon and red chile flakes).

Eat thinning as plants fill in. Sun or light shade; all zones.

How to grow kale

Printed from: