One of the most common questions I hear from brand new gardeners is, “So, do I just get packets of seeds, and start planting the seeds right in the ground?” For many crops, yes. But for several, this doesn’t work well. Here’s a guide to what you can “direct sow” by seed right in the ground, what you need to plant via starts, and even what crops you plant by something other than seed.
Direct-Sow Vegetables and Herbs
The following crops are quite easy to grow, and you can plant seeds straight in the garden. Seed packets are cheap, so these crops give you an incredible bang for your buck. When planting any seeds in your garden, create a nice “seed bed” in which to plant. This means working and loosening the soil with a garden fork, digging in some compost, breaking up any big clumps with a hoe, and then working any small clumps in your hands so the soil is nice and fine. You can plant seeds in shallow furrows, or “broadcast” them into a defined area (for instance, instead of planting leaf lettuce in rows, you might toss out lettuce seeds in a 4-foot-by-4-foot area, and then cover the seeds with fine soil). Anytime you plant by seed, tamp down the soil with your palms after you cover the seeds with soil, water everything in well, and you’re done. Keep the area moist (but not overly wet) as your seeds germinate and begin to grow.
Asian greens (such as bok choy)
Crops You Can Direct-Sow or Plant as Starts
These crops will do fine when direct-sown by seed, but also work really well as starts. By using starts, you get a jump start time-wise, and will be harvesting mature veggies sooner in the year.
Perennial Herbs to Plant Once Via Starts
Buy a start of these herbs, plant them in your herb garden, and they’ll come back year after year.
Oregano (may need some protection to survive winter in colder climates)
Oddball Crops That Aren’t Planted by Seed
Garlic (plant cloves ideally in fall; can also be planted by cloves in spring)
Potatoes (in spring, plant golf-ball-sized chunks of potatoes with a couple of “eyes” per chunk)
Sweet potatoes (planted via slips)
More Perennial Crops
These fruits and veggies are planted in various ways, and generally take a year or two to become well-established and start producing a harvestable crop. So, they may not be the best choices for brand new gardeners. (But I don’t want to discourage you! Dive in if you’re living in a spot where you know you’ll be for the long-term.)
I hope these lists help new gardeners decide what crops will work well for them—and give them some of the info they need to jump in and grow some delicious, beautiful food. Gardening is the healthiest addiction I know of—and I’m happy to nudge anyone through the gateway.
Lettuce photo by Flickr/ilovebutter; tomato photo by Flickr/J. Chris Vaughan; cucumer starts by Flickr/angies; thyme by Flickr/david.dames; strawberries by Flickr/meaduva