How I Choose Which Vegetables to Grow in My Garden

man holding harvest of tomatoes and beans

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you sit down to try to decide what to grow in your garden. I’m an experienced gardener and even I start to feel stressed out when I spend too much time flipping through seed catalogues.

Every variety description makes it sound like it’s the best ever…

Superior color and flavor!
Very impressive!
A standout!
Beautiful and flavorful!
The ultimate variety!

The photos are pretty, the descriptions are tempting, and the choices can number into the hundreds for vegetables like tomatoes and peppers.

It’s confusing out there in seed ordering land.

And, to top it all off, variety really does matter. For some vegetables, like red peppers, it can be the difference between success and failure. (Not to pile on the pressure or anything.)

So, in an attempt to help you wade through the seed catalog maze, I thought I’d talk a bit about how I choose varieties for my own garden each season.

man holding kale in hands


Top Performers

First off, you’re keeping track of every variety you plant, right? This is extremely important if you want to increase the amount of vegetables you’re growing in your garden over time.

Because I keep records each season I know exactly which varieties performed well, and which deserve a trip to the compost heap. My simple recordkeeping has allowed me to build a “Top Performers” list over time. These are the varieties that do well for me despite weather fluctuations, insect attacks, drought conditions, and gardener errors. They’re my inner circle that I can always depend upon.

They are the building blocks of my seed order every year.

For example, curly green kales like Dwarf Green Curled or Winterbor are nearly indestructible in my garden. Most of my other kale plants succumb to the handful of cabbage moths that flitter around my garden all summer long, but not these toughies.

I can’t imagine a summer without Sungold tomatoes, plus cherry tomato plants don’t tend to suffer from the many tomato diseases that exist in my area, so they’re always on the list.

I harvest and store 300-500 onions every season, they’re one of my favorite things to grow, and I’ve been growing Redwing for as long as I can remember. It’s never not on the list.

If you don’t know which vegetables and varieties are on your Top Peformers list, then this is the year to start keeping records. In the meantime, ask some garden friends in your local area for their most reliable varieties. (Or read about a few of mine in this post.)

create of garden onions

New & Improved

This year, while reading through the High Mowing catalog, I noticed this announcement. “Try our new Red Carpet Onion! Red carpet is a sweeter, improved version of the beloved Red Wing.”

Well, that peaked my interest. As I said above, Redwing is one of my favorite onions to grow. So, how could I resist a new and improved version? Answer: I couldn’t. I quickly added Red Carpet onions to my High Mowing list.

After filling in my seed order with my tried and true varieties, I’ll read through the seed catalogues and look for new varieties that are promising more of something I value, like better storage, resistance to diseases like downy mildew, and vibrant flavor and color.

This is the second category of seeds I order. These varieties are basically auditioning for a spot in the Top Performers. This season I’ll pay close attention to those Red Carpet onions and compare them to the Redwings. If they don’t perform to the same high standards, they’ll get voted out of my garden.

Or, they might surprise me and give those Redwings a run for their money!

vegetable garden harvest

Just for Fun

Each year I like to grow a few things I’ve never tried before. Last year I ordered an assortment of Asian greens like Purple Mizuna, Yukina Savoy, and Vitamin Green. This year, I’m trailing unique colors of radishes- a black one, a watermelon type, and a daikon.

If I grew the same exact things every year gardening wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Sometimes, if I’m not that crazy about it, I just grow the new thing for one year. But, once in a while I’ll discover a new vegetable or variety that ends up being a keeper.

Don’t forget to include a few “just for fun” vegetables and varieties in your garden plan this year.

okra in the garden

Every Once in A While

This last category contains vegetables and varieties that I only grow every few years. Edamame falls into this one. We like to eat it, but we don’t love it, and I struggle to find recipes that make me want to eat more of it. I freeze some for winter and we tend not to use all of what I freeze, so it often lasts for more than one winter.

But, it’s such a cool plant, and since I teach gardening I like to make sure I’m growing a wide range of plants so I can answer questions when they come up. So, edamame falls on my “grow it every two to three years” list.

Okra is another vegetable on that list. It’s a hibiscus relative, so the flowers are striking. It’s also tall and straight like corn, so architecturally it adds some interest to my garden. And, my neighbors always ask about it because they don’t recognize it, so it’s a conversation starter.

But, I grew it the last two years and I got sick of eating it. I actually ripped out the plants before my first frost because I just couldn’t face one more okra harvest. That pretty much places it solidly on the Every Once in A While list.

If you have a small garden, or like many of us, you just can’t possibly fit everything you want to grow in your garden each year, consider creating your own Every Once in A While List. Fill it in with vegetables you can’t quite say goodbye to permanently, but you wouldn’t mind a break from.

We all have our own personal set of guidelines, opinions, and desires that help us make decisions about what we grow in our gardens. I’d love to hear about yours in the comments below.

gardening planning book


Want to know more about which varieties I’m growing this year? When you pre-order my new book, Smart Start Garden Planner, as a bonus I’ll send you a list of every variety I’m growing in my garden this season! Check it out here.







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