Not everyone is blessed with a green thumb. Many gardeners are looking for low-maintenance crops after watching past efforts fizzle. And even the best gardeners suffer off years, scrambling for quick-growing crops to replant after poor weather or critter mishaps.
Don’t throw in the trowel! Here are 10 easy plants to grow that are also quick-performers. I selected these low-maintenance plants after years of neglectful gardening. While there’s no guarantee in the growing world, these crops are a good bet to succeed under your care, or in spite of it. In no particular order:
You needn’t worry about growing mint, just containing it. This hardy herb likes to spread, and it’ll take over your garden as soon as you turn your back. It’s smart to plant mint in its own corner of the garden or in containers.
Buy mint as a seedling and plant in early spring. Mint prefers partial shade and rich soil, but don’t let that worry you. Plunk it into poor soil and direct sunlight, and it still will take over the neighborhood. Just plant mint seedlings 12 inches apart and water until established.
Mint is handy for iced tea and homemade ice cream. Many people also use mint oil to ward off deer and mice.
Whatever you do, don’t fertilize nasturtiums. These edible flowers put out their best blooms in nutrient-poor soil. The blooms do look better if you remember to water them. Otherwise, plant them and forget them.
Nasturtiums grow quickly and can handle partial shade. Aphids are drawn to them, but they rarely beat the flowers back. In fact, some gardeners use nasturtiums to draw off aphids from other crops.
The flowers can add color and zest to any salad and are perfect for making vinaigrette. During World War II, the seeds were used as a substitute for pepper.
While garlic’s an easy crop to grow, growing perfect garlic can become a lifetime obsession. Getting started is simple: In the fall, plant peeled cloves, pointing upward. Cover. Wait. Harvest heads in the spring or summer.
These hardy plants basically grow themselves. If you plant them in rich soil and regularly water them, the cloves will produce bigger bulbs. Erratic watering and poor soil leads to smaller cloves, but smaller cloves usually have a stronger taste. You can’t lose.
There’s a lot to love about a plant that feeds itself.
Green beans are nitrogen fixers; they process nitrogen from the air rather than pulling it from the soil. In other words, growing green beans is a tasty way to fertilize your garden.
They’re also quick growers. You can wait until all danger of frost has passed to plant and still have plenty of the growing season left. Green beans are an excellent candidate for a replacement crop in late spring or midsummer.
Gently harvest the beans, and the plants will produce all summer. If you get tired of green, try purple or yellow varieties.
Another nitrogen-fixer, peas are great for gardeners who can’t wait until the frost is gone to start planting. As soon as the soil can be worked, you can pop peas into the ground.
Peas prefer some shade, but they’ll do fine with full sun, if planted early. Plant peas in loose soil about a knuckle-deep. Give them something for climbing to avoid fungus problems. Water regularly.
Peas are the perfect garden-grazing food. Children love being able to pick peas for munching while their parents are working in the garden. Also, pea shoots are a delicacy.
The biggest problem with cilantro is keeping up with it. Cilantro plants grow quick and bolt in the blink of an eye. If that happens, you’ll find cilantro volunteers in your garden for years, and wouldn’t that be a shame?
Stagger plantings of cilantro for a continual harvest. Plant in containers or in the ground an inch apart and a half-inch deep. Keep in full sun and water regularly.
Everyone has a strong opinion about the taste of cilantro.
It’s perfect for salsa and salads, but if you like the taste, you’ll find it fits well with almost any meal except pancakes.
When my daughter was a toddler, I planted a pot of chives on the porch. During the chaos of toddlerhood, we didn’t notice that the pot fell off. I found it the next spring lying on its side in the shade, growing a healthy new crop of chives.
Plant seeds in sun or partial shade after danger of frost has passed. Water regularly until established. Watch ’em grow. Wait until well-established to harvest, and then eat regularly. Cut stalks 2 inches from base for continuous growth, but don’t worry about measuring. Chives are hardy!
Use chives in any dish you would otherwise use onions. They are a beautiful addition to eggs, and their flowers are great for salads.
In general, most greens are easy to grow, but critters find mustard greens unappetizing. Mustard tolerates cold and can be planted in the spring and early fall. If you let mustard bolt, it’ll reseed itself and pop up in your garden next year, saving you the trouble of planting.
Mustard likes full sun and enjoys regular watering and fertilizer, but it’ll come up no matter what. Just water it until it gets established. Plant early, as it tastes best if harvested before the heat of the summer.
Use this spicy green to jazz up your salads or steam it up to eat plain. It also works great in stir-fries.
Potatoes are the king crop in northern Maine, a growing area plagued with rocky, acidic soil and a terribly short growing season. That’s all you need to know about a potato’s hardiness.
Like garlic, you can tinker endlessly with growing the perfect potato, but you can grow good potatoes easily. They even grow well in plastic bags filled with dirt, according to one potato blogger. Potatoes can be planted as soon as the soil is worked, but you might want to cover them if it’s a soggy spring. Plant again in June for a second crop.
Tempting as it is to use a shriveled potato in the back of the fridge for seed, buy seed potatoes from the garden center. They’re cheap and, hopefully, disease-free. Cut up bigger seeds so that each chunk has two or three eyes. Plant a foot apart in rows, closer in hills.
If you can’t beat them, eat them. Dandelions are nearly impossible to keep out of your garden, but they also are a great crop to eat. Every part of the plant is edible and extremely nutritious. And talk about a no-maintenance crop.
The leaves are tastiest young, but you can eat them anytime if you boil them long enough. Add young leaves to a salad or sauté to add to any dish. The yellow flowers are versatile and tasty. I love adding them to muffins because they give baked goods a vibrant yellow color. The roots can be brewed for tea, roasted or added to soups.
One word of caution: Dandelions are great at soaking up toxins. Don’t harvest them near roads or in public places where pesticides or herbicides are used.
Dandelion seeds sometimes are tricky to buy, but why bother? You don’t have to go looking for them; they’ll find you.
Reporter and editor Craig Idlebrook focuses on issues of sustainability and parenting. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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