5 Tips For Choosing The Right Vegetables For Your Garden - Abundant Mini Gardens

5 Tips For Choosing The Right Vegetables For Your Garden

Seed Catalogs

Are you browsing through your seed catalogs, and dreaming of the beautiful, delicious vegetables that you would like to harvest this year?

The catalog descriptions often make it sound like every variety would be absolutely perfect for your garden. There are literally thousands of varieties to choose from. Some will thrive in your garden, and others will fail.

How do you decide which ones to grow in your own garden?

Here are five ideas to help you choose vegetable varieties that will thrive in your garden:

1) Do you dread growing some vegetables because they die early due to disease or insect pests?

My squash and bean plants used to be devastated by insect pests. Squash vine borers are common in my area, and can quickly kill our squash plants. I now grow butternut squash – which I happen to love – and it isn’t affected by borers. I also growing the heirloom, Dean’s Purple pole snap bean, which is very resistant to Mexican bean beetles.

If you run into an insect or disease problem in your garden, find out exactly what you are dealing with, and then see if there are varieties that are resistant to it. In the U.S., your local Cooperative Extension office will often identify your problem for you.

2) Do your plants produce poorly in your partially-shaded garden?

If your garden receives only 4-6 hours of direct sunlight, focus on growing greens and root crops. These include salad greens, cooking greens, and root crops like beets, carrots, and turnips. You could also try peas and beans. These vegetables can produce healthy crops in partial shade – though they may produce less and/or take longer to mature without full sun.

Most fruiting plants (tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc) need at least 6-8 hours (or more) of full sunlight to thrive and produce well. However, there are some varieties of these that better tolerate partial shade. Just do some Internet research to find out which ones that may work best in your own area. I don’t generally recommend growing a food garden where there is less than 4 hours of sunlight.

3) Is your schedule so busy that you can only visit your garden on the weekends?

Set up an automatic irrigation system, and choose crops that don’t need to be harvested regularly – such as root crops, greens, cabbages, onions, winter squash, etc. Avoid vegetables like peas, beans, and summer squash, that need to be picked every 2-3 days. Even tomatoes need to be picked more often than weekly, though if you are willing to harvest some of them early, while they are still partly green, they might work in a weekend garden.

4) Do you struggle to grow vegetables in a very cool or very hot climate?

My previous home here in Virginia was located in a severe frost pocket. I was lucky to have a 100-day frost-free growing season, and my summer nights often dropped into the 40′s. Crops that needed more than 100 days of hot weather didn’t produce well, if at all. My garden finally thrived after I found varieties that could tolerate cooler summers, and needed less than 100 days to mature. If your summers are very hot, you’ll need to look for heat-tolerant varieties instead.

Don’t know what your growing season is? Enter your zip code on this page in Dave’s Garden. Just be aware that your home may be in a micro-climate (like mine was) that is different from your county average. Your neighbors may be able help to help you figure out your local growing season, if you are new to the area.

5) Are you desperate to produce more food from a very small garden?

Have you put more and more plants into your tiny garden in order to try to grow more food, only to have it backfire, and you ended up harvesting even less than before? I use nine different methods to grow more food in less space.  Take my free video course to learn how I grow an incredible amount of food from my small garden.

If you want to harvest the most food possible from a limited area, stick mostly to vegetables like roots, onions, greens, and trellised plants. Crops like broccoli or corn take up a lot of space for a relatively small harvest. Some miniature varieties of vegetables can be useful. I’ve had great luck with miniature cabbages, but the miniature broccoli just didn’t produce enough to be worth growing.

How do you decide which varieties to grow?

It can sometimes be hard to decide from the seed catalog descriptions which varieties will be best suited for your particular garden. Remember, seed companies are in the business of selling their products. They often describe the benefits of each variety, but may skip over any possible disadvantages.

1) Choose the Right Seed Company

It can be very helpful to choose seed companies based in the same gardening region that you are in, or in a similar climate to your own. When I lived in that cold micro-climate, I had to select varieties that would thrive in the north – even though I lived in a “southern” state.

2) Do Internet Research

If a particular vegetable is a major crop for me, I will do an internet search of the websites of several different seed companies to read the various descriptions for each variety I am interested in. I will also read other gardener’s evaluations of their experience with these varieties – keeping in mind what area of the country they live in.

My sister often checks websites such as GardenWeb or Dave’s Garden. It’s also a great idea to ask your neighbors, or your local Master Gardeners or Cooperative Extension office, which varieties work well in your area. If I want to experiment with a minor crop, I will simple grow whatever variety I am most interested in.

3) Test A Few Varieties

Ultimately, we have to test varieties in our own gardens, usually over several years. I often grow 2 or 3 varieties side-by-side in my garden. I’ll compare how well they grow, how long they take to mature, how well they deal with local pests or diseases, how they taste, and how well they store or overwinter.

This might take a few years, because one variety might thrive in an unusually hot, dry, wet, or cold season, but be mediocre during an average year, or vice versa. But, ultimately, I can usually find varieties that grow and produce very well in my own garden during most years.


Whether you have issues with insects and diseases, partial shade, a busy schedule, an unusual climate, or a very small garden, you can usually find the right vegetable varieties for your own unique garden by doing some simple research. There are a large number of varieties for you to choose from, giving each of us a good chance to find just the right plants so that our gardens can thrive!

You, too, can feast year-round from your small backyard!

~ Debra