Sunday, April 1, 2012

Easiest Plants for Beginning Gardeners

Over the few years I've been gardening, I've learned that some plants require lots of effort, but some are very easy.  If you are just getting into gardening, you may as well start with the easiest plants! The easiest plants:
  • keep coming back year after year with no additional effort
  • produce plenty to harvest
  • don't require any special fertilizers or other special treatment

Since I live in the desert, we have large temperature variations.  We see temps over 100 degrees every summer, and usually get down to the low teens in the winter (except the previous winter when we had a freak snow storm and temps of -10F). In my garden, the easiest plants to grow are:
  • Strawberries
  • Green onions
  • Celery
  • Parlsey
  • Thyme
  • Mint
Strawberries
Growing strawberries seems to be my freak superpower.  I started with 25 plants about 3 years ago, and these have propagated so that now I have a bajillion plants.  During peak strawberry time I harvest about 20-40 berries a day for over 6 weeks.

Tips for Strawberries
  • Strawberries reproduce by sending out runners. Make sure to plant them in an area where they have plenty of room to expand since the runners will slowly reach out to cover more and more area.
  • Strawberries like sandy soil!
  • Mulch around the base of the strawberry plants. This really helps prevent all of the berries from being eaten by bugs. I use straw or hay to mulch the strawberry patch. Pine needles are supposed to work great as well.
  • Conventional strawberry growing calls for mowing down the plants after the harvest. I DO NOT do this! I just let the strawberries grow and grow. By the end of the growing season, they grow to where there is no space to walk in a 10-foot X 10-foot area. In the Fall, I invite friends to come over and dig up some strawberry plants to transplant into their own yards. I just make sure they dig them up in rows, so I have some space to walk again in the strawberry patch.
Green Onions
I use green onions as companion plants for my strawberries and apple trees.  Whenever I need some green onions for cooking, I just go snip some off a few green spikes.  Some of the green onions in my garden have been growing for over 3 years. 

Tips for Green Onions
  • When you need some green onions for a recipe, do NOT pull up the green onions.  Rather, just cut off some green parts and leave the rest in the ground.  The onions will continue growing new green parts!  
  • Leave some green onions growing long enough to make seeds.  Once the onions have been growing over a year, they will make flowers and seeds. The seeds can easily be collected and planted, or just left to drop where they are if you want more onions in that location. 
Celery
My three celery plants have been growing for over 3 years. They do not tend to make any big stalks like the ones you buy at the store, but they make lots of little stalks and celery leaves.  This is a great way to always have some celery on hand for making soups and stews. I do still occasionally buy celery at the store when my daughter is requesting to eat ants on a log (celery filled with peanut butter with raisins on top).

Tips for Celery
  • Plant the celery in a location where you can leave it growing for years.
  • When it is time to harvest some celery, just cut some directly off the plant and leave the rest in place.  It will continue to grow new stalks and leaves.   
Parsley
I originally planted parsley as a companion plant for my strawberries, and to have a little for making homemade ranch dressing.  Parsley has really proliferated in my garden, and has even started popping up around my apple trees.  Parsley is great because it attracts beneficial pollinators and predaceous insects to the garden.

Tips for Parsley
  • Plant parsley in a location where you would welcome more parsley plants. In the late spring, parsley will drop lots of tiny seeds that will readily grow into new plants.
  • When it is time to harvest parsley, just cut off what you need and the rest will continue to grow. 
Thyme
I planted some thyme in my garden bed and a little in a pot a few years ago.  These plants are perennials, so they just keep on growing throughout the year. I love having fresh thyme on hand for cooking savory dishes.

Tips for Thyme
  • Thyme will grow well in a variety of locations, ranging from pots to garden beds.  
  • In the winter, the thyme leaves will turn a dark purplish color.  Although they look different, they still taste great.
  • If your thyme gets too big or scraggly, don't be afraid to prune it back. 
Mint
Fresh mint is delightful to have on hand for throwing into some iced tea in the summer.  It is also great for stomach upsets and digestive woes. I like to just chew on it whenever the mood strikes me.

Tips for Mint
  • Mint is notorious for taking over wherever it is planted. Mine is planted in a pot so that it can't spread too much.
  • Although the mint plants will die back when winter arrives, many more mint plants will pop up once warm temperatures come back in the spring.
What plants keep coming back year after year for you?

1 comment :

Lauren said...

Chives! And they look so cute, like baby hair sticking up in the pot long before there's any other green in the garden boxes.
I second the mint invasion warning: plant. in. pots! And not pots with drainage holes either!