Nothing says summer like a backyard vegetable garden. Armed with a bit of know-how about the types of plants that thrive during the hottest months of the year and a willingness to get your hands dirty, you'll be able to realize the joy of growing (and eating!) your own veggies. Discover 26 of the best vegetables to grow during the summer months.
Nightshades for a Summer Vegetable Garden
Edible plants in the nightshade family are among the best choices to grow in a summer garden. Make the most of the summer sun by planting these seasonal favorites.
Nothing says summer quite like a beautiful, vine-ripened tomato. Red is commonly associated with tomatoes, but they also come in yellow, orange, pink, multicolor, and even some that stay green when they are ripe. They also come in come in all shapes and sizes, such as cherry tomatoes you can eat directly from the vine, slicing tomatoes for BLT sandwiches, and paste tomatoes for sauce. Whether you grow heirloom tomatoes or hybrid varieties, you're sure to enjoy planting and growing tomatoes.
Eggplant is another popular summer vegetable that thrives in the heat. If you live in a warm climate and enjoy making ratatouille or eggplant parmesan, it's definitely a good idea to grow eggplant in your garden. Eggplant seeds are a bit tricky, as they need warmth--and several weeks--to germinate. If you direct sow them, they may not start producing before the first frost. It's generally best to purchase plant starts unless you have a greenhouse or can start seeds indoors on a heat mat in early spring.
Peppers are a sweet and spicy favorite for summer. That's because they come in sweet varieties, such as bell and banana, and hot varieties, such as cayenne and jalapeño. Like eggplants, pepper seeds require several weeks and heat to germinate, so it's a good idea to get a head start by transplanting purchased or greenhouse-grown plants. They thrive on hot temperatures and produce throughout the summer months.
Tomatillos are an interesting choice for a summer garden. Tomatillo fruit look like small tomatoes but grow in husks. They are the main ingredient in most green salsa recipes. If you decide to plant tomatillos, be sure to put more than one in your garden, as this veggie requires cross-pollination from another plant. When the husk bursts, that means the fruit inside is ripe (regardless of its color). Tomatillos can be green, purple, or yellow depending on variety.
Ground cherries, also referred to as cape gooseberries, are not actually cherries. They look like tiny tomatillos because they grow in a husk. They are smaller than cherry tomatoes. The word 'ground' in their name refers to the fact that they will fall to the ground when they are ripe. They taste great eaten fresh (don't eat the husk) and can also be used to make jam or pies. Because they fall to the ground, they often reseed themselves, so be prepared for volunteers to return each summer.
You might be surprised to learn that potatoes are also in the nightshade family, though these plants are not grown for their fruit. The edible part of a potato grows underground with a green top portion extending above the ground. Most potatoes have off-white flesh and brown or red skin, but some varieties have a blue or purple hue. Potato plants sometimes flower and produce a fruit that's similar to a tomato in appearance. This fruit is toxic, so it is not edible.
Cucurbit Plants for a Summer Veggie Garden
Many plants classified as cucurbits are popular to grow in summer gardens. From the savory selections listed below to sweet crops like watermelon and cantaloupe, cucurbits are delicious warm weather produce to grow your garden.
Cucumbers are a popular vining crop that grows during the summer. Most cucumbers are green, but there are also white and brown varieties. All cucumbers turn yellow when they become overripe. If you want to save seeds from cucumbers, let them go yellow toward the end of the season. Short, bumpy cukes are ideal for pickling, while smooth varieties are intended to be sliced or diced and eaten uncooked. Add them to a green salad, prepare a cucumber salad, or make your own tzatziki sauce.
Sometimes simply referred to as squash, yellow squash is a tasty summer vegetable that is easy to grow in your garden as long as you give it plenty of water. Yellow squash can have smooth or bumpy skin and come in both straightneck and crookneck varieties. Regardless of appearance, all yellow squash tastes pretty much the same. People sometimes refer to this type of squash as summer squash, but that category actually represents both yellow squash and zucchini.
Zucchini is a type of summer squash. Most zucchini is green, but some varieties are a gold hue that's darker than the bright yellow of squash. Zucchini is smooth skinned and tends to grow fairly straight. These plants are known for being particularly prolific, so be prepared to eat or preserve a lot of zucchini when you grow this in your garden. From sautéed or stuffed zucchini to zoodles and baked goods, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a bountiful summer harvest when you grow zucchini.
It may seem counterintuitive to say that winter squash should be grown in the summer, but the name of this type of vegetable has nothing to do with when it is grown. Winter squash are thick-skinned squash that are grown throughout the summer and harvested in late summer or early fall, such as butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash. Their name refers to the fact that they have a long shelf-life, and so can be stored to eat during the winter months.
Pumpkins are associated with Halloween and fall, but they have to grow throughout the summer in order to be mature in time for these fall holidays. Pumpkins are a vining crop that typically grows on the ground, so you'll have your own backyard pumpkin patch if you decide to grow this vegetable in your garden. Be sure to plant an edible variety, as some mini pumpkins are intended purely to be used as decorations.
Legumes to Plant in a Summer Garden
With the exception of certain peas that require cooler temperatures, most legumes thrive during the summer. Plant pole beans in sunny spots where you have a fence or a trellis that they can climb, or place bush beans elsewhere in your garden. Legumes are very easy to grow and can actually improve poor quality soil because they are nitrogen fixers.
Green beans are also referred to as snap beans or string beans. They are eaten as pods, which are actually the unripe fruit of fully developed beans. Some varieties have strings that should be removed from their sides prior to cooking, while others are stringless. Some varieties actually grow red or purple, but turn green when cooked. People sometimes eat raw green beans, but this can lead to gastrointestinal issues. They are usually cooked prior to eating.
Wax beans are just like green beans in appearance, except they are yellow on the outside. Not surprisingly, wax beans are sometimes referred to as yellow beans. They taste pretty much just like green beans, though they do retain their original yellow hue when cooked.
When various types of green beans are grown to maturity, they are described as shelly (short for shelling) beans. People often select a green bean variety known for producing tasty beans to harvest young as green beans early in the season. As the season moves on, they start leaving the beans on the vine so they will reach maturity and can be harvested for the beans inside, which must be cooked to be safe to eat. Any dried bean that you eat grew this way.
Lima beans are an example of a legume that is grown only to be shelled for their beans. Lima beans can be picked young, but they are not eaten as pods. Instead, they are shelled to reveal baby lima beans, which need to be cooked before eating. The pods are discarded or added to the compost pile. Lima beans can also be left on the plant to mature fully, which will result in larger lima beans that can also be cooked and eaten.
Runner beans are similar to green beans, though they produce larger pods and beans. They can still be eaten as green beans, though it's best to pick runner bean pods when they are very young if you plan to use them this way. That's because the pods start to get tough as they grow, in order to protect the large beans inside. Runner beans grow as perennials in USDA Zones 7 and higher and produce gorgeous ornamental flowers.
Unlike the many varieties of green peas that prefer to grow in cooler temperatures, cowpeas are heat tolerant shelling peas that are removed from their husk prior to cooking. They are sometimes referred to as southern peas. There are many types of cowpeas, including pink eye purple hull peas, crowder peas, and black eye peas. The various types of cowpeas can be used interchangeably in recipes without impacting the taste.
Leafy Greens to Grow in a Summer Garden
You don't have to give up fresh salads from your garden during the hottest months of the year. It's true that most leafy greens prefer cooler temperatures, but there are some good options for when the temperature is blazing hot.
Amaranth is most commonly used as a grain, but it is also an interesting summer vegetable. Amaranth plants produce an abundance of green or red leaves (depending on variety), which are edible. The leaves of amaranth plants can be eaten raw, which makes them a tasty addition to any summer salad. They are also one of many hot-weather greens that can be substituted for spinach in cooking.
If you know that nasturtium is a flower, you may be wondering why it is on this list. The answer is simple. Not only are nasturtium seeds and flowers edible, but so are their leaves. As a result, nasturtiums provide a leafy green that can be substituted for lettuce. It is delicious when mixed with other greens in a salad and can even be used as a wrap for your favorite sandwich fillings to create mock lettuce wraps.
Egyptian spinach is not actually spinach, but it is a good hot season substitute for spinach, which quickly bolts when the temperatures start to climb. Egyptian spinach thrives on heat. This fast-growing plant looks a bit like a shrub. It grows very quickly and can get as tall as an indeterminate tomato. It's covered with edible green leaves that can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in any recipe that calls for spinach.
Malabar spinach is another spinach substitute that isn't actually spinach. This is a vining plant that loves heat; it grows best when the temperature is above 90 degrees as long as it gets plenty of water. It can be eaten raw or cooked, just like spinach or any of the spinach stand-ins. Its texture is a bit mucilaginous, which means it's a bit gelatin-like when eaten raw. This provides an interesting contrast when added to other salad greens.
New Zealand Spinach
New Zealand spinach is also not actually spinach, though it does look a lot like the real thing when it grows. It is a compact plant that looks like a small leafy bush, much the same as true spinach varieties. Its leaves are triangle shaped and a bit fuzzy. As with the other warm weather spinach substitutes, it's delicious raw or cooked.
More Plants for a Summer Vegetable Garden
Some summer vegetables don't fall neatly into one of the categories above. Consider the selections below when deciding what you are going to grow in this year's summer vegetable garden.
Speaking of spinach substitutes, did you know that you can use the leaves from a sweet potato plant as a substitute for spinach? Enjoy them raw in salads, sauté them, or use them in your favorite recipes. Of course, that's not why most people grow sweet potatoes. This summer veggie is grown for its tasty orange root tubers that grow below the ground while their delicious green leaves are produced above ground. Plant sweet potatoes in loose soil, and you'll have an abundance of both.
Corn is actually a grass, but sweet corn is generally thought of as a vegetable because of how it is consumed. Corn on the cob is an all-time summer favorite, though kernels of sweet corn can be used in a variety of recipes. Each stalk of sweet corn usually produces two ears of corn, though some stalks produce one or two extra. Corn matures quickly, so gardeners with a long growing season may be able to fit in two rounds of corn during the summer.
Okra thrives in summer gardens. Okra is in the same family as hibiscus and hollyhocks, so it's as beautiful as it is prolific. Okra plants grow up to six feet tall. Their edible pods are preceded by beautiful hibiscus-like flowers. When picked very small, the pods are referred to as baby okra. Small pods are often used for pickling whole, while larger pods are often cut up to use in gumbo or to make fried okra. When the pods get big, they start to get tough, so it's best to pick them before this happens.
Jerusalem artichoke, also referred to as sunchoke, is a perennial vegetable that thrives in the heat of summer. This interesting root vegetable is not related to actual artichokes in any way. It's actually related to sunflowers and daisies, but it has an edible tuber for a root. Sunchoke tubers can be peeled and cooked like potatoes, though they have a reputation for causing flatulence when eaten. As long as even one tuber is left in the ground at the end of the growing season, it'll come back the following year.
Enjoy Summer Veggie Growing Success
Whether you're looking to start small with a container garden or planning to go all out with an elaborate vegetable garden layout, you can accomplish your goal of growing a summer garden. Plant crops that you will enjoy eating so you can make the most of the bounty your garden yields. Once you decide what to plant, you'll be ready to start growing your vegetable garden.