Plan your vegetable garden by season or family

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The best gardening plans are those that involve family and vegetables that are loved by everyone that seem to magically produce wildly for us with minimal care. As it turns out, how successful we are can depend on the kinds of vegetables we gravitate towards. Growing vegetables that need similar care can make gardening more effective and efficient.

If you like our cool season vegetables, consider those that are grouped by plant families:

  • Alliums: onion, leek, garlic*

  • Cole crops: collards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower

Gardeners know they will be harvesting them at different times, yet often they need to be planted “together” for best performance. These vegetables not only tolerate heavy frosts and light freezes, but these conditions are preferred for the best yields. In the very early spring, rain is usually supplied by nature (there’s that magically growing on their own). *Garlic is an exception, as it is planted in late summer into early fall and overwinters in the cold of winter to regrow the following spring.

Yet another way to consider planting is to think about what parts of each vegetable we use:

  • Leaves: lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard

  • Roots: Carrot, beet**, radish, turnip

Some of these are shorter season crops, like lettuce, compared to Swiss chard or carrots that are more long term. **Beets now fall into both the leaves and roots category since cooking with beet tops has been trending. (Remember when we used to put beet tops in the compost? Go figure!)

If you are not comfortable gardening in the early season, maybe warm season vegetables are your choice:

  • Cucurbits: muskmelon, watermelon, cucumber, squash, pumpkin

  • Solanaceous: tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato

  • Legumes*: snapbean, dry beans, lima bean

Warm season vegetables, grouped by plant families, help us understand when and why they grow the way they do. Most of them are a long season vegetable, beginning once the soils are warm and growing through to a killing frost. *The bean family is an exception. As a shorter season crop, it can be re-sown to provide beans throughout the summer, often growing in the vacated spot after the early season vegetables are harvested. Warm season vegetables are not tolerant of cold wet soils.

 Learn more about vegetable gardening here and check out more information in our Gardeners Corner newsletter series.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.