Are you growing vegetables from seed for the first time? Here's a list of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed and tips to get started!
Growing vegetables from seeds can be a rewarding experience! There's nothing quite like harvesting (and eating!) something that you grew yourself.
While growing vegetables from seedlings can be a bit easier, you'll find that you have more options on varieties when you start from seeds instead. Plus, seeds are generally inexpensive compared to seedlings.
If you're not sure where to buy your seeds, you can check out local garden centres, hardware stores, or order them online. You can read more about where to buy seeds online here.
I'm going to share some general tips for growing each vegetable below, but please always be sure to follow the directions on your seed packets! Those instructions are written specifically for the seed that you're planting and will help you yield the best results.
Note: I'm going to refer to your "last frost date" quite a bit. If you don't know what I'm talking about, or aren't sure when your average last frost date might be, you can learn more about frost dates here.
Twelves of the Easiest Vegetables to Grow
(and Three Difficult Ones)
In this article, I'm going to talk about the 15 different plants. The first 12 are vegetables that are easy to grow, and the last 3 are vegetables that I don't recommend for anyone who is planting vegetables for the first time.
Some of these are technically fruits, but since most people treat them like a vegetable, I've included them in this list.
Jump to a Specific Plant
Use these links to jump directly to the specific vegetable that you want to read about. I've included detailed information for each vegetable on how to start the seeds and other handy tips.
Vegetable Seeds to Start Indoors
First, let's talk about the easiest vegetables to grow from seed that need to be started indoors.
Some vegetable seeds need to be started indoors and then transplanted outside once the weather warms up. This is especially important in colder zones where our growing season is short.
Also, some plants (like sweet peppers) take a very long time to grow. If we were to wait until the threat of frost is over to sow the seeds outside, they might not have enough time to reach maturity before the end of the season.
I've found that eggplants are fairly easy to grow, so long as they are able to stay warm.
Start your eggplant seeds indoors, about 8-12 weeks before you want to transplant them. This will likely be 6-10 weeks before your average last frost.
For example, if I'm planning on planting my seedlings outside around June 11th (when it's nice and warm out), I'll need to start the seeds indoors around March 19th.
Sow the seeds ½ inch deep in cardboard or coir pots (made from coconut husk fibre). These types of pots decompose when wet, so you can plant them directly into the soil or a larger pot without having to remove the seedling. This will reduce root disturbance when transplanting.
Eggplant seeds can benefit from a seedling heat mat (if you have one). Otherwise, place the tray somewhere warm.
People say to put them on top of your fridge, but I checked the temperature there with a thermometer, and it turns out that the top of my fridge isn't warm at all!
Note: I'm actually testing leaving my seed trays in my car since it's only about 10 degrees outside right now, but the inside of the vehicle is much warmer. I won't be doing this when it's hot outside though, as I think the intense heat would actually kill the plants...
Eggplant seeds should sprout in 7-12 days, depending on the variety.
Once you have nice little seedlings, transfer each one to a larger pot so it has room to grow, making sure to keep them warm. Keep moving the seedling to larger pots until it is consistently warm outside both during the day and at night.
Harden off the plant gradually to avoid shock. Then chose a very sunny place in your garden, as eggplants need 8 or more hours of sunlight each day. Space your seedlings 18-24 inches apart. Eggplants have moderate watering needs, so be careful not to let them dry out.
Eggplants can thrive in raised beds and containers because the soil heats up quickly. You may want to introduce a trellis or tomato cage to help keep fruit from sitting on the soil.
I've never grown lettuce myself (but I will this year!), so this information is purely from what I've learned through reading and my previous work training.
Unlike eggplants, lettuce doesn't mind cooler weather. This means that you have the option of starting your lettuce seeds indoors or sowing them directly into the ground.
If you want to start your seeds indoors (which can be beneficial for those with a short growing season), start them 4 weeks before you want to transplant them. This will be about 6 weeks before your average last frost.
Pre-moisten your soil before setting the seeds and don't bury lettuce seeds when you sow them. Surface seeding will result in better germination. Just scatter the seeds on top of the soil, then rake them in very gently to settle them in the soil. Some people will leave the seeds like that, while others recommend covering the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Keep the soil moist. Seeds should sprout in 7-15 days.
Lettuce needs a bit of shade in very hot weather, so don't plant it in your sunniest spot. It doesn't need a ton of water in spring, but water needs will increase as temperatures rise. Regular watering is essential to prevent leaves from getting bitter. Lettuce does well in containers and raised garden beds.
Leaf lettuce may be easier for beginners to grow compared to head lettuce, as you can snip what you need and the plant should keep growing.
I know that many people don't recommend that beginners start tomatoes from seeds, but honestly I've never had an issue with them. Last year we grew so many seedlings that we had to give a bunch of them away!
There are two categories of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes have a set or "determined" short size and a limited fruit bearing period. Once they produce, they may not set fruit again. These are usually the "bush" varieties that require a tomato cage for support.
Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and produce fruit until they are killed by the first frost. The fruit takes longer to develop and the plants can get quite tall. These are usually "vine" varieties that can run up a trellis.
If you have a short growing season, look for tomatoes that don't take a very long time to mature. Otherwise, they may not have enough time to mature and ripen before the first frost hits.
Start your seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost date. You can germinate the seeds on a heat mat or in a warm place. With bottom heat seeds should germinate in 7-14 days.
Move the seedlings into larger containers and keep them indoors until nighttime temperatures are at least 10°C (50°F). Tomatoes can get "leggy" without enough light, so keep your seedlings under a grow light, or your brightest light source until they go outside.
Prepare the soil for transplanting by amending it with a slow-release fertilizer that includes calcium, or add powdered milk. Tomatoes that don't have enough calcium may end up with blossom-end rot. Also, when transplanting the seedlings, be sure to bury the stems deep - so that the first pair of true leaves are only a few inches above the soil level. This encourages deeper root growth, because the plants will produce roots along the buried stems.
Also, be sure to set your trellis, stakes or tomato cages when planting, or you won't be able to get them around the plant later.
Tomatoes need a lot of sun and water, but take care not to wet the actual plants. While this is true for many plants, watering the leaves/fruit/stems and not just the soil can lead to diseased plants.
Recommended Variety: If you've never grown tomatoes before, you might want to start with a cherry tomato, like Sweet Millions. We used to sell a ton of these (as seedlings) in the garden centre. It's a hardy variety that is easy to take care of and matures in about 60 days.
The growing conditions for both hot and sweet peppers are basically the same. They like a lot of heat, a lot of water, and a lot of sunlight.
Start your seeds indoors 8-12 weeks before you plan on moving them outside. Like eggplants, pepper seeds may benefit from a seedling heat mat, if you have one. If not, germinate seeds in a warm place. The seeds can take 10-21 days to sprout, so don't be surprised if you don't see anything happening for a couple of weeks.
Move seedlings into larger pots as needed until the temperatures outside are consistently warm, and nighttime temperatures are around 12°C (55°F). Harden them off properly before transplanting.
Once you do transplant them, move them to the hottest and sunniest spot in your garden (they need 8 or more hours of sun) and make sure to water them regularly.
Note that while the plants themselves love heat and sunlight, the fruit can get sunscald from too much sun exposure. This presents as white areas on the fruit. If this happens, try to provide afternoon shade until the hot weather calms down.
I have personally found that hot peppers are much easier to grow than sweet peppers. They grow more quickly and seem to be more resilient to not getting enough water.
Peppers can thrive in raised beds and containers because the soil heats up quickly. Also, peppers are actually a perennial plant in areas that don't get frost!
Okra loves warm growing season. While it usually does best being directly sown into the garden, you will need to start your seeds indoors if you live in a cold climate.
Sow your seeds ½ inch deep in a deep container about 4 weeks before you want to plant them outside. Okra plants germinate faster if you soak your seeds overnight in lukewarm water. They also prefer warm soil, so use a heat mat or place the tray with your seeds in a warm place.
Once the temperatures are consistently warm, you can transplant your okra outside. Okra does best in raised garden beds that have a lot of depth, as the roots are long. Pick a very warm and sunny spot in your garden. Okra needs 8 or more hours of sunlight, and will grow quickly when temperatures reach about 26°C (80°F). Okra's watering needs are low though - a weekly deep watering should suffice.
If you want to grow okra in a container, you will need to look for "compact" varieties.
Important: some people have a skin sensitivity to okra's leaves, so please wear gloves when handling the plant and harvesting.
Vegetable Seeds to Direct Sow
There are some plants that don't need to be started indoors because they grow quickly or they like cooler weather. Other plants, like carrots, are started outside because they cannot tolerate being transplanted.
Here are the easiest vegetables to grow from seed that need to be directly sowed outside.
I've been wanting to grow radishes for a while now, and I'm finally going to do it this spring! Radishes are very appealing because you don't have to wait very long to harvest them. Most varieties are ready in just 4-6 weeks!
Radishes don't like a lot of nitrogen in their soil, so don't add a fertilizer that's high in nitrogen, and don't plant them in a spot that had beans last year.
Radishes are a great companion plant to carrots. Mix the two seeds together and sprinkle on the soil. Cover with a light coating of soil. Seeds should sprout in 5-7 days.
As the radishes grow, they will loosen up the soil for the carrots. By the time you harvest the radishes, the carrots will have all the space they need to grow and loose soil means less deformed carrots!
Direct sow your radish seeds 6 weeks before your last frost in spring, and 4 weeks before the first frost in Autumn.
Radishes need about 4 hours of sunlight a day and don't need a lot of water. Harvest your radishes before the temperatures heat up because hot weather = spicy bitter radishes.
Like carrots, they work well in containers and raised garden beds.
Carrots are not difficult to grow, so long as your soil is loose and sandy. Use a garden trowel to loosen the soil to a depth of about 8 inches, removing any rocks or solid pieces of soil as you go.
Carrots prefer cooler temperatures, so direct sow them 4-6 weeks before your last frost, or 4-8 weeks before your first frost. Hot weather will make your carrots taste bitter, while very cold temperatures can actually make your carrots sweeter.
Please note that carrots generally do not tolerate being transplanted! Moving the seedlings can cause deformity. Always direct sow your carrot seeds.
Prepare the soil for seeding by giving it deep watering. Humus-rich soils work well for carrots. Sprinkle the seeds onto the soil and gently rake in. Water gently but frequently until germination. You might need a lightweight row cover to prevent the seeds from drying out until they germinate.
Plant your carrots in a sunny spot, as carrots need about 6-8 hours of sunlight, and water regularly.
Carrots can take 2-3 weeks to germinate, so be patient and keep the soil moist. Once the plants germinate, you can thin them out to 2-3 inches between plants.
As mentioned above, radishes and carrots are great companions. Mix the seeds together, sprinkle of the soil and either rake in gently, or cover with a very light coating of soil. Once the radishes grow and are harvested, they will have broken up the soil and left lots of space for the carrots.
Carrots work well in containers and raised garden beds.
There are two options to chose from when selecting beans for your garden: bush beans and pole peans.
I personally think that bush beans are easier to grow. They mature quicker, work in containers because they don't need a trellis, and you can harvest them quickly.
That being said, pole beans take up less ground space, so you can fit more plants into a small area. You will need a trellis for pole beans, though.
Wait until the soil is very warm before directly sowing your bean seeds otherwise the seeds will rot. The seeds will also germinate faster in warm soil (about 20°C/68°F). Plant the seeds 3 inches apart, and about 1 inch deep. The seeds should sprout in 8-16 days. You can thin the plants to be spaced out further after germination.
Keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet or the seeds will rot. Also wet bean leaves are susceptible to diseases.
Green beans need 8 or more hours of sunlight, and a moderate amount of water.
Green beans can be very easy to grow, and they make great use of vertical space in your garden. However, you do need several plants in order to be able to harvest enough beans for a couple of meals. If you are planning to grow beans in containers, you will need more than one and make sure they have a trellis in each container.
Green peas are one of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed, because they don't need a lot of work! Peas are a cool weather plant that germinates quickly, so they do best when directly sown into the ground in early spring. You can plant your seeds as soon as the soil is soft enough to be worked - probably 6 weeks before your average last frost date.
Sow pea seeds 1 inch deep, and 1-3 inches apart. Seeds should sprout in 7-14 days.
Peas need 6 or more hours of sunlight each day and need a moderate amount of water. Be sure to give them a trellis for support.
Like green beans, peas are easy to grow, container-friendly and are a great way to make use of vertical space. However, you do need several plants to get enough peas for one meal. If you are short on space, opt for snap peas as they only need about one-tenth of the amount of space that shelling peas require. Snow peas are a good option, too.
Cucumbers love warm weather, lots of sunlight, compost and a ton of water.
Since cucumbers do not transplant well, direct sow your seeds instead. Wait until after the last frost - when the soil has warmed up. Sow the seeds 1 inch deep, and about 3 inches apart. You'll need to keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. Otherwise, the seeds will rot.
Cucumbers are container and raised bed-friendly and are a great way to make use of vertical space, too. They need 8 or more hours of sunlight, so be sure to plant them in a sunny spot.
Kale is another vegetable that is considered one of the absolute easiest to grow. I haven't grown this one myself yet, though.
Like lettuce, kale seeds can be started indoors or sown directly into the ground. Kale prefers cold weather and actually tastes better when harvested after going through a frost.
Sow kale seeds directly into the ground ¼ inch deep and 3 inches apart. Seeds should germinate in 7-10 days, then thin to about 12 inches between plants. Sow 4-6 weeks before last frost in spring, and 4-6 weeks before first frost in fall.
Kale needs about 6 hours of sunlight a day, and needs a moderate amount of water. Keep the soil around kale moist to prevent the roots from drying out.
Kale does well in containers and raised garden beds.
While you could start beet seeds indoors, it's not entirely necessary. You can direct sow them outside about 4 weeks before your average last frost date. Beets will not produce roots if planted when the soil is too cold, though. Seeds should germinate in 5-12 days, depending on the soil temperature.
Beets do well in raised beds, in-ground beds, or containers. When sowing the seeds outside, plant them ½ inch deep and space them about 4-6 inches apart so they have enough room to grow.
Some people swear by soaking beet seeds for 24 hours in water to speed the germination, but I haven't tried that. Regardless, you will need to keep the area moist until the seeds gerimnate, then water regularly. Muchling the plant may help to keep the soil moist, but it can also attract mice or voles, so use with caution.
Beets only need about 4- hours of sun a day, so they may do well in partial shade depending on how many hours of light you get.
Zucchini & Summer Squash
You can either start these seeds indoors, or direct sow them once the weather warms up.
To direct sow your zucchini seeds into containers or raised garden beds, ensure that the weather will be consistently warm, and there's no chance of frost.
Sow the seeds 1 inch deep and 3-6 inches apart. Seeds should sprout in a week or two. Once seedlings emerge, thin them to 2-4 feet apart. You need to keep these plants away from each other, or they will compete for nutrients and water.
Plant your zucchini and summer squash with nasturtiums to repel squash vine borers that can kill your squash plants.
Zucchini and summer squash have similar needs to cucumbers: lots of light, lots of water, and lots of nutrients.
Plants That Beginners May Want to Avoid
Ok, so we covered some of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed, now let's take a look at some of the hardest.
Broccoli is very sensitive to heat, so a warm spring can spell disaster for this green vegetable. A sudden spike in temperature can cause broccoli to bolt, turning it's tight head into seperate flowers. Once this happens, there is nothing you can do.
You may find that broccoli is easier to grow in the fall when there's less chance of very hot days.
Also, broccoli takes a very long time to grow, making it difficult for gardeners with short growing seasons. The one year that I tried growing broccoli, I managed to harvest one tiny stalk (shown in the photo above) and then everything else bolted and was ruined.
Brussels sprouts need a long cool growing season, and they grow very slowly. Some varieties take up to 130 to mature! If you want to try growing them, you'll need to start them indoors in June and transplant them by mid-August. Make sure your soil is nutrient rich to get the best results.
Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts perform better in cooler weather. And a few moderate freezes can actually make them taste sweeter!
Are you noticing a theme here? Plants in the Brassica family tend to be a bit harder to grow than other vegetables.
Cauliflower in particular is very sensitive to changes in temperature. They like cool, but not cold weather, and will bolt like broccoli in warmer temperatures.
Also, they require consistent moisture to prevent "buttoning", where the head develops into several small flower heads instead of one large head.
Additionally, they need a LOT of water. Otherwise, they become very bitter in flavour.
Find Your Planting Calendar
If you're new to gardening or just want to plan out your growing season a bit better this year, you might want to print off the vegetable planting calendar for your area.
Go to the planting calendar page on The Old Farmer's Almanac website and search for your area by city, state/province or ZIP/postal code. This works for both Canadian and USA cities and gives you planting dates for specific fruits and vegetables, for both the spring and fall growing seasons.
Do you agree that these are the easiest vegetables to grow from seed? Let me know in the comments! I'd love to find out what you enjoy growing in your garden too.