Creative Vegetable Gardener:So Many Choices! How to Decide What to Grow in a Garden

woman in garden what to grow

What exactly to grow in a garden is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a gardener. And it can be a daunting one.

There are SO many options and they all look enticing.

But, most of us don’t have the garden space, time or energy to grow everything listed in the seed catalog. 

So, how do you decide what to grow in a garden?

In my gardening classes I try to convince encourage my students to think strategically about their gardens before placing their seed orders. Instead of running out to the nursery on the first nice day of spring and throwing plants and seeds into your cart willy-nilly (I’ve been there!), I encourage you to be more deliberate in your choices this year.

This will definitely lead you to getting better results in your garden. Which makes gardening feel more worth it and way more fun!

In this article I’m sharing two different worksheets from inside my Smart Start Garden Planner to walk you through the process of creating a personalized and strategic list of vegetables to grow this year.

woman holding carrots to grow in a garden

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Two Steps for Figuring Out What to Grow in a Garden

Step #1: Taking a Closer Look at Your Life

In this step you’ll use the below worksheet to reflect upon your cooking, grocery shopping and eating habits by asking yourself nine different questions.

Click here to print out the worksheet.

what do i want to grow worksheet

I’ll share the strategic thinking behind some of the questions by explaining more below.

What does my family eat and buy from the grocery store on a regular basis?
Think about what you buy weekly from the grocery store. Focus on vegetables, fruits and herbs you can grow in your area.

Is there anything on that list you can easily grow in your own garden this year? For example, if you buy lots of berries during the winter for your morning smoothies, add a raspberry patch to your garden plan.

Or if your kids love pasta and tomato sauce for dinner every week grow a few more tomato plants and freeze the extra harvest for winter dinners.

What meals show up on your family’s menu each month?
Deconstruct some of your favorite meals to see if you can grow some of the ingredients. In our house we often use burritos as a quick weeknight meal. We love growing and preserving our favorite burrito ingredients: garlic, onions, red peppers, corn and salsa.

 bowls of greens from garden harvest

Which foods provide the highest value? What vegetables are expensive to buy or difficult to find in the winter?
Think about the most expensive items you buy from the grocery store or farmers market each season. Which of those things can you plan to grow in your garden this year?

I love to have a spinach salad with my dinner most nights. Sometimes organic spinach costs up to $9/lb. at my local farmers markets. So, I make sure to plant several beds with spinach in spring and fall to provide my own salads as many nights as possible.

What will make you happy to grow in your garden?
I’m all for being strategic when deciding what you want to grow in your garden. But, we also have to recognize that gardening is also a source of deep joy for many of us. You can’t put a price tag on that!

By ending with this question, you ask your head to take a step aside and listen to your heart. Some of the things we choose to grow might not make financial or strategic sense, but they just plain make us happy.

I grow up to 500 onions in my garden each year because I like to store them in my basement and use them all winter long for cooking. If you look at the price of onions at the grocery store you might think “it’s not worth it” for me to grow onions.

But, I like running downstairs when I’m about to cook and choosing a red or yellow onion from the crates lining my basement closet. It makes me feel good and I find onions very easy to grow, so that’s why I keep doing it!

woman holding bowl of basil in garden

#2: Pick Which Vegetables to Grow in Your Garden

Here’s the part we’ve all been waiting for! It’s time to start choosing which vegetables to grow in your garden this season. Yahoo!

For this step, print out the My Vegetable List worksheet below. Use your answers to the questions from the worksheet from step one to help you strategically choose what vegetables you want to grow in your garden.

Click here to download the worksheet.

choose which vegetables to grow worksheet

To get the most bang for your buck, consider prioritizing the vegetables that showed up in your answers on the first worksheet. For example, my answer to question three—What is most important to me to have fresh from my garden?—is spinach, herbs, red peppers, and kale.

Why? Because I love to eat a spinach salad most nights with dinner and I also use spinach as a main ingredient in my morning smoothie.

Herbs are expensive at the grocery store and they spoil quickly, so being able to run out to my garden and snip a few for a recipe saves me so much money throughout the season. And fresh herbs really elevate the flavor of the dishes I serve for dinner.

Fresh red peppers are like gold to me! I love having more than we can eat during the summer so I can share them with friends and neighbors. They always feel like such a valuable gift to give!

And in summer, when it’s too hot to grow spinach in my garden, I use massaged kale salads to replace my nightly spinach salad.

So, choosing to grow all of those vegetables in my garden this season is definitely a strategic move. They will support my eating and cooking preferences and save me money at the grocery store.

Think about what you like to eat and the lifestyle you’re trying to create when you fill out the worksheet.

Use the checkboxes to choose what you’d like to grow this season. There are some extra columns if you want to mark down how much you eat per week or if you already know how many plants or feet of the vegetable you want in your garden. If not, don’t worry about that right now.

This is just your first draft. 

vegetable harvest choosing what to grow

As you get further into this process, you can dive into the second section of my Smart Start Garden Planner, titled Veggie Essentials, where I help you get to know each vegetable on your list better – how long it takes to get a harvest, how much you can expect to harvest from each plant, how big the plant grows, and in what season you can expect to start harvesting.

The goal of this section is to help you decide if all of the vegetables on your list feel “worth it” to grow to you. 

There’s no doubt about it, when it’s time to make decisions and order seeds, our eyes are usually bigger than our gardens. There’s no way we’ll have room to grow everything on our list, unless we have a mini-farm! 

But, setting aside a few minutes to step back and examine your eating, cooking and grocery shopping habits before you start choosing what you want to grow will pay big dividends in the long run. Especially if you use the information your glean to be strategic in making your selections.

It will also help make your seed ordering decisions a lot easier and set you on the path of getting better results from all of your effort this season.

What more can you ask for?

Check out more resources below if you’re ready to start having fun planning your garden, get excited about the upcoming season, and prepare for a successful year of gardening!

radish harvest from garden

Next Steps for Planning Your Garden

Your garden dreams really can come true . . . you just have to plan for them! If you’d like some guidance in creating a smart and simple plan for a successful season in your garden, here’s how I’d love to help.

gardening planning book


BOOK: Smart Start Garden Planner: Your Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Season. This workbook keeps planning practical, down-to-earth, and fun! You’ll work through your plan step-by-step, and at the end you’ll have a personalized blueprint for what a successful season in your garden looks like.

Check it out here.



MASTERCLASS: Success in Every Season. Grow more vegetables than ever in your garden this season!

Each season we’ll focus on exactly what you need to know to be successful. The seasons build upon one another (just like in your garden!) to create a complete toolkit of skills that will set you up for a lifetime of gardening.



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