Growing a Kitchen Garden

Imagine pulling together ingredients for a meal you’re about to prepare. You find meat in the refrigerator, rice in the pantry, and the herbs and vegetables you need just beyond your back door, ready for harvest.

That’s how a kitchen garden works — It functions as an extension of your kitchen and provides a steady source of delicious foods, available when you need them. 

What sets kitchen gardens apart?

You may be thinking, "I am growing vegetables in my garden. Does that mean I have a kitchen garden?" Possibly, but a kitchen garden is not necessarily the same thing as a vegetable garden.

With a kitchen garden, you grow a varied collection of edible plants, including herbs, vegetables, fruits, and edible flowers, with the goal of providing fresh ingredients for daily cooking. Home vegetable gardens are often larger and dedicated to growing vegetables.

Not only that, but most people grow kitchen gardens close to their house, right outside their kitchen door, when possible, for quick, easy access. Kitchen gardens also tend to be smaller than traditional vegetable gardens and use space-efficient methods like raised beds, containers, and vertical gardening to make the most of the space available. They’re meant to be manageable with minimal effort.

Plan your kitchen garden

While the ideal location for a kitchen garden is close to your kitchen, you’ll still want to find a spot that provides as much direct sunlight as possible (or be prepared to grow plants that tolerate shade). 

Soil quality will be important, too. If you plan to plant in the ground, test the soil in the spot you’ve selected for pH levels, nutrient content, and soil texture. Based on the soil test results, you might need to amend your soil by adding compost or organic matter to improve soil structure and fertility. Organic fertilizer will help with soil fertility, too. Adjust pH levels by adding lime to raise pH or sulfur to lower it. If necessary, you can improve drainage by working sand or perlite into the soil. 

If you’re planting in a raised bed, we still recommend adding compost and organic fertilizer to give your plants optimum nutrition and provide proper drainage.

Put some thought into water access as well. If you choose a location near a water source, it will save you considerable time, especially during dry periods. And, if you cover your garden soil with mulch, you’ll help reduce evaporation (and minimize weeds).

The size of your garden will impact its manageability. We suggest starting small, especially if you’re a beginner gardener, and expanding gradually as you gain experience. If you have multiple beds, raised beds, or containers in your kitchen garden, plan pathways to give yourself easy access for planting, watering, and harvesting. 

Selecting your plants

One of the most exciting parts of creating a kitchen garden is selecting your plants. Here’s a look at popular plant choices.


  • Leafy greens: Lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and arugula. They’re easy to grow and provide a continuous harvest.
  • Root vegetables: Carrots, radishes, beets, and turnips. They don’t need a lot of space.
  • Fruit-bearing vegetables: Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. These plants can be highly productive, and they’re kitchen garden staples.
  • Legumes: Beans and peas. They can be grown on trellises to save space.


  • Culinary herbs: Basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. They’re versatile and enhance the flavor of a wealth of dishes.


  • Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are compact and can be grown in small spaces.
  • Dwarf fruit trees: Apples, pears, and citrus trees are good choices for smaller gardens and containers.

Edible flowers

  • Nasturtiums: They add color and spice to salads.
  • Marigolds: Known for their slightly citrusy flavor, they can be used in salads or as a garnish.
  • Pansies: With a mild, slightly sweet flavor, they’re great for decorating desserts and salads.
  • Violas: They have a sweet, grassy flavor. Violas are a perfect for garnishes and salads.
  • Chive blossoms: They’re excellent in salads, omelets, and soups.

As with any garden, you’ll want to select plants that thrive in your region. You can find your USDA Hardiness Zone, and the plants that do well in it, with a bit of online research.

Companion planting

We mentioned that kitchen gardens can require less maintenance than traditional gardens. One strategy for achieving that is companion gardening: Growing certain plants together to improve growth, reduce pests, and enhance flavors.

Here are a few examples of common companion plants:

  • Tomatoes and basil: Basil improves the flavor of tomatoes and repels pests like aphids and whiteflies.
  • Carrots and onions: Onions deter carrot flies, while carrots help aerate the soil for onions.
  • Beans and corn: Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, benefiting corn, while corn provides a natural trellis for beans.
  • Cucumbers and nasturtiums: Nasturtiums attract beneficial insects and repel cucumber beetles, protecting cucumber plants.

Garden Care

When you plant, be sure to refer to the seed packages or seedling labels for instructions on soil depth and spacing. Here are some plant care guidelines to keep in mind.

  • Deep watering: Soak your soil thoroughly as needed, ideally early in the morning to minimize evaporation.
  • Pruning: Aim to prune your plants weekly to remove dead or diseased leaves, promote air circulation, and encourage new growth.
  • Thinning: Thin out seedlings so remaining plants have enough space to grow. 
  • Fertilizing: Feed your plants with a balanced, organic fertilizer according to each plant type’s needs. 
  • Preventing disease: Practice crop rotation, maintain good air circulation, and avoid overhead watering. Remove and dispose of any infected plant material promptly.
  • Controlling pests: Use organic pest control methods like introducing beneficial insects (ladybugs, lacewings), using insecticidal soaps, or applying neem oil. 

Maintaining Your Kitchen Garden Year-Round

One of the joys of a kitchen garden is having fresh produce available throughout the year. Here are some tips to help you do that:

  • Seasonal crops: Plant cool-season vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale, and radishes in the fall and early spring. Grow warm-season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and beans during the summer months when temperatures are higher.
  • Continuous harvests: Practice succession planting by sowing seeds in intervals. That will provide you with a continuous supply of fresh produce. 
  • Extending the growing season: Use cold frames, row covers, or cloches to protect your plants from frost into the colder months. For a more permanent solution, think about investing in a greenhouse or hoop house. 
  • Mulching: Apply a thick layer of mulch around your plants in late fall to insulate the soil and protect plant roots from freezing temperatures.
  • Indoor gardening: You can also try growing herbs like basil, parsley, and chives indoors on a sunny windowsill during the winter months. And you can use containers to grow small vegetables and greens indoors.

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