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5 Best plants for beginning gardeners

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P. Allen Smith, an award-winning garden and lifestyle designer, host of the public television program P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home, the show P. Allen Smith Gardens and, a regular contributor on NBC’s TODAY, is very knowledgeable on all aspects of gardening. From his Garden Home Retreat at Moss Mountain Farm in Roland, Arkansas, Allen teaches garden design, sustainable living and good harvest stewardship. He has a wealth of information on fast-growing, easy to grow “best plants” for beginning gardeners.

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Here’s what Allen has to say about the best plants that are easy to grow and fast-growing for beginning gardeners.

Growing your own vegetables and herbs is one of the best ways to start gardening. Numerous plants are easy to grow, and it’s so rewarding to eat what you’ve grown.

Here are some of Allen’s favorite best plants that will have beginning gardeners showing off their new green thumbs in no time.


Allen says sweet basil is the most popular variety of basil, with large, aromatic, flavorful leaves and is fast-growing. Beginning gardeners can enjoy almost immediate satisfaction from their hard work with an easy to grow plant at harvest time.

Grow it: Set plants out about two weeks after the last frost. Plant basil in full sun, and enrich the soil with plenty of organic nutrients. When you begin to frequently harvest leaves, feed the plant every couple of weeks with an all-purpose liquid plant food.

Use it: Start your harvest when the plant is six to eight inches tall. Enjoy fresh basil on sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper. You just might make it one of your best plants.


Mint is perfect for beginning gardeners, as it is easy to grow, requiring very little care. And yes, it likes to spread, but don’t let its garden thug reputation scare you –a simple tip will help beginning gardeners contain the problem.

Grow it: Mint prefers full sun, but does fine in partial shade. To prevent mint from taking over the garden, I put it in a bottomless plastic pot that is then planted in the soil. That way, the mint stays confined and doesn’t crowd out other plants.

Use it: You won’t have to wait long to enjoy this fast-growing herb. Fresh mint can brighten just about any dish or drink. During the hot summer months, cool off with a refreshing glass of iced tea with crushed mint leaves.


Cucumbers are cool treats on hot summer days. These warm-season vegetables are easy to grow and thrive in the hot summer months.

Grow it: Cucumbers plea for full sun and lots of of water. If you select vining varieties (Allen recommends, as they produce more fruit), use a cucumber trellis around the plants. The shoots help the plant rise up the trellis and keep fruit off the ground, which makes it simpler to pick and less likely to disease-proneness.

Use it: Start picking as soon as fruit is large enough to use. The more you harvest, the more fast-growing fruit the vines will produce. Fresh cucumber slices are really refreshing in the summer, but the chomp of a pickled cucumber is also great..


Allen always finds a place in his garden for dill (one of his favorite herbs), and he plants it with his cucumbers. Beneficial insects like hoverflies and predatory wasps are attracted to dill, making it a great herb to plant for natural pest control.

Grow it: Dill likes direct sun but prefers mild weather, so be sure to keep it watered during dry spells. Plants may require staking when in bloom to keep the tall flower stems from falling over.

Use it: You can harvest dill at any point between seedling and blooming. Fresh dill is delicious in dips and soups, or paired with fresh fish, like salmon. You can also freeze the leaves for later use.

Summer Squash or Zucchini

Grow summer squash and zucchini for a harvest that’ll really have you feeling good and excited. Both plants are fast-growing and produce abundantly… usually more than most people can eat in one season….. and likely heaps will be given away.

Grow it: For best results, enrich the soil with an all-purpose fertilizer before planting summer squash or zucchini. These vegetables love plenty of sun and good-draining soil, and will produce throughout the season if you keep them harvested.

Use it: Be sure and harvest squash and zucchini when they’re fledglings and tender. Both veggies are enjoyable steamed or fried, and zucchini bread is a delicious way to sneak vegetables into your (or your kids’) diet. Freeze either one to add to your table in the winter months while remembering the abundant summer harvest just past.

For Allen's article, click here.


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