5 Gardeners Share Their Favorite Summer Crops to Grow

It’s that time of year when we’re summer dreaming, especially about our summer gardens. Choosing which starters and seeds to invest in can be a bit overwhelming, no matter how seasoned you are at it.

To help narrow down your choices (or perhaps give you even more ideas), we asked five gardeners to tell us about their favorite summer crops they return to year after year.

We noticed a few commonalities, especially with one plant in particular.

The Common Denominator: Basil

The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

There’s one crop in particular that came up the most often, and that’s basil. In fact, gardening pros Laura Janney of The Inspired Garden, Donna Letier of Gardenuity, Deanna Talerico at Homestead and Chill, and Samantha Ulasy of Margaret Valley Landscaping all included basil on their list.

Talerico even went as far as saying that a summer garden wouldn’t be complete without it. When she’s done harvesting from the plant, she allows it to bloom, since bees adore its flowers.

Ulasy enjoys planting basil as a shade herb since it’s delicious to cook with and naturally repels flies and mosquitos. In terms of specific varieties, Letier is growing Thai basil, boxwood basil, and sweet basil in her garden this year.

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The Spruce / K. Dave

It’s looking like it’s going to be another “tomato girl” summer. Letier, Ulasy, and Marni Ward of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company all cited tomatoes as one of their favorite summer crops.

Letier actually isn’t the biggest fan of tomatoes herself but still plants them for her family.

“My whole family loves picking them right off the vine and eating them warm from the sunshine,” she says. This season, her favorite is the Heartbreaker tomato, which is an extra juicy, cocktail-sized, and heart-shaped variety.

Ward says she practically survives off of tomatoes in the summer, and her idea of the perfect summer lunch is toasted sourdough topped with butter, slices of tomatoes, and salt.

One of Ulasy’s favorite qualities of tomatoes is their ability to climb.

“I take this as an exciting chance to train these plants to grow upward and onto a trellis or arbor,” she says. “This is not only visually appealing, but it has a lot of other benefits, such as keeping the fruit off the ground and away from pests and critters, stopping powdery mildew from attacking the foliage, and producing a higher-quality yield.”


​The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

In terms of a more ornamental crop, two of the gardeners we chatted with cited colorful zinnias.

“You can never have too many zinnias—they transform gardens into magical spaces and are outstanding as cut flowers to brighten your indoor spaces,” Janney says.

She loves starting her zinnias from nursery plants or seeds indoors and also directly sowing some into her flower patch. The combination ensures continuous blooms all summer long.

Ward is also a big fan of zinnias because of the range of colors they come in and the fact that they last a long time after cutting.


​The Spruce / Kara Riley 

As far as one of the more unique answers we received goes, Talerico listed calendula as something she plants every year. Talerico loves taking full advantage of these edible blooms by adding them to salads, cocktails, and iced tea.

They’re also a great companion plant. “Tucked among other veggies in the garden, the flowers bring a cheerful pop of color while attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects,” she says.

Honorable Mentions: Mint, Peppers, and Green Beans

Getty Images / BruceBlock

As it turns out, gardeners could list dozens of crops they love to grow. Here are a few more highlights from the answers we received from our sources:

  • Mint: “My favorite herb during the summer would be peppermint,” Ward says. “It’s very refreshing, and I like to put it in my water.”
  • Peppers: “I grow a wide range of peppers, including jalapeños, shishitos, and bell,” Letier says. “All are fun to grow, harvest, prepare, and pickle.”
  • Green Beans: “Though perhaps a bit of an overlooked underdog, green beans are another summer favorite,” Talerico says. “Plus, I love the whimsical look of an arched garden trellis dripping with vining green beans.”

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