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Best Plants to Grow In Your Survival Garden, Part 1: The Basics

With feelings of food insecurity on the rise, starting a survival garden may have crossed your mind more than once. Even though we usually have enough food being produced and sold every day, the current crisis has reminded most of us of the possibility that shelves at the local grocery store may one day be empty.

With all the chaos and uncertainty playing out in the world, now is the perfect time to become a little more self-sufficient and plant a vegetable garden that feeds you and your family! Starting a garden can be a wonderful way to get the family outdoors more often, and can give you the peace of mind of knowing where your next meal is coming from.

Plus, some of the best survival garden plants are actually pretty easy to grow! In this article, I’ll list some easy plants to begin with, as well as some basic information that will help you get your garden going!

See also: Best Plants to Grow in Your Survival Garden Part 2: 16 Unusual Essential Perennials

starting-survival-garden

Starting a Survival Garden

There are a few simple things to keep in mind when starting a brand-new survival garden. For example, you have the option of starting with seeds that you will germinate or buying seedlings and mature plants from your local nursery. If you’re buying seeds, you’ll want to opt for the non-GMO variety so that you can save the seeds for extra food security!

You’ll also want to think about other factors such as budget, space, and sunlight available to you, as well as some other important considerations.

Recommended: Seed Saving for Survival of Your Vegetable Garden and Food Security 

For example, will you need a greenhouse (for colder climates), or will you be planting directly into the ground? How much time would you like to spend maintaining your garden every week? Take note of these while you’re planning your survival garden.

Another thing to consider is which climate zone you live in, as this can dictate the time of year you need to start certain plants in your garden. The good news is that this is as easy as looking up where your area falls on a Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Now with these considerations in mind, let’s look at the best plants to start with in your survival garden.

Best Survival Garden Plants to Start With

Herbs

Herbs are one of the best survival garden plants to start with because they’re relatively easy to grow and are very useful. Not only will they be a great addition to your cooking, but herbs generally have health benefits as well.

You can eat them fresh or you can dry them to make a homegrown tea for later in the season!

1. Thyme

thyme is a popular survival garden herb
Thyme is a versatile herb with a lot of different varieties

The first herb to consider for your survival garden is thyme. Thyme is a great-tasting herb that adores full sun and is very easy to grow. It’s also mildly antiviral which can prove useful in a survival garden. Thyme flourishes best in zones 5 to 9, as it prefers dry and sunny conditions.

However, with proper care, you may be able to grow thyme in colder zones. It is a versatile herb with different varieties, so some may fare better in colder climates than others.

2. Rosemary

rosemary bush with a butterfly on
Rosemary is a fragrant herb that prefers direct sunlight

A great addition to any garden, rosemary is another sun-loving plant that is easy to grow, tastes great, and adds health benefits to every plate.

It does prefer to be planted in the ground (not in a pot) once it reaches a certain size, and if left to its own devices it will become a fragrant bush that attracts bees to its beautiful flowers. Rosemary is usually only hardy in zones 8 and above as it doesn’t like the cold, but can be kept in a pot indoors where it gets ample sun if you live in colder climates.

3. Mint

mint is fast growing and makes a great survival garden herb
Mint is one of the best survival garden plants around – it grows like a weed!

While some people think of it more like a weed, mint is one of my favorite herbs to keep in my garden because it smells great, tastes great, and it grows aggressively!

Many gardeners have horror stories of one mint plant taking over their whole yard, so I suggest using a pot to cultivate this one. This herb is a runner, meaning that it spreads across the ground rather than growing upward, so a long pot with good drainage would be best.

Recommended: Why You Shouldn’t Grow Vegetables in Raised Gardens

There are many different varieties of mint including peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate mint so you can pick whichever one smells best to you. You can use your mint to flavor drinks (even your water), and make teas to relieve an upset stomach or soothe a headache. Hardy from zones 4-9.

4. Basil

a mans hands holding a potted basil plant
Basil tastes good when added to almost anything

A tasty and fragrant herb, basil is a favorite because it tastes good when added to almost anything! Add it to your smoothies or your pizza for a fresh and healthy taste.

It is usually grown as an annual (meaning it needs to be replanted every year) because it is finicky in both the hot heat of summer in some climates and the cold of winter in other climates. Basil is hardy from zones 2-11.

5. Cilantro

a basket of cilantro
Cilantro is an easy garnish to grow

Another fragrant herb to consider for your survival garden, cilantro is an easy garnish to grow yourself, just like lettuce. It has a quick harvest time, and can be used 3-4 weeks after sowing your seeds! It’s a fragrant herb to add to salads and is a key ingredient for many dishes and cuisines (you’re probably used to seeing it featured in many different Mexican dishes),

It is hardy from zones 3-8 for springtime planting and zones 9-11 for fall and winter planting.

Leafy Greens and Grasses

We all need greens in our life. Greens such as kale and lettuce are some of the best survival garden plants as they don’t take up a ton of space, though you may need to plant a few of them to get a high yield. What’s great about these greens is that they generally don’t take a long time to produce, so you’ll be able to plant 2-3 crops per season.

These plants do well with partial to full sun, depending on how hot your climate is.

1. Kale

a close up image of kale leaves
Kale is a superfood and great for a survival garden

Branded as a superfood, kale is tasty and packs quite a few vitamins and minerals into its leaves. This makes it a good option for a survival garden as it packs a lot of nutritional punch into a few leaves, and is relatively easy to grow. Generally, you can harvest a bundle of kale from 70-80 days after seeding. It’s hardy from zones 7-9.

2. Lettuce

lettuce is one of the best survival garden plants to grow
Lettuce is great for survival gardens as it’s a staple in most homes

A firm favorite in salads, sandwiches, and garnishes, lettuce and all its varieties are a staple in most homes. It can be harvested in 70-100 days, depending on the variety.

For example, butterhead lettuce can be harvested whenever you think it’s ready, but Romaine and crisphead will need more time. It’s hardy from zones 4-9.

3. Carrots

a bunch of carrots on a wooden surface
Carrots are tasty, and you can even eat their tops and greens!

A fast and easy-growing root vegetable, carrots are also a tasty addition to your survival garden. There are many varieties to choose from, but they are generally ready to harvest between 50-75 days.

You can also eat the carrot tops and greens, which are full of vitamins and protein and may even aid in digestion! Carrot plants are hardy from zones 3-10.

4. Green Onions

Green onions are full of flavor and easy to grow.

A delicious addition to your garden, green onions pack a lot of flavor and are easy to grow. One thing that’s great about them (except for their delicious taste) is the fact that they keep on growing after you’ve picked them, unless you pull them up from the roots.

I often find myself cutting a piece to snack on while I’m working in my garden, and of course, adding it to my homemade meals. Green onions are hardy in zones 3-11.

5. Corn

Corn is a great grain to grow for yourself. It’s a great addition to a survival garden, as it gives you the option to dry the kernels and grind your own cornflour if needed. But in general, it’s a good crop to have purely for the yummy corn that you’ll produce.

Generally, corn husks will be ready to harvest after 100 days when the husk silks turn brown. Hardy to zones 4-8.

To mill your own cornflour and other grains, I recommend getting a good quality mill, like this one:

hawos Easy Stone Grain Flour Mill in Wood 110 Volts 360 Watts Grinding Rate 4 oz/min
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  • Grindstone ø (corundum ceramic stones) -2.76 inches
  • Recommended for 1-2 persons
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11/30/2022 02:38 am GMT

6. Wheatgrass

wheatgrass is highluy ntritious and makes a great survival garden plant
Wheatgrass is nutritious and fast growing

While it is not actually wheat, wheatgrass is a highly nutritious grass that is commonly added to smoothies and health drinks. It is fast-growing and can be grown very easily in compact bins inside the home – freeing up space in your outdoor garden to grow other crops.

What I love most about this grass is that this grass can be used to cheaply feed your livestock animals, such as rabbits, chickens, and goats if you’re ever in a tight spot.

Gourds

Gourds include a range of favorites like pumpkins, watermelon, and squash. These plants can grow to be very large and can be both vining or bushy. And what’s great about this group is that each squash or pumpkin you grow will usually have many viable seeds that you can then dry and use to plant your crop next season.

1. Pumpkins

a close up image of a sliced pumpkin with segments
Pumpkins are easy to germinate when started from seed

One reason pumpkins are a great plant to grow in your survival garden is that they are extremely easy to grow when started from seed and will grow to be quite large plants.

Different varieties will give different-sized pumpkins, which you can then use for baking, jack-o-lantern carving, and even as a tasty additive to your dog’s food! Hardy to zones 4-9, and they enjoy full sun and warm weather.

2. Squash

There are squash varieties, and all of them are a firm favorite of mine to eat on a regular basis. Like pumpkins, these plants can grow to be quite large and need space to spread their roots and leaves, but they produce more often. You can grow both winter squash (tougher skin) and summer squash (tender skin) for more consistent harvests.

In general, squash does best in slightly warmer climates, such as zones 7-10.

3. Melons

Melons are delightful and delicious plants to grow for yourself. Vining and bushy like their other gourd cousins, melons have similar requirements when it comes to warmth and sun. Watermelon and cantaloupes may take quite a while to develop fruits, but the rewards are more than enough!

Melons are mostly hardy from zones 3-11.

Nightshades

Nightshades include some of the most commonly grown plants in both agriculture and survival gardens. And, just like gourds, these will produce viable seeds that you can plant again next season.

1. Potatoes

For many across the world, potatoes are a staple for many across the world, and very easy to grow as well. Simply let a potato from the store grow roots, plant it in some dirt, and water it regularly. Soon enough, you will see green leaves sprouting into the air. From then on, they grow very rapidly.

Another way is to buy seed potatoes, which will ensure you don’t introduce common potato diseases into your crop, such as early blight, black scurf, and pink rot. You may find that, once you have these diseases, it’s impossible to get rid of.

Also, practice crop rotation with nightshades, and don’t put all your nightshades together in one area!

Once the leaves start to brown, you know it’s almost time to harvest the potatoes in the ground. Hardy to zones 3-10.

2. Tomatoes

a pile of different tomatoe varieties on a wooden tabletop
There are many tomato varieties and they’re all easy to grow

Another favorite of mine, tomatoes are very easy to grow and taste delicious. They prefer full sun, and they vine quickly. It’s a good idea to place a tomato cage around the plant when it is small and let it trellis into the cage as the plant grows.

Prune back dead branches and stems as the plant grows – and it will grow quickly! Tomatoes can be grown in zones 5-8.

3. Peppers

No matter their variety, peppers are easy to grow and will give a plentiful harvest throughout the growing season. What I love about peppers is that you can choose a variety based on your taste.

In my house, we love spicy – so we grow habaneros, serranos, ghost peppers, banana peppers, and jalapeños year-round.

Don’t love spicy? You can still grow bell peppers and ancho peppers for a zesty addition to your meals. Peppers are hardy in sunny, warm climates, zones 5-11.

Legumes

Legumes are great plants for growing plant-based protein in your survival garden. There are running, bush, and vining types of both peas and beans so you can choose your variety based on your space and your needs.

1. Beans

Some of the more common varieties of beans include green beans, lima beans, pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans, but you’ll also find many other varieties.

All of these varieties can be picked and eaten fresh or left to dry on the vine. Drying the beans helps to preserve them for later, and is often what is done with varieties like pinto and black beans. These plants are full of protein and essential fiber too!

Hardiness zones differ for each variety, but generally, beans do well in mild to warmer climates.

2. Peas

peas are good to grow in a survival garden
Peas can be grown easily, picked and dried, or eaten raw

Common pea varieties include snow peas, sugar snap peas, and chickpeas. These are generally picked while still green on the vine rather than dried and can be eaten raw.

Many pea plants make for a great trellising addition to a garden as well and produce wonderful “fruits” that the whole family will love. They’re hardy mostly in zone 8.

Trees

If you’re like me, then you’ll agree that no garden is complete without a tree or two. Not only will trees produce shade during the hot months, but fruit trees often produce higher yields than you know what to do with!

Before choosing a fruit tree, make sure that you read up on whether that particular species is self-pollinating or not. If it is not self-pollinating (like apple trees, for example) then you may need to plant two (or more) of the same species in order to obtain a plentiful harvest.

1. Citrus Trees

Citrus-producing trees like orange, lemon, and lime are delicious and beautiful additions to your garden. These trees are inexpensive to buy from most nurseries, and they will produce bags and bags full of produce. You may even have enough to share with your neighbors!

These trees do well in warm climates with little to no frost, mostly in zones 8 – 11.

2. Avocados

Another lively addition to your garden, avocados are abundant in essential fats and are delicious too! The downside with this plant is that you will have to wait a while before it actually produces fruits – about 10 years if you start it from a pit, and a few years if you buy one from a nursery.

But even so, having one in your survival garden ready to go would be a good idea. These trees do best in warmer climates, zones 8 – 11, but can be kept potted indoors in colder climates.

3. Plum trees

a close up of purple plums
Plum trees need to be planted with a companion plum tree or they won’t procreate

Since they are not self-pollinating plum trees need to be planted with a companion plum tree so that bees can help with pollination.

This is a deciduous tree, meaning that it will lose its leaves in the winter and bloom with the prettiest flowers in the spring. These trees are hardier than the other two trees in cold weather, and of course, produce the most delectable fruit of all time. Hardy in zones 3-8.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you survive on a vegetable garden?

A vegetable garden and a survival garden are basically the same thing, except a survival garden focuses on producing enough food to sustain you, without the need to supplement food from other sources. As long as it is bountiful enough to do this, you can absolutely survive on a vegetable garden.

What crops are best for a survival garden?

The best crops for a survival garden include gourds like pumpkin and squash, nightshades like potatoes and tomatoes, leafy greens, and legumes like peas and beans. However, any plant that is easy to grow and/or produces a high yield is a good candidate for a survival garden.

What size garden do you need to survive?

For a family of four to be able to produce enough food to survive, a minimum of a quarter of an acre of workable land would be needed.

Time to Get Started With Your Survival Garden

So now that you know where to start and what to start thinking about, it’s time to begin your very own survival garden! Take it slow, and learn what works for you in your space and your climate. It may be a good idea to start with just 3-6 plants and work your way up from there.

While you’re at it, experiment with starting plants from seed versus buying seedlings from a nursery and see what fits your budget and needs. At the end of the day, learning how to garden is an irreplaceable skill for you and your family and will give you peace of mind if the grocery store doesn’t have what you’re looking for in the future. Have fun and get outdoors!

Authors

  • Elle

    Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.

  • Steph Simpson

Hugh Pizek

Monday 3rd of January 2022

Your plant guide fails to take into account the simple matter of altitude. Every zip code for Hawaii returns 12b however one can find arctic conditions at 13000 ft and every single climate zone code in between

Elle

Wednesday 5th of January 2022

That's a great point Hugh, thanks for pointing that out! There are most certainly different microclimates within each climate. We live in a valley in the tropics where the temperature is generally mild and it never reaches frost point, whereas the mountain (only 5km away) manages to grow potatoes, garlic, and other cold-weather crops in winter due to their altitude.

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