Top 10 Value Veggies to Plant

Can you guess which plant is #1 for getting the most bang for your gardening buck?

By: Laura James
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“What should I grow?” It’s the first question for most people, beginners or experts, when thinking of planting a garden. It’s also something Mel Bartholomew, inventor of the Square Foot Gardening method, gets asked quite a bit.

Basket Full of Vegetables

Vegetable Harvest Tips

When your veggie garden is in full production mode, it can be a challenge to keep up with the harvest. These tips will help you bring in the produce efficiently so you can get to the best part: eating!

Photo by: Debbie Wolfe

Debbie Wolfe

Kim Roman, interim CEO of Square Foot Gardening Foundation, says that when she or Bartholomew talk to gardeners, they find that an underlying factor of that question is often cost. “After a discussion about garden goals – their likes and dislikes – we discover that what gardeners really want to know is what to plant to save money,” she says. “I believe most gardeners, regardless of their level of experience, assume that growing their own food is always cheaper than buying it. As Bartholomew suggests, ‘That’s not always the case.’”

Bartholomew’s latest book High-Value Veggies helps gardeners grow more efficiently and effectively. He outlines how to apply basic math to the garden to pick plants that will benefit your kitchen and wallet. Factors like cost of supplies, growing time, gross yield and more can help calculate if growing a certain plant rather than buying it at the store will save or cost you money.

People often choose plants that are easy to grow, but that may mean they’re growing something that’s costing them money. Some edibles that Bartholomew says you’re better off just picking up at the supermarket include potatoes, bell peppers, asparagus and okra. Roman suggests beginners looking for high-value plants that are easy to grow start with tomatoes and herbs.

While Bartholomew does think it’s smart to approach a garden with return on investment in mind, he stresses the importance of also planting vegetables that you like and fit with your gardening goals.

While the most cost-efficient vegetables will range slightly depending on what region you live in and what types of stores and farmers' markets you shop at, Bartholomew compiled a list of top money-saving vegetables across the board. Scroll down to see the top 10 high-value veggies and their return on investment per square foot. Then start planting and saving!

10. Hybrid Tomato - ROI $16.13

Tomato 'Mighty Sweet' - Tomato Varieties - Short-Season Tomatoes

'Mighty Sweet' Tomato

These little beauties are so tasty they may never make it out of the garden! 'Mighty Sweet' is Burpee's first determinate grape tomato, producing a bounty of fruit in just 55 days.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Burpee

Image courtesy of Burpee

How to Grow a Tomato Garden

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Heirloom Harvest

Heirloom tomatoes can be found in absolutely any variety and every color — even in black or white. Grow your own tomatoes and decorate your salads, sauces and sandwiches with vibrant fruits (yes, they are fruits).

Seed Money

If you have a longer winter, you may want to consider starting seeds indoors during the frostier months. Seeds are often available in more varieties than young plants you might buy in a nursery and they’re less expensive, too. A head-start under a grow light will help you take advantage of every bit of the growing season.

Moving Out

After about six to eight weeks, once your indoor seedlings have sprouted two to three sets of leaves, reduce watering a bit to get ready to move outdoors. Plant them in an area that gets a minimum of six hours of full sun. Check your growing region and weather for the best timing for your garden. To avoid shocking new plants, introduce them to outdoor elements for a few hours every day in the shade at first to “harden them off”, increasing the outdoor time each day. After seven to ten days of this process, they should be stronger, and ready to plant.

Make Some Space

Before you plant your seedlings, look to see if they are bush variety (determinate) or vining tomatoes (indeterminate). Bush tomatoes are shorter plants, and produce all at once, where vine tomatoes can grow over ten-feet long and produce over a longer season. Most bush and vine tomato plants require at least two feet of space between them for air circulation. Bury plants up to their second set of leaves to form deep roots.

Cage Fright

Stockier, bush tomatoes work great with typical tomato cages for support. Feel free to hit cages with a can of spray paint if your garden could use a splash of color.

Climb High

Don’t have much room? Get a great yield by carefully training your vines to a trellis or fence. Find stretchy, weather-resistant plant ties at your local gardening store. This is a great method for heavy vining tomatoes that need more support. Bonus: Vertical tomato plants tend to be less affected by dampness and pests.

Pruning Perfection

Many master gardeners recommend pruning your tomato plants to make them more manageable.  This may result in a reduced yield of tomatoes in a bush plant, but not usually in a vining tomato.  Never prune a plant that is shorter than 18” tall – and prune in the morning for the least amount of shock to the plant. Don’t splash water on a newly pruned plant to avoid disease forming.

Grow With It

If your tomato plant reaches the top of the trellis, don’t panic. Simply tie it loosely at the top and let it keep growing until it falls forward naturally, then continue to secure it loosely to the trellis on the way down. More tomatoes for you!

Milk Medicine

Dark spots on your plants’ stems might be an indication of stem ailments like blight or rot. Spraying your plants with milk can help to ward off some forms of rot naturally. 

Walking on Eggshells

Blossom end rot is a particular issue tomatoes suffer when they cannot get enough calcium from the soil. The blossom end begins to sink in and forms a dark spot of decay. Be careful not to over fertilize plants with a nitrogen rich fertilizer. You can avoid this issue by crumbling up eggshells and dropping them into the hole before you plant each of your tomato plants.

Flower Power

Most tomato plants tend to produce clusters of buds that lead to flowers after about four to six weeks. 

You Don't Bring Me Flowers

If pollinated by bees or insects, a tiny, green fruit will follow each flower. If flowers aren’t “setting”, they may not be getting pollinated. Consider planting flowers such as marigolds nearby in order to attract bees.

Being Green

Once the green tomato forms, it will take a few more weeks for it to ripen and turn its final color. 

Sun Worshippers

When trained vertically, a healthy tomato plant can produce a curtain of juicy, colorful fruits. The larger the tomato, the more sunlight and heat they need to ripen, so beefsteak and large heirloom tomatoes can benefit from 9 to 12 hours of sun a day if possible.  

Savory & Sensitive

Unlike store-bought hybrids that are bred for ease of shipping, heirloom tomatoes can have thinner skin that may bruise more easily. The superior flavor of tomatoes grown from heirloom seed outweighs any extra TLC and careful handling they might require.

Bye Bye Birdie

If your tomatoes are under attack from birds or garden pests, you can clip fruits that are almost mature off the vine when they’re green and they’ll ripen on your windowsill. Store tomatoes at room temperature for best flavor.

Ta-Da! Tomatoes!

Whichever variety you’ve chosen to grow, there’s no denying how good a tomato fresh from the garden tastes. When the skin turns glossy and the tomato feels slightly firm, you’ll know it’s time to harvest and eat! 

9. Spinach - ROI $16.54

Salad Garden Ideas

Salad Garden Ideas

Grow your own "salad bar" by planting spinach and other leafy greens in the garden or large containers. Try lots of other vegetables packed with vitamins and minerals, too, like broccoli and kale.

Photo by: Photo by Lynn Coulter

Photo by Lynn Coulter

8. Winter Squash - ROI $18.15

butternut squash

‘Butterscotch’ Winter Squash

Love butternut squash but don’t have the space for vines to sprawl? Check out ‘Butterscotch.’ A 2015 All-America Selections Winner, this classic winter squash features compact plants that produce well in containers. The small squash serves one to two people.

Photo by: Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

7. Leek - ROI $18.72

Chinese Flowering Leek, courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company

Chinese Flowering Leek, courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company

Chinese flowering leek is a perennial used for its flower buds, stems, and long, flattened leaves. It's used by Asian chefs to add a subtle garlic and onion flavor to foods. The flowers usually take two years to appear, and need low temperatures in the winter and long growing days in the summer. Use this herb in stir fry dishes or salads. Image courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company

Photo by: Image courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company

Image courtesy of Kitazawa Seed Company

6. Turnip - ROI $22.86

Heirloom turnip purple top white globe

Turnip 'Purple Top White Globe'

Turnips graced the Pilgrims’ tables often. Easy to grow and storage friendly, turnips provided a perfect crop for the early settlers. Turnips also were used to help feed livestock in winter. The ‘Purple Top White Globe’ turnip dates to pre-1880.

Photo by: Burpee


5. Heirloom Tomato - ROI $23.65

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Crostinis

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Crostinis

4. Garlic - ROI $25.21

Varieties of Garlic

'Transylvania' Garlic

This softneck variety really does hail from a little village in the Transylvania Mountains. Discovered in a Romanian farmers market in the mid-1990s, it has a delicious flavor and keeps well in storage. Give it 90 to 150 days to mature.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Burpee

Image courtesy of Burpee

3. Cherry Tomato - ROI $26.13

Tomato 'Cherry Bomb'

Tomato 'Cherry Bomb'

Bred by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and exclusive to them, 'Cherry Bomb' is a bite-sized tomato that's perfect for snacking (you can even pop them into your mouth while you’re picking in the garden). This variety is resistant to late blight.

Photo by: Johnny's Selected Seeds

Johnny's Selected Seeds

2. Parsnip - ROI $35.04

Expand your garden repertory of root vegetables with more colorful and exotic varieties

Parsley Root

A delicious addition to soups, stews, purees and mashed potatoes, the parsley root is closer in size to a carrot than a parsnip and takes approximately six months to grow to full size from seed. If you prefer to buy harvested parsley root, some specialty grocery stores carry it.

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1. Herbs (Thyme) - ROI $69.08

Herb Container Garden

Indoor Window Box Herbs

Create your own twist on traditional window boxes by mounting yours on the inside of a bright, sunny window. Many herbs grow well indoors, such as basil, sage, rosemary and thyme. For the most flavorful leaves, provide the brightest light you can.

Photo by: Williams- Sonoma at

Williams- Sonoma at

More Low-Cost Gardening Ideas

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Consider Climate

Buy plants that fit your climate and soil conditions. Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) doesn't tolerate heat, humidity or poorly drained soils, so planting in the Deep South or in wet soils is a recipe for failure. Instead, this summer bloomer is a long-lived garden stalwart for USDA Zones 3 to 8, in well-drained soils.

Take Cuttings

Use cuttings instead of buying more plants. If you love the coleus (such as 'Indian Summer' shown here) that you already have, there's never a need to buy more. Take cuttings in the fall, pot up the new plants, keep them indoors by a window for the winter and you'll have plenty of instant color for the garden after the last frost in spring. For more varieties, exchange cuttings with friends, neighbors or garden-club members.

Shrub Cuttings

Take softwood and hardwood stem cuttings to propagate some of your favorite shrubs. The method and timing for woody-shrub cuttings depends on the variety. For the common flowering quince (Chaenomeles) shown here, August is the best time. Softwood cuttings, dipped in rooting hormone, are usually successful.

Pesky Critters

Choose pest-resistant bulbs. Squirrels won't eat the so-called "tommies" — Crocus tommasinianus — here, 'Ruby Giant.'

Replicating Bulbs

Choose bulbs that multiply. Unlike most tulips, which tend to weaken every succeeding year, some bulbs just keep going, replicating themselves with no effort from the gardener. Plant a few dozen daffodils, and in five years, you're likely to have many more.

Non-Invasive Plants

Invest in self-seeding plants. Cleome, like hollyhocks, cosmos, forget-me-nots and shasta daisies, sow themselves but aren't invasive. Snap a picture of each plant so that, come spring, you'll be able to distinguish the leaves of a "keeper" from a weed.

Lasting a Lifetime

Choose long-lived perennials. Plants like scabiosa, wallflower and hardy mums typically last 3-5 years. Other perennials like blanket flower, columbine and coreopsis are equally short-lived but reseed freely. Others are long timers, such as bearded iris, daylily, hellebore, astilbe and bee balm, to name a few. Peonies, seen here, are extremely enduring, sometimes lasting for more than a century.

Divide, Then Multiply

Multiply your plants by dividing them. Some plants like daylilies, bearded iris, yarrow and ornamental grasses need to be divided every few years to reinvigorate them and to reduce overcrowding. What you'll gain for your efforts are new plants to expand your beds and to share with friends.

Watch for Flowers

When a particular perennial is best divided depends in large part on when it flowers. Spring-blooming astilbe (shown here) can be divided in fall or early spring.

Resting Period

Wait until the plant is "resting" to divide it. Bearded iris is best divided about two months after it finishes flowering; many gardeners like to divide their irises in August.

Plant Perennials

Late-blooming perennials like helianthus, shown here, are best divided in spring. Filling your beds with a variety of perennials that give successive seasons of bloom, blooming shrubs and colorful conifers means you'll be less apt to load up on trays of annuals to fill holes in the landscape.

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