When Is the Right Time to Harvest Your Garden?

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated March 14, 2022
A mother and her baby daughter harvesting strawberries
Photo: RyanJLane / E+ / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Harvesting is a year-round chore, depending on your crops.

  • Harvest early in the morning for the best produce.

  • Not all crops are meant to be harvested in the summer.

  • You can harvest many crops depending on your own preferences.

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You’ve raked the soil, planted some seeds, and little saplings are springing through the dirt. One day, you walk out into the garden to see a few spinach leaves or a tiny bell pepper. So how long do you hold your excitement before you can actually harvest your produce?

Some crops benefit from early plucking and will continue to grow more for you all season long, while others should mature as long as possible for the best flavor. Depending on your chosen garden crops and the season, here are the best times to harvest your garden.

Tips for Harvesting Your Garden

Before you grab your garden gloves and a basket for your spoils, there are a few tips to keep in mind when it’s time to start harvesting your edible landscape.

Start Early

No matter the season, the best time to harvest is in the morning. Before you rush off to work or to run errands, take a travel mug of coffee outside as you pick your produce. Especially in the summer, picking early can help preserve the crops before the high temperatures get to them in the afternoons.

Harvest Daily

Once a plant starts producing its fruits or vegetables, check it daily and harvest the crops. This encourages further growth, so you can maximize the yield. This applies to herb gardens, too. Make sure to prune your herbs regularly to stimulate growth and avoid flowering.

Pick Gently

Tugging away produce with force can break the plant stems, so be gentle. If you know something is ripe but it isn’t giving way, grab pruning shears to remove it.

Consider Size

Some crops, like spinach, kale, or beets, are tasty at a number of different sizes, and you can harvest them depending on your own preferences. Looking for new potatoes? Harvest your potato crop early. 

For squash, the bigger it gets doesn’t always mean better flavor. Zucchini and other summer squash typically have the most flavor when they grow to be 6 to 8 inches, although they can grow much larger.

Harvesting Your Garden by Season

A mother and her son harvesting peppers
Photo: filmstudio / E+ / Getty Images

Some crops are ready for harvest in the height of summer, while other crops produce food in cooler temperatures. While the exact crops you can harvest will depend on your climate, here’s a general guide to what crops are best to harvest in each season.

Spring

Crops planted in late winter or early spring are typically ready to harvest in mid- to late-spring. This includes colorful radishes and leafy greens for salads, asparagus, spring onions, turnips, and carrots.

Summer

If you’ve ever had a tomato in the summer, you know this common garden fruit is best harvested in the hottest days of the year for peak flavor and juiciness. Other crops to harvest in the summer include summer squash, like zucchini, carrots, beans, and cucumbers.

Fall

As temperatures begin to cool, start harvesting onions, potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplants. This is also a good time to start preserving surplus produce to enjoy throughout winter.

Winter

If you have a greenhouse or indoor garden, some cool-weather plants can be harvested in early or late winter. Leafy greens like kale, arugula, and spinach can grow in winter, as can potatoes, carrots, and leeks. Scallions, bok choy, cabbage, and kohlrabi are also options for winter gardening.

When to Harvest Common Crops

When you’re planning your vegetable garden, you probably envision rows of carrots, spinach, and tomatoes (even though, yes, they’re a fruit). While there are seemingly endless plants to consider for a home garden, here are some of the most common crops and tips for harvesting each one.

  • Tomatoes: Pick tomatoes around July through September. The fruits should be plump and easy to pull from the stem. They should be fully red, orange, or yellow, unless you’re making fried green tomatoes.

  • Zucchini: Harvest zucchini and other summer squash when it reaches about 6 inches in length.

  • Spinach: Spinach grows best in cooler temperatures. Harvest about 45 days after planting, when bundles have five or so leaves. You can harvest early for baby spinach.

  • Kale: Kale is another cool-weather leafy green. You can harvest the leaves whenever you like, depending on if you like small or large leaves.

  • Broccoli: Pull your broccoli when the florets are dark green and tightly packed, and be sure to pull them before they start flowering.

  • Carrots: Carrots are ready when the top part of the carrot, which might pop out of the soil slightly, is almost 1 inch in diameter. This happens about 60 days after planting seeds.

  • Peppers: You can harvest bell peppers when they resemble the size of ones at the grocery store. Harvest when green or let them turn yellow, orange, or red for more sweetness.

  • Onions: You can harvest ripe onions all summer long. You’ll know they’re ready when the green tops begin to hunch over.

  • Garlic: Harvest in the summer, usually around July, when cloves feel firm.

  • Swiss chard:

  • Beets: Harvest beets before the leaves begin to wilt, usually once they reach around 4 to 6 inches. They’re ready about eight weeks after you plant them.

  • Potatoes: Pull potatoes from the ground from July through October when the top plants begin to die off.

If you find that your garden isn’t producing much bounty, look into hiring a gardener near you for help.

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