Eat Your Lawn

Tips for Growing Vegetables in the Front Yard

Test Your Soil: Travis Beck, owner of Eco-Savvy Design & Landscapes in Colorado, says to be aware of soil contamination issues, especially around old structures that might have lead paint. Get your soil tested to make sure it’s suitable to plant in. If it’s not, raised beds are a good option.

Make a Plan: Susan Harris, who’s currently turning her lawn into a veggie patch, suggests developing a design to work from. “Don’t have it look like the same thing you’d do in your backyard,” she says. Jules Dervaes also says that, in retrospect, he would have liked to work from a plan—both for himself and for his neighbors. “The neighbors probably had to endure a lot more of my follies,” he says.

Be Patient: Darren Butler, a consulting arborist, edible landscape instructor, and landscape specialist in Los Angeles, says to remember that growing food takes time. “I think there is a little bit of a danger there because people like the idea of edible landscaping, but you have to put some resources into it,” he says. “It really requires the owner of the property to be directly involved.”

Work Incrementally: Jules Dervaes suggests planting in sections so you don’t become overwhelmed. “If I had a bed going down the side on my fence line or something, I would bring it out a little further. I would chip away at [the] lawn,” he says. He emphasizes that gardeners should work on their yards slowly so that they have time to develop their skills as their plants grow. “Start small and be successful a little bit at a time,” he says.

Compost in Place: To get rid of grass, Travis Beck suggests putting an inch of compost over it, then covering it with a light barrier. “We recommend doing it over fall, leaving it in the winter, then planting in the spring,” he says.

Use Local Knowledge: Darren Butler stresses the importance of contacting area experts for information, because each locale has its own unique climate. “Whatever source you can find for local expertise, do so,” he says. “If you rely on national general gardening books they will often lead you wrong.”

Be Aware of Zoning/Codes: Some places have municipal codes that dictate what percentage of a yard can be nongrass, or how high plants can be. Violating these could get you in trouble. Travis Beck says that the codes are often listed as “weed ordinances,” and that you should be able to find out about your city’s online.

Include Some Ornamentals: Like Creasy and Dervaes, Travis Beck advocates mixing in a few ornamental plants to beautify a front-yard vegetable garden. “They don’t have to be useless,” he says. “They can be things to attract beneficial insects, bees, or other pollinators.”

Grow Vegetables that Look Good Too: Ed Bruske suggests using varieties of vegetables that are pretty. “And it’s not really a joke,” he says. “There are all kinds of colorful and interesting vegetables that are nice to look at. You can do a lot with vegetables to make the garden look great as well as put food on the table.”

Mix Annuals with Perennials: Most of the vegetables we like to eat are annual plants, which means they won’t be looking so hot over the winter. Plant a good mix of perennial plants like shrubs, trees, and herbs to ensure your yard doesn’t become a barren eyesore when the weather gets cold.

Discourage Sidewalk-Pluckers: Jules Dervaes says that his family grows the least-appetizing vegetables near where people walk. “Eggplant and okra—nobody steals that,” he says. “We won’t put tomatoes on the front; that’s too tempting.”

Start with Herbs: Rosalind Creasy recommends herbs as an easy transition from ornamental plants to edibles. “I call them ‘edible plants with training wheels,’” she says.