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Picking the right veggies for your Iowa garden this season

Several varieties of peppers in different colors sitting in baskets
Oregon State University Extension Service

It's never too early to start thinking about the growing season. But with so many different options to choose from, it can be difficult to know which cultivars will yield the most flavor and be the most effective at disease resistance. Iowa State University Extension Horticulture Specialist and IPR resident expert Dan Fillius shares some of his favorites.

It's easy to get excited about new varieties of cherry tomatoes, and you might be tempted to plant them all — but many people don't think about how much produce they’ll have once their plants reach maturity. Spoiler: you'll always have more tomatoes than you know what to do with. The solution? Fillius suggests planting three varieties — for each crop you want to plant — rotating in a new one every growing season.

"I will set aside one of my favorite varieties one year to try out another one," says Fillius. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder... and I'll be so happy to come back to that variety the following year, or, I'll find a new one that I really like better!"

Fillius suggests looking for All-America Selections (AAS) winners when looking for new cultivars. Breeders submit varieties to trial gardens that they expect to do well. Reiman Gardens in Ames is one of those facilities — and you can visit them during the growing season to see new varieties in person! Check out all the AAS winners.

"They evaluate how they grow throughout the year, how disease resistant they are, how flavorful they are," says Fillius. "If they are reliable in a bunch of these different places, then they become an AAS winner."

No matter which varieties of fruits and veggies you pick this season, make sure to follow best practices for gardening, including: knowing what to do when temps get high, how to keep pests away, advice for growing melons, and how to spot common tomato diseases.

Veggie variety recommendations


Several varieties of peppers in green, yellow, orange and red
Mississippi State University Extension

Carmen peppers are sweeter than bell peppers and are excellent for frying. Fillius says he's trying the Mad Hatter this year: a pepper which is shaped like a hat, has a bright flavor, a crisp texture and little heat at the end. Fillius also suggests the Sailfish pepper, which promotes disease resistance.


Several red and green tomatoes
Mississippi State University Extension

For cherry tomato lovers, Fillius recommends the Sun Dipper. They're bright orange, more elongated than round and even have built in "handles" making them great for dipping! For beefsteak tomatoes, try the Red Deuce, a great slicer for sandwiches and salads. Striped German heirlooms are also beautiful and make great tomatoes for roasting and stuffing.


Several striped green watermelons
West Virginia University Extension

Melons are tricky — it's often unclear when they're ripe. For the best results, be sure to grow these in full sun. Fillius recommends Cathay Belle, Starlight and Yellow Doll. All of these are seeded — it's very difficult to grow seedless (Fillius suggests leaving that to the pros). For cantaloupes, Fillius suggests Goddess and Divergent.

Sweet Corn

Four ears of ripe sweet corn sitting on a table
Iowa State University Extension

It's harder to grow sweet corn better than the Iowa pros, but Fillius says Allure has a good texture and flavor. He also says Kickoff and QuickStart are solid choices, but notes that super-sweet varieties like these are less reliable in colder soil.


Several green zucchini
Michigan State University Extension

Zucchini is popular, but can easily take over your garden if you're not on top of it. Costata Romanesco is a vining zucchini (rather than a bush) and needs lots of space. The upside is that you'll see good yields during harvest season — Fillius estimates it could be upwards of three a week! They have a delicious nutty taste perfect for sautéing or grilling. Dunja is also a very productive variety.

Fillius shared his cultivar suggestions on Garden Variety with Charity Nebbe.

Phineas Pope is a digital production assistant at Iowa Public Radio