What to Plant in a Salsa Garden

Of course, you start with tomatoes. But add a few other plants to your garden so you can make your own salsa. (Photo: Olga Nayashkova/Shutterstock)

One dish that I’m asked to bring to parties all summer long is my fresh salsa. It’s simple to make and very addictive. I only make it in the summer, though, because the tomatoes have to be in season. If I made it in the middle of winter using flavorless supermarket tomatoes, it would go uneaten.

When planning a vegetable garden, sometimes it makes sense to plan it so you grow the ingredients for your favorite summer foods. If you make homemade pizzas frequently (especially if you cook them on the grill), creating a pizza garden might be the best use of your garden space. If you make batch after batch of fresh salsa all summer long, then planting a salsa garden is something to look in to.

What are the best edible plants for salsa?

The basic plants

  • Tomatoes – I use Roma tomatoes in my salsa because they are meaty. Whatever variety of tomatoes you grow, make sure it is one that is thick and meaty inside, not very watery. Remember that when you salt your salsa, it will bring some of the water out of the tomatoes, so the meatier a tomato you use, the less watery your salsa will be. Brandywine tomatoes are a good full-size meaty tomato.
  • Jalapeno peppers – This is the most common pepper you’ll find in salsa recipes. They are hot, but not too hot.
  • Serrano peppers – If you want a salsa with more heat, grow Serrano peppers and use them instead of, or in combination with, jalapenos.
  • Habanero peppers – Grow these only if you want your mouth on fire when you eat your salsa. I would not recommend you put these in a salsa that you make for a general crowd, but if you know everyone eating the salsa likes very spicy food, these peppers will add the heat you’re looking for.
  • Cilantro – Keep a rotation of cilantro going in your garden all summer long for salsa. It grows quickly and goes to seed quickly in the summer heat, so it’s best to plant some every two weeks to make sure you always have some ready to pick.
  • Onions – Onions will be one of the earliest things you can plant. They can be planted as early as late March if the ground doesn’t go below 20 degrees.
The plan-ahead plant
  • Garlic – Garlic is planted in the fall for summer harvesting. If you want to grow your own garlic for salsa, you won’t be able to do it for this summer’s salsa making, but if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to for next summer.
The specialty plant
  • Limes - If you live in a region where you can grow citrus fruit, consider planting lime trees. I can’t grow limes here in New Jersey, so I’ll always have to buy them, but I would love it if I could have a yard full of citrus – limes, lemons, oranges.

Of course, what’s in your salsa will depend on your favorite recipe. Some recipes call for oregano or bell peppers or even fruits like mango or peaches. Find the recipe that you love and build your garden around what you can grow. If there’s something you’re unable to grow, don’t worry about it. Hit the local farmers market for the remainder of your ingredients.