Growing a salsa garden gives me fresh ingredients for my favorite salsa recipes all summer long, so it’s something I do every year starting in the spring. There’s no greater joy than growing my own cilantro and pepper plants and nothing fresher than taking the salsa ingredients straight from my home garden to the table.
The freshness and flavor are second to none, making it a great option for foodies and green thumbs alike. Still, knowing how to grow a salsa garden isn’t as simple as planting and harvesting. You need to consider what to grow in a salsa garden, when to start growing it, and what types of pests and diseases can destroy your harvest.
For anyone looking to learn how to grow a salsa garden, we’ve got you covered below.
Table of Contents
What is a Salsa Garden?
A salsa garden is a specialist vegetable garden that grows only the vegetables and herbs needed for a delicious summer salsa. It’s a great way to always have what you need for delectable homemade salsa right outside your back door.
Many types of tomatoes and hot peppers are easy to grow in containers, too, and the complimentary herbs take little effort at all. You don’t need a lot of space to have your own homemade salsa from ingredients you grow yourself.
Depending on your garden space and skill level, a salsa garden can be as extensive as something like a six-square-foot garden dug into the ground, a 4×4 raised bed, or a collection of large containers – or it could be as simple as a few salsa garden containers on a sunny deck.
All that matters is results – there’s nothing like chowing down on the fruits of your labor with a bowl of tortilla chips and a margarita.
What to Plant in a Salsa Garden!
Tomatoes (The Staple Ingredient)
A good tomato is the cornerstone of a sensational fresh salsa. It’s one of the main ingredients, so getting the right tomato plants is key to a great salsa garden.
The best tomatoes are “paste tomatoes,” varieties with lower moisture content and rich flavor. They’ll provide the cornerstone for classic salsa with a full, rich flavor.
Some of my favorite tomato varieties for salsa include:
- Roma tomatoes
- San Marzano tomatoes
- Amish Paste tomatoes
Tomatillos (For Green Salsa)
If you’re yearning for salsa verde, you’ll need tomatillos. They’re green tomatoes with a papery outer skin.
Tomatillos aren’t needed for the more popular salsa made with red tomatoes, so you can skip them if you have a small salsa garden or simply don’t want the added responsibility.
Chili Peppers (For Hot Salsa)
What’s a salsa without chili? Choose a chili to suit your own personal taste.
Sweet peppers will give you a sweet and mild salsa, but thrill seekers can grow fiery peppers that deliver a spicy salsa. The most popular chili pepper varieties for home growers include:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Jalapeño peppers (My personal favorite – and a classic salsa ingredient)
- Serrano Peppers
- Demon Red
Onions (For Added Crunch and Kick)
Onions are great root vegetables and surprisingly easy to grow at home. They’re best grown from ‘sets,’ small bulbs you can pick up from your local garden center or order online. While seed packets are cheaper, onion sets will grow more reliably and produce a harvest sooner.
Red onions of all varieties are the traditional choice, but yellow onions are just as delicious. Good onion varieties for your salsa garden include:
- Spanish Red
- Italian Torpedo
- Scallions (green onions)
Garlic (For Depth of Flavor)
Garlic can be grown from seeds or sets, like an onion. Just keep in mind that garlic takes a while to grow, and many people choose to overwinter garlic to get a head start on their salsa garden for the following season.
Good varieties for standard gardens or salsa container gardens include:
- Chesnok Red
- Brown Tempest
- Russian Red
You can cheat and opt to grow garlic chives instead of garlic bulbs. It’s a good choice if you’re growing in containers, as they take up less space.
They’ll also be ready to eat far sooner than a slow-to-mature bulb and provide the same garlic flavor.
Herbs (For A Unique Twist)
Choosing herbs for your salsa garden is largely a matter of taste. Many folks stick to cilantro only, but there’s no reason you can’t mix it up with other fresh flavors.
My favorite herbs for salsa gardens include:
- Mexican Cilantro
- Sweet Basil
- Thai Basil
- Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
Limes (For Citrus Tang)
Limes are a key ingredient in a good salsa. It elevates the flavor of all its parts and helps keep the salsa fresh and delicious.
Limes grow on trees, so they’re a more substantial investment of time than a seasonal vegetable garden. They are also not frost tolerant and will struggle outside warmer regions.
Luckily limes grow quite happily in a tub or large container. They don’t need cross-pollination to set fruit, so one tree will be enough.
Be sure to give them a gentle drop in temperature each evening, as they rely on that cue to produce flowers.
How to Grow Limes in a Container
- Choose a dwarf variety like the Dwarf Persian Lime or the Kaffir Lime – aim for a thorn-less cultivar if you can.
- Provide rich but free draining soil mix and a good heavy pot. Potted trees can become top-heavy over time, so a sturdy ceramic or concrete pot will prevent the plant from tipping.
- Ensure at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. They also enjoy a bit of direct sun, especially in the early morning. More light will result in more fruit.
- Fertilize in the early spring with a slow-release granular fertilizer.
If you have a knack for hydroponics, consider growing a lime tree in a hydroponic system alongside your garden.
How to Grow a Salsa Garden Successfully
Where to Grow a Salsa Garden
Just like any other real estate decision, the most important part of choosing where to plant your salsa vegetables is location, location, location!
- The garden bed needs to be in a well-lit, warm part of the garden, with full sun for as much of the day as possible. You also need good drainage and protection from strong wind.
A raised bed is always a good choice for salsa gardens. Raised beds allow you to provide exactly the right rich soil with excellent drainage and position it perfectly for the best location.
- You can position raised salsa garden beds in a sunny spot without the work of digging out a whole new garden bed – which makes it ideal for those looking to save time. A southeastern balcony or porch is perfect for those growing a salsa garden in containers.
Indoor salsa gardens will do well in south-facing rooms, though I’d suggest a grow light to supplement light levels to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Preparing Your Salsa Garden Bed
No matter what garden bed you opt to use for your salsa garden, you’ll need a bit of preparation. So, choose a garden bed with a unique design to add a touch of creativity to your salsa garden.
Vegetables like tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders and need very rich soil, so you should supply them with enough compost and nutrients to last through harvest.
- I like to add around three inches of well-rotted manure or compost per foot of soil in the week or two before I plant.
- Turn it through and water the bed deeply to improve structure and water retention. (You can also toss a handful of blood meal in the bottom of your planting hole as extra insurance.)
Like garden beds, containers need rich soil too.
- A few handfuls of slow-release granular fertilizer added during potting is ideal. However, most fertilizers will not support an organic salsa garden, so be mindful of what you add to your soil.
- Drainage is paramount, so be sure to amend with perlite or coarse sand to prevent the roots from becoming stagnant.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: Well-drained soil is particularly important for onions and garlic. They don’t have a great time in wet soil and will literally rot away to nothing if they’re sitting in an inch of water all day long.
Provide Enough Space in Your Salsa Garden Layout
Make sure you give your seedlings enough room when planting. Pay attention to the variety you’re putting in and allow them the room to spread.
Dwarf varieties need less room than bigger ones, but a good rule of thumb is to plant each seedling at least a foot or so apart.
You’ll also need to leave space for tomato cages and other support structures.
Both peppers and tomatoes love to climb, and you’ll get a better crop if you encourage them to grow upwards on a structure or trellis. That way, they’ll get plenty of sun and the fresh air they need to prevent leaf diseases.
Your tomatoes are going to take up the most room. As a general rule of thumb, tomatoes require at least two square feet of space per plant, so be sure you’re mindful of this when planning your salsa garden layout.
If you’re growing a salsa garden in containers, check out our guide on how to make a trellis for potted plants – it’s super easy and doesn’t take much time!
Onions and garlic also need about a foot space each to spread out beneath the soil. Crowding is harder to spot but will produce smaller bulbs.
Finally, be wary of your herbs. Cilantro and parsley can take over a bed if left to go to seed.
I personally adore the sheer vigor of herbs that just won’t quit no matter how much you eat, but if you’re limited for space, be sure to clip seed heads as they appear.
It’s also a good idea to put the herbs in pots – which you can set next to your vegetable garden to avoid any issues with spread.
When and How to Plant a Salsa Garden
Almost all the plants that go into an excellent salsa are warm-season vegetables. You’ll need to plant in accordance with local growing conditions, but there are a few hard and fast rules that will help.
- Start your garden by planting onions and garlic as soon as it’s warm enough to work the soil. In most of the United States, a week or two out from the last frost date is usually a good time to plant.
- They don’t mind cool weather, and a longer growing window will allow the plants to produce larger bulbs.
- Tomatoes and peppers are the next to go into the bed.
- Plant them once overnight temperatures are consistently warm and the threat of frost has truly passed.
- Finally, add your herbs. They don’t take a long time to establish, so you can harvest in as little as a few weeks.
- There’s far less waiting for herbs compared to other parts of the garden.
Starting Seedlings for An Easy to Grow Salsa Garden
If you’re prone to frosts in the early spring, it’s worth starting seedlings for a salsa garden indoors under grow lights or on a brightly lit window sill.
Young plants need to be protected from the danger of frost, and even in more temperate climates, starter plants germinated indoors will give a head start.
Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs will all germinate readily from seeds. You can use a cultivation tray or even just a little seed-raising mix in a closed container.
Typically it takes 4 to 6 weeks for seedlings to reach a size that will survive outdoors.
Before planting, harden off your seedlings. This involves moving them outdoors for short periods each day, gradually increasing the time spent outside.
This will prepare them for the rough conditions outdoors.
Harvesting Your Salsa Garden Plants
The herbs are ready to eat once they’ve had a chance to establish and put on new growth. In warm weather, a cilantro plant can be cut back daily with little damage done to the plant. Use clean scissors and trim away new growth as needed.
Tomatoes and peppers are a summer crop. Each is a warm-season vegetable, so you’ll have to wait until late summer for fruit. Remove the fruit when it’s starting to flush with color. For spicy peppers, check your variety, as some have more punch when green.
Onions and garlic have a long growing season. It can take up to five months from seed to harvest. On the plus side, they will keep well once harvested, and it’s not uncommon for autumn onions to be perfectly delicious the next year.
You’ll know they’re ready to harvest when the outer leaves start to flag and the visible ‘neck’ of the bulb starts to thicken. They can then be pulled or dug out of the soil.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: To cure onions for storage, brush them free of dirt and allow them to dry in a cool, well-ventilated location for two to four weeks before storing them.
A Few Ways to Preserve Your Salsa Garden Harvest
Preserving your harvest can turn your salsa garden from a summer treat to a whole year-long extravaganza.
- You can preserve hot salsa in old strawberry jars or other pickling jars.
- Homemade hot sauces are long-lasting and improve almost any meal.
- Herbs dry well or can be steeped in olive oil.
- Pre-chopped onion and garlic frozen for later use is a massive time saver and one of the best gifts from my own garden!
Planting a Salsa Garden Without Pests and Diseases
Prevention is the best way to deal with pests and diseases. Spacing your plants appropriately and ensuring good ventilation and drainage will get much of the job done. Choosing disease and pest-resistant cultivars helps too.
Most common insect pests can be controlled with horticultural soaps. These are sprayed on the leaves and kill insects by drying them out.
You can also encourage predatory insects like ladybeetles, wasps, and spiders to do the heavy lifting for you.
Snails and slugs are also a major problem in vegetable gardens. The good news is that there are several ways to combat soft-bodied mollusks.
Fungal diseases, especially of the leaves, can be a nuisance if the weather turns damp.
I’ve found that most forms of mildew can be controlled by diluting one part whole milk in nine parts water. Sprayed directly over the leaves, it breaks down in sunlight into several compounds that destroy the pathogens.
Lastly, keep an eye out for pests like root aphids in your garden. These tend to appear in the soil when a garden is underwater or under other environmental stresses.
A common sign of root aphids are ants marching around in the soil. If you see ants consistently, consider inspecting under the soil surface and watch for signs of distress in your plants.
FAQ About How to Grow a Salsa Garden
How Long Do Salsa Gardens Take to Grow?
You can expect a salsa garden to take about 3 months from planting to harvest, but it depends on what you’re growing, and you’re location. Garlic, for example, is a very slow grower, while vegetables like green onions can be harvested within a month of planting.
How Many Tomato Plants Do I Need In My Salsa Garden?
Since tomatoes are the main ingredient in salsa, you should grow at least 3 plants to ensure you have enough of your base ingredient. However, you can always can tomatoes or use them for other things like sauces and meals, so you can’t go wrong with adding a few more to your garden if you have the space.
How Long Will My Homemade Salsa Last?
A salsa made with fresh-cut ingredients from your garden will last in the refrigerator (sealed) for up to a week. Since there are no preservatives, however, your salsa may go bad in as little as 4-5 days. It just depends on how well you seal the container and maintain a refrigerated temperature.
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