How to Grow Vegetables in Chicago


Growing vegetables in Chicago is challenging. Because of ancient glacial drift, the soil composition can change from neighborhood to neighborhood with no consistency, and the summer weather is often either too hot or too cool for maximum growth. With persistence, a willingness to work with the soil over time to make it better, a high tolerance for acceptance when things go wrong and a little bit of luck, a Chicago vegetable garden can be productive and enjoyable.

Step 1

Examine the soil to see what you are working with. Chicago soil can range from poorly to well-drained, and with textures comprising primarily gravel, sand or silty loams. Since much of the land is reclaimed from fens, marshes and bogs, you may have to install extra drainage. If the soil or drainage is unsuitable, build raised beds and create your own environment for vegetables.

Step 2

Determine a part of your garden that will receive at least six hours of full sunlight per day during the peak season. Ensure there is a nearby source of water. If the garden is within view, it becomes a habit to check it regularly to make sure everything is going well.

Step 3

Plant from among the following: leaf lettuce, spinach and cabbage. Radishes, turnips, onions, carrots and beets also do well as root crops in Chicago's often-sandy soil. Tomatoes, peppers, bush and pole beans, eggplants and members of the summer squash family grow well in Chicago. Vegetables that require long growth periods such as squash and gourds may be caught by an early frost.

Step 4

Plant in accordance with the schedule for USDA Zone 5-b. Beets, broccoli, onions, peas and cabbage can all go in early to mid-April. Peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and watermelons go into the ground mid- to late May. Corn can be planted from early May to mid-July.

Step 5

Watch the weather carefully to adjust to the garden's needs. Summer temperatures can easily top 100, which can cause sun and heat damage to many vegetables. Be prepared to provide shade if necessary. Chicago can have prolonged periods of drought, which creates a need for consistent watering, but it can also have excessive rain, which can easily lead to the garden flooding if located in a formerly marshy area.


  • Encyclopedia of Chicago: The Chicago Area Before Human Transformation
  • "Vascular Flora of Illinois"; Robert H. Mohlenbrock; 2002
  • The Vegetable Garden: Zones 5-6 Planting Schedule

Who Can Help

  • Chicago Botanical Garden: Tips for a Successful Vegetable Garden
Keywords: gardening in Chicago, Chicago vegetable garden, Chicagoland growing vegetables

About this Author

Jack Burton started writing professionally in 1980. He has written for "Word from Jerusalem," "ICEJ Daily News" and Tagalong Garden News. Burton managed radio stations, TV studios and newspapers, and was the chief fundraiser for Taltree Arboretum. He has a Bachelor of Science in broadcasting from John Brown University, and retired from the Navy Reserve in 1999.