Stir the Garden Up with a Stir-Fry Vegetable Garden

stirfryA garden dedicated to growing vegetables for a stir-fry is not as difficult as one may think.  Many of the vegetables used in oriental cooking are what is considered cool-season and some are considered Cole crops. If the garden is planned accordingly, a three-season garden can be designed in certain areas.

Early Spring and/or Fall Stir-Fry Garden

The easiest plants to start with in the spring garden are the greens.  These include pak choi, pei tsai, won bok, Chinese mustard, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, bok choy, kale, and chihli (celery cabbage).  All of these plants have very similar growth requirements and can be planted the same way.

The first step to creating the spring stir-fry garden is to do a soil test and follow the recommendations.  If a soil test is not done, apply 3 pounds of 5-10-10 per 100 square feet of garden space.  Mix the fertilizer completely into the soil to prevent root burn.  Once this is done, sow the seeds directly into the garden soil spacing the rows 12 to 15 inches apart.

Water the spring stir-fry garden in the morning before the sun comes up. This will allow the leaves to dry completely prior to nightfall.  Never give greens a spurt of water.  This creates a shallow root system, but instead water the garden to a 6-inch depth.  To conserve soil moisture, mulch the garden area.

Other vegetables that can be planted in the spring and/or fall stir-fry garden include snow peas, Chinese broccoli, and Chinese radish.

Snow Peas

Snow peas are planted in the ground six to eight weeks before the local frost-free date.  Plant the seed 1-inch deep in a container or in the garden.  Add a trellis and keep the soil moist during the plant process of blooming and pod formation.  Hot weather causes the plant to decline quickly, so pick the peas before the pods expand.  A good variety to try is sugar pod II.

Chinese Broccoli

Chinese broccoli, or kai lan, does not form a head like European broccoli rabe.  It takes 55 to 70 days to mature and is planted just like the European type.  Pick the vegetable before the flowers open and cut the center stalk.  This will force the plant to produce side branches that can be harvested at a latter date.

Chinese Radish

Chinese radishes, or bok, need the more space than any other radish.  Plant this type of radish in a moist and fertile soil that is deep and loose.  If you want a crop of Chinese radishes in the summer, plant the seeds in late winter or early spring.  If you want a fall crop, plant the seeds in late summer.  While one may think of only eating the root of this vegetable, the leaves are also used fresh in stir-fries.

Warm Season Stir-Fry Garden

This type of garden is very similar to a lot of summertime gardens.  Peppers, beans, scallions, cucumbers, eggplant, and even carrots can be found in this type of garden, but there does exist some vegetables that the gardener may not be familiar with.  This includes Chinese okra, bitter melon, winter melon, and Chinese spinach.  Unlike the spring and/or fall garden, many of these plants need to be transplanted into the garden space.

Common Stir-fry Vegetables

Most gardeners are familiar with the process of planting peppers, beans, scallions, cucumbers, eggplant, and carrots.  The first step is to prepare the garden soil as described previously.  Next, gardener needs to plant seeds or transplants.  Beans, scallions, cucumbers, eggplant, and carrots are typically planted as seeds but can be found as plants.  Peppers are placed in the garden as live plants.

Less Common Stir-fry Vegetables

Many of these unique vegetables are grown like their more common counterparts but with a twist.

Chinese Okra

This vegetable has two purposes.  These include one as a vegetable and the other as a body scrub or dishcloth.  The long maturity time of 100 days can make this vegetable a challenge to some gardeners in certain areas.   It is planted in hills 3 feet apart after the last frost.  Make sure to trellis this plant and to harvest the vegetable when the fruit is 6 to 8-inches long.  If the fruit is left on the vine 30 days more, it will become fibrous, inedible and better used as a dishcloth.

Bitter Mellon

Bitter melon, or Momordica charantia, is grown much like a cantaloupe.  It is sowed indoors and planted in the garden after the last chance of a frost.  When planning to plant this vegetable, make sure the location is near a water source such as a rain barrel or watering hose.  This plant requires a lot of water.  Also be prepared to add a trellis to this garden location to support the plant.


Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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