Get Growing: 11 Tips to Start a Backyard or Lānai Garden in Hawai‘i

In Hawai‘i, you don’t have to wait for spring to start a garden. And you don’t need an acre to get started. To get you growing, we turned to master gardeners for tips.


Grow a garden with family in Honolulu

Photo: Karen DB Photography


Best for Beginners

These six hardy plants thrive in Hawai‘i’s humid and sunny weather.


1. Sweet Potatoes

Grow sweet potatoes in your family garden

Illustration: Christine Labrador


These tubers—not to be mistaken for regular potatoes or yams—prefer loose organic soil in a garden. Instead of seeds, start with slips, which are rooted sprouts available at gardening stores or nurseries. Sweet potatoes can grow up to 20 feet. Harvest the vegetables once the leaves start to turn yellow—or longer for more vitamin A content. The flesh bruises easily, so harvest carefully and save the greens. They’re edible!


SEE ALSO: Find Local Seeds for Local Needs from Hawai‘i Seed Growers


2. Lettuce, kale and collard greens

Grow lettuce in your family garden

Illustration: Christine Labrador


Fall is the perfect time to start these quick-growing greens, which can wilt in the summer. Set them in partial shade and water when the soil is dry to the touch. Overwatering will stunt growth and could rot the roots. Kale doesn’t grow well next to strawberries, tomatoes or beans. When you’re ready to harvest, be sure to wash all greens well, under running water, to remove slugs that can cause rat lungworm disease.


3. Carrots

Grow carrots in your family garden

Illustration: Christine Labrador


These sweet vegetables need six to eight hours of sun daily, so make sure they’re not overshadowed by faster-growing plants. Sow the tiny seeds in the ground, in raised beds or wide and short containers about 2 inches apart. When leaves are about 2 inches tall, thin the sprouts and pull the weeds to avoid overcrowding. To thrive, carrots need a regular supply of water in moist, not soggy, soil.


Take a tour of your block, say master gardeners. Look around your neighborhood to see what’s growing well in other yards.


4. Herbs

Grow herbs in your family garden

Illustration: Christine Labrador


These easy-to-grow plants need about six hours of sun a day and thrive anywhere. Give them an inch of water every week. Rosemary is simple to care for. Thai basil is less finicky than Italian basil. Dill, cilantro and fennel flowers attract ladybugs that feast on pollen and harmful plant pests, says Kalani Matsumura, with UH Mānoa’s O‘ahu Master Garden Program.


5. Tomatoes

Illustration: Christine Labrador


This fruit grows well in hot, sunny areas of your garden where the sun hits at least six hours a day. It works well in the ground or in a 5-gallon container. Let the plant climb tomato cages placed over them or tie branches to a nearby fence or trellis. You can harvest seeds from tomatoes by pulling them out and drying on paper towels.


6. Strawberries

Illustration: Christine Labrador


These heart-shaped fruits need at least 10 hours of sunlight every day. Surround them with wood chips to keep strawberries off the ground. Strawberries often send out runners—shoots that branch out and plant themselves—that can use up growing energy. Trim them if you’re keeping them in a pot. Water strawberry plants early in the day to guarantee enough time to dry out and prevent disease and rot.


Tip:  Disease-resistant plants give you a head start. The University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources sells more than 20 varieties of fruit and vegetable seeds for $1.50 per packet.


SEE ALSO: Grow It Yourself: A Backyard Butterfly Garden in Honolulu


No yard? No problem

Rotate your pots. Giving each a quarter turn every week will ensure every part of the plant receives sunlight. Photo: Karen DB Photography


High-rise living doesn’t work for every plant. The wind, combined with the sun heating up pots, can quickly lead to dehydration. Here are five tips to keep plants living happily on your lānai.


1. Don’t place pots next to the wall

Cynthia Nazario-Leary, the statewide master gardener coordinator with UH Mānoa, says brick and concrete heat up during the day and radiate that heat to nearby plants. That also applies to the lānai floor, so place the pots on a rug or stand to keep them cool. Also keep in mind that dark-colored pots will absorb more heat while light colors can reflect the sun’s rays.


2. Get some direction

Which way is your lānai facing? Those that are on the north side usually receive a good amount of morning light then shade in the afternoon. On the south and west sides, plants will get lots of sun and be dried out by tradewinds, so go with ones that do well in dry climates. Nazario-Leary reminds us that most vegetables and herbs need sun for six to eight hours each day.


3. Prune trees well

Dwarf lemon, lime and even avocado and mango trees can grow in containers. Just make sure to prune both the branches and roots occasionally to keep growth in check.


4. Wash them off

City plants get city dust. Wipe or wash off leaves periodically to get rid of any accumulation.


5. Don’t overwater

Roots shouldn’t be sitting in stagnant water, so make sure containers drain well. Don’t water again until the surface of the soil is dry.


 Plant what you eat! Make a list of your kids’ favorite foods. If they can harvest their own snacks, they’ll be more excited to help water and weed.



Community of Growers

Honolulu’s community gardens let you farm away from home.


You may not have a backyard. Or, perhaps, you need a little more land to set up your rows of corn, green beans and everything else your kids want to try. O‘ahu’s 10 community gardens offer residents a plot of land for as little as $15 a year. The City and County of Honolulu says the gardens at Diamond Head, Dole Community Park, Foster Botanical Garden, Hawai‘i Kai, Kāne‘ohe and Mānoa are particularly family-friendly because they usually have more plots available and are close to schools and parks. All have a variety of users; HONOLULU Magazine spoke with community gardeners who described a sense of team at the gardens, with more seasoned planters offering advice to beginners.


Here is what you need to know:

  • The plots are first-come, first-served. To become a member, fill out an application at a monthly meeting of the garden that you wish to join.
  • Other family members with the same last name are allowed to work on the plot. Anyone else that joins you, will also have to apply.
  • No chemical pesticides or herbicides are allowed.
  • Produce grown cannot be sold.
  • You will need to attend monthly meetings and pay annual dues and fees.