For vegetable gardening, knowing what plants are in the same family can help you rotate crops, manage pests and disease, and keep your soil healthy. Many related plants have similar growing preferences such as light, temperature, directing sowing vs transplanting, and water requirements. Plants in the same families often pull the same amount of nutrient levels. Some crops are considered heavy feeders, nitrogen fixing, light feeders, or moderate feeders. For seed saving purposes, some related plants might cross pollinate. Knowing this information can improve your plant yield as well as your soil health. Plants have a scientific family name as well as a common name they are referred to by most gardeners.
Brassicaceae, commonly referred to as Brassica, Cole Crop, Crucifers, or Cabbage Family, includes crops such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, collards, mustard, kale, kohlrabi, bok choy, radish, and turnips. This family is a cool season crop with shallow roots prone to fungal issues. Most of the members of this family are considered heavy feeders and require a rich supply of nutrients and water. This crop also has a lot of pest problems.
Alliaceae, commonly referred to as the Allium, Lily, or Onion Family, this family consists of the onion, garlic, leek, shallot, and chive. The main characteristics of this family are that the plants have bulbs or underground stems and long, vertical leaves. Onion family seeds are generally small and round, and usually black. However, many plants in this family are grown from bulbs, as with shallots or individually sown garlic cloves.
Cucurbitaceae, commonly referred to as Cucurbit, Vining Crops, or the Squash family, this family includes pumpkins, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, and melons. This family is known as a warm-season loving, frost intolerant group. They grow vigorously, mostly on vines but sometimes in bush form, and usually produce large leaves, spiraling tendrils along with dramatic yellow-orange flowers in both male and female varieties. Their vigorous growth means they need plenty of water, plenty of feeding, and plenty of space to thrive. This family is often started indoors and transplanted once the soil warms.
Fabaceae (Legume or Pea Family) consists of peas, beans, and lentils. Legumes also have tendrils and many varieties are known for their climbing. There are bush varieties of beans for those who have limited grow room. Otherwise, this family will need support in the form or trellising. Legumes can grow in a wide range of temperatures, but bean varieties usually prefer warmer conditions, while peas are generally more hardy and prefer cooler conditions. Legumes are noted for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil as they grow. This makes them ideal to grow before brassicas in a crop rotation scheme, or simply as a green manure crop for your soil. This family does best with direct sowing.
Solanaceae (Nightshade Family) consist of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes. With the exception of potatoes, this family is considered a warm-season, frost intolerant plant. These plants need to be started indoors and transplanted to grow in Alaska’s short season. Eggplant prefers much higher temperatures where it is impossible to grow in Alaska without having a greenhouse. These plants are heavy feeders and prone to blights and fungal diseases. Nightshades are unique because they contain small amounts of alkaloids. Alkaloids are chemicals that are mainly found in plants. The alkaloid found in nightshades is solanine. It functions as an insecticide while the plant is growing. Eating too much solanine can make you feel bad. For that reason, it is recommended not to consume any green parts of a potato plant, including green spots on potatoes.
Apiaceae (Umbel, Carrot, or Parsley Family) consists of carrots, parsley, celery, dill, cilantro, and fennel. The flowers are arranged in clusters, or umbels, which are magnets for bees and butterflies. However, most of the plants are harvested before flowers form unless you’re specifically growing them for seed. This family is a cooler-season crop that needs sandy to loamy, well draining soil. This family does best direct sowing.
Asteraceae (Aster, Sunflower, Daisy Family) vegetables in this family include lettuce and artichokes. Lettuce being the common vegetable in this family, prefers cool weather, is prone to bolting, and has shallow roots.
Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot or Beet Family) consists of beets, spinach, and Swiss chard. This family is a cool-season crop that needs well drained soil and does not do well with acidic pH. These plants are heavy feeders when it comes to nitrogen. This family does not transplant well.
Lamiaceae (Mint family) consists of many common garden herbs including mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage. These plants are fairly drought tolerant once mature, grow tall, and known for invasive roots (mint especially). This family is also known for it’s fragrant leaves.