By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Salad greens are so easy to grow they are the perfect starter plants for new gardeners and those short on space. Leafy salad greens like lettuce, spinach, chard, and kale are grown for their foliage. You don’t spend time tending plants waiting for fruits to form, or tying vines that use vast amounts of garden space. You don’t even need complex fertilizer schedules. Provide a good rich garden soil and start planting. Growing leafy greens are straightforward with the following five insider tips.
On the Go Answer – Readers Digest Condensed Version of this Article
- The ideal garden months for leafy greens are as soon as the ground thaws in April and again in September and October.
- Lettuce is 96% Water, so water every 2-3 days early in the morning.
- Take the older outer leaves first, leaving the newer growth at the heart of the plant.
- When plants bolt into bloom, pull it and plant new seeds.
- Spray Aphids with organic ‘Triple Acton’ at the first sign of bugs.
Garden Tip #1 – Plant when your garden soil is cool, even frosty.
Leafy greens are best planted as soon as the ground thaws through April and again in September & October when night-time temperatures are below 45 degrees. It’s best to grow before the last frost date in May. Bright days and cool nights bring out the flavor of leafy plants and prevent them from bolting into bloom. Summer plants bolt quickly with an off taste.
Garden Tip #2 – Never let them wilt or dry
Salad greens are easy to grow, but this is not ‘Plant and Forget’ gardening. Varieties of lettuce are up to 96% water. That gives you insight into the importance of regular irrigation.
Moist soil lowers the garden’s soil temperature and keeps the foliage growing and plump. Lettuce plants love cooler weather, so when it’s warmer outside, it is essential to water a salad garden to delay your plants from bolting.
Maintain a consistent water schedule for crispness and flavor from your leaves. The ideal time to water is in the morning, before the day’s heat. Irrigate every 2-3 days for constant moisture. Aim for one inch of water per week in total.
Garden Tip #3 – Harvest Frequently
Many people prefer the taste of baby leaves, so the sooner you cut, the better! Picking the foliage often signals the plant to grow more leaves instead of producing seeds. Harvesting leaves from small plants like arugula, mizuna, spinach, and spring mixes in 40 days when only a couple inches tall.
Take the older outer leaves first, leaving the newer growth at the heart of the plant. Use clean scissors or pruners. If a plant starts bolting or looks like its time in the garden is over, pull it and plant new seeds.
Garden Tip #4 – Watch for Bugs
Aphids are the most common insect found on leafy greens in the garden and the easiest to correct. Bugs focus on the tougher, older leaves and one more reason to harvest often. Spray with organic ‘Triple Action’ at the first sign of bugs in your garden. Remove any discolored leaves that have holes.
Garden Tip #5 – Starter Plant in Spring, Seed in Autumn
This advice is from one gardener to another. Spring garden soil is so cool you will have more success growing starter plants found at the garden center. The added maturity allows harvest literally in days instead of a month.
In Autumn, the ground is warm, so seeds germinate quickly. This is the season to sow seed directly in the gardens.
There you have my insider five to better vegetable gardens this year. Plants are available, and the garden center is packed so you can plant when ready.
Free Garden Classes offered by Watters Garden Center
We go deep into growing better. Check out this spring’s entire class selection offered every Saturday @ 9:30 am
February 18 – Gardening for Newcomers
February 25 – Evergreens that Bloom Early
Until next week, I’ll be helping gardeners grow better salad gardens here at Watters Garden Center.