Growing Salad Greens

There's more to growing salad greens than just planting lettuce


Kale is a great salad greenEndive and escarole (Cichorium endivia): The lacy, cream green, frilly leaves of endive are often called frisee, while the broad-leaved forms are often sold as escarole. Start these bitter greens indoors for an early summer harvest or in the garden in summer for an autumn crop, thinning plants to stand a foot apart. (Note: That touch of bitterness is prized in Europe, adding sophistication to a potentially bland salad.) Blanch plants for a buttery color and milder flavor.

Kale (Brassica oleracea, Acephala group): Kale adds substance, color, and nutrition to a salad—the thick, blue-green, purple-green, green-black, or white-green leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals. Some cultivars are deeply frilled while others are deeply puckered; all add texture and variety to a mixed salad. Sow in early spring or late summer, thinning plants to 2 feet apart. Harvest the young leaves individually for salads.

Mizuna (Brassica juncea var. japonica): Attractive, compact green plant matures in 35 days, tolerates heat, and is easy to grow. Serrated leaves add a cabbagy, mustardy flavor to salads. Sow seed in early spring; grow like spinach.

Mustard greens (Brassica juncea): Attractive red or green loose-leaf or heading mustards. Loose-leaf types mature in 45 days; heading mustards need 60 to 75 days to head up. Plants tolerate heat and light frost, and they’re easy to grow. Leaves of oriental mustard cultivars tend not to be as hot or biting as Southern mustard greens. Direct-seed in early spring or fall, barely covering with soil. Space plants 6 inches apart in the row, thinning to 10 inches; leave 10 to 12 inches between rows.


Radicchio (Cichoria intybus): This bitter Italian heading chicory has become a favorite of salad lovers everywhere. Its gorgeous deep garnet, white-based leaves add rich color and texture to salads, and the flavor adds sophistication. Start indoors as with endive and escarole for spring planting; space 6 inches apart when you transplant them outdoors. Plants form tight, 4-inch heads.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea): This salad staple can be harvested when the leaves are small (“baby spinach”) to use whole in salads or when they’re mature. Sow seed in early spring and late summer for spring and fall crops, thinning to 4 to 6 inches apart. (Use thinnings in salads or stir-fries.) Spinach is rich in vitamins and minerals, so it’s one of the healthiest salad choices.

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