Written by Rhonda Ferree, retired horticulture educator
I grew several different types of salad greens indoors this winter. We ate them in salads, on sandwiches, in tacos, and more. With spring just around the corner, now is the time to plant salad greens outdoors in the garden.
There are many different types of salad greens to choose from, in a variety of flavor types. Arugula, mustard greens, and chicories provide a strong peppery flavor. Endive presents a peppery bitter note. Radicchio has a combination sweet-and-bitter taste. Some describe spinach as a mineral taste, but sweet when young. Sorrel has a tart, tangy acid taste like lemon or sour green apple. Young lettuce leaves are mild, slightly sweet, and come in a variety of red-green color combinations.
While they do best in full sun, greens will grow nearly as well in light shade. Plant the salad seed mix in March to early May when soils reach about 40 degrees F. These cool-season greens are sweetest when grown in cool weather. Plant again in August or September as cool late summer and fall nights favor them as well.
You could grow these in a container or landscape bed before planting warm-season flowers or veggies in mid-May. Greens only take a few weeks and a few square feet of soil.
Lettuces often sprout in about a week. Other greens will take about two weeks to germinate so you can sow them separately if you wish and then mix them at harvest. You could also purchase a mesclun seed packet that is premixed. Sow only as much as you and your family will eat in a week, and then if you have space, repeat every week two or three times to have new baby salad coming on over the whole season.
All of these greens have small seeds that are best sown on the surface of loosened soil. If growing the seeds in a pot, try moistening the soil first, or else the seeds might wash away when watering it later.
Sprinkle the seed about a half-inch apart, and then cover with only about one-quarter inch of soil. Some suggest you practice sowing fine seed on a paper towel first until you get the feel of distributing the seed evenly about one-half inch apart. Then mist to thoroughly moisten the top dressing of soil. Keep seeds moist but not soaking during the germination time.
Start harvesting your crop when the greens reach just 2 or 3 inches tall, often in only a month or so. Don't let them get more than 5 or 6 inches tall before snipping them off with scissors for your salad. If you cut them about an inch above soil level, most often the crowns will re-sprout.
Since any one of these alone can be overpowering, I like to mix the various salad green flavors. A mix of mild lettuces, tangy sorrel, bitter dandelion, and peppery mustards combined with a simple dressing, presents a pleasing layering of flavors to savor.
MEET THE AUTHOR
As horticulture educator, Rhonda Ferree inspired citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes. She focused on high quality, impactful programs that taught homeowners how to create energy-efficient landscapes using sustainable practices that increase property values and help the environment.
After 30 years with University of Illinois Extension, Rhonda retired in 2018. She continues to share her passion for horticulture related topics as “Retro Rhonda” on social media.
ABOUT THE BLOG
ILRiverHort is a blog that helps people connect to nature and grow.