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As soon as the days begin to warm up in early-spring, and the soil can be worked again, I sow seeds for everything from baby heirloom lettuces, chicories and endives to exotic mesclun mixes with a mess of other greens.
I just can’t get enough salad greens in the spring. So, I plant the cool-season greens into containers of all types. No matter what those containers look like, they all have good drainage and are filled with a high quality potting soil, not regular garden soil.
Rather than worry about planting perfect, little rows, I broadcast the seeds as evenly as possible across the soil surface in these containers. The seeds are covered by ¼ inch of fine soil. Practice makes perfect. But you can always sow more in a week or two, or thin out plants later if you’ve sowed too many seeds in one spot.
Then I water very gently, and make certain the soil is kept moist as the seeds start to germinate; usually in seven to fourteen days. The seeds can sometimes take longer, especially if they are planted in late-winter and left to rest quietly in the soil until the growing conditions are optimal.
Lettuces and salad greens grow best in full sun on cool, spring days. I try to get my seeds planted early in the season. If a really cold night comes, I can cover them easily with a frost cloth.
This lettuce is growing in a strawberry pot, which allows you to fit a lot of plants into a small space. Be sure to water this type of terra cotta pot at least once a day, especially in summer. Lettuce can wilt quickly in dry, hot conditions. But the plant also needs good soil drainage too.
Lettuce likes a rich soil, so plant them in well-amended soil and feed them with nitrogen-rich fertilizers such as fish emulsion. Always follow the directions for proper applications.
You can also plant lettuces into rows in your gardens or raised beds. Placing string across either end of the bed will help you get straight lines when you are sowing seeds.
Here I planted several different heirloom lettuces, which grew at different rates. As the plants grew into the space, I thinned out the little lettuces and threw them into a salad.
Eventually, the plants ended up about the same size, and we were able to enjoy a variety of salad greens with different colors and tastes. In the far right, you can see a line of little carrots starting to pop up too.
Other years, I’ll forget the neat rows and just sow handfuls of seeds for different salad greens into a 3x3 foot raised bed. As you can see above, it’s a gorgeous sight when they all start growing together in this spot.
Lettuces are “cut and come again” vegetables, which means that you can cut them back to the ground and they will come again several times. If you keep sowing seeds every couple weeks, you can keep a steady stream of salad greens for your table. Yep, all that food for just a couple dollars for a seed package...
There are so many salad greens it’s hard to name a favorite. But here are some I’ve enjoyed growing:
- ‘Forellenschluss’ (aka Speckled Trout Back): One of my favorites! This Austrian heirloom has green romaine-type leaves speckled with maroon. Holds up well to salad dressing.
- ‘Little Gem’ Romaine: This English heirloom is the perfect size for an individual dinner salad.
- ‘Sea of Red’ Cutting Lettuce: Mahogany-red leaves pretty enough for any ornamental garden.
Or try one of the many lettuce and salad garden mixes, such as:
- ‘Chef’s Spicy Mix’ with a variety of gourmet, spicy greens like mizuna and endive.
- ‘Gourmet Mix’ features red and green gourmet lettuces.
- ‘Paris Market Mix’ has escarole, chicory, arugula, chervil and red lettuces.
- ‘Summer Lettuce Bouquet’ spotlights lettuces (‘Dutch Redina; ‘Batavian Nevada’ and ‘French Cardinale’) that stand up to the heat. Unlike ordinary lettuces, these three will survive warmer temperatures.
Once you grow your own salad greens, you’ll never be satisfied again with just store-bought lettuce. Consider yourself warned, and enjoy!