Ask A Master Gardener – Growing Greens

Authored by: Carol Shirk

Photo credit: C. Shirk

Spring has arrived and most gardeners are anxious to start growing something. It is too early to plant most vegetables, but some of the earliest that can be planted are the greens. The most common green is lettuce, but arugula, cresses, endive, kale, spinach, chard, and beet greens also fall into the category. The easiest way to get a variety of greens is to plant mesclun.

Greens can be planted around April 15th in our Zone 5a.  Many of the greens do not tolerate heat well and will do even better if planted as a fall crop.  Although the varieties of lettuce and other greens available in grocery stores have increased substantially in recent years, they are still small compared to what can be grown in the home garden.

Timing is critical for these harbingers of spring.  Swiss chard and kale will continue to produce through the heat of the summer, however lettuce and spinach will “bolt” or flower and start to produce seed.  At this point, the flavor is bitter and it is better to remove the plants and replace them with something else.  However, they can be seeded again later for a fall crop.

Mesclun is a mix of 5–7 leaf lettuces, greens, and herbs that skirts the problem of deciding which of the greens to plant.  The word mesclun is derived from the French word “mesclar” meaning mixture. The French originated the concept of combining tender young leaves of wild and cultivated plants.  Today you can purchase different mixes ranging from sweet to spicy to tangy.  They are a treat for not only the palate, but for the eye as well, with shades of greens, reds and bronzes in one patch.  You get a complete salad in one small seed package.

Mesclun can easily be grown in containers.  This makes putting them near your back door and available for your evening salad even more convenient.  Use a good quality potting soil and not garden soil.  Make sure your container has holes for drainage and is large enough to accommodate the full-sized plants, at least 18 inches across and 6–12 inches deep.  Place your container in a location that gets 5–6 hours of sun, although some of the mixes can tolerate slightly less sun if necessary.  Moisten the soil, sprinkle the seed on the top and cover lightly with soil.  Keep the soil moist, but not soaked until the seeds germinate.  Harvest can begin just a few short weeks after seeding.  Greens are harvested using a “cut-and-come-again” method.  Cut what is needed about an inch from the soil, leaving the stub to regrow until it reaches 4–6 inches and harvest it again.

If planting directly in the garden, a 2×2 foot plot of ground (or a 6–8 foot row) will yield a sufficient amount of greens for several salads each week for a family of four.  Consider planting half of the plot, waiting two weeks and planting the other half to stagger the harvest time and allow for regrowth time.  Plant the same way as if you were planting in a container.  If planting in a block, thin to about an inch of space between plants once they have germinated.  Remember to harvest the greens when they are young, 4–6 inches in height, for best flavor.

Carol Shirk

Master Gardener Volunteer




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