Hopefully these April showers will let up sometime soon so I can get into the garden and start planting spring leafy greens. My vegetable garden is in the lower, moister section of the yard, which is great in dry years but difficult to get into during wet springs.

Being a big fan of salads as well as stir-fries, leafy greens are a quick easy crop to grow in the spring and again in the fall. With few exceptions, leafy greens are cool season crops. They will bolt, or go to seed, during hot weather. When selecting greens for spring planting, look for bolt resistant or slow to bolt varieties.

Lettuce bolting

Lettuce plants elongating as they start to bolt. Photo by dmp, 2019

While leafy greens can tolerate more shade than tomatoes or squash, they are most productive when they receive 6 or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Select a site with a well-drained, fertile soil with a pH in the mid 6’s. Work in a bit of compost or other form of organic matter before planting.

Most greens are easily started from seed sown as soon as the soil is dry enough to work. Seeds can be sown in rows or broadcast over sections of planting beds depending on your garden layout. Typically, seeds would be planted about a quarter to half inch deep. Try to space the larger seeds an inch or so apart if planting in rows. Tiny seeds are hard to plant singly but do your best to distribute them as evenly as you can down the row. If broadcasting, scratch up the prepared soil with a rake or cultivator and lightly scatter the seeds. Then lightly rake over them again to cover lightly with soil.

chard seeds

Planting chard seeds. Photo by dmp, 2019

The most difficult part when growing greens is to decide which varieties to plants. Luscious lettuces come in leaf, buttercrunch and romaine types. Leaves may be light green, dark green, red, splotched or speckled. With so many choices, why not try a leaf lettuce mix. I usually get one from Pine Tree Seeds (www.superseeds.com) but other seed catalogs likely carry mixtures as well. Whether you are growing a lettuce mix or a single variety, the plants all seem to mature at once so make 2 or 3 smaller plantings at 2-week intervals for a longer harvest. Unlike many vegetables, lettuce really can’t be stored that long and even we salad lovers can only consume so much salad!

Lettuce mix

Leafy lettuce mix. Photo by dmp, 2019

While I really like spinach, between planting it late because of wet soil condition and attacks by leaf miners, I find chard to be a pretty palatable substitute. Plus, chard tolerates heat better. Being related to beets, its flavor is similar to spinach but perhaps a bit saltier and earthy. While I find the white stemmed ‘Fordhook’ variety to be most productive, the varieties with pink, yellow, orange or red stems look great in the garden and also, on the dinner plate. Young leaves may be eaten raw but the older leaves and stems are best cooked.

Red chard

Red veined chard. Photo by dmp, 2019

A remarkable number of Asian greens are available to the home gardener in both leafy green selections, like Pak choy and heading sorts such as Chinese cabbage. The same brassica pests that attack my cabbages and broccoli love many of the Asian greens so I have been growing very quick to mature selections like Fun Jen, which matures in 35 days. Seeds of Asian greens usually germinate very quickly – 5 days or less.

Chinese cabbage

Chinese cabbage. Photo by dmp, 2019

Mustards add zest to salads, stir-fries and other dishes. Both red and green varieties germinate in 3 to 5 days under ideal conditions. Plants can get sizeable so give them at least 12 inches between plants unless you are continuously cutting them back for baby greens. As the temperatures climb higher, they get hotter and more pungent; and then they bloom. Late summer sown crops tend to become mellower so I leave a few plants to blossom and set seed. New seedlings germinate usually in late July and August and I just move them into a bed and enjoy harvest number 2 in October.

mustard in bloom

Mustard in bloom. Photo by dmp, 2019

So many people I know rave about kale and collard greens. They are great sources of fiber and nutrients but these are greens I need to cook – either sautéed in stir-fries or as a side dish, or as an addition to soups and stews. The plants often get quite large and can often hang on until the cooler fall temperatures arrive. Remember to pick 2 or 3 leaves per plant each week to encourage new growth. Watch for the same caterpillars that feed on your other cole crops. I have noted that the red kale varieties seem to be less attractive to insect pests than the green ones.

collards w holes

Collard greens with holes, photo by dmp, 2019

It’s hard to decide which is tastier – beets or beet greens. Why settle for one when with careful selection, you can have both. ‘Bull’s Blood’ with its succulent dark red foliage is my favorite but several other beet varieties produce both tasty leaves as well as dense, sweet roots.

beets & carrots LR

Beets and carrots. Photo by Lisa Rivers.

The seeds of all of these leafy greens are sown closer than the recommended spacing anticipating that crowded young seedlings will be thinned to roomier spacings. Use the tender thinnings in salads and space smaller greens at 6-inch intervals and larger greens, like Chinese cabbage, collards and kale at 10 to 12 inch spacings.

Each year I like to try to grow some different leafy green. This year it is watercress, which I think will do best in a pot sitting in a saucer of water. I need 2 cups of watercress for my tarragon chicken salad and if successful, will share growing tips and the recipe with you next year.

Good gardening!

Dawn P.