Insider Tips to Maximize Salad Gardens

by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center

Salad greens are so easy to grow they are the perfect starter plants for new gardeners and those short on space.

Leafy salad greens like lettuce, spinach, chard and kale are grown for their foliage. You don’t spend time tending plants waiting for fruits to form or tying vines that use vast amounts of garden space.

Provide a good rich garden soil and start planting.

1. Plant when your garden soil is cool, even frosty

Leafy greens are best planted as soon as the ground thaws in spring through April and again in September and October when night-time temperatures are below 45 degrees. Bright days and cool nights bring out the flavor of leafy plants and prevent them from bolting into bloom. Summer plants bolt quickly with an off taste.

2. Never let them wilt or dry

Varieties of lettuce are up to 96% water. That gives insight into the importance of regular irrigation.

Lettuce plants love cooler weather, so when it’s warmer outside, it is essential to water a salad garden to delay your plants from bolting. Maintain a consistent water schedule for crispness and flavor. Morning is ideal.

Irrigate every two to three days; aim for 1 inch of water a week.

3. Harvest frequently

Many people prefer the taste of baby leaves, so the sooner you cut, the better. Picking the foliage often signals the plant to grow more leaves instead of producing seeds. Harvest leaves from small plants like arugula, mizuna, spinach and spring mixes in 40 days when only a couple inches tall.

Take the older outer leaves first. If a plant starts bolting or looks like its time in the garden is over, pull it and plant new seeds.

4. Watch for bugs

Aphids are the most common insect found on leafy greens in the garden and the easiest to correct. Bugs focus on the tougher, older leaves; one more reason to harvest often. Spray with an organic product at the first sign of bugs. Remove any discolored leaves that have holes.

5. Starter plant in spring, seed in autumn

Spring garden soil is so cool you will have more success growing starter plants. The added maturity allows harvest literally in days instead of a month. In autumn, the ground is warm, so seeds germinate quickly.