Growing Fabulous Lettuce and Greens

Reader Contribution by Melodie Metje

We love eating a salad every day. It is fresh, crunchy, and delicious. You can dress it up in so many different ways. The variety available for the greens themselves is phenomenal. When I was growing up, it seemed the only salad green in the store was iceberg lettuce. Now, you can get numerous varieties of lettuces, kale, fiddle leaf ferns, purslane, wheat grass, pea shoots, spinach, amaranth, chives, arugula, endive, radicchio, blood-veined sorrel (right); the list goes on.

As the variety has increased in the stores, it has ballooned in seed catalogues. There are hundreds of different lettuces, greens, and salad herbs available out there.

Growing Garden Greens

Greens all have something in common. They are fed by nitrogen (stimulates green growth) and stay sweetest in cool temperatures with consistent moisture. Like most vegetables, greens do best in a fertile soil, rich in organic matter.

You can accomplish this through adding compost to your garden bed or container with a balanced fertilizer and blanketed with a mulch covering. Planting or positioning your container in a spot where it gets some sun, but good afternoon shade to keep the plant cool will prolong the sweetness of the leaves. You can also use a shade cover to keep the plant and soil temperature down. Greens do not need much sun in the summer since there is so much reflected light available to the plant.

You also don’t want the soil to dry completely out. This will stress the plant and stimulate it to go to flower, or bolt as they call it. Keep the soil moist.

With the advent of so many gardening today, the demand for seeds has continued to rise. You can now choose varieties bred specifically to tolerate the conditions of each season. There are cold hardy varieties and heat resistant varieties. You would plant the cold hardy varieties in early spring and fall. The heat resistant varieties you would plant in late spring and successively every 3 weeks through the summer. Look for “bolt resistance” and “heat tolerant” varieties.

Heat-Tolerant Varieties

You can also look for greens that actually thrive during the dog days of summer. Varieties like amaranth, chard (left), collards, kale, Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, orach, salad burnet, sorrel, sprouting broccoli (right), sweet potato leaves, purslane, radacchio, and cultivated dandelions. The new leaves are the sweetest. Herbs like chives, parsley, tarragon, and celery leaves add an unique twist on the summer salad.

Pick the youngest leaves for salads and use the more mature leaves of chard, radicchio and sorrel for cooked greens. Picking right after a rain or first thing in the morning also gives the sweetest, plumpest leaves.

Garden Green Basics

To wrap it up:

Plant in rich soil.
Use a natural fertilizer high in nitrogen (coffee grinds work well) each time you seed or plant.
Keep the soil evenly moist; don’t allow to dry out completely. Planting in self-watering pots and applying mulch can help.
Successive sowing of lettuce and spinach seeds.
Sow varieties adapted to the season.
Keep the plants in a cool, shady location to extend the harvest in the summertime.
Supplement the salad bowl with sprouting broccoli leaves, perennial greens, tropical greens, and herbs when it gets hot.

For more tips for gardening in small spaces and containers, check out Melodie’s blog at