Heirloom Leafy Greens to Plant for the Cool Seasons

Reader Contribution by Bryan Traficante and Gardeninminutes
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Let’s grow this fall!

The cool seasons have arrived, bringing with them new opportunities for your garden. This year, try something different by growing a leafy heirloom garden that can be used for lighter offerings during the coming feasts. We live in an age of health awareness, so grow a green garden that yields a holiday salad or the key ingredients for tasty sautéed greens.

Theresa Traficante, co-founder of Garden In Minutes and avid urban gardener, loves growing heirlooms because of the history and taste they bring to the table and garden. Known to usually be more flavorful, heirlooms are defined by open-pollination and being true to generational type. The following are some recommended heirloom leafy greens that are perfect for a cool season garden. 

“Wild Rocket” Arugula

Known for its role in salads, pestos, and on pizza, Arugula has a distinct flavor and is fast growing. 4 plants can be sown per square foot, and it can be planted in late summer/early fall. Ensure your garden receives full sun and keep the first two inches of soil moist. Pro-tip: Use a watering system in your garden that waters plants at their base.

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Collards –“Georgia Green”, “Champion”, “Vates”, “Morris Heading”, and “Green Glaze”

Heirloom collards are rare and you can actually help preserve them by growing more. Infamous in Southern cuisine, it’s similar to Kale but with a slightly sweeter flavor. They can be planted throughout fall, one per square foot, preferably 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. In more northern regions, collards can be planted in late summer as the cool weather comes sooner. They are frost tolerant and it’s thought frost improves their flavor.

Pro-tip: Use the Farmers’ Almanac to find out the current year’s forecasted first frost for your region. Leaves can be harvested when they reach 10 inches long and appear dark green.


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“Lacinato” Kale

Kale is a popular staple for anyone living an active, healthy lifestyle. It has found its way into salads, pans, smoothies, and even has become a substitute for chips. Fall is the best time for growing kale, but it won’t do well in regions where it drops far below freezing. Kale should be planted one per square foot and like collards, needs to be planted 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. In more southern regions, it can be continuously planted through the Fall season, but it won’t do well once temperatures consistently dip below mid-twenties. (If an unexpected period of freezing temps are coming your way – put these garden frost protection tips to good use.)

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“Southern Giant Curled” Mustard

Another fast-growing leafy green, these can be planted upwards of 16 per square foot. Known for their spicy kick, they do best in moist, well-drained soil. Pro-Tip: Grow these in a raised garden for optimal drainage. They are usually grown before the last frost for a Springtime garden, but they can be planted as the weather cools from Summer to Fall. They are frost tolerant meaning they can survive quick light frost, but prolonged temperatures below freezing will kill them.

(Img Src: Eden Brothers Seeds)

“America” Spinach

Spinach is a versatile leaf like Kale, finding itself in sandwiches, salads, shakes, and sautéed. Spinach, like Kale, can be made into chips as a tasty substitute for traditional potato chips. Spinach also has the potential to grow through winter if provided enough warmth and protection. Nine plants can be grown per square foot – and much like our other leafy heirlooms, plant spinach 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost.


(Img Src: Seed Savers Exchange)

So there you have it! 9 leafy heirlooms to grow in your fall garden. You can find seeds for all of these heirloom varietals on websites like RareSeeds.com, EdenBrothers.com, and SeedSavers.org Happy fall gardening!

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