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Leafy Greens in the Garden

Posted by Kari Houle - Articles

I have come to the realization that my favorite plants are foliage plants – from pothos to huechera to lettuce and spinach. Spring is on the horizon which means it's going to be spring vegetable planting time before we know it and that includes some of those favorites.

Leafy green vegetables are some of the easiest vegetables to grow. They start readily from seed, can provide extend harvest periods, and are nutritionally healthy. Pretty good deal if you ask me. They are easily grown in containers as well as in-ground planting beds.

As for all vegetable gardening – timing of planting is important. Leafy greens can be seeded outdoors in late March/early April. Some will be okay throughout the summer, providing continual harvest, such as chard and kale. Others such as lettuce and spinach struggle in the heat and bolt, which means to flower and begin to produce seed. Lettuce and spinach that have bolted become bitter and are better pulled, placed in the compost pile, and replaced with a different crop. These two can be planted again later for a fall crop. Some loose leaf lettuces can potentially be grown later into the summer as they are a bit more heat tolerant if provided shade from taller crops or shade cloth and provided adequate moisture.

Leafy Greens – Recommended Planting Dates

  • Chard – April 10 – June 1
  • Kale – April 1 – 30 & July 1 – August 1
  • Leaf Lettuce – March 25 – May 15 & August 15 – September 15
  • Spinach – March 25 – April 15 & August 15 – 30

If you are growing in containers, make sure to use a high quality potting mix – avoid using garden soils or top soil. Chose a container that has drainage holes and large enough to accommodate a mature sized plant. Seed directly in the containers according to the directions on the seed packet.

Leafy greens prefer moist, well-drained soil when growing in the ground. Adding in compost to vegetable beds every year is beneficial to improving overall soil quality, especially if you are struggling with soils that have a higher clay content. If you are just getting started in the world of vegetable gardening, it's worthwhile having a soil test done. Soil tests are best done in the fall, if the pH of the soil needs modification, there is time for materials applied to have an effect before spring planting. If you didn't have a chance to have a soil test done in the fall, definitely do one this spring – it will give you a guide for nutrient management.

You can begin to harvest leafy greens once leaves are large enough to use. Seed packets will also provide information about when and how to harvest. Using scissors or a sharp knife to harvest leaves minimizes damage to the plant for those that will be continually harvested as compared with snapping leaves off. With greens such as kale, harvest the lower leaves and avoid harvesting from the top. Kale will continue to grow upwards as long as bottom leaves are continually harvested. I have seen some really tall kale plants over the years!

If you're wondering what to do with all the leafy greens you might harvest aside from salads or sautéed spinach or kale, there are a lot of great recipes that incorporate them. My inner foodie can't wait to cook with homegrown greens this year.



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