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Leafy Greens

How to Grow Salad Greens The Best Way


10 min read

Knowing how to grow salad greens is a great skill to implement in your spring salad garden plans. If you’re used to eating boring iceberg lettuce salads that are covered in a flavorful dressing, fear not – there are plenty of more exciting and delicious lettuce greens and other greens to add to your garden!

Standard iceberg lettuce is great, but it’s even easier in many cases to grow other salad greens that are more nutritious and delicious.  Adding some of these into your salad-making arsenal will go a long way for your health and your taste buds.

Growing your own salad greens is a cinch. Here we go!​

Expanding your salad garden past lettuce is simple.  Some of the following veggies can be eaten on their own – bok choy, arugula, and spinach are a few examples. Growing salad greens like radicchio, mustards, shiso, or chicory requires that you mix them with other greens or leaf lettuce varieties to create the perfect salad or dish.

Arugula (Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa)

Arugula harvest
Arugula harvest. Source: chiotsrun

Arugula is known by many names, the most popular being rocket and roquette.  It’s usually mixed into a salad with other greens or leaf lettuce due to its slightly bitter and spicy flavor.

Growing Tips:

  • Sow seeds in early spring or fall
  • Thin seedlings to 4-6 inches apart, with 10 inches between rows
  • Don’t waste thinnings; use them in salads as baby greens
  • Harvest mature greens in 6-8 weeks
  • Bolts to seed fast in hot and dry weather

Learn More: Growing Arugula

Bok Choy (Brassica rapa)

Bok choy is another one of those veggies that goes by many names, the most common being bak choi and pak choi.  It’s a cute relative to the cabbage with long, thick stems and dark green leaves.  Baby bok choy plants are a staple in salads and cole slaws.

Growing Tips​:

  • Sow seeds in early spring or fall
  • Grow like a cabbage
  • Prefers cooler growing conditions (use ‘Canton Bok’ if in a hotter region)
  • Place 8-12 inches apart, with 12 inches between rows
  • Harvest entire heads when small, or outer leaves when large

Learn More: Growing Bok Choy

Endive and escarole (Cichorium endivia)

Endives have a light green, frilly leaves that are called frisee in the gardening and culinary worlds.  The broader leaved varieties are typically called escarole.  They have a bitter taste that can balance out a salad very well.  Extremely popular in Europe due to this bitter taste adding some life to otherwise bland dishes.

Growing Tips​:

  • Start indoors for an early summer harvest
  • Start in summer in the salad garden for a fall crop
  • Thin plants to 12 inches
  • Cooking tip – blanch plants for a buttery color and cut some of the bitter flavors

Learn More: Growing Endive

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Common chicory
Common chicory. Source: Matthew Beziat

Chicory is a close relative of the endive and escarole.  It’s known in some places as witloof chicory, or Belgian endive.  It is a great addition to winter salad gardens if it is forced indoors. You can eat chicory in salads with most salad greens and it will taste awesome.

Grows similar to endive and escarole.​

  • Plant at a depth of 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch
  • Give this plant full sun! It loves to grow in open meadows and fields
  • Thin seedlings to 1/2 foot apart
  • Leaves and flowers work best in salads. Chicory root is great as a coffee alternative!

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Kale is one of the most popular salad and juicing greens in recent years – and for good reason.  It’s extremely nutritious and comes in a large range of colors and styles, from purple to green, and from curly to straight.

Growing Tips​:

  • Plant in early spring or late summer
  • Thin to 2 feet apart
  • Continually harvest by pulling younger leaves for salads

Learn More: Growing Kale

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

Spinach is a salad staple and can be harvested when leaves are just developing for a baby spinach salad, or when mature for larger leaves.  It’s one of the best greens to add to a salad for nutrition, as it’s packed with vitamins and minerals.

Growing Tips​:

  • Plant in early spring and later summer
  • Thin to 4 to 6 inches apart
  • Do not waste thinnings – use them in salads or other dishes
  • You can begin harvesting salad greens in 35 to 45 days

Learn More: Growing Spinach

Mizuna (Brassica juncea var. japonica)

This awesome and cabbage-tasting green is a very fast producer, maturing in a little over a month. It has serrated leaves and is a great minor addition in salads for a little kick.

Grow it like spinach.​

Learn More: Growing Mizuna

Mustard greens (Brassica juncea)

Mustard greens
Mustard greens. Source: Wally Gobetz

Mustard greens come in all sorts of varieties from red to green, and loose-leaf to headed.  Loose-leaf types mature in 45 days and heading types mature in 60-75 days.

All varieties perform well in heat and a light frost, making them easy to grow.

As far as taste, the oriental cultivars are milder, while southern mustards have a hot and peppery flavor to them.​

  • Plant directly into the soil in early spring and fall
  • Do not cover with much soil
  • Space 6 inches apart and thin to 10 inches
  • Leave 12 inches in between rows

Learn More: Growing Mustard Greens

Radicchio (Cichoria intybus)

Radicchio is quickly becoming a staple in many salad-lovers’ gardens.  It has an amazing visual appeal, with a white base flowing into deep purple leaves.  The flavor is cherished in salads that would otherwise be a little bland.

  • Start indoors like endives and escarole
  • Transplant into garden 1/2 foot apart
  • Plants are ready to harvest when heads are compact and around 4 inches large

Learn More: Growing Radicchio

Shiso (Perilla frutescens)

Red shiso
Red shiso. Source: Nick orgazmika

The shiso plant is an Asian green that warm weather growers love. It really packs a punch, making it great for those who love pungent flavors, or those who don’t mind a sprinkling of intense flavor in their favorite salad.

  • Start these either indoors or in a cold frame 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost
  • Plant seeds no deeper than 1/4 inch
  • Transplant baby shisos at 1 foot apart
  • They’re ready to harvest when they’ve been growing for 2 months
  • Cut them and they’ll come again for several months!

Learn More: Growing Shiso Plants

Salad Green Growing Guidelines

The seeds of these 9 salad greens are similar to lettuce seeds in how they grow. They prefer soil rich in humus. They also need moist soil that drains well. They all tend to do well in cooler weather, as hotter weather encourages these plants to bolt to seed or develop a flavor that is simply too strong for most people’s tastes.​

If you want to grow absolutely gorgeous salad greens – and who doesn’t – cover your rows or beds with a floating cover and leave it in place throughout the entire time your salad greens grow.  It seems weird, but it will help your greens stay tender and retain a vibrant color.  Remove the cover to weed or pick off any slugs you see on your salad crops.​

During the process of growing salad greens, when young plants have four true leaves, thin to around 6 inches apart.  As far as watering goes, about an inch a week is a good target. Be sure to water your salad crops in the morning sun, so leaves are dry by the time the sun sets.

If you decide now to use a cover, be sure to mulch so the soil remains moist and suffocates weeds. For even quicker growth of young plants, side-dress with a compost tea once or twice throughout the growing cycle.​

More Salad Enhancing Greens

While these nine salad greens listed above are a great start, if you’re feeling adventurous, you should add even more to your salads!  All the plants listed below will add interesting visual and flavor elements to any salad.  In particular, the nasturtium flowers and chives will beautify your dish and make it taste absolutely delicious.

Frequently Asked Questions

Asian salad greens
Asian salad greens. Source: Green Mountain Girls

Q: Is it easy to grow salad greens?

A: We definitely think so! Especially if you set those seeds up for success, you’ll have salad greens in a month or two.

Q: Do salad greens need full sun?

A: In cooler springs, full sun is best. However, in areas with warmer weather, at least 3 to 4 hours of sun is best. Some shade in the afternoon will benefit your leaf lettuce.

Q: How long does it take to grow salad greens?

A: Depending on what you’re growing, expect greens in 30 to 70 days.

Q: How do you grow green salad at home?

A: Again, it depends on what you’re growing. Overall, a large enough growing area, rich soil, and consistent sun and moisture with some fertilizing will do the trick.

Q: Do greens grow back after cutting?

A: If you harvest the greens from the outside, leaving 1/3 of the inner leaves, or if you plant a cut-and-come-again variety, yes, they will grow back.

Q: What time of the year do you plant salad greens?

A: Salad greens tend to be a spring crop. Greens are cool weather crops, but many don’t like it to be too cold.

Q: How often do you water salad greens?

A: A good standard is twice per week. In warmer areas, water a few times a week.

Q: Can you grow salad leaves all year round?

A: If you have a climate-controlled area to grow your greens, yes, you can have salad greens growing all the time. Outdoors, it may not be possible all year long.

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