All About Garden Greens

Make garden greens the backbone of your year-round garden with these tips.

  • Spinach is the ideal crop for the cool weather garden, and makes for one luxurious salad.
    Photo by Fotolia/Dionisvera
  • A wise scarecrow overlooks this bountiful garden of greens.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia
  • Bok choy does well direct seeded or transplanted.
    Photo by Fotolia/surachetkhamsuk

Garden greens

Greens are the backbone of my garden. Sure, I love the taste of a tomato picked off the vine and warmed by the sun, but I typically have to wait until July for that. And, yes, I rely on squash and root crops to sustain me through the winter. But greens from my Zone 5 garden provide food year-round. I can harvest salad and cooking greens from early spring to early winter, and when the ground is covered with several feet of snow, I use frozen and dried greens I put up earlier. From cabbage to collards, and arugula to orach, greens offer an incredible diversity of flavors, colors and textures. Welcome to the wide world of garden greens.

How to grow lettuce

Lettuce is a cool-weather crop that prefers moist soil to thrive. Since germination can occur at temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, lettuce is ideal for early spring plantings as well as for the fall garden. It will survive a light frost if sufficiently hardened and can handle temperatures as low as 20 degrees — lower with adequate row cover.

Ideal growing temperatures, however, are between 60 and 65 degrees, although lettuce can certainly be grown into the warmer months if certain protections are put in place, including adequate shade and heat protection. Reemay garden blankets and shade cloths are good options with proper ventilation.

Succession planting is often recommended, so if you sow seed every two to three weeks, you will have lettuce emerging throughout the growing season. This only works, however, if the environmental conditions are relatively constant. More often, the later plantings catch up, and you end up with a huge amount of lettuce maturing at the same time. I prefer planting several varieties at one time and repeating this every couple of months. The different varieties grow at different rates and provide many months of harvest.

Lettuce can also be used as a “cut-and-come-again” crop. If an inch or more of growth is left after cutting, the plant will regrow. Under optimal growing conditions, one plant can be harvested several times.

The spinach family

Spinach requires cool temperatures — between 40 and 75 degrees for optimal germination — and bolts readily in warm weather. The beauty of spinach, though, is that it has a strong tolerance for cold weather, with young plants surviving temperatures as low as 15 degrees. In cool, moist soil, spinach can be treated as a cut-and-come-again crop.

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