How to grow salad leaves

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Whatever the size of your garden, salad leaves are one of the quickest and easiest plants you can grow. From a pot on a balcony to rows on the allotment, you can pack a lot of different flavours into a small space with little more than the sprinkling of seed

Growing whole lettuces can be tricky and a lengthier process, so we always treat our green leaves as a cut-and-come-again option, meaning the harvest is earlier and there is a better chance of eating the goods before the wildlife gets to them.

Salad leaves grow best when sown directly into fine compost from late spring onwards. Their growing season can be extended at either end by sowing indoors, but most varieties will struggle if it gets too hot—resulting in seeding a little quicker than you would prefer—so opt for an outdoor location as soon as spring starts which brings some consistent warmth.

As the cut-and-come-again approach gives you a quicker route to harvest, it’s advisable to "session sow" by constantly sowing a new row or patch every few weeks for a regular harvest throughout the year. Besides growing in pots or regular veg beds, salad leaves are also a useful filler crop—they can be sown in the gaps between other slower growing vegetables, such as carrots or parsnips, or at the edges of flower borders or vegetable patches, where the shade of taller plants like runner beans will help keep them cool during the hotter months.

You can mix up the flavours by sowing different varieties throughout the year, or opt for one of the many mixed leaf packets of seed on the market. Below are three of our favourites for you to try…

 

Rocket

The peppery leaves of rocket can be quite expensive to buy so you might imagine they would be one of the trickier leaves to grow. In fact, they’re one of the easiest and can even run riot in some places if left to self seed. There are several varieties you can choose from, including the purple veined ‘dragons tongue’ or the common wild rocket.

 

Mizuna

These oriental leaves have a long growing season, can cope with our colder summer days and should be ready to harvest within three weeks of sowing. They have a mild mustard flavour and can be used in salads or added to stir-fries.

 

Mesclun

Mesclun is a brilliant mixed leaf choice. A traditional French mix, the contents from each packet can vary but tend to include lettuce leaves, rocket, chervil and endives. Some selections might even contain dandelions – the common weed is considered a tasty treat when picked young.