Salad gardens are essential in any gardening space, offering an easy-to-grow option for gardeners of all skill levels. These gardens can produce a wide variety of salad vegetables and can be cultivated in both garden beds and containers. Though many greens flourish in the cooler seasons of spring and fall, heat-tolerant options for summer harvests are also available. A salad garden is an excellent choice for those looking to grow their lettuce or an array of other fresh salad ingredients.
Discover the process of cultivating a salad garden and explore the essential vegetables required for it.
What Is A Salad Garden?
A salad garden is a unique type of garden where all the plants grown are specifically meant for making a delicious salad. It typically thrives in cooler spring and fall temperatures, although various heat-tolerant greens are suitable for summer harvesting. The assortment of leafy greens is vast and diverse.
However, a salad garden doesn’t have to focus solely on lettuce. It can also encompass various vegetables that enhance salads, such as cucumbers, peppers, radishes, tomatoes, and carrots.
How To Plant Salad greens
Picking the Right Site
You don’t require a large garden to cultivate greens, as you can grow salad greens in various containers such as window-boxes, planters, fabric bags, or even repurposed furniture, eliminating the need for a garden. When planting salad greens in a garden, opt for a location with sunlight or partial shade.
During summer, providing shade for cool season greens can help prevent bolting and prolong the harvesting period. If there’s no available shade, make your own by draping a shade cloth over hoops in the garden. In spring and fall, use the same hoops with row covers to shield from low temperatures and frost.
The planting window for seeds and seedlings varies depending on their growth stage. Lettuce seeds, which may require several weeks to germinate and develop into seedlings, should be sown earlier in the season. On the other hand, planting seedlings in your garden can be done later in the season since they have already experienced some growth.
Prepare The Growing Space
Begin by placing a 1-inch (2.5 cm) layer of compost and aged manure on the planting beds, then use a garden fork or spade to turn the soil under to a minimum depth of six inches (15 cm). Smooth out the seed bed with a rake prior to planting; for fall planting, utilize raised beds to keep the greens elevated above the mud caused by autumn and winter rainfall.
Growing salad greens from seeds are easily achievable, as seed varieties for these greens are readily available. Many non-heading greens can be harvested within 50 days or less.
Direct sowing is the best method for greens ready to be harvested between 30 to 40 days, as this allows for dense planting, ideal for tender baby greens. For larger plants or mature lettuce heads, it’s suitable to direct sow while thinning plants as they grow or to start seeds indoors under grow lights. Transplant seedlings into the garden after 3-4 weeks of indoor growth.
When choosing and sowing salad green seeds, consider the salads you want to create and select seeds based on colour and flavour. Some greens are sweet, while others have a bitter or pungent taste.
Sow seed no more than ½ inch (1.25 cm) deep, press the soil down with your palm, and label each type of salad green with a plant tag. To ensure a consistent crop yield, sow more seeds as you harvest your growing plants.
Salad greens and various salad herbs require a significant amount of water and thrive in consistently moist soil. It is crucial to have a hose or watering can available to water your salad garden when the surface soil seems dry.
In areas with frequent autumn or spring rains, a raised bed or container is an ideal way to prevent planting beds from becoming overly saturated.
Succession planting involves growing one crop after another, ensuring an uninterrupted harvest. To achieve a lengthy season of high-quality greens, either sow fresh seeds every 2 to 3 weeks or utilize grow lights to develop seedlings that can be added to vacant garden areas. Plant successive crops every two weeks to maintain a continuous harvest.
Even for container gardening, succession planting should be adopted by planting a new container with lightweight potting soil and fresh seeds every few weeks to replace consumed greens.
Ward Off Pests
Common pests in salad gardens include flea beetles, snails, and slugs. Flea beetles create small holes in the leaves, while snails and slugs typically chew the leaves starting from the edges. To keep these pests away, use a floating row cover made of spun polyester and secure it around the edges with boards or soil. To prevent rabbits, voles, and birds from causing damage, use bird nettings to cover the planting bed.
In spring, when the sun shines, and birds sing, regularly weeding your small salad garden is delightful and can be done efficiently with weekly maintenance. However, as spring is also the time when slugs thrive and are attracted to mulch, it is generally better to use open cultivation for a salad garden and reserve mulch for crops that require protection during the hot summer months.
Salad greens can be harvested by cutting them with scissors just above the soil line. Many of these greens will continue to produce new leaves in a few weeks after being harvested. The growth of most salad greens will persist until they are exposed to a hard frost in the fall or winter or until the arrival of unseasonably warm weather in the spring.
If hot weather is predicted, harvesting the greens before the temperature rises is best to prevent them from bolting and developing a bitter taste when they set seed.
Additional Tips For Growing A Salad Garden
Cultivate for a Long Harvest Season
Arugula and radishes, which grow quickly, can be harvested after just one month, while slower-maturing romaine or crisphead lettuces require twice as much time. Planting a diverse range of greens not only lengthens the harvest season but also alters the nature of your homegrown salads every week.
Plant Onion Sets to Create Structure
Plant salad leaves alongside onions and aim to harvest them early as scallions before the surrounding leafy greens overshadow them. With their upright growth, scallions serve as great companion plants for crisphead lettuce, allowing ample time to fully grow.
Include Herbs and Edible Flowers
Annual herbs like cilantro and dill are naturals for a spring salad garden, and you can use them as greens or for flavoring dressings. Grow perennial herbs such as chives in containers so you can move them elsewhere when the salad garden is renovated in midsummer.
Choose Properly the Fertilizers
Salad greens, eaten raw and cleaned in cool water, should not come into contact with microbes in undecomposed organic matter, especially manure. In your salad garden, it is advised to use a well-processed organic fertilizer or, even better, opt for plant-based alternatives like alfalfa pellets or organic chicken feed as fertilizers.
Use a Tunnel to Protect Against Weather and Pests
Spring crops can experience rapid changes in weather, often accompanied by strong winds, hail, or heavy rainfall. To safeguard them from harsh weather conditions and animal threats such as rabbits and deer, use row covers supported by hoops and fastened at the edges with boards or bricks.
You’ll be amazed at the growth of your plants when you uncover them after a few weeks of being protected under these covers.\
Greens To Grow
Lettuce – Lettuce is a staple for spring and one of the simplest greens to cultivate. For a speedy harvest, focus on leaf lettuce types, particularly the ‘Red Salad Bowl’ variety, although most heading lettuce types also grow quickly when harvested at a young stage. Plant clusters of lettuce around the borders of your garden beds for an attractive and edible boundary, or incorporate them into your flower pots.
Green Onion (Scallions) – Green onions can be planted indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost to start the season earlier or directly sown outdoors during summer and early fall. They thrive in cool temperatures, but some afternoon shade can help them withstand the summer heat. Harvest green onions when their tops are at least 6 inches in height and their stems have a pencil-like thickness.
Baby Spinach – Outdoor spinach plants thrive in cool weather, while indoor plants can be grown throughout the year. Ideal temperatures for baby spinach growth range from 50 to 77 ℉ (10 to 25 ℃). In early spring, when the soil has warmed up following winter, plant spinach seeds directly in the garden and plant another crop in the fall.
Arugula – Arugula takes 60 days to reach maturity. To grow a spring crop, plant the seeds in garden beds or containers approximately one month before the final spring frost, and repeat the process every couple of weeks. The baby arugula leaves have a milder taste than the larger ones, so begin harvesting when the leaves are only a few inches long.
Basil – It typically takes about 65-75 days to reach maturity. It is recommended to plant basil two weeks following the last frost in spring. This tasty herb grows well in raised garden beds, in-ground gardens, and containers. Basil should be spaced between 12 and 18 inches apart. Once the plants have grown to a height of at least 8 inches, you can either pluck a few leaves or trim a single sprig at a time.
Cucumber – Cucumbers require 50-60 days to reach maturity. Plant them 36 to 60 inches apart for ground growth or 12 inches apart for trellised plants, in a location with plenty of sunlight and fertile, well-draining soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Harvest the plants when they display a uniformly deep green color and feel firm to the touch.
Oregano – Oregano, which takes 70 days to mature, should be planted in spring after the risk of frost has passed. Ensure these plants are spaced 8 to 10 inches apart and placed in a sunny location with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. As a perennial plant, you can continuously enjoy the benefits of oregano after it reaches maturity.
Chives – Chives take 60 days to reach maturity. Planting rooted clumps in spring is the easiest and most effective method for growing them. Ensure that the plants are spaced 6-12 inches apart. Once they reach a height of at least 6 inches, trim a few down to the soil level as needed.
Parsley – Parsley takes about 65-75 days to mature. Plant the parsley 6 to 8 inches apart in a location that receives full sunlight, has nutrient-dense and well-drained soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.7. Provide some shade if the climate is warm. Shear the sprigs when they reach a length of 4-6 inches.
Salad Gardening Made Easy For You
A salad garden offers versatility, making it perfect for novice and experienced gardeners. By cultivating a salad garden, you can grow greens and savour the most refreshing salads right from the comfort of your own home.
So, go ahead, embark on this rewarding journey, and relish the delightful flavours of freshly harvested produce throughout the year.