Grow Your Own

Salad leaves

It's so easy to grow your own salad leaves, even those exotic ones you see in the supermarket. Salad leaves are cut-and-come-again crops, as you constantly cut immature leaves, more re-grow. The most common crop is lettuce, but there are a host of other salad leaves: chicory, endive, sorrel, spinach, mizuna, mibuna, rocket and mustard.

Salad leaves

Sow

Grow salad leaves in full sun, making sure the soil is well-drained.

They are particularly well suited to growing in containers, growbags or even in salad bowls. Just make sure whatever you use has drainage holes. You can also sow salad leaves in the garden.

Sow indoors from February. Sow outdoors from mid-spring to late summer, putting individual types of salad seed in rows, thinly at 1cm (½in) deep. Alternatively one of the easiest ways of sowing salad leaves is to simply sprinkle a mixture of seed (most garden centres will sell packets of salad leaf mixes) lightly on the top of soil surface, then cover with about 1cm (½in) of compost.

As the seed grows, thin out some seedlings by removing with your thumb and forefinger. This gives more room for plants to develop. You can use the thinned seedlings in salads.

You will usually be able to cut the salad leaves three or four times, so the secret to having salad leaves all summer is to sow several times, about a fortnight apart. So once you finish with one crop, you can start the next.

Grow

Water when the soil is dry, preferably in the early morning.

Common problems

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails: These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.

Remedy: There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.

More info on Slugs and snails

Grey mould

Grey mould: Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse. This is a problem normally in wet conditions, and is usually worse on weak or damaged plants. The mould usually enters through a wound but, under the right conditions, even healthy plants will be infected. You will see fuzzy grey mould on affected buds, leaves, flowers or fruit. Infected plant parts eventually shrivel and die.

Remedy: Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. Hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of grey mould. If you see it, remove the infected material and destroy. Grey mould is encouraged by overcrowding, so make sure you plant your seedlings, plants and squashes at the appropriate distance apart.

More info on Grey mould

Lettuce root aphid

Lettuce root aphid: Older plants suddenly wilt and die back, usually in mid- to late sunmmer. You may not see the aphids, as they attack the roots, not leaves, but you may see lots of ants around the plants, as they feed on the honeydew that the aphids produce.

Remedy: The damage is worse in dry conditions, so keep lettuce well-watered. If you suspect root aphid and only have a few lettuces, you can pull them up, wash off the aphids and replant in fresh compost. Otherwise, there is not much you can do, except pull up any affected plants and destroy them. Prevention is the best cure, so cover lettuces with insect-proof mesh (like Enviromesh) from June until August as this will prevent aphids getting to the roots. Some lettuces are resistant to root aphid.

More info on Lettuce root aphid

Harvesting

Start cutting the salad leaves when the plants reach about 10cm (4in) high. Clip the leaves with scissors, and the plants will re-grow and can be trimmed several times.

Harvest leaves just before you want to eat them, or store in the fridge in a polythene bag for a couple of days.

Varieties

Rocket:Has a distinctive peppery taste. In hot weather, leaves can become tough and coarse, so keep on top of cutting.

Mizuna:An Oriental leaf with a powerful peppery taste and tender texture. Good cold tolerance, so it can be grown under protection over winter.

Sorrel:Bright green leaves with a sharp lemon flavour. Use sparingly in salads.


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