Vegetables: growing for spring
Although spring is an exciting time in flower beds, it can be a barren phase in the vegetable garden. Careful planning and a greenhouse can help to fill the ‘hungry gap’ until spring-sown crops are ready to harvest in summer.
Difficulty Easy, moderate or difficult
Most vegetable gardens can accommodate a few crops for spring. If a greenhouse or polytunnel is available, it will help to over-winter some crops and start off others early, but heating greenhouses for year-round harvests is rarely efficient.
Choose an open site with free-draining soil, cultivated thoroughly prior to sowing or planting and enriched with organic material. Clay soils can be problematic as they warm up slowly; in this situation raised beds can be helpful. Where ground is in short supply, containers will support a few plants.
In the north of England, spring-sown crops may need to be sown later than in the south and most crops will mature two to four weeks later.
What to sow when for spring harvests
Vegetables can be sown in spring, summer, or autumn for spring harvests.
- Winter vegetables such as sprouting broccoli and leeks are sown in spring and can be left in the ground for harvesting until the following April
- Biennial leafy crops such as chard and flat-leaved parsley, which are usually sown in spring for autumn harvests, can be sown later in late summer for harvests in spring
- Oriental salad leaves such as mibuna, mizuna, mustard, turnips and rocket germinate well in autumn and may withstand the winter with a cloche for protection and recommence growth as temperatures rise in spring
- Sow corn salad and land cress in mid- to late summer; cover with a cloche in autumn for higher quality leaves
- Sow spring cabbage in late summer for transplanting in autumn and harvests from mid-spring. Sow 15cm (6in) apart and thin out every other plant for spring greens in March, leaving the rest to mature
- Hardy lettuces can be sown outdoors in early autumn in mild gardens and will stand the winter with protection, hearting up in mid-spring. Alternatively, sow in a heated propagator in late winter for growing on in an unheated glasshouse or cloche and planting out in early spring for crops a few weeks later
- Quick-maturing cut and come again salads can be grown indoors in the greenhouse in early spring for mid- to late spring harvests
- Broad beans can be sown outdoors in late autumn in the south or indoors in February for transplanting out in early spring; with luck this may yield crops at the end of spring
How to grow vegetable for spring harvests
Getting started with your crop;
- Choose an open site with free-draining soil
- Cultivate the soil thoroughly, digging in organic material such as garden compost or well-rotted manure
- Use plastic to warm the soil for spring sowings
- Follow instructions for sowing seed outdoors or indoors
- Thoroughly harden off seedlings raised in the greenhouse thoroughly before planting them outside
- Cover salads and leafy plants with cloches for protection before the frosts
- Apply nitrogen-rich fertiliser in spring to help support a flush of growth
As with any vegetable growing, spring crops can suffer from various cultural, pest and disease problems;
Some leafy crops are prone to bolting if they experience stress.
Cabbages will need a covering of fine mesh to protect them from caterpillars. Flea beetles are a common problem on oriental salad leaves. Cabbage whitefly can infest all brassicas but may be tolerated or treated with a range of sprays. Winter vegetables are often attacked by pigeons and will need the protection of netting from autumn onwards. Slugs and snails are a major pest of seedlings and leafy crops. Aphids can be a problem on a wide range of vegetable crops, especially beans.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages are prone to club root. Damping off is a common problem in seedlings sown indoors. Lettuce downy mildew can be a problem when plants are overcrowded and in wet weather in autum.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.