Salad leaves

It's so quick and easy to grow your own salad leaves, even those exotic ones you see in the supermarket. These are cut-and-come-again crops – regularly cut a few leaves from each plant and more re-grow. The most popular crop is lettuce, but there are many other delicious choices, including chicory, endive, sorrel, spinach, mizuna, mibuna, rocket and mustard.

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  • Harvest leaves

Month by month

Sow

Grow salad leaves in full sun and well-drained conditions. They’re ideal in containers and growing bags, but also grow well in a veg plot or even just a handy gap at the front of a border.

Sow indoors in small pots or modular trays from February.

Sow outdoors from mid-spring through to late summer, at a depth of 1cm (½in), scattering the seeds thinly. 

You can either sow different types in individual rows or pots, or simply sprinkle a salad-leaf seed mix on a patch of bare soil or a compost-filled container, then cover with 1cm (½in) of compost.

As the seedlings grow, thin out a few to prevent overcrowding. This gives the remaining plants more room to develop, and you can use the thinned seedlings in salads.

You should get three or four harvests from one sowing, so the secret to having salad leaves all summer is to sow several small batches, about a fortnight apart. Then once one batch is finished, 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.

Grey mould
Grey mould

A usually grey, fuzzy fungal growth which can begin as pale or discoloured patches. Grey mould ( botrytis) is a common disease especially in damp or humid conditions. Spores enter plants via damaged tissue, wounds or open flowers. Mould can also damage ripening fruit such as strawberries. Black resting spores survive over winter.

Remedy

Remove damaged plant parts before they can become infected. Cut out infected areas into healthy tissue and clear up infected debris. In greenhouses, reduce humidity by ventilating and avoid overcrowding of young plants and seedlings.

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.

Harvesting

Start harvesting leaves when the plants are about 10cm (4in) high, which can be just a month or so after sowing in some cases. Snip off a few of the outer leaves with scissors, and more will grow from the centre, which will be ready to harvest a few weeks later.

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

Recommended Varieties

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