How to Grow Quick Salad Crops

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Mixed Oriental salad leaves

Towards the end of summer you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s little else that can be grown before winter, but at this time of year quick-growing salads can still be sown, grown and harvested before the season’s over. Read on to discover exactly which salads to try - right now!

Fast-Growing Salad Leaves

As light levels fall and temperatures cool from their summer peak, the emphasis in the garden turns to crops that can grow quickly enough to give a harvest before winter. Many salads fit the bill, with the fastest ready in just weeks.

Hardy salads will give the best results and, if given some protection from the cold, in many areas have the potential to carry on producing leaves throughout winter and into spring.

Oriental salad leaves are perfect for late summer sowing because they respond positively to shortening day length by putting on lots of leafy growth. Spicy mustards, creamy tatsoi and the unmistakable mizuna can all be sown in late summer with the first leaves ready to enjoy just one month later. Other leaves to try include rocket, winter varieties of lettuce, American or land cress, kales for salad and the ever-prolific mâche, also known as lamb’s lettuce or corn salad.

Butterhead lettuces

How to Sow Late Salad Leaves

Because these salads will be growing towards the end of the season, treat them to the sunniest spot you can. You can start your salads off directly outside, or into modules or pots to plant out a little later on.

Sowing outdoors is easy and with soil still warm, germination will be fast. Remove any traces of previous crops then lightly dig the ground over and rake level. Most salad leaves are sown into drills spaced about 12 inches (30cm) apart. Sow thinly, cover the seeds back over and water well. Once the seedlings appear, remove them in stages until the young plants are about three to four inches (8-10cm) apart.

Alternatively, sowing under cover into modules avoids potential slug damage at this critical stage. Fill module trays with suitable compost then sow about two to five seeds per cell. Cover them with more compost and water. Once the seedlings have filled their cells they can be planted out into prepared soil about nine inches (22cm) apart in both directions, with strategically placed slug traps in between.

Rocket seedlings

Planning Late Salad Crops

Our handy Garden Planner will help if you’re unsure what can be sown in your part of the world at this time of year. The software accesses data from your nearest weather station to tailor sowing and planting dates to your location.

To find out what can be sown now simply click the Filter button. You can then select the ‘Suitable for Fall Planting/Harvesting’ option, or a specific sowing and planting month. Click OK and you’ll see that the selection bar has now been filtered to show only those plants, including salads, suitable for sowing at that time. Now it’s a simple matter of choosing what you’d like to sow, and dropping it into your plan.

If you double-click on plants in your plan and mark which months they're in the ground, this makes it easy to view the gaps that appear in your garden to decide where to grow your late salad crops.

Mache, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce

Caring for Late Salad Leaves

Late summer can still be dry and salad crops need plenty of moisture, so water if necessary to encourage plenty of leafy growth. Pick leaves regularly once they’re big enough, taking just a few outer leaves from each plant at any one time to allow others to grow on and replace those taken.

Growth will slow as temperature and light levels deteriorate. Placing coverings such as cloches over your salads will keep them growing for a few weeks longer. Fleece or polythene row covers will also extend the season, though not as long as a cloche. You could also sow into cold frames or a greenhouse border.

Oriental salad leaves in a container

Salads in Containers

Any leafy salads can be grown in containers. The weed-free and nutrient-rich conditions allows for a slightly closer spacing of plants. Choose containers at least 16 inches (40cm) in diameter and pack them with good-quality potting soil. They will need to be kept regularly watered in dry weather, particularly terracotta pots which are prone to drying out. By raising pots off the ground you can dramatically reduce problems with slugs.

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