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Knowledge to Grow by Karen Weiland - Leafy Greens


There are numerous types of leafy greens that can be grown in the garden to add variety, texture and color to the one’s diet. Swiss chard, spinach, kale, lettuce, endive and collards are popular salad ingredients. Arugula is one that is gaining popularity and one that I need to try. Leafy greens are considered a cool season crop. Swiss chard and New Zealand spinach are greens that will produce in the heat of the summer.

Usually, most leafy greens are direct seeded. Lettuce, kale, collards and Swiss chard can be transplanted. To grow your own transplants, sow the seeds indoors in April or about four weeks before transplanting them to the garden. To harden the seedlings before transplanting, reduce water and temperature for two to three days. Space the plants according to seed packet directions. Do not plant them too close together as plants will not reach their size potential and thus cause a poor yield.

As soon as the soil can be worked in the spring, collards, endive, kale, lettuce and spinach can be directly sown into the garden. Generally, soil is ready for tilling and planting when a handful of it crumbles when you squeeze it. If you are left with a muddy ball in your hand, it is too wet and if worked will form clods of hard soil. Not a good thing!

After direct sowing the seedlings will need to be thinned while they are still small. Weed control can be accomplished by applying mulch around the plants. Mulch not only helps with weeds, it also helps to conserve moisture and keeps the soil temperature cooler. If you are using grass clippings as your mulch, be sure the clippings are herbicide free.

If you have not had your soil tested (and therefore know what nutrients it needs if any) two to three pounds of a balanced 12-12-12 fertilizer can be applied to 100 sq. ft. of soil when the garden is tilled. If Mother Nature does not bless us with adequate rainfall, you will need to supplement with one inch of water per week in a single application. Sandy soils may require more water. Shallow watering will result in shallow rooting and the plants will be more susceptible to drought.

Leafy greens need about six hours of sunshine daily to produce well.

When it comes to harvesting, take the outer leaves first, leaving the younger ones to keep on growing. However, when it comes to collards, harvest the inner rosette of leaves. You will find the flavor will be better if you harvest before the weather becomes hot and dry.

If stored in cold, moist conditions, most leafy greens will keep up to two weeks. They can be stored in perforated plastic bags or I like to store mine in the plastic, perforated clam shells you can buy strawberries and other fruits in.

As always, Happy Gardening!

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.