20 tips for a top salad garden
Lettuces and other salad greens are quick and easy to grow and, compared to other vegetables, they don’t take a lot of space.
Choose a warm sheltered spot. Sun is important but during summer your lettuces will thank you for a little afternoon shade.
Avoid wet soil. This is easily overcome by planting in raised beds or containers.
If planting in containers, choose the best quality planting mix you can afford and resist the temptation to recycle last years potting mix. Alternatively, fill large containers or raised garden beds with top quality compost.
If planting in garden beds, dig in plenty of compost to improve soil drainage and nutrient holding capacity.
A constant even supply of moisture is needed for rapid healthy growth. If water is limiting, slow or erratic growth can result in bitter tasting leaves or plants that bolt to seed.
Mulch with straw to conserve moisture and block weed growth.
Water in the early morning to avoid damp conditions overnight (which can invite disease). Watering in the hottest part of the day isn’t ideal as much of the water is lost to evaporation.
Lettuces thrive with a fertiliser high in nitrogen but they need
other nutrients too. Apply general garden fertiliser two weeks after planting, or feed once a week with liquid fertiliser. For lettuces in pots, combine slow release fertiliser with liquid feeding. Be in to win Phostrogen plant food (page 38).
When growing lettuces in garden soil, especially where vegetables have been grown for many years, mixing garden lime into the soil prior to planting helps correct the soil pH and improve your plants’ ability to absorb nutrients.
Grow a wide range of varieties and try out something new each season so your salads are never be boring. The greener the leaf, the more vitamins and minerals it will contain! Plant a variety of colours for extra nutritional value. Include red lettuce varieties, young beetroot leaves with bright red veins and edible flowers such as yellow calendula, blue borage and bright orange nasturtium. Be in to win new Yates seed varieties (page 38).
For quick greens that are ready to pick in three to four weeks plant loose-leaf (‘cut and come again’) varieties, so you can take the outer leaves as plants grow. Plant some of the solid heart type of lettuce (such as ‘Iceberg’) to enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting a whole plant six to eight weeks after planting.
Mediterranean ‘Cos’ or ‘Romaine’ lettuces combine the crunchy juiciness of an iceberg lettuce with the nutritional value of a dark green lettuce. Plus they are tolerant of hot summer conditions. ‘Little Gem’ is a compact form of ‘Cos’ ideal for container growing.
Growing your lettuces from seed expands choice of interesting varieties. On the other hand, ready grown seedlings are a godsend this close to Christmas.
For a continuous supply all summer and autumn plant a fresh punnet of salad greens every weekend or two. Or sow some seed the day you plant your seedlings.
Don’t forget to apply slug bait, especially in rainy weather conditions.
Regular harvesting of young leaves promotes continuous growth of loose-leaf lettuces. The hearting varieties should be cut as soon as the hearts are firm, ideally in the morning when plants are most crisp.
For best nutrition and flavour pick leaves fresh for each meal rather than storing them in the fridge.
Don’t despair if your plants turn to seed in hot weather. Enjoy their interesting shapes and the flowers that attract beneficial insects. Or collect your own seed to sow next season.
Sow seed directly into warm crumbly garden soil, or in trays of seed raising mix for planting out later (this is a good way to keep tiny seedlings free of weeds). Sprinkle a fine layer of finely sieved soil or seed raising mix before watering gently with the watering can. Keep the soil just moist until seeds have germinated (7 to 10 days). Thin out seedlings to leave the strongest.
Feed seedlings with liquid seaweed to reduce transplanting shock and promote strong root growth. Be in to win Tui Organic Seaweed Tonic