Growing Fresh Spring Greens

Fresh Spring Greens - Growing Guide

Lettuce
Lettuce. Photo courtesy of Dwight Sipler

It’s that time. Spring is just around the corner, and fresh, tender spring greens are almost ours! There’s something about bright green sprouts peeking through dark spring soil that signals a new start. It’s more than fresh food or pretty plants – it’s a sign of things to come! If you’re planning on growing fresh spring greens this year, here’s what you need to know to get started.

Types of Greens for Spring Planting

Start with the greens you already know and love, for sure.

Spinach is a go-to, and the dark green leaves usually look nice against the lighter greens and reds of lettuces. Romaine and head lettuce are nice, but they take some time to form. It’s better to go with loose leaf greens for spring planting and early harvests.

Branching out from lettuce, we also have arugula, a spicy green with a distinct flavor and quick maturity. Chicory is another with a strong, unique flavor, though it will take a bit more time to mature. And don’t forget dandelions! In spite of its bad rap as a weed, the organic garden knows how to appreciate even the misunderstood plants. Dandelion greens are excellent in salads, and the flowers are edible as well.

Mesclun mixes make the choice easy, blending chard, kale, lettuces, beets, and more. Not only do you get a great mix of spring greens, but the visual contrast is nice, too.

If you want to keep succession planting going and grow spring greens through early summer (or later!), add in amaranth.

The leaves are edible, the flowers beautiful, and it fares much better in the heat than some of the more tender greens.

When to Plant Spring Greens

As soon as the last frost has subsided and the soil can be raked and moved, you can begin planting greens. Some do okay when started indoors, but mostly they need to be planted directly.

To get around a delicate transfer, add a DIY cold frame over the seedlings and plant early.

Another option is to build a raised bed garden and start with that fresh soil, which won’t have had time to harden and chill over the winter.

Because most seeds for greens are small, you’ll sow them by scattering or broadcasting seeds onto soil that’s been worked with compost instead of directly planting one or two at a time. Toss some potting soil over the top of them and pat gently.

It won’t take long for greens to sprout, and at that point, you can thin them carefully. Each variety has its own requirements – though this is another plus for a seed mix like mesclun. No thinning required!

A week or so after you’ve got sprouts, start another round. You’ll be harvesting greens more frequently than other plants, and sometimes that will mean taking a whole plant out of the ground. Make sure you don’t lose your whole garden with one salad by keeping successive plantings on the ground.

By the time spring is in full swing, I have some greens ready for harvest, some maturing, some sprouting, and some just barely in the ground. And until the summer heat tells me to stop, I’ll keep going!

Getting Creative with Spring Greens

Not only are most greens low-growing, but we can keep them trimmed down thanks to frequent harvesting.

What does that mean for garden plans? Greens can go just about anywhere!

In the edible landscape, I like to use them as someone might edge a bed with flowering annuals. Their quick spring color adds fresh green early in the season, and it makes accessing them easily when it’s time for dinner. From my book, Gardening Like a Ninja.

“Instead of planting a ground cover of vinca vine or impatiens, sow seeds for a colorful lettuce blend and Swiss chard. You get the same green foil under and around larger plants, but you can actually walk through the garden harvesting the largest leaves as you go, and end up back at the house with a salad’s worth for dinner.”

To grow them even closer to where you’ll use them, container gardens are spruced up nicely with spring greens. You can use creative DIY containers or simply keep a couple near the kitchen to have greens on hand at all times.

Wherever you decide to grow spring greens, they’re sure to brighten up space and act as a frontrunner for a fresh (and delicious!) new year in the garden.