Mache is a tender salad green that grows best in cool weather. It is one of the first vegetables to sprout in the spring, which makes it a very welcome sight.
Although mache grows wild in many areas and has its share of common names, including lamb's lettuce and field lettuce, there are several mache varieties with larger leaves and sweeter flavors that have been bred for backyard gardening. The common name "corn salad" came about because it had a tendency to grow wild in corn fields.
|Botanical Name||Valerianella locusta|
|Common Name||Mache, corn salad, lamb's lettuce, field lettuce|
|Mature Size||1 to 2 feet tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, nutrient-rich|
|Soil pH||6.5 to 7.0|
|Bloom Time||April to June|
|Flower Color||Pale blue-white|
|Hardiness Zones||2 to 10|
|Native Area||Europe, North Africa, Western Asia|
How to Grow Mache
Mache is usually grown as an annual plant. In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and higher, you can seed it in the fall and it should resume growing in the spring. Either way, the plant will bolt to seed when the temperatures begin to rise.
There are two types of mache from which to choose: large-seeded and small-seeded. The small-seeded varieties only grow well in cool weather, but they are one of the first plants that mature in the spring, making it a welcome sight when there is nothing else fresh to eat. The larger-seeded varieties can withstand the initial heat of summer and may resist bolting well into June.
Mache isn't around long enough to require much maintenance. If you plant in the fall, you might want to mulch the plants after the ground has frozen. Otherwise, keep the plants watered and weed-free.
When grown early in the spring, full sun exposure will help warm the soil and get the plants up and growing. As the days get warmer, the plants will appreciate partial shade, especially in the afternoon.
Water regularly in the early morning hours. If the plant is exposed to full sun, water more frequently.
Temperature and Humidity
As a cool season crop, mache can withstand temperatures as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, to germinate seeds, it needs temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because the growing season for mache is so short, no fertilizer is necessary. If the soil needs nutrients, add well-rotted compost or manure before planting, which will provide nutrients for healthy growth.
Varieties of Mache
Very often you will only find seed labeled as "Mache" or "Corn Salad;" however seed companies are starting to come out with named varieties.
- 'Bistro' and ‘Piedmont:' Large-seeded varieties that don't fade quickly in the heat
- ‘Verte d'Etampes:' A small-seeded variety with thick leaves that help give it a longer season
- ‘Verte De Cambrai:’ A self-sower that should come back year after year.
Harvest like a cut-and-come-again lettuce. Use the outer leaves first, when they are about 3 inch long. Leave the rosette in place, to allow more leaves to follow. You could slice an entire head, but it is unlikely to regrow.
Mache is often described as having a nutty flavor. The leaves are very delicate and tender leaves, like a butterhead lettuce, but less sweet and more herbal. It is generally eaten fresh, with a very light dressing. However, you can warm and wilt the leaves, as a salad or side dish.
Growing from Seeds
Mache is directly sown in the garden, either in early spring or in the fall. Soil temperatures should be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius) and be patient, it can be slow to germinate. Don't worry about spacing. Broadcast the seed and cover lightly 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch soil. You can prolong the season by succession planting every two weeks throughout spring. Keep the soil moist, until germination, and then water weekly as needed. Plants should germinate in a week to 12 days.
To plant a fall crop, cool the soil a bit by watering it well and then covering it with a board for a few days before sowing. Gardeners in USDA Zones 7 and above will have better luck growing a fall crop into winter. In colder climates, you can keep your fall mache growing under cover of a hoop house.
Common Pests and Diseases
The biggest pests for corn salad are slugs, which love the tender leaves almost as much as humans do. The leaves are low-growing and the soil is damp in spring, which makes exclusion the best slug tactic. Ring the area with copper, coffee grounds, diatomaceous earth (DE) or some other slug-repellant.