Mâche (Valerianella locusta) is a tender salad green that grows best in cool weather. Mâche is an annual plant that grows wild in many areas. One of the common names, "corn salad," derives from its tendency to grow wild in corn fields. There are also several mâche varieties with larger leaves and sweeter flavors that have been bred for backyard gardening.
Mâche grows in low rosettes of elongated, dark green leaves up to 4 inches long. Although technically hardy in zone 5 to 8, where it will over-winter, this short-lived plant is typically grown as an annual in all zones.
There are two types of mâche from which to choose: large-seeded and small-seeded. The small-seeded varieties only grow well only in cool weather, while the larger-seeded varieties can withstand the initial heat of summer and may resist bolting well into June.
Mâche is usually sown by seed in late fall or early spring. In warmer climates, it may serve as a winter crop. Leaves can be harvested at any time, but the plant will fully mature and will complete its life cycle in just 40 to 70 days.
|Botanical Name||Valerianella locusta|
|Common Name||Mâche, corn salad, lamb's lettuce, field lettuce|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous annual|
|Size||1–2 ft. tall; similar spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Well-draining, rich|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral (6.5–7.0)|
|Hardiness Zones||5–8; grown as an annual in zones 2–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, North Africa, Western Asia|
How to Plant Mâche
Mâche is directly sown in the garden, either in early spring in colder climates or in the fall in warmer climates. To ensure germination, soil temperatures should be at least 50 degrees, but not higher than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Be patient; mâche can be slow to germinate.
Don't worry about spacing—broadcast the seed and cover lightly with 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch of soil. Keep soil moist until germination, which takes seven to 12 days. As seedlings sprout, thin them out to 3- to 6-inch spacing. Growing plants should be watered weekly. You can prolong the season by succession planting every two weeks throughout spring.
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. In colder climates, you can keep your fall mâche growing under cover of a hoop house. If you plant in the fall, you might want to mulch the plants after the ground has frozen.
Mâche isn't around long enough to require much maintenance. Simply keep the plants watered and weed-free. As summer weather turns warm, mâche will have an impulse to flower and set seed, at which point the plants can be pulled out, since the leaves will become unpalatable.
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.
Mâche will grow just about anywhere and in any soil. It does need good drainage and tends to grow more leaves in a soil that is rich in compost or other organic matter. It prefers a soil pH that ranges from slightly acidic to neutral (6.5 to 7.0)
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, mâche can withstand temperatures down to about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. However, for seeds to germinate, it needs soil temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If soil is warmer than this, the seeds will go dormant. As with many leafy greens, the plant will begin to flower and set seed (bolt) as the summer weather grows warm. The plant grows equally well in humid and dry air conditions, provided it gets the right soil moisture.
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. Pale leaves indicate a need for nutrients.
Varieties of Mâche
Very often seeds are labeled only as "Mache" or "Corn Salad;" however seed companies are starting to come out with named varieties.
- 'Bistro' and ‘Piedmont' are large-seeded varieties that don't fade quickly in the heat.
- ‘Verte d'Etampes' is a small-seeded variety with thick leaves that help give it a longer season
- ‘Verte De Cambrai’ is a willing self-sower that should come back year after year.
Mâche can be harvested as a "cut-and-come-again" lettuce. Use the outer leaves first, when they are about 3 inches long. Leave the rosette in place to allow more leaves to follow. You can also slice off an entire head, but it is unlikely to regrow.
Mâche is often described as having a nutty flavor. The leaves are very delicate and tender, like butterhead lettuce, but less sweet and more herbal. Mâche is generally eaten fresh, with a very light dressing. However, you can warm and wilt the leaves, as a salad or side dish.
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.