When you see mesclun on a menu or in the produce section of a grocery store, you can expect a mix of young, tender greens. The mix may include lettuces (Lactuca sativa), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), arugula (Eruca vesicaria), kale (Beta vulgaris), or other greens in varying amounts, and is often called spring mix (although you can also grow it in the fall).
While you can easily purchase a bagged mesclun for a salad, you can also grow a similar mix of greens in the garden, a hydroponic system, or in containers.
What Is Spring Mix?
What is now sold as mesclun, or spring mix, contains tender leafy greens and can include arugula, endive, chervil, young red and green lettuces, baby spinach, mustard greens, frisée, mizuna, young Swiss chard, radicchio, and sorrel. Mesclun is simply a mix of at least four different types of these kinds of greens.
|Common Name||Spring mix, spring greens, baby greens|
|Botanical Name||Lactuca sativa (lettuces), Spinacia oleracea (spinach), Eruca vesicaria (arugula), Beta vulgaris (kale)|
|Family||Asteraceae (lettuces), Amaranth (spinach), Brassicaceae (arugula), Amaranthaceae (kale)|
|Size||Height: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in., Width: 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.|
|Sun Exposure||Full to partial sun|
|Soil pH||Neutral, 6.0-6.5|
|Hardiness Zones||2a - 11b|
How to Plant Mesclun
Even though mesclun is a mix of different types of greens, they can all be planted similarly at the same time. For a very early spring harvest, transplants are recommended so harvesting can begin earlier in the season. Because the greens grow so quickly, direct seeding can be done as the weather warms, and succession plantings (sowing seeds weekly) will keep the supply plentiful. The greens will grow quickly when provided with full sun but can still thrive if grown in partial sun of only 3 to 4 hours per day.
Most greens grow best during cooler temperatures of spring and fall and can bolt or become bitter as the temperatures rise in summer. Because the greens are harvested while still quite small, a 2-foot by 2-foot garden block or container should provide enough greens for several salads over a week.
Mesclun Plant Care
During cool weather, mesclun greens prefer full sun of 6 to 8 hours per day. During warmer weather, they can continue to do well with just 3 to 4 hours of sun per day.
Mesclun prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil with a pH of 6-6.5.
For a tender texture, mesclun greens need plenty of water. Most of the greens are shallow-rooted and require daily watering. The soil should remain moist but not soggy. Be sure container-grown mesclun has proper drainage.
Temperature and Humidity
The greens will produce the best-tasting and most tender leaves during cooler temperatures of spring and late fall.
A soil test is always the best method for determining the fertilization needs of a crop. Nitrogen is important for mesclun to produce a high-quality, dark green product. Test the soil before amending it. If low in nitrogen, add a high nitrogen fertilizer at 3 pounds per 100 square feet before planting seedlings or seeds. For smaller areas, use a water-soluble fertilizer, like diluted fish emulsion, when watering. Read labels carefully to be sure it is safe for vegetables. Reapply a high nitrogen liquid fertilizer after each cutting.
Types of Mesclun
Since mesclun can be a mix of various tender greens, you can customize your mix to suit your tastes. A traditional mix includes arugula, lettuce, chervil, and endive. There are pre-mixed mesclun seed packets or select your favorite greens for planting.
- Arugula (Eruca vesicaria): A member of the mustard family with a tart and peppery flavor.
- Mustard Greens (Brassic juncea): When picked as a tender, young leaf, mustard adds a strong peppery flavor. It can be allowed to mature and used as a cooked green.
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium): An herb that resembles parsley with lacy leaves with a slight anise flavor.
- Endive (Cichorium endivia): Endive adds a peppery/bitter flavor and grows well with leaf lettuce in a container garden.
- Sorrel (Rumex acestosa): If you like a tart, lemony flavor, sorrel is a perfect addition to a mesclun mix.
- Leaf Lettuce (Lactuca sativa): Choose red or green looseleaf lettuce that forms a bunch instead of a head. Looseleaf lettuce can regrow from a cut stem without losing quality in flavor or texture.
- Spinach (Spinacia oleracea): Spinach offers a slightly mineral taste but can be very sweet if harvested while leaves are small.
- Kale (Brassica oleracea): Select a variety like 'Hanover Salad' that is best for eating raw and harvest the leaves while very small.
Frequent harvesting is the key to tender, flavorful mesclun. When the greens are about 4 to 6 inches long, snip them off with scissors, about 1 inch above the soil. If you have a mixed planting of mesclun greens, clear-cut an entire area at a time.
Leaving the plant with some green growth is called the "cut-and-come-again method". Cutting at this level will not damage the crown of the plants. Continue watering the cut areas and add a light application of fertilizer, and you can get another harvest in 3 to 4 weeks.
To use, rinse the freshly cut leaves in cool water to remove dust or dirt and drain well. Discard any leaves damaged by insects or weeds that may have slipped into the garden. Use the mesclun immediately, or wrap the leaves in a damp towel, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for up to 4 or 5 days.
How to Grow Mesclun in Pots
Often called "salad bowl gardening," mesclun can be grown in almost any type of container that is around 18 inches long and 6 to 12 inches deep as long as it has good drainage.
Use a good potting mix and moisten it thoroughly before planting seeds. Sow seeds densely about one-half inch apart. Scatter them on the moist potting mix and then sprinkle with one-fourth inch of potting soil. Water daily using a gentle sprinkle. Place the container where it will receive at least five hours of full sun per day. Apply a half-strength soluble fertilizer when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall and then every two weeks.
When ready to harvest, cut just what you need with a pair of scissors, leaving a one-inch crown to continue growing. Stagger planting the next containers several weeks apart so you have one ready to harvest when the first container is no longer producing.
As annual vegetable plants, mesclun does not require pruning other than when harvesting.
Mesclun greens should be started from seed. It is possible to save lettuce seeds if you find a variety you love.
How to Grow Mesclun from Seed
- Use fertile, loamy soil or potting mix.
- Sow seeds about one-fourth inch deep in the soil and cover lightly. If growing in the garden, space rows about 12 inches apart.
- If growing indoors for seedlings or as a container garden, sow mesclun seeds about six weeks before the last spring frost or before the first winter freeze.
- The seeds will germinate in about two weeks.
- Thin over-crowded seedlings to leave room for larger varieties to grow.
- Fertilize with a half-strength liquid starter solution after the first true leaf appears. When two true leaves are present, fertilize with high nitrogen liquid fertilizer every two weeks.
- When the indoor-started seedlings have four or five true leaves, reduce watering and place the plants outside where they will receive wind protection and a couple of hours of sunlight to harden them off. Gradually expose them to more sunlight and keep them well watered.
- Plant in the garden after the chance of frost has passed in the spring or when the daytime temperature has dropped to around 65 degrees in the fall.
- When the plants reach 3 to 6 inches tall, selectively harvest the leaves for salad.
Potting and Repotting
If grown in a container, mesclun does not require repotting because it does not overwinter or continue producing after about two months of growth. Plant in a large pot so the plants do not need to be disturbed during the growing season.
Mesclun does not overwinter. However, you can grow mesclun indoors throughout the year with the right growing conditions.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Mesclun is grown and harvested so quickly that it doesn't have serious pest or disease problems. However, you might notice aphids, slugs, and snails, as well as wildlife nibbling on the leaves. Diseases can include powdery mildew and downy mildew.
Is mesclun easy to grow?
Yes. By using a seed mix from a reliable source and providing good soil, full sun, and plenty of moisture, mesclun is some of the easiest vegetables to grow in the garden or a container.
How long does it take mesclun to grow?
The greens will begin to sprout about two weeks after planting and harvesting can begin within one month.
Does mesclun come back every year?
The mesclun greens are annuals that do not return. Since the leaves are harvested when they are small and tender, the plants are usually spent within four weeks and should be removed from the soil and composted.
1997 - Year of Mesclun. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach