Salads have come a long way in the last couple of decades: No longer just shreds of iceberg lettuce, contemporary salads are made up of exciting mixes of various lettuces, arugula, spinach, baby mustard greens, mache, mizuna, and other unusual leafy edibles. You can buy seed mixes that expertly blend different greens for convenience, or you can pick and choose your own single varieties from a seed catalog. Leaf or baby lettuces are easier to grow than full-head lettuce and can be harvested over a long period instead of waiting for a single head to form. Many salad greens cannot tolerate heat and are best grown in spring and fall.
For more growing tips on vegetable varieties, visit our Vegetable Growing Guide.
Habit: Leafy rosettes or clumps.
Days to Harvest: 20 to 30 for leafy types; 30 to 60 for head lettuces.
When to Plant: Most all types do best in cool weather and are cold-tolerant, so begin sowing in early spring. Make frequent, regular sowings of small amounts of seed to keep a consistent but manageable supply of greens. Try sowing a 1- to 2-foot row of seeds weekly until temperatures reach the 80s.
Light: One of the few vegetables that can tolerate some shade and even benefit from it, especially as the weather warms. Best production, particularly among red leaf varieties, is in morning sun with some shade in the heat of the day.
Soil: Average soil; good drainage is essential.
Watering: Water regularly; plants are sensitive to drying. Avoid wetting leaves.
Fertilizing: Not necessary unless soil is poor.
Pest Problems: Aphids can be washed off with a hose. Be on the lookout for slugs, which can be handpicked or trapped. Mold can be a problem, so site with good air circulation and avoid prolonged wet conditions.
When to Harvest: Leaf/baby lettuces, arugula, and other leafy greens can be harvested when they are large enough to use up until they become large and turn bitter. Head lettuce should be cut shortly after the head forms, while it is still fairly tight.