Including growing from seeds and from young plants in spring or in autumn
Salad is a very varied and loosely-used term. Some people use it to describe a combination of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, other to describe a range of leaf-greens. Some even use it to describe extravagant and involved recipes. So the definition of salad is not at all set in stone.
For the sake of giving tips and advice to the grower it is easier to class salads as 'leaf greens' as all the different varieties tend to have the same or similar growing requirements. Tomatoes and cucumbers are grown in very different ways. So here is our guide on growing salad leaves (with tomatoes and cucumbers covered elsewhere).
Salad leaves can be grown direct in the ground or in containers – there’s pros and cons for both ways of growing.
Grow in the ground
Clear the ground of weeds. Salad leaves will resent competition for light and nutrients and at seedling stage, salad leaves may look identical to some common weeds, so it will be hard to separate them.
Sow: Prepare a 1cm (1/2 in) drill (a furrow of fine soil created using the edge of a hoe) and water. Space rows at 30cm (12in) apart if creating more than one row. Sow seeds thinly at about 2cm apart (3/4 in) and cover the drills. Mark the rows with a label with salad variety and date of sowing.
As seedlings grow, thin seedlings out so remaining seedlings are 4-5cm (1 ½ -2in) apart.
Plant: Space young plants (9 module cells or 1litre+ pots) 20cm (8in) apart in rows of moist-soil. (24/48 cell modules If planting in autumn assess the moisture level of the soil. Water before planting if the soil is dry. If already moist, do not water before planting.
Grow in containers
Choose containers that have drainage holes and are around 25cm in diameter to ensure a sufficient volume of soil.
Sow: Fill with moist multi-purpose compost or seed compost. Sow thinly and thin seedlings to about 4-5cm (1 ½ -2in) apart.
Plant: Position young plants (three plants to a 30cm (12in) diameter pot) in moist soil. Water before planting if the soil is dry in September.
You’ll need to protect against slugs and snails especially in a wet summer or autumn. Use slug pellets, or alternatives like copper mats.
Consult the individual seed packet as some salad varieties have differing growing requirements.
Keep seedlings well-watered and protected in cold spells. Dry and/or cold conditions encourage bolting (plants going to seed). This causes less leaf-production and leaves that are more bitter.
If planting leafy salads in autumn for harvesting in winter or overwintering (e.g. Spinach Harp/Lettuce Winter Density) water according to the weather. You are looking to create consistently moist soil without waterlogging. If growing in pots, drainage holes are a must over the winter period.
For leafy greens you want to go for a high-nitrogen fertiliser in the spring and summer to make the leafy and stem growth lush and full-flavoured. Just follow instructions on the pack to give your salad greens a good feeding at the right time of year.
We recommend you feed with a high-phosphorous fertiliser over winter to encourage good root growth while your autumn-planting young crops are establishing before the spring and summer season.
Salad leaves are generally ready and harvestable from May to October (sometimes much earlier from autumn-planting crops), with a continual April to August sowing period.
For continual harvests, cut the leaves of cut-and-come-again salads when they are three to four weeks old. Cut so you leave about 2-3cm (1 1/4- 2 1/4in) of the plant above soil level. This will re-sprout and be ready for another harvest in about three to four weeks. Expect about four to five harvests in a season.