Want fresh greens from your garden all season long? Plant spinach, Swiss chard, and leafy brassicas. With a little planning, you’ll have greens to harvest from early spring to late fall.
This article discusses how to grow spinach, New Zealand spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collards, and mustard greens. The companion article “Growing Leafy Greens: Part 1” discusses how to grow lettuce and other salad greens. See “Growing Root Vegetables” for how to grow beet and turnip greens.
Greens for All Seasons
Spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens are all cool‐season crops. Swiss chard and New Zealand spinach can be grown in the heat of the summer. Collard greens tolerate heat as well as cold.
Planting Leafy Greens
Leafy greens like rich, well‐drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Unless otherwise noted, work two inches (5 cm) of compost into the soil before planting. Adding nitrogen to the soil will also benefit leafy greens. (See the article on “Soil and Amendments” for details.)
Most leafy greens can be directly seeded into the garden. Many leafy greens have shallow roots, so hoe carefully. Keep soil consistently moist.
Since spinach is quick to bolt, it must be planted early in the spring. It’s easier to grow a fall crop, which should be planted eight to ten weeks before the first hard frost. Spinach is very cold hardy ‐ young plants can survive in temperatures as low as 15 to 20 Fahrenheit (‐9.4 to ‐6.7 Celsius). Planted in the fall, spinach will even winter over and come up in the spring.
Work one to two inches (2.5‐5 cm) of compost into the soil. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep (1.25 cm) and one inch (2.5 cm) apart, with 12 to 18 inches (30‐45 cm) between rows. Thin, to four to six inches (10‐15 cm) apart. Spinach varieties include ‘Bloomsdale Long Standing’ (48 days) and ‘Melody Hybrid’ (42 days). Spinach needs consistent moisture to avoid bolting.
New Zealand Spinach
New Zealand spinach isn’t a true spinach, but it’s a great summer substitute: it stands up to the heat and tastes a lot like spinach.
Soak seeds overnight or rub with sandpaper or a file to speed germination. Plant seeds two inches (5 cm) deep. Plants should be 12 to 15 inches (30‐38 cm) apart, with two feet (60 cm) between rows. New Zealand spinach matures in 70 days.
Swiss chard does well in average soil, and can be sown two to three weeks before last frost in the spring. Chard can tolerate summer heat. Sow seeds 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep every two inches (5 cm). Thin to six to 12 inches (15‐30 cm) apart. Popular Swiss chard varieties include ‘Fordhook Giant’ (60 days) and ‘Rhubarb’ (50‐60 days).
Kale is extremely cold hardy and its flavour actually improves after a hard frost. Sow kale four to six weeks before last frost for a spring crop, two months before first frost for a fall crop. Kale and collards like rich soil. Work three inches (7.5 cm) of compost into the soil. Sow seeds 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep every three inches (7.5 cm), and thin to eighteen inches (45 cm) apart. Varieties of kale include ‘Lacinto’ (60 days) and ‘Red Russian’ (50‐60 days).
Collards tolerate heat better than kale, but their taste is sweetened by a frost. Enrich soil as for kale. Sow seeds 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep every six inches (15 cm). Thin to two feet (60 cm) apart. Varieties include ‘Georgia Southern’ (55‐65 days) and ‘Vates’ (55 days).
Mustard greens are a cool weather crop. Plant two to three weeks before last frost for a spring crop, eight weeks before first frost for a fall crop. Mustard is prone to bolting in hot weather and is easier to grow in the fall. Plant seeds 1/4 inch (.63 cm) deep every three inches (7.5 cm). Thin to six to nine inches (15‐23 cm) apart. Varieties include ‘Florida Broadleaf’ and ‘Green Wave’ (both 45 days and slow to bolt).
Mesclun is a mixture of seeds that includes mild, spicy, and bitter greens. Easy to grow, its young leaves are harvested for salads. Seed can be sown three to six inches apart (7.5‐15 cm) or broadcast in a wide row. Make your own mesclun mix or buy pre‐mixed packets. Mild greens in mesclun mix include looseleaf lettuces, mache, and spinach. Spicy greens include arugula and mustard greens. Bitter greens include curly endive and radicchio.
Plant a mixture of leafy greens from spring to fall, and enjoy fresh greens ‐ in salads or cooked ‐ throughout the season.