10 Nutritious, Delicious Leafy Greens to Grow in Your Garden
Layer your sandwich with crispy lettuce, snack on baked kale chips or stir-fry cabbage with noodles. Leafy garden greens bring flavor to your table.
Photo By: W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
Photo By: Territorial Seed
Photo By: Sakata
Photo By: Sakata
Photo By: Seeds by Design/National Garden Bureau
Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company
Photo By: Ball Horticultural Co.
Photo By: Johnny's Selected Seeds
Photo By: W. Atlee Burpee and Co.
Photo By: Sakata
Pick Your Favorite Lettuce
Choose your favorite type of lettuce: iceberg, butterhead, loose-leaf or romaine. There are hundreds of hybrids you can toss into salads, cut into wedges or top with shrimp or chicken. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is mostly water, but it provides vitamins A, C, K and minerals like calcium folate and potassium. It's easy to grow your own at home in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. A pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal. Plant in spring, before the temperatures rise, or in fall, 4-8 weeks before the first frost. 'Heatwave Blend’ is a mix of green and red crispheads, green romaine and various loose-leaf lettuces. It takes full to part sun and is slow to bolt (form seeds and turn bitter).
Cabbage - Brassica oleracea
Unlike most cabbages, 'Murdoc’ forms cone-shaped heads. The medium green leaves are tender and crispy, high in vitamin C, antioxidants and anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Sow cabbage seeds indoors, 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost and harden them off (slowly expose them to outdoor temperatures and sunlight) for a week before transplanting them. Cabbage needs full sun and loamy or sandy soil and it’s hardy in USDA Zones 1-9. Water regularly to keep the heads from splitting and fertilize as directed on your product's label. Harvest when the heads feel firm and reach their mature size (as indicated on your seed packet). The leaves are tasty when stir-fried, braised or used in slaws, soups, stews or hash. Use big leaves for cabbage rolls.
Turnips - Brassica rapa
Turnips are a two-in-one crop since you can eat the leafy tops and the roots. Start the seeds in spring or, for a fall harvest, in late summer. Sow them in well-worked soil and cover them 1/2-inch deep. When they're up, thin the plants to every four inches to give the roots room to form. Re-plant every 10 days for an ongoing harvest. Read your seed packet to know how many days the turnips take to mature if you want to pull them for their roots. A rule of thumb: use the roots as you'd use potatoes, so bake, boil or mash them. The greens are good steamed, sauteed or added to pasta, stews and soups.
Mizuna - Brassica rapa nipponsincia
Also called Japanese mustard, mizuna is related to turnips and has a mild, peppery taste. Eat the leaves fresh, or stir-fry, steam or pickle them. These biennial greens need full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Sow the seeds outdoors in spring 6 weeks before the first expected frost. Cover them 1/4-inch deep and replant every 2 weeks for an extended harvest. Water the plants regularly. Mizuna is a "cut and come again" plant, so you can harvest the leaves and they’ll regrow quickly. This variety, 'Miz America,’ has dark red, toothed leaves.
Kale - Brassica oleracea var. sabellica
Often grown as an annual, kale is actually a cool-season biennial for Zones 8-10. Plant this hardy member of the cabbage family in spring or fall in full sun in a spot with loamy, well-drained soil. Cover the seeds 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch deep and work in some 5-10-10 fertilizer, in the amount directed on your product label. Water regularly and keep the plants mulched. Kale, like collards, tastes sweeter after a light frost. The small leaves are tender enough to enjoy in salads. Remove the ribs from bigger leaves and cook them, or make them into kale chips. Stored in a plastic bag in the fridge, kale lasts about a week. 'Black Magic,’ pictured here, has narrow, dark green leaves and needs about 60 days to mature.
Collards - Brassica oleracea var. acephala
Collard greens are popular in Southern gardens, but they’re easy to grow almost anywhere, as long as they’re planted in the cool weather of spring or fall. Give them full sun to part shade in fertile, well-drained soil that has a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Fertilize regularly, as directed on your product, and keep them watered and mulched. Pick the leaves while they’re still young and tender and wash them thoroughly before using them. Collard leaves are sturdy enough to use as wraps for sandwiches or burritos, or you can stir them into soups, stir-fry them or shred them into slaws and casseroles. Smoothie fans can blend them with their favorite ingredients. Collards usually perform as biennials in Zones 6 and up and taste sweeter when they're lightly touched by frost. Shown here: 'Bulldog,’ a variety that resists bolting and regrows quickly after the leaves are cut.
Arugula - Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa
Plant arugula in a sunny spot in early spring, before the temperatures rise, or wait until late summer and harvest its dandelion-like leaves in fall. This nutritious, leafy green likes cool weather and soil enriched with compost. It adds a tangy bite to salads but can also be sautéed or steamed like spinach. Feed the plants with a time-release fertilizer as indicated on your product's label and harvest until the flavor of the leaves becomes too strong for your taste. Arugula, packed with vitamins A and K, is hardy in USDA Zones 3-11. Shown here: Simply Salad, a mix of red and green leaf lettuces with endive, radicchio and arugula.
Swiss Chard - Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris
Swiss chard, sometimes called silverbeet or leaf beat, is pretty enough to grow in an ornamental garden, but its leaves and stalks are edible. 'Rhubarb Supreme,’ shown here, is a bolt-resistant red chard. Start Swiss chard seeds in early spring; the plants will grow until frost. In mild-winter areas, 'Rhubarb Supreme’ may overwinter. Swiss chard needs well-drained soil with lots of organic matter and a site that gets full sun to partial shade. Let the leaves grow to about six inches long before harvesting them and cook them like spinach. The stems can be used like asparagus.
Spinach - Spinacia oleracea
Before you plant spinach, add some aged manure to your well-worked soil. Sow the seeds as soon as the ground thaws, or in the fall if you live where the winters are mild. (Spinach bolts, or goes to seed, and the leaves become tough once the weather warms up.) Plant in sun to part sun, and re-sow every two weeks for a continuous harvest. Harvest the leaves anytime; the small, tender ones are tastier than large leaves, which can turn bitter. Spinach can survive as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the leaves into soups, salads and stews or add them to eggs, pasta, wraps and sandwiches. Shown here: 'Bloomsdale Long Standing,’ an heirloom variety that’s slow to bolt.
Mustard Greens - Brassica juncea
Like most leafy greens, mustard greens are cool-weather crops best planted in early spring or fall. Like its relatives, collards and kale, its flavor is also sweeter after a slight frost. Plant your seeds in well-worked soil with plenty of organic matter worked in, and in a site that gets full sun to light shade. Keep the plants mulched and moist, and prepare to start picking, as mustard greens grow fast. Fertilize as directed on the product you're using, and sow every couple of weeks for a longer harvest. Don't let the plants get too dry, which can make the leaves taste bitter. You can harvest until a hard freeze; pick the leaves while they're young so they'll be tender and have a mild flavor.