A Guide to Leafy Vegetables

Use this simple guide to kale, lettuce, cress and more to help you select the best leafy crops for your garden.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2010, Dorling Kindersley

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2013, Photo by Ben Rollins

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Lacinato Kale

Lacinato kale, also charmingly referred to as dinosaur kale, has beautiful, long, crinkled leaves that look as handsome in the garden as they do on your plate. Here, they’re used ornamentally, paired with castor bean plant for a lovely color palette of bluish-greens and purples.


Spinach adds bright color to the cool-weather garden and is packed with essential vitamins. 'Tetona' (pictured) is a high-yielding spinach, producing a profusion of rounded, dark green leaves. This is the perfect variety for sowing as a cut-and-come-again crop to produce baby leaves for salads, but it can also be left to mature.

Kale ‘Redbor’

The burgundy, ruffled leaves of this kale look wonderful right through winter and can be harvested during the coldest months. Easy to grow, it can also be cropped early when the young leaves are tender.

Lettuce ‘Little Gem’

A familiar grocery store form, but tastier when freshly picked, this miniature cos lettuce is crisp, sweet and quick to crop. Its small size makes it ideal for growing in containers and raised beds.

Lettuce ‘Mottistone’

Unusual and highly ornamental, this hearting lettuce has fresh green, wavy leaves flecked with deep red. Combine it with flowers or other vegetables to make a pretty container display until it’s ready to harvest.

Lettuce ‘Lollo Rossa’

The red-edged, frilly leaves of this lettuce add color and texture to salads and interest to productive pots. A loose-leaf cultivar, leaves can be picked as required or the whole head cut at once.

Lettuce ‘Winter Density’

A miniature cos lettuce, similar to ‘Little Gem’, this cultivar has dark green hearts and a full sweet flavor. It is hardy enough for late sowings and will crop in early spring if protected with a cloche over winter.

Corn Salad

Also known as mache and lamb's lettuce, this lettuce features rosettes of small, mild-flavored leaves make a valuable addition to salads for most of the year. The plants tolerate a range of conditions and are tough enough to provide leaves to pick through the cold winter months.

Growing Cabbage

Cabbage is great for fresh eating right after harvest or for cooking in a variety of dishes. Grow early- and late-maturing varieties for a continuous harvest.

Bok Choy

Bok choy is commonly grown for its mature crop, but the seedlings can be picked and used for tasty leaves added to a salad.

Brussels Sprouts

Slice this cabbage family member into salads raw, cook them down or even try roasting them. Picking Brussels sprouts should begin when the sprouts are 1 inch in diameter. Harvesting Brussels sprouts is best done when maturity occurs in cooler weather. The plant will withstand frost and can be harvested until freezes occur.

Growing Endive

Like lettuce, endive is a cool season crop, although it is more tolerant of heat than lettuce. Grow it from seed planted in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the average last frost date. Long, hot summers will force the plant to bolt.

Red-Veined Sorrel

You'll want to grow two patches of red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus): one for looks and one to eat! The striking perennial, also referred to as red-veined dock or bloody dock, features narrow, bright green leaves with signature maroon veins running throughout the entire leaf. Their flavor is similar to spinach. You can also try growing red-veined sorrel's cousins: Rumex scutatus and Rumex acetosa. 

'Red Rib' Chicory

'Red Rib' has attractive, red ribs and deep green leaves, making this chicory an attractive and tasty garden specimen. Chicory is a must for any mesclun mix due to its slightly bitter flavor. The red rib also adds contrasting color.


This red chicory has crisp, glossy, slightly bitter leaves that add interest to summer and fall salads. The pretty plants form tight hearts at their centers and develop the deepest color in cooler weather.

Oriental Mustard Greens

Ruby-laced leaves and a strong peppery flavor make these greens essential for salads and stir-fries. Spring and early summer sowings bolt quickly, so are best cut when young; later crops can be left to mature.

Chop Suey Greens

A great container crop, this is a form of chrysanthemum, grown for its aromatic, feathery leaves, which can be enjoyed raw in salads, steamed or stir-fried. Easy to grow, plants crop over a long season.

Collard Greens

A Southern staple, collards are one of the most hardy greens on the market, able to withstand temperatures below 20 degrees F. They are fast-growing, producing loose bunches of dark green, veined leaves. Their flavor is best when grown as a fall or winter crop.

American Cress

Ideal for shady spots not suited to other vegetables, American cress is a hardy crop that can be harvested during winter. The handsome, shiny, deep green leaves have a peppery taste similar to watercress.

Summer Purslane

A tender, heat-loving plant, summer purslane has small, succulent leaves that make a refreshing addition to salads. Green- and yellow-leaved types are available and grow well in pots, but need shelter from wind.

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