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How to Grow Leafy Vegetables and Herbs

Everyone has room for a little pot of herbs or a window box of salad leaves. They are so easy to grow that you'll wonder how you managed before without all those fresh flavors on your doorstep.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

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Step 1: Choose the Right Site and Soil

Salad crops, chard, and many herbs tolerate most soils, except waterlogged, and don’t demand a lot of soil preparation. However, spinach and Asian greens need rich, fertile, non acidic soil. All do well in containers and full sun, but lettuces need shade in high summer.

Step 2: Sow and Plant Out

Leafy salads germinate quickly in warm conditions, but avoid extremes of heat or cold. Sow salads in modules under cover from early spring; sow spinach, Swiss chard, and bok choy outdoors in light shade. Successional sowings of small numbers of seeds help to guarantee a continuous supply of leaves. Plant out module-grown seedlings when their roots have filled the container, and water well. Thin directly sown seedlings to the appropriate spacing.

Tender herbs, such as basil, are often grown from seed; hardy herbs are usually bought as young plants. Sow seeds under cover in early spring; plant out after the last frost.

Step 3: Protect Against Potential Problems

Keep rows of salads and leafy crops weed-free and don’t let them dry out, to discourage bolting. Protect early or late crops from frost with cloches or fleece. Trim herbs regularly to keep them tidy and productive; water those in containers frequently.

Slugs and snails, as well as clubroot and caterpillars on brassicas, are the biggest problems. Lettuces are prone to fungal rots in wet weather; mildew can spoil spinach crops.

Step 4: Harvest and Store

Leafy salads are best eaten fresh. Cut hearting lettuces and bok choy at their base; pick leaves as needed from loose-leaf lettuces, cut-and-come-again crops, spinach, and chard. Use herbs fresh, or dry or freeze them.

Step 5: Cultivate Properly

Preventing Lettuce and Spinach From Bolting
In hot weather and when the soil is dry, lettuces, spinach, and many other leafy crops bolt, which is when plants go to seed and leaves become bitter (image below). Prevent or delay this by keeping the soil moist with regular watering and by planting summer crops in light shade rather than full sun.

Halting the Spread of Mint
With its underground runners, mint can become an invasive nuisance in the garden, so it is best to grow it in a container or at least in a pot sunk into the soil. The latter will help to prevent it from taking over, but may not confine it forever.

Propagating Perennial Herbs
Renew the vigor of old woody perennial herbs by digging them up in late summer and dividing them. Using pruners, cut the plants into small sections with plenty of healthy roots and leaves, which you can then replant. This works particularly well for thyme, chives, and oregano, but division is not suitable for shrubby herbs, such as sage and rosemary.

Delay Bolting by Watering and Planting in Shade

Courtesy of DK - Vegetable Gardening © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 6: Choose Crops

Spinach (image 1)
A very nutritious crop and easy to grow. Harvest baby leaves to use in salads, or mature leaves for steaming.

Swiss Chard (image 2)
This striking crop is grown for its colored stems, which look good on the plate, and can be steamed or eaten fresh.

Apple Mint (image 3)
Furry, with a mild, sweet flavor, this is the best mint for flavoring vegetables and to stroke as you walk past.

Purple Sage (image 4)
This bushy, purple-tinged plant is so attractive that it is often planted in flowerbeds. It tastes good, too.

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Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007

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