You don’t need a tiller or hoe to be a vegetable gardener. Many veggies lend themselves nicely to container gardening, including a variety of leafy greens. Sun, water, soil and seed are all you need to enjoy fresh salad greens at every meal.
A container of mixed greens offers color and texture, aesthetics and utility.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
Romaine and looseleaf lettuce are more nutrient-rich than iceberg lettuce.
Photo Credit: Megan Bame
Because the heat of summer causes greens to be bitter and the tender leaves cannot withstand freezing temperatures, lettuce and greens should be grown in fall and early spring – which means you can get started planting now. A container of mixed greens is perfect for a patio, deck or even a doorstep, and it offers a nice variety of color and textures. And although nothing beats natural outdoor sunlight, greens will also grow indoors near a south-facing, sunny window.
A bowl-shaped container or window box are ideal containers for growing salad greens. Start by filling the container with moist potting soil. You can either purchase vegetable transplants, where the plant is already two to three weeks old, or you can sow seed. (Admittedly, buying transplants is easier, but you might have to go to a farm supply store to find them.)
Transplants are typically sold in bedding flats like you might find annual flowers, such as petunias. Carefully remove the rootball from the plastic pack. Sometimes it’s best to loosen the rootball by squeezing the plastic cup as you pull the stem, or you can use scissors to cut the pack open. Both ways help avoid ripping the plant from its roots. Remove any brown (dead) leaves, which are often found at the base of the plant. Poke a hole in the soil and bury the rootball so that the base of the leaves is just above the soil. (It’s okay to bury some of the stem as long as all of the leaves are above the soil.) Water the container immediately after transplanting and as needed – if the soil appears dry, the plants likely need water. If the bottom leaves begin to appear limp and dull, the plants definitely need a good drink.
To grow greens from seed, sprinkle the seed over the soil surface and cover with a light layer of more potting soil. (Lettuce seed needs light to germinate, so less than an inch of soil is sufficient cover.) Ten to 20 seeds should be more than plenty to get a satisfactory germination rate.
Water the container, being careful not to use so much water pressure that the seed is washed out. Seed should germinate in about a week. Until at least two leaves are visible, keep the soil constantly moist. As leaves continue to grow, careful watering is essential. Too much water will result in spindly plants. Too little water may cause wilting, leaf burn or even death. Pay attention to the color and feel of the soil when it’s wet and when it’s dry. Often dry soil will have a lighter color than moist or wet soil. If the color doesn’t appear to change, use your finger to feel for soil moisture. (Dry soil is crumbly, moist soil is spongy.)
Once the plants are established and have grown for two to four weeks, feel free to begin harvesting. Lettuce and greens should be picked from the base of the plant. Simply tear the leaf near the stem, collecting as much as you need for the meal at hand.
Growing a variety of these edible plants not only creates a colorful container with multiple leaf shapes and textures – it makes for an attractive and nutritious meal. Frankly, mixed greens look good in the container garden, as well as on the table.