Homegrown leafy greens are fresher, tastier, and more nutritious than the stuff you can buy at the store. Lettuce plants, spinach, and arugula grow quickly, and there are so many different varieties you can explore. We recommend picking your favorite leafy greens and then—because these nutritious plants are so low on the gardening commitment scale—trying something new, too!
Here’s your guide to growing your very own organic leafy greens.
Our Winter Months Are Prime Leafy-Greens-Growing Time Here in Central Texas
Did you know you can grow lettuce plants for at least 6 months of the year here in Austin? Other greens like arugula and mizuna can hang on in the hotter summer months, and kale and Swiss chard can both last for up to two years in your garden. That means you can always have some type of leafy greens for smoothies and salads growing in your garden.
We promise you’ll start to notice a big difference between the delicious greens you grow at home and the plastic-wrapped leaves you toss in your grocery cart.
When Is the Best Time to Grow Leafy Greens in Central Texas?
Lettuce plants, bok choy, and spinach all thrive in cooler weather. Here in Austin and surrounding areas, our cool season runs from about November to mid-March. Our temperatures mean we get to be harvesting leaves and enjoying that garden-fresh flavor while many others are shoveling snow.
Kale and Swiss chard thrive when the temps are between 50°F to 75°F. If you’re ready to plant kale and Swiss chard and the temperature is still above 85°F, plant them in a spot with some shade from a taller plant already established in your garden or use a shade cloth.
Mizuna, also called Asian mustard green, does great in our warm seasons and can handle our hot summers if it receives some afternoon shade. Mizuna can even hang on through mild freezing temps in our cool season. This means you can grow this delicious green practically year round. Just start new plants throughout the year to enjoy maximum flavor and plant health.
Arugula prefers temps during our cool and warm seasons, but it too can do well in a shady garden during our hot summer season. We can really push the boundaries and grow arugula through frost and heat.
Tatsoi is another Asian green and makes a great substitute for spinach. It can tolerate hard freezes and performs best in our cool season through early into the warm season, making it a great leafy green option for early spring and fall here in Austin, Texas.
Where Can You Grow Leafy Greens?
You can grow leafy greens in raised beds or in a container. Because lettuce plants, arugula, mizuna, and spinach have shallower roots, you only need a container with at least 6″ of depth. Larger plants like kale and Swiss chard need at least 18″ of depth—that’s right, you can grow kale in a container!
Make sure that whichever container you choose has good drainage holes so that the roots don’t sit in water for too long.
You can grow leafy greens outdoors, on a partially shaded patio, or even in a sunny window sill since these plants do not need as much sunlight as fruit-bearing ones.
Fill your container or bed with soil that’s rich in organic matter for the best-tasting leaves. Check out some quick buying options for containers in our Amazon Shop.
How Do You Grow Leafy Greens from Seed?
You can sow lettuce, spinach, mizuna, and arugula seeds directly into your raised bed or container. Space each seed four to six inches apart and cover very finely with 1/4 inch of soil.
If you’re growing a larger leafy green like kale or Swiss chard, be sure to space seeds or seedlings about 9″ to 12″ apart. (Check out our guide to growing kale for more information on starting kale from seed.)
If you want to get a head start on your salad garden while it’s still warm outside, you can also start seeds indoors. Explore our indoor seed starting guide.
How Do You Harvest Leafy Greens?
Your smaller leafy green plants will be ready to harvest in as few as 30 to 45 days, depending on the variety and how large you’d like the leaves to be. You might prefer the flavor of younger, smaller leaves if you’re eating them in a salad, while larger leaves are often better for cooking.
There are three different methods for harvesting your leafy green leaves:
1. You can cut the older, outer leaves of the plant and leave the younger leaves in the center to continue growing. This method means you can return to harvest from the same plant in seven to ten days, but it’s the most time intensive.
2. You can harvest all of the leaves from the plant by grasping a handful of leaves and cutting horizontally. Make sure to leave about one to two inches of stem near the base of the plant. Like the first method, this is a cut-and-come-again way to harvest, but you’ll have to give the plant a couple of weeks to regrow its leaves. You’ll get about three more harvests from the same plant this way.
3. If you’re growing a type of lettuce that forms a head, you can harvest the entire head of lettuce at once. You can either plant more seeds afterward, or if you’re nearing the end of your cool season, prepare your container to grow something else (like arugula or mizuna).
How Do You Care for Leafy Greens?
The two most important tasks to keep your leafy greens happy are consistent watering and protecting the leaves from the weather.
Keep the soil moist for your new seedlings until they develop some longer roots. Once your leafy greens are more established, check the soil; if it’s dry 1″ down, then go ahead and water deeply at soil level.
Our cool season here in Central Texas does include the occasional freeze (who’s forgotten snowpocalypse 2021?). Here’s how to protect your plants from Texas cold snaps. On warmer days, your plants will enjoy some sun protection provided by a shade cloth.
A homegrown salad bar right in your backyard just can’t be beat. We hope this guide has you clipping leaf after leaf in no time this cool season!
If you need a little help setting up your growing space, we’d love to do an in-person or virtual consultation to get you started with your leafy greens and other favorite plants.
BOOK HERE with us and lettuce grow all the leafy greens together!