Salads - in winter? Why, of course! If you want to bag yourself some fresh, homegrown leaves during even the coldest months, now’s the time to act. Read on or watch our video to discover which salad leaves grow best in winter and how to plant up a delicious and productive salad container.
Winter Salad Containers and Growing Medium
This little project is a great opportunity to repurpose old containers: plastic or wooden fruit crates, lined wicker baskets, or even stackable plastic mushroom crates. Wider containers are better because they’ll give more space between plants and more growing medium for the roots to explore. What I love about mushroom crates is that they’re widely available, cheaply or even free, and they’re just the right size for growing a range of salads – about a foot (30cm) wide, 16in (40cm) long, and just over 4in (10cm) deep.
All of the salads listed below will grow well given some form of protection from the cold. A few like claytonia and mâche or corn salad will even manage without it if winters are quite mild in your area. If you don’t have a greenhouse or cold frame you could try bringing trays indoors to grow on a sunny windowsill, in a sunroom, or under grow lights.
Planting the Salad Containers
Since my mushroom crates don’t have solid sides, the first job is to line them to stop the potting mix from washing out. You could use a couple of sheets of newspaper for this, or some cut-to-size weed fabric.
A general-purpose potting mix will work well to grow your salad leaves. Using a potting mix that’s part soil-based gives the potting mix a better structure, helps with drainage, and supports strong root growth. Fill your trays up, making sure to push it right into the corners to get a really good fill.
Start with sturdy plug plants you’ve either purchased or grown yourself from seed. Plant them about six inches (15cm) apart within the tray to give the plants enough light and space to grow successfully. Light is just as important as moisture and nutrients, especially at this dingy time of year. You should be able to start taking your first pickings within three or four weeks, removing just one or two leaves from each plant at a time. Growth will slow right down during the coldest months and then pick up again at the end of winter when light levels improve.
Growing Salad Leaves in Winter
With everything planted and sown, it’s time to give your plants a good watering. Use a watering can fitted with a rose for this and just pass the can back and forth a few times to soak the potting mix. Leave them to drain off. Check them regularly to make sure they’re moist enough, but watering frequency should slow to as little as once every two or three weeks as days get shorter and cooler. Once days are noticeably longer and the temperature in your greenhouse or cold frame starts to rise, it’s time to increase the watering frequency as new growth steps up.
Best Winter Salad Leaves to Grow
Here are some of my favourite salad leaves that will grow well as temperatures dip and the nights draw in.
Rocket tends to bolt (flower prematurely) in the heat of summer. No such problems at this time of year though! This hardy leaf should provide a steady flow of peppery leaves.
Mizuna produces stunningly feathery, almost filigree leaves with a mild peppery tang. They’re great in salads, offering a lovely contrasting texture, or flash them off in the pan as a nutritious stir-fry green.
Mustards come in all shapes and sizes, offering a range of colours and textures for zhooshing up your salads. They have a warming flavour to complement their characterful appearance.
Claytonia (Winter Purslane or Miner’s Lettuce)
Claytonia, winter purslane, miner’s lettuce – whatever you call this super-hardy winter leaf, it won’t let you down, with plenty of lush, almost juicy leaves with a smooth, mild taste.
Mâche (Corn Salad or Lamb’s Lettuce)
Mâche, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, is another mild leaf that’s also one of the most prolific. Expect lots of leaves to form the bedrock of any winter salad.
Varieties of winter-hardy lettuce can keep cropping during any mild spell in winter, then again from early spring. Winter lettuces are hardy, tenacious and tasty!
Pick a hardy, tall-growing variety of pea that will naturally be more vigorous in growth. Pea shoots promise that sweet, super-fresh pea taste in leaf form: totally delicious and well worth growing!
It’s a real thrill to be able to pick your own salads when it’s dreary and cold outside. What are your favourite winter leaves? Tell me down below.