Leafy green vegetables like lettuce, spinach, kale, and beets thrive in the cool temperatures of spring and fall. They’re easy and fast to grow and the perfect crop for beginning vegetable gardeners.
For a new vegetable gardener, learning what to plant and when can seem overwhelming at first. How does your climate affect what you should grow, and what types of plants work well together? Growing leafy greens is the perfect way to get your feet wet with gardening. Greens grow quickly, they’re easy to care for, and taste amazing. August is the best month to start a fall crop of leafy greens for a harvest before frost hits.
Everyone is familiar with lettuce, so it’s a great place to start your gardening adventures. Leaf lettuce is ideal for fall planting, as it grows quickly, reaching full maturity in as few as 40 days. Pick the outside leaves as they reach a reasonable size, and the lettuce will continue to grow from the middle. Lettuce likes loose soil and full sunlight, making it excellent for container plantings and indoor window boxes. Indoors or out, lettuce does best when you water it frequently.
Spinach loves the moderate temperatures of late summer and early fall, growing best at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Because it thrives in identical conditions to lettuce, you can plant the two in the same grow bed or container, with loose soil, full sunlight and regular watering. Spinach also has a similar time to maturity as lettuce, with full-size plants after 40 to 60 days. Plant both lettuce and spinach with about two to three inches between seeds. Pick from the outside as leaves mature and use in salads, on sandwiches and in pasta dishes.
Not only is this leafy green a superfood, but it is also a hearty plant that is friendly for beginner gardeners. While lettuce and spinach freeze if exposed to temperatures lower than 30 degrees Fahrenheit, kale can survive heavy frosts and still grow at temperatures as low as zero. Most kale varieties will be full size within eight weeks and do best in loose, well-drained soil with plenty of water. Plant kale seeds directly in the ground, about a foot apart and just under the dirt’s surface. Pick kale stalks as they mature, sautéing the leaves in butter or adding them to soups. Kale is perfect for adding to green smoothies!
A versatile green like beets is a fun addition to a fall planting. Not only are the leaves delicious, but the roots are as well. Beet greens have a similar tolerance to cold as lettuce and spinach, surviving temperatures just under freezing. However, they aren’t ideal for container plantings because the root gets quite large. Expect to have a beet crop within six weeks of planting. Like other fall-friendly greens, they are delicious sautéed or in a salad. Beet roots are best steamed in butter or pickled.
Protect Your Plants
Once you have planted fall greens, you will need to protect them, or deer and rabbits could clean out your crop. Container plantings can be brought indoors at night. For outdoor gardens, plant nearby companion crops such as garlic, lavender, onions or sage that deter deer. Also, leaf-loving animals steer clear of some shrubbery, including juniper, blue spruce and Douglas fir trees. If animals are still an issue, consider containing your fall garden with mesh fencing installed four feet high and at least 12 inches under the surface of your garden soil.
Anyone can learn to garden. While it may seem complicated at first, simple crops like leafy greens are a great place to start. Because they grow quickly and can be harvested as they mature, there’s no reason not to try greens for fall plantings even if you’re a beginner gardener.