The term ‘greens’ refers to a variety of species, such as arugula, kale, mesclun, mustard, and Swiss chard, grown for their tender, edible leaves. Some common species are outlined below; however, many more species may be considered in this category. As a group, they are generally best grown in full sun, in the cooler weather of spring or fall. Maintain a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 and adjust fertility before planting according to the results of a soil test. Water deeply when necessary to encourage sufficient root growth. Mulch to help conserve water, reduce weeds, and reduce the amount of sand or grit to be cleaned off leaves at harvest.
|Piedmont||Mar. 12-June 30||July 15-Sept. 30|
|Coastal Plain||Feb. 1-June 15||Aug. 1-Oct. 30|
Piedmont: Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Marlboro, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York Counties.
Coastal Plain: Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Lee, Lexington, Marion, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, and Williamsburg Counties.
Transplants are the preferred planting material for a spring crop, as seeds germinate slowly in the cool, spring soil. Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the desired planting date. Plant transplants in rows that are 18 to 36 inches apart. Space plants 6 to 18 inches apart on the row.
Direct seeding works well when planting in late summer for a fall harvest, when the soil is much warmer. It is critical to keep the soil moist during seedling establishment. Plant seed in moist soil about ¼ to ½ inch deep. Seeds planted deeper than ½ inch likely will not germinate. Thin plants to the desired stand when they are in the three-leaf stage.
When planting for microgreens, select seeds that have not been treated with an insecticide or fungicide. These seed treatments have preharvest intervals, which dictate the amount of time that must pass from pesticide application to harvest. Microgreens are ready to harvest 8 to 16 days after planting, however, the preharvest interval usually has not elapsed by this time. Therefore, it is best to use untreated seed.
Most cultivars have the flexibility to be harvested as microgreens, baby leaves, or mature bunches. Greens can be harvested in a cut-and-come-again method, known as cropping, by removing the outermost leaves and leaving the center of the plant to continue growing. A light side dressing with nitrogen applied after cropping can aid the plants in developing new leaves. Greens are best when consumed within a week after harvest and can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. For more information on safely handling and cooking greens, see HGIC 3532, Leafy Green Basics.
Types of Greens
Arugula (Eruca sativa) is related to cabbage, mustard, and other members of the Brassica family. It forms a rosette of deeply lobed leaves. Arugula has a spicy, peppery flavor and is primarily used raw in salads and sandwiches. It is easy to grow from seed and can be harvested once it reaches maturity about 45 to 60 days after sowing. Thin plants to 9 inches apart and provide adequate moisture. Warm temperatures cause plants to bolt (produce a flowering stem) and decline. Harvest arugula before freezing temperatures arrive since it is not tolerant of frost.
Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) is the often curly-leaved form of the species that includes collards, cabbage, and other familiar brassicas. Depending on the cultivar chosen, kale leaves can vary in colors that range from green, silvery, red, or purple, and may be highly ruffled, puckered, or frilly. Russian kale (Brassica napus) is a separate species with smooth, toothed leaves. Kale leaves can be harvested immature, approximately 30 days after sowing, or once they reach maturity, between 50 to 70 days after sowing. Kale is a popular leafy vegetable for its nutritional value. It can withstand frost, and colder temperatures sweeten the leaves. Massaging, marinating, or cooking will make tough older leaves more tender.
Some popular cultivars include:
‘Darkibor’ is a dark green, curly leaf cultivar commonly grown commercially in South Carolina. It is very cold tolerant and matures around 75 days. ‘Darkibor’ grows about 2 feet tall and wide.
- ‘Lacinato’ (also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale) is an heirloom cultivar with distinctive puckered and elongated, blue-green leaves with a gray sheen. The plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
- ‘Red Russian’ is more tender than other kales, with smooth, red-veined, mid-green leaves. It is an heirloom cultivar that grows 24 inches tall. Space plants 12 inches apart for harvesting at maturity.
- ‘Winterbor’ hybrid is a very cold hardy cultivar with tightly curled leaves. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
Mesclun is traditionally a mixture of arugula, lettuce, chervil, and endive. However, a wide range of greens is incorporated in various combinations of mesclun mixes, including chard, mustard, kale, and other greens. The different species can be planted for harvest at a baby leaf stage to produce a salad mix of varying textures and flavors. Since each species and cultivar may grow at a different rate, it is preferable to select and grow each type in separate rows. Sowing each cultivar separately will keep fast-growing cultivars from shading or outcompeting other seedlings, as often happens when sowing a mixed packet of seeds.
Mustard (Brassica juncea) is a versatile species grown for its spicy leaves and seeds. Seeds are used to flavor brown mustard. Mustard cultivars have green or red-tinged leaves that range in size and texture from flat to curled and entire to deeply lobed. Spring plantings may bolt with warmer temperatures. While fall plantings are tolerant of frost, they may be damaged by a hard freeze. Mustards reach maturity between 25 to 50 days from sowing, depending on the cultivar. Because of their frost tolerance, mustards are also used as ornamental plants in borders or containers.
Some popular cultivars include:
- ‘Carolina Broadleaf’ has tender, lightly ruffled, light green leaves. It is one of the few bacterial blight resistant cultivars.
- ‘Red Giant’ has large, maroon-tinged leaves on plants that grow up to 18 inches tall.
- ‘Savannah’ is a hybrid mustard with smooth, rounded leaves that resembles spinach.
- ‘Southern Giant Curled’ is a popular heirloom variety with large leaves that are curled at the margins.
Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris) is a colorful and easy-to-grow leafy green. It is the same species as beet but without the swollen root and shares that earthy flavor. Depending upon the cultivar chosen, the ruffled leaves have stalks of white, pink, gold, orange, or red. Sow Swiss chard directly into the garden in spring or late summer. It reaches maturity in 40 to 45 days. Leaves are harvested individually, in a cut-and-come again method. The culinary uses for Swiss chard are similar to those of spinach, with the young leaves eaten raw in salads and the mature leaves chopped and cooked in sautés, soups, stews, and sauces. Swiss chard is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K as well as iron and magnesium. It is also an attractive ornamental plant, and can be a complementary companion for pansies, mums, and other flowers in the landscape or a container.
Some popular cultivars include:
- ‘Bright Lights’, as the name implies, is a mixture of vibrantly colors including gold, red, pink, orange, and white.
- ‘El Dorado’ has vibrant yellow petioles (stems) and smooth green leaves.
- ‘Fordhook Giant’ is an heirloom cultivar with white petioles and veins and green, puckered leaves.
- ‘Ruby Red’ has dark green leaves with vibrant red petioles and veins.
The main insect problems of greens include caterpillars, flea beetles, leaf beetles, and aphids. For more information about insects affecting greens, see HGIC 2203, Cabbage, Broccoli, and Other Cole Crop Insect Pests. The main disease issues of greens include Alternaria and Cercospora leaf spots, bacterial blight, black rot, and various crown and root rots. See HGIC 2202, Cabbage, Broccoli, and Other Cole Crop Diseases for more information about diseases affecting greens.
Originally published 03/21