For fall, grow cold-hardy lettuce varieties such as 'Winter Density'. Look for red-leaf varieties, such as 'Rouge D'hiver' to add color to the garden.
Salad mixes are filled with colorful greens such as Swiss chard and various lettuce varieties. Harvest the greens when leaves are only a few inches long.
Mesclun greens are ready to harvest in less than one month and can be planted multiple times in fall as a succession crop.
Asian greens such as mizuna add unusual textures, shapes, and spicy flavors to salads.
The dark blue lacinata kale leaves contrast well with the curly, red-veined 'Red Bor' kale stems and leaves. Both varieties get sweeter in cool weather and can withstand a light frost.
While the vegetables and fruits have been pouring in from my garden, I always have to remind myself this time of year not to stop planting. The temptation is to think the harvest will last forever, but I know that eventually the warm-season crops, such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, and eggplants, will slow down. In a few months the garden will be bare unless I think about planting cool-season crops now for a second harvest. Planting peas, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, and other cool-weather crops now will reap dividends in October and November when all the heat lovers have faded.
Some of my favorite easy-to-grow fall crops are greens. Fall greens, such as lettuce, mesclun mix, kale, mustard, arugula, mache, and spinach, love the cooler temperatures and, depending on where you live, will produce this fall, throughout the winter, and even into the spring.
You don't have to relegate greens to the vegetable garden. You can remove tired flowers from containers and pop in some greens. Or pull out spent annual flowers from the garden and sow some seeds. Cut back yellowing perennials to make room for some veggie seedlings. You'll be amazed how much room you really have to grow a fall salad in September. Here are some of my favorites types of greens.
Lettuce - Butterhead-type lettuce varieties withstand the cold weather better than other types of lettuce. Two good butterhead varieties to grow are 'North Pole' and 'Arctic King'. Some romaine lettuces can tolerate cold weather, too. 'Rouge d'Hiver' is a French heirloom that features red leaves that deepen in color with cool temperatures. Baby lettuce mixes are a good choice because they are so quick to mature. Harvest leaves when they are only 4 inches long.
Spinach - Spinach is the quintessential cool-weather green. For fall, try growing the savoyed-leaved 'Tyee' or 'Winter Bloomsdale'.
Kale and Swiss Chard - These are my favorite fall greens because they are beautiful as well as tasty. 'Red Bor' kale has crinkly red leaves that turn a deep burgundy in fall. 'Red Russian' has blue-green leaves with attractive red veins. 'Lacinata' or dinosaur kale produces dark green, long and thin, puckered leaves. 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard features dark green leaves with colorful ribs of red, yellow, pink, or white.
Greens mix - If you're looking for a colorful and somewhat spicy fall salad, try mesclun mixes featuring greens such as mizuna and mustard. The feathery green mizuna leaves contrast well with the broad, red leaves of the mustards. These two piquant greens often are blended with lettuces for a milder flavor.
Wild Greens - Arugula and mache are probably the most cold tolerant of the greens. Arugula can take freezing and thawing and still grow, while mache can survive sub-zero temperatures. Mache leaves have a soft and buttery texture and mild flavor. Arugula has deeply cut green leaves and a mild flavor that gets spicier with warm weather.
I love growing greens because you don't have to wait long for something to eat. You can start harvesting leaves when they're only a few inches long. That's important in fall because the shorter days, cooler nights, and lower sun angles mean plants grow more slowly than in spring. However, fall also means fewer pests, more rain, and fewer weeds to battle.
The key is to start NOW! All of these greens can be directly sown in the ground. They will germinate quickly due to the warm soil temperatures. Make successive sowings of the hardiest of the greens, such as arugula and mache, every few weeks through October to extend the harvest. However, if you're in the South, the soil temperatures may still be too warm to sow in the ground. A better idea is to start seeds indoors and transplant them in two to three weeks. If you're planning to tuck some colorful fall greens, such as 'Red Bor' kale or 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard, in amongst the perennials you've cut back, also consider starting those indoors first to give them a head start.
Even though these greens can take the cold, cover them when young with a floating row cover for frost protection. Keep the row cover on throughout the winter, and many of these greens will survive to give you an early spring harvest. Greens grown in containers won't tolerate freezing temperatures so these should be harvested and eaten before the deep chill sets in.