Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2009
Regional Report

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A mixture of lettuce cultivars can create the foundation for a tasty and colorful cool season garden salad.

Salad Season!

I absolutely love the fall to winter gardening season! It means summer heat is over and I get to grow fresh salads once again! I'm sure you have your own favorite cool-season greens for the cool-season southern garden. Here are a few of mine that I think are worth a try this season to spice up your cool-season salads.

We should start with lettuce, the foundation of most salads. I like to use the leaf-type lettuces, choosing a mixture of types from green to burgundy to speckled to provide visual variety to a salad. Bibb types and romaine types are also well worth growing. You can extend your lettuce harvest by either planting a small section at a time every two weeks, or by harvesting individual leaves from the plants and leaving the plants for additional harvests over the coming weeks.

Spinach provides nutrition in a tasty package. Spinach salads are great on their own but spinach also works well mixed with other greens. This cold-hardy vegetable deserves a place in the cool-season garden. Provide good drainage, especially if your soil is a heavy clay.

Kale is perhaps the most cold-hardy of our garden veggies. For some reason many years ago collards made it as the favorite of the South and kale was more embraced by northern gardeners. I think we need to rethink this. Kale is not only cold hardy but also about the most nutritious thing we can grow in the winter garden. It is great cooked lightly or picked very young and used fresh in a salad. It kicks a salad into high gear when it comes to nutrition and health promoting compounds. 'Red Russian' and 'Lacinato' (or dinosaur) kale are two good choices.

Radicchio or Italian chicory forms a gnarly white and burgundy head and provides a rather bitter, spicy bite to salads. You would not want to use it alone but it blends well with a number of other salad ingredients.

Corn salad or mache is easy to grow and forms a rosette of soft leaves with a buttery texture. The flavor is mild and rather nutty.

Arugula or roquette grows quickly and provides a tangy, nutty addition to salads. It is best harvested young when the leaves are tender and the flavor is mild.

Sorrel brings a tangy, lemony flavor to salads. It is easy to grow and produces well in the cool season. Like most of the highly flavored greens it is best used sparingly, like "seasoning," in salads, soups, or other dishes.

Cress comes in several forms, including broadleaf and curly cress. The broadleaf types tend to be a bit less pungent but note that cress packs a peppery hot punch!

Mustard provides a very strong, sharp, and pungent kick to salads. The variety 'Osaka Purple' is especially colorful and may be used in salads if harvested when the leaves are still quite small.

Now how about your favorites. What great salad greens did I leave out?

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