Spring in the Garden

    • Plant potatoes! St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional day to plant potatoes, so the season is upon us now.
    • Prune Hydrangeas now by removing old flower heads down to the first new leaves. Don’t prune stems which have no old flowers, and they will bloom first this summer.
    • Mouth-watering strawberries should be planted now for delicious berries this summer. Plant them in a sunny, well-drained bed.
    • Plant sweet peas and larkspur for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Lily of the valley is a sweet, shade-loving perennial that can be planted now from “pips” available at the nursery.

Spring’s Leafy Greens

This mild weather is a perfect time to plant some of nature’s finest: the leafy edible greens of spring. With a penchant for growing in cool weather, these nourishing plants provide some of the garden’s earliest produce. The distinct flavors of leafy vegetables such as arugula, radicchio, Mizuna, and others can be an invigorating treat for the palate. Most spring greens are tender enough to use uncooked or very lightly steamed—all the better to showcase their clean, fresh flavors.

Arugula, or Rocket, is an easy-to-grow green known for its spicy, nutty taste. In just 20 days after sowing you can harvest the baby greens; for a full head wait another 10 to 15 days. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Arugula can withstand a light frost and the flavor is mildest when the plant matures in cool weather.

There are several Asian greens that grow quickly in spring and are great for salads and stir fries. ‘Mizuna’ produces low-growing heads of white-stemmed, deeply serrated leaves. Its mildly sweet and spicy leaves add flavor and crunch to mixed salads ‘Tatsoi’ plants form a compact, thick rosette of leaves that are mild in flavor.

Radicchio is a mildly bitter tasting leafy vegetable. It is actually Italian Chicory, and the most popular variety looks like a small head of red lettuce. It is usually mixed into a variety of salads.

Mesclun, literally “mixture”, is the name given to a blend of lettuce, arugula, kale, Swiss chard, beet, and Asian greens. Depending on the blend, the mix may be mild or spicy. Sow seeds as soon as the ground can be worked, and enjoy the first harvest 30 days later, when the greens are only 4 inches tall. Sow successive crops every few weeks to have a continual supply.

Spinach is the classic cool-weather green, germinating in soils as cool as 35 degrees F. Once seedlings are 3 inches tall (20 to 30 days after seeding), thin the plants to space them 6 inches apart; plants mature 20 days later. Spinach comes in crinkled and smooth-leaved varieties.

Sow greens in rows or broadcast the seeds over the top of the raised bed. Cover the small seeds with potting soil or sand so they can germinate more easily. Cover the bed with a floating row cover to keep the soil warm, prevent insects from attacking and keep the bed moist. For all but mesclun greens, thin to the appropriate spacing.

Harvest leaves of your greens as soon as they’re at least 2 inches long. Pick individual leaves to create baby green salads or snip the young plants to the ground. Leave some plants, such as lettuce and spinach, to mature to full size for a larger harvest.

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