How to Grow Winter Salad Leaves on the Patio
Growing your own vegetables does not have to stop at the end of summer. Hardy varieties of salads, recommended for growing in winter, can extend the season in a vegetable garden even without a greenhouse or cold frame. It is also possible to grow winter salad leaves in containers. Below I suggest some ideas for a decorative and productive winter salad garden on a patio.
In my experience growing winter salad leaves in pots is easier and more convenient than growing them in vegetable beds. On a patio plants have some protection from the worst of weather. Pots can be moved to areas that get more sunlight, and are sheltered from rain and frost.
In addition the soil in pots tends to be warmer than in vegetable beds, and so it is possible to grow plants faster and for longer. The leaves are also easier to pick, particularly when it is cold, wet and dark, and one does not want to venture into the garden.
Finally, patio salad garden can be beautiful. It is worth growing not just for food, but as a decorative feature. It also takes very little space – you don’t even need to have a garden.
How to plant winter salad leaves in containers
I planted seeds on the 5th of September. It is important not to put it off for too long and do it while it is still reasonably warm and sunny. Seedlings need a lot of light to grow strong. And as days become shorter in autumn, this is more difficult to achieve.
I used relatively large ceramic pots, but much smaller pots are absolutely fine too – I successfully grew salads in them in the summer.
I filled the pots with a mixture of garden soil and organic leaf mould, firmed the top and thinly scattered the seeds. Then I covered the seeds with 1-2cm of soil and firmed again.
This last step is important, because it ensures that the seeds have a good contact with soil. As a result, they germinate much more evenly and quickly.
I watered the pots and continued to keep the soil moist by watering it every 2-3 days.
Progress of the patio salad garden
The seedlings appeared about a week later – the photograph below was taken on 13 September.
And this is the patio garden on 1 October – it’s almost salad time!
It took just over three weeks to reach this stage. And the only work I had to do was watering in warm dry weather.
In addition to providing organic winter salad leaves, the patio garden was a joy to look at. Salad vegetables can be colourful. They come in different shades of green and red, as ‘purple oriental greens’ on the picture. Many have attractive and even exotic looking leaves. They can be just as decorative as traditional winter bedding plants, such as pansies.
Varieties of winter salad leaves for containers
The varieties I used were:
- Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia sibirica). It is also known as ‘winter purslane’. It is beautiful and succulent and one of the harleist winter salad crops available. On the photographs in grows in a white pot.
- Lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta). It was the slowest growing, but strong and attractive, pictured in a small brown pot on photographs.
- Purple oriental greens (Brassica juncea). Colourful, peppery and very fast growing.
- Salad rocket (Eruca sativa). To my surprise it did not do as well as others. Perhaps it was suffering from autumnal lack of light. It is a member of the cabbage family, and all its representatives are sensitive to light. It is growing in a light blue pot on photographs.
- Spinach ‘Giant Winter’ (Spinacia oleracea). It is tender and strong growing, but unfortunately loved by everybody, judging by some (slug?) damage on the leaves. It is growing in a dark blue pot in the lower right corner on the photograph above, and in the lower left corner on the photograph below.
- Winter lettuce ‘Valdor’. It is tender and a lovely shade of salad green. It is growing in a dark blue pot in the middle on the photograph below.
The picture below shows the same pots on 19 October – doing well in spite of rain, cold temperatures and lack of light.