A fresh salad is one of the best ways to get your veggies and greens. Salads are great for lunch or dinner, as a side, or as a main course. If you are a big salad eater, or you hope to be better about eating your veggies, consider devoting a corner of the garden to salad components. Creating a salad garden is also a great starting place for beginner gardeners and beginner chefs. There are plenty of salad vegetables and greens that you can plant that are easy to grow and largely problem free. And there is nothing intimidating about making a salad if your cooking skills are only beginning to emerge. You can make yourself or your family some tasty salads fresh from the backyard without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or other chemicals.
Plan Your Space
Before you start buying plants or seeds, think about how much space you plant to devote to your salad garden. You can make a raised bed to house your veggies or plant them in containers on the back porch. Either way, plan out the number and types of plants you want to have and be sure you can fit them all in before you get started.
If you are working with a raised bed or a corner of the garden, expect to fit about five plants of greens and six to seven vegetable plants in a space that is four feet by four feet. With containers, you can get creative. Using pots, put one to two plants in each, depending upon size. Or, you can be more creative and try some unorthodox containers that you might have lying around. Grow a few greens in an old kids red wagon, a galvanized tub, or between the spokes of an old wagon wheel.
What to Plant?
Your salad garden, no matter its size, should be devoted to items that you can eat fresh from the garden and put into raw salads. If you have a large garden in which you grow foods that are eaten fresh, but also put up for storing, your salad garden can be single purpose. It will be your go-to spot for fresh veggies, and you will not need to worry about raiding your stores. Grow lettuces and other greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, and even herbs and edible flowers for your salads. Below are some plants you might consider using that are not always well known or obvious, but which are delicious and nutritious additions for your salad.
- Watercress. This small-leaved, crisp and tasty green is an excellent addition to salads. Depending on your location, you may be able to find it growing wild by a river or stream. Watercress is a perennial that requires plenty of water. For this reason, you are better off giving watercress its own individual container. Put a good amount of drainage material in the bottom, fill the rest of the container with soil, and set the pot in a dish of water. Change the water every couple of days and leave in a sheltered but sunny place.
- Winter Purslane. Winter purslane is a thick-leaved, crisp plant that can be eaten raw. In fact, you can eat the stems, leaves, and flowering shoots in your salads. It grows well in cool climates and needs good drainage. It will tolerate poor and light soil. You can sow it in spring or late summer for summer and late fall crops.
- Rocket. Also called arugula, rocket is a spicy, kicky leaf that adds flair to salads or can be the entire base of a salad. Rocket grows well in cool weather and needs soil that retains moisture well. It can grow under cover in winter, giving you an excellent cold weather option for fresh greens.
- Cress. Also called garden cress, curly cress, or peppercress, this is an easy and hardy plant to grow even if you have a slightly shady spot. Cress, like rocket, can be grown over winter as long as it is under cover. Sow cress in spring and late summer for a nearly continual harvest.
- Salad Rape. This is an annual plant that grows very fast and tolerates a variety of soil types. It can be sown outdoors from early spring to mid-autumn.
- Summer Purslane. Summer purslane is somewhat hardy and grows low to the ground. Unlike winter purslane, this plant needs warmth. Keep it in a warm, sunny spot that is also sheltered. Only plant summer purslane after the risk of a frost is gone. If you live in a warm climate, you can sow purslane throughout the spring and summer for a continual harvest.
- Parsley. Herbs are a great addition to any salad. Parsley is an excellent choice because of its pleasing but mild flavor. It is a biennial plant that only flowers in the second year. Do not eat the leaves after the plant has flowered.
- Chives. A spicy, onion-like plant, chives are easy to grow and tasty in salads. The long, green stalks can be chopped into small pieces, and the flowers can also be eaten. They are perennial, so you can enjoy them year after year.
- Basil. This delicious and fragrant herb is wonderful when used sparingly in fresh salads. It is an annual that will need to be replanted each year, but the effort is well worth the tasty leaves you will get. There are several varieties to choose from including sweet Thai basil, globe basil, purple basil, and lemon basil.
- Cilantro. The seeds of the plant are called coriander, but the distinctive-tasting leaves are called cilantro. While some people describe the taste of cilantro as soapy or metallic, others can’t get enough of this easy to grow herb. Use it in Mexican- and Thai-themed salads. Cilantro plants tend to go to seed quickly in the summer, so allow one or two spring plants to go to seed, and you will have new plants sprouting up all summer.
- Dill. Make sure you get the right type of dill plant. You want a shorter variety that produces a lot of leaves. The taller plants are grown for seeds. Dill leaves have a fresh and unique flavor that makes any salad tastier.
- Nasturtium. Edible flowers are a surprising but beautiful and delicious component for salads. Nasturtium plants produce rich, bright flowers and grow easily, even when neglected. This is a great plant for beginners. Nasturtium varieties include those that grow well along borders and edges, taller bushy plants, and climbing vines. They can fit into any nook in your garden and produce tasty, peppery flowers.
- Pansies. Pansies are another flower that you can easily grow and eat. The colorful purple, white, and yellow flowers are easily recognizable because pansies are so simple to grow. They are extremely popular as cool weather annuals and most people use them for decoration in early spring and mid fall. The bi-colored flowers are striking and delicate, but surprisingly hardy. They make a great accompaniment for salads and lend a lovely appearance and a nice flavor.
- Chamomile. Mostly known as an herbal tea, the flowers of the chamomile plant are edible and tasty. They have a mild, apple-like flavor. You can use them in your salads and then make a nice cup of tea. Chamomile plants prefer full sun and are annuals. If growing from seed, do not cover with soil, as the seeds need light to germinate.