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Lettuce, Collards Thrive In Cool-Season Gardens

by Dr. Gary R. Bachman, MSU Extension Service

Baby leaf lettuce is easy to grow at home in containers, allowing gardeners to grow their own for salads all winter. (Photo by MSU Extension/Gary Bachman)

Last week, I sang the praises of my favorite cool-season vegetable and explained how it is both edible and ornamental. Kale is a multitasking super food that is really easy to grow from seed.

But there are other great cool-season vegetables like lettuce and collards. I consider these must-haves for my garden, and they also are easy to grow from seed, especially in containers.

The cooler months of winter are the perfect time to grow lettuce. Lettuce can tolerate frost and light freezing temperatures. And when temperatures are cool, it doesn’t get bitter like it does when grown in the heat of summer.

You don’t even have to grow it in your normal vegetable garden. Try growing lettuce in containers to save money and add spice to your landscape.

I like to grow both baby leaf and mini head lettuce. The mini heads are the perfect size for individual salads. There are many types available, and I like the mini romaine and mini buttercrunch the best.

Mini head lettuce is perfect for bi-weekly succession planting. Sow the seed densely, much like sowing grass seed, and then you can harvest lettuce after about 21 days.

If you don’t grow your own, you can buy baby leaf lettuce in the grocery store, usually sold as mixes of several varieties and colors. Whether home-grown or store-bought, these add mealtime interest.

Collard greens are another classic leafy vegetable for our Mississippi gardens. The best-tasting collards are those grown in the fall through the winter and into the spring. This makes sense as collards don’t tolerate high temperatures very well. Like our other leafy greens, collards are very appreciative of cooler temperatures, even frosts and freezes. The colder temperatures intensify their flavor profile.

There are many varieties of collards available, including hybrid and open-pollinated types. MSU Extension recommends the following varieties for Mississippi gardens: Vates, Top Bunch, Georgia LS, Blue Max, Champion and Tiger.

Like lettuce, collards also can be grown in containers. Growing leafy greens in containers is more manageable and requires much less weeding. You will be surprised how many plants will grow in a tight space when you grow them in containers. Even if you only have a small patio, balcony or sunny kitchen window, you can still enjoy fresh greens.

Be sure to place your containers where they will be easily accessible. This can be on your patio, doorstep, or even windowsill. Keeping them accessible will allow you to maintain them well so you can enjoy fresh salads through the winter.

Most retail garden centers have seeds readily available, or you can order them online. However, the increased gardening interest due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in shortages of many varieties of vegetables.

So if you want to grow some of these leafy greens, don’t wait. If you’d rather not start yours from seed, many garden centers should be offering transplants of these leafy greens that you can grow instead.

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