Fall and Winter Greens & Reds & More


We_re not talking about setting aside a large area for fall. ...


We_re not talking about setting aside a large area for fall. Although if you have that much space to spare, that_s fine. All you need is some room amidst existing plants. Consider using available space in your flower garden or mixed border; fill in areas with edibles as you remove tired-looking annuals or prune back perennials. Of course, there is always some room in the vegetable or herb garden.

For fall harvests you can start everything from seed sown directly in the garden. In spring, you can usually find a plethora of starts_cell packs or small potted plants at local nurseries, garden centers, and home stores. In summer, you won_t find starts; you have to rely on seed you purchased.


Do you enjoy salad and other greens fresh from the garden? In season, they are fabulous, especially cut-and-come-again greens like leaf lettuces, arugula, mustard, and others. Yet have you seen the price of mixed greens_often called mesclun_at the grocery store lately? For what you would pay for two weeks worth of salad greens for a family of four, you can buy more than enough seed to keep you in salad all fall and well into winter. Look for greens that you would normally plant in spring before the last frost date_those that can take some cold.

Since these are mostly _foliage plants,_ look for those that add a dimension of color in addition to _leafy green_ when selecting varieties to add to your garden. If you don_t segregate ornamentals from edibles, you will want the plants to add as much interest_leaf color, shape, size, and plant form_as possible.

Choose from among the many leaf lettuces, including these All-America Selections winners: _Red Sails_ (1985), _Buttercrunch_ (1963), _Ruby_ (1958), and _Salad Bowl_ (1952). Romaines can take the cold; try _Rouge d_Hiver_ and _Freckles_ for good color. Mix in some _Lollo Rossa,_ _Arctic King,_ _Winter Marvel,_ and _North Pole_ for an outstanding winter collection.


Sow each type of seed separately, or create your own personal mesclun blend. You can mix all the seeds together in a bowl and then scatter them on bare soil_thicker than normal. Make an eighteen-inch-wide swath through a garden bed, or edge the path leading from the sidewalk to your front door. The greens will come up in a colorful carpet. By the time the plants are a few inches tall they will need thinning. Pull up plants at random for an instant salad of baby greens. There is plenty to share with neighbors who seem to sense when picking time starts_and invite them to come over and help themselves to fresh greens.

Since you will be planting in the heat of summer, sow the seed in a partly shaded spot, or provide shade with spun polyester cloth to keep them cooler. Mist lightly during the day to refresh the seedlings and young plants. Otherwise, they require no different care than spring-sown seeds. Growing spinach in the spring can be a challenge, as it doesn_t like the heat. In fall, it is happy with the cooling weather. Be sure to avoid any varieties that are labeled _summer_ spinach. As with the other plants for fall harvest, sow the seed in a partially shaded area to keep the soil from getting too warm.

To many, the flavor of kale_like Brussels sprouts_is enhanced by frost. For diversity of leaf shape, color (from deep green to blue), size, and crunch, choose several kale varieties. Finely curled red-leafed _Redbor Hybrid_, and bluish crinkle-leafed _Winterbor_ are amazingly hardy and can last through winter. _Lacinata_ holds its deep bluish-green leaves upright, while _Red Russian_ with a mauve tinge to the leaves, has a more open habit.

Swiss chard is a must-have. Forget about the plain green leaves you knew as a child. Grow _Bright Lights_ (1998 AAS winner) to delight your eyes as well as your palate. With ribs that run the gamut from silver to gold, orange, pink, red, and green, a stand of Swiss chard looks like stained glass with the early morning or late afternoon sun glimmering through it. It is so decorative in the garden you don_t have to eat it.


Other less common, yet more flavorful greens, add spice to the mix. Depending on your taste, include some piquant greens such as arugula and _Osaka Purple_ mustard greens. _Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled_ cress is unique for its savoyed leaves. Broccoli raab, a sprouting broccoli, (also known by such names as raab, rapa, rapini, and spring broccoli) is sumptuous stir-fried in olive oil and garlic, served on pasta.

Other greens add interesting form and color, with their own unique flavors. Mache, (Valerianella locusta) also known as corn salad, has a sweet, nutty flavor. Endive and radicchio have slightly bitter taste. Curly endives, such as _Tres Fin,_ have finely dissected, curly leaves. Oriental greens round out the medley. From mizuna to tatsoi, pac choi, bok choy, and komatsuna and their cultivars, there is an assortment of new, vitamin-filled greens to try.


Radishes grow quickly and add a nice crunch to any dish. _Easter Egg II_ is a mixture of white, plum purple-, cherry red, and rosy pink skinned radishes. Sow seeds every five to seven days for an extended harvest.

Small carrots, such as one-half-inch, round _Thumbelina_ (1992 AAS winner) or _Mokum_, which is one of the best-tasting carrots to pull at _baby_ stage, deserve some space. If the temperatures remain cold, cover the plants with at least six inches of natural mulch such as hay, so you can harvest fresh carrots well into winter.

Even if you don_t grow _Bull_s Blood_ beet for the tasty root_excellent harvested when only two to three inches_plant it for the deep, vibrant red leaves. Picked young, they are a superlative addition to a salad; when they are larger, cook the leaves as you would spinach, or use them in a stir-fry.


Pansies are such a cheerful addition to any garden. Much has been written about their versatility as a fall flower, and bedding plants are readily available in nurseries for fall planting. However, the selection from seed is much more diverse_and easy to grow. The unexpected bonus of fall pansies: keep deadheading the plants. Even in Zone 5, each time the snow melts there are the pansies ready to burst into flower. AAS winners _Maxim Marina_ (1991) and _Ultima Morpho_ (2002) are among the most colorful.


Whether you are gathering lettuce, chard, spinach, kale, chicory, or other greens, you can get the most out of these leafy plants by picking only as many outer leaves as you will use for the next meal. As long as the temperatures stay at least ten to fifteen degrees above freezing during the day, the plants will continue to produce new leaves at the center of the plant. Instead of cutting and bringing in the entire plant, harvesting a few leaves at a time can extend the harvest through winter right into early spring_if the weather cooperates (or you have a cold frame.)

Of the root vegetables, only radishes need to be pulled up at maturity when their flavor and texture are at their peak. The chosen selections of the others_carrots, turnips, and beets_are equally good harvested young or at maturity.

Enjoy the wide selection of easy-to-grow fall edibles that deliver great taste and a range of colors to enhance nutritious meals.

National Garden Bureau | Cathy Wilkinson Barash

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