Home gardening basics: How to grow early spring greens
04/02/2022 / By Rose Lidell / Comments
Home gardening basics: How to grow early spring greens

Spring is the best season for growing new crops in your home garden. No matter which state you live in, growing leafy greens can help you jumpstart the season. This also ensures that the salads you serve your family are fresh, nutritious and pesticide-free.

For best results, plant early spring greens instead of other vegetables that require warmer temperatures to germinate. Most greens are cold-hardy, so you can plant them long before the last frost.

Tips for growing early spring greens

Follow the tips below to help early spring greens thrive in your home garden.


Prepare the garden soil

The seeds of most greens will germinate at temperatures as low as 40 F. You can start planting the minute the soil thaws and becomes dry enough to rake smoothly.

Note that overly wet soils may rot your seed. If you live in an area with a high water table or continuous rainfall, don’t rush the season.

If you’re not sure if the soil is ready, squeeze a fistful of soil in your hand. If the soil forms a ball that separates easily or crumbles through your fingers, it’s dry enough and you can start planting. But if the soil forms a ball that doesn’t separate when jiggled, wait several days and try again.

If the soil is too wet, install raised beds to improve early-season growing conditions. In most cases, raising garden beds about 12 to 24 inches above the ground will help improve soil conditions and ensure adequate drainage. Alternatively, you can install sub-drainage or ditches if your garden is large enough.

Finally, if the soil is too wet because of high clay content, improve soil quality by adding some sand and organic matter like compost and rotted manure. The ideal soil type for growing vegetables is sandy-loam.

Provide plants with adequate nutrients 

Plants like lettuce and other salad greens require nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to grow.

But when growing salad greens, the bulk of the plant’s energy is used up to produce green leaves. This means your plants need a lot of nitrogen for healthy production.

Address this by fertilizing the soil with finished compost or rotted animal manure before planting to deliver nitrogen to plant roots.

You can also top-dress with compost after the seeds have emerged if you’re planting in rows, or water with diluted fish fertilizer or compost tea. Alternatively, you can use other sources of nitrogen like organic alfalfa or kelp meal before planting.

Make sure the soil is evenly moist

Avoid overwatering when growing early greens. Even though the soil is warming up along with the air, cold spring temperatures mean less evaporation.

Experts recommend misting your greens before germination, but you can also try lightly watering once or twice per week to quench your plants’ thirst and promote strong, healthy growth. Watering frequency will vary based on your soil (sandy, clay, or loam), temperatures in the region and whether your crop is planted outside or in a greenhouse.

Provide plants with primary and secondary cover

Get a head start on the growing season by planting greens in a greenhouse or hoop tunnel at least one month before their outdoor planting dates.

Seeds grown under cover will benefit from warmer-than-average temperatures. But if you have the time, add an extra layer of protection to expedite plant growth and improve germination.

Use floating row covers, which are thin layers of light-permeable cloth, to significantly boost the temperature and relative humidity of a growing area inside a greenhouse or cold frame. This “double coverage” modifies the climate enough to promote crop growth and protect plants from unexpected dips in temperature.

Use lightweight, floating row covers. After starting a selection of early greens in your greenhouse, cover the seeds for the first few weeks after planting to hasten germination and maintain even soil moisture.

Plant cold-hardy varieties of early spring greens

Most greens are tolerant of the cold, but some are more likely to germinate and thrive in unpredictable, swinging temperatures than others. For early spring sowing, choose arugula, corn salad, cress, kale, mustard greens, or spinach.

Lettuces will germinate in a greenhouse in early spring in most locations. However, lettuces may grow more slowly than other greens at the beginning of the season.

Lettuces require light to germinate, so use a thin covering of soil to get them started.

Best cold-hardy greens to grow in your home garden

These cold-hardy greens will germinate and thrive in cool temperatures.

If you’re not sure what to plant, start a variety in your greenhouse in early spring. Use leafy greens for salad mixes and select for texture, color and nutrients.

Leafy greens are versatile and you can use them to make the following dishes:

  • Glazed salmon salad
  • Greek salad
  • Hearty chopped salad
  • Rice salad
  • Shaved asparagus and arugula salad
  • Spinach salad
  • Spring greens and beans salad
  • Thai spring salad rolls

Sow directly into the garden in consecutive plantings, two to three weeks apart for continuous harvest.


Arugula or “rocket” is an easy-to-grow early spring green that germinates in the coldest spring soil or earlier in a greenhouse. Sow arugula in rows or broadcast the seed evenly, but thin to four to six inches (10 to 15 cm) apart after emergence or the plants will bolt prematurely.

When the plants produce flowers, prolong production by pinching them off.

Beet greens

Beet greens are bright red-and-green and add a pop of color and flavor to salads. They taste best when harvested at the baby-green stage at less than four inches (10 cm).

Like other early greens, you can sow beets in a greenhouse as soon as the soil can be worked. Cool temperatures will intensify the color in some varieties.


Claytonia or miner’s lettuce is considered a weed in North America, but its succulent texture and tolerance for cold temperatures have changed the minds of many gardeners and even upscale restaurants within the last few decades.

Claytonia has small, white flowers that are edible.

Corn salad

Corn salad or mache is a popular cool-weather crop with a mild, nutty flavor. You can harvest the outer leaves or cut the entire inner rosette and the plant will regrow.

Corn salad matures after about 50 days, just like lettuce. However, the former germinates faster and earlier, so plant it if you like early salads.

Edible chrysanthemum

Edible chrysanthemum or shungiku is an early green hailing from Asia. The plant’s leaves or edible flowers are mildly bitter but great for salads and stir-fries.


Kale is full of calcium and perfect as a baby green in a mixed salad. If planted in spring, kale will germinate at soil temperatures of 40 F or higher.

If you grow kale in a greenhouse, it will produce quickly and flesh out salads with various colors and textures. Red Russian is ideal for salad mixes because of its striking purple veins and frilly edges.

Harvest the outer leaves of each plant when they are no more than four inches (10 cm) long and sow thicker than you would for mature plants.


When growing lettuce in a greenhouse, note that some varieties will hold better than others in the heat of summer so you can have a longer harvest and a steady supply of fresh veggies.

Mustard greens

Mustard greens add spice to salads. You can also cook mustard greens in stir-fries or hearty soups.

Mustard greens belong to the Brassica family like arugula, broccoli and cabbages, thus they share some of the same pests.

But unlike broccoli and cabbages, mustard greens grow quickly and then go to seed. You can plant them outside your greenhouse in the coolest of temperatures, but greenhouse-growing mustard greens ensure an earlier, more even harvest.

Pea greens

Pea greens include the top three to four inches (7.5-10 cm) of any edible pea plant.

Pea greens are only tender enough if you harvest them when the plants are young. Cut the entire plant top once or twice before trellising and let them mature for your pea crop.


Sorrel is one of the few perennial greens available today that produces first in the spring when other greens are just going into the ground as seeds.

Sorrel has large and delicious leaves with a distinct lemon flavor. Use sorrel to make salads or sandwiches.


Spinach is a nutritious must-have for salad mixes. Harvest greenhouse spinach at the baby-green stage and take the outer leaves to allow plants to regrow.

Spinach will thrive in fertile soil that is well-drained and warmer than 35 F. You can sow early, but spinach will go to seed in a greenhouse once the weather warms up.

You can sow spinach outside almost as soon as the soil can be worked, but a greenhouse crop of spinach out-produces outdoor plants by at least four weeks, making both plantings worthwhile.

Make sure your family eats enough veggies by growing organic, cold-hardy early spring greens in your home garden before long days and warmer soil temperatures roll around.




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