Greens Are Southern Favorite; Now Is Time They Flourish In Garden

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:56 PM

Get It Growing News For 10/08/04

Cool fall weather makes me hanker for a big mess of greens cooked with smoked meat and a piece of cornbread on the side to sop up the "pot likker." Eating doesn’t get much more Southern than that.

In the South, the term "greens" refers to vegetables whose leaves are eaten cooked until tender. And during cool fall weather, mustard, turnip, collards and other greens flourish in the vegetable garden.

Mustard and turnips are fast-growing greens, and harvesting can begin as early as five weeks to six weeks after planting. Harvest the entire plant, or "crop" the plants by removing only the lower, larger leaves, allowing the plant to remain and continue to grow. Cropping allows you to extend the harvest. Often, if the winter is mild, mustard greens and turnip greens can be cropped until late winter or early spring from a planting done now.

Cropping turnips will reduce the size of the root, so you may want to reserve an area of your turnips for root development. On those plants, do not harvest any leaves. The leaves will produce food, transfer the food to the root for storage and develop a nice-sized turnip root in eight or nine weeks.

Collards can be grown year round, but the best quality is obtained during the cool season. A frost will "sweeten" collards and make the greens even tastier. Plant the seeds 2 inches apart and then thin the plants as they grow to a spacing of 10 inches to 12 inches between plants. Properly spaced plants are best harvested by cropping the older, larger leaves. Collards tolerate high temperatures better that most greens. They also are very cold hardy and survive temperatures in the low 20s without damage.

Spinach must have cool weather for best production, and fall plantings do especially well. A warm spell can often cause this vegetable to "bolt," particularly when grown in the spring. Bolt is a term used when a leafy vegetable matures and produces a flower stalk. You want to prevent your spinach from bolting, so it will produce leaves instead of flowers. Cool weather, adequate water and regular fertilization with nitrogen will encourage the spinach to remain in its vegetative growth cycle. Spinach is slow growing for the first few weeks after it comes up. That means you must be patient and keep the plants well watered so they eventually will grow large enough to harvest the entire plant or begin cropping.

Swiss chard is an excellent substitute for spinach. It is easier to grow and tolerates warm and even hot weather much better than spinach. The leaves of chard can easily grow 14 inches to 18 inches tall, so production is much greater than with spinach. Chard is available in several white-stemmed varieties. Red-stemmed varieties such as ‘Vulcan’ and a variety called ‘Bright Lights,’ which produces stems of white, rose, red, yellow-gold or orange, are very ornamental, and even look great in flower beds.

When cooked, chard is similar in flavor to spinach, and young tender leaves of chard can be eaten raw. The leaf stems of chard are delicious cooked separately and have a mild, almost asparagus-like flavor. Plant the seeds 2 inches to 4 inches apart and thin the plants to eventually stand 8 inches to 10 inches apart. Harvest chard by cropping.

Kale is a close relative to collards and has a similar flavor when cooked. Kale is very cold hardy and can withstand temperatures in the upper teens. Space plants 10 inches to 12 inches apart. Ornamental kale, with its brightly colored rose, pink or white leaves, has become a popular landscape plant in the past few years and is also edible.

Cabbage is another leafy vegetable that is suited to cool weather. There are green and red cabbage varieties. The heads are ready to harvest when they become hard. Transplants planted now should be ready to harvest in late winter or early spring.

Although not generally cooked, lettuce is also often called greens, and leaf and semi-heading varieties of lettuce are easy to grow. The heading lettuce varieties, such as ‘Iceberg,’ are more of a challenge. Leaf or semi-heading types of lettuce to try include romaine, buttercrunch, bibb and oak leaf, which are sure winners. Red lettuce adds interest to your salads. ‘Red Sails’ is a variety that is easy to grow and does not become bitter until the heat of summer.

Other vegetables can be planted now in your garden along with greens. Root crops such as rutabaga, radish, carrot and beet thrive in cool weather. Shallots, onions and garlic also should be planted now. Garlic and onions will need to grow until May to produce bulbs. Of course, green onions and shallots can be harvested all winter and early spring.

Parsley, dill, celery, borage, cilantro and fennel are annual herbs that can be grown during the fall and winter. Perennial herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, chives, rosemary, mint, sorrel, burnnet, lemon balm and French tarragon also can be planted.

If space in your garden is limited, grow your herbs in containers. Set the containers in a sunny location close to your door so that harvesting will be more convenient.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at  A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.


Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or 
Editor: Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or 

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