Nothing beats homegrown salad for freshness and flavour – it’s a world away from the bags of tasteless, limp leaves on offer at your local supermarket. Plus, if you sow cut-and-come-again crops of lettuce and leaf seeds, you can avoid waste by picking only what you need each day. Here’s our step-by-step guide to sowing and growing your own salads through summer and beyond. You don’t even need a garden – a sunny windowsill will do!
And if you’re looking for quick results, visit our ‘grow salad for summer’ section which lists crops by their growing times. Some of these micro-greens are ready to eat in as little as seven days!
How to direct sow salad seeds in the ground
- Recommended salad seeds to direct sow outside: beetroot, spring onion, radish
- Watch video: How to direct sow salad into soil
Prepare the soil by clearing any weeds and larger stones, then dig in some well-rotted compost and water well. Make a 1-2cm deep trench and sow the seeds thinly. Cover lightly with soil (if they’re too deep they might not germinate). If you’re sowing more than one row, leave 15cm between rows (30cm for beetroot).
As the seedlings grow, thin them to 10-20cm apart and use the thinned seedlings in salads. Remember to water regularly as root crops can become tough and woody in dry spells. Protect your growing crops from slugs and snails and keep on top of weeds. You might also wish to cover your young plants with netting, as emerging seedlings are attractive to birds.
How to grow salad seeds in patio containers
- Recommended salad seeds for containers: tomato, cucumber, basil
- Watch video: How to grow cucumbers and tomatoes
Tomatoes grow well in pots and thrive in very similar conditions to basil, making them a dynamic duo in the garden as well as the kitchen. Start your tomato, basil and cucumber seeds off in trays or small pots and then transplant the seedlings to larger outdoor containers once all chance of frost has passed. Not only will they grow happily in pots, you’ll also have an attractive patio display.
To start, fill a small pot to around two-thirds with moist compost, make a 2cm dip with your finger, drop in a seed and cover. Grow on a windowsill until ready to transplant (taking care not to disturb the roots). Locate your pots in a sheltered and sunny spot outside.
If you don’t want sprawling tomato plants, make sure you choose the bush or ‘determinate’ varieties that are ideal for containers. ‘Indeterminate’ varieties require support canes. Tomatoes and cucumbers benefit from regular (but not excessive) watering, as well as a high potash liquid feed every 1-2 weeks once the flowers appear.
How to grow salad seeds in trays
Sowing crops like cress and other microgreens in trays is a great way to enjoy a continuous supply of fresh leaves throughout the summer. If you don’t have a garden, you can also grow them on a bright windowsill or balcony. Mixed leaves are a great ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop for trays – if you harvest the leaves while they’re still young you’ll enjoy a continuous supply of mild and tender leaves for several weeks.
Make sure your tray has drainage holes, then fill it two-thirds full of moist compost. Scatter your seeds liberally across the surface and cover with a fine layer of compost or as per the packet instructions. Alternatively, create shallow rows or drills in the soil and sow your seeds into these before covering over. If you water the drills before sowing then your seeds will have good contact with moist soil.
How to grow salad from seed tape
- Recommended salad seed tapes: perpetual spinach leaf, lettuce, radish
- Watch video: How to use seed tape
Seed tape is very easy to use and, as the seeds are pre-loaded onto biodegradable tape, it makes sowing your summer salad quick, convenient and eco-friendly. When sown outside, the tape protects the seeds from being eaten by birds and, as the seeds are pre-spaced, you won’t need to thin the seedlings later on.
To sow seed tape, simply create a shallow trench in the soil, lay the tape down and cover over, then water according to the packet instructions. Suttons offers a range of salad seed tapes. Easy to roll out and cut to size, your sowing can be done in seconds!
Whether you’re keen to grow your first salad as soon as possible or happy to wait a little longer, we hope our tips will get you off to a good start. Pea shoots and lettuce will be well underway in less than a month, while you could find yourself harvesting fresh cress and other microgreens within a week! And don’t worry if you don’t have much outdoor space – just check out our range of vegetables suitable for Windowsill Gardening.
Lead image: Kale Shoots from Suttons