Garden of Eatin' / Vegetables

Summer-Lovin’ Salad Greens

Summer salad greens

I’ve often wondered why lettuce and spinach aren’t summer crops. Whose idea was it to give us all those sweet, juicy tomatoes and fresh, crisp cucumbers in the summer, but no lettuce or spinach to go with them?

Sure, there are ways to extend the life of your spring greens by giving them more shade or less sun. But… come summer, they’re well on their way to bolting.

For those of us longing for leafy greens even when it registers 90°F outside, all is not lost. You can still grow a summer salad bed without any tricks!

Edible red leaf amaranth

Edible Red Leaf Amaranth
Also known as Chinese spinach, edible red leaf amaranth grows quickly — especially in hot, hot weather — and can be harvested a month after sowing. It’s a cut-and-come-again crop that can grow over 6 feet tall and produces all season long for me. It also packs a nutritional punch, beating out beet greens, spinach and chard in calcium, niacin and iron content. As my favorite summer salad green, it tastes like a very mild kale. The deep red color is also beautiful against all the other greens in a salad bowl.

Perpetual spinach

Perpetual Spinach
The name alone gives a good clue that this vigorous leaf is long-lasting. But the name is also misleading, as perpetual spinach is not a spinach at all — it’s actually a member of the beetroot family known as chard. (Chard produces the same leafy tops as beets, but does not form a swollen root.) However, it tastes more like spinach than it does chard. In mild climates, perpetual spinach grows all summer long, over fall and winter, and even through the following spring. It’s a versatile green that should be a staple in everybody’s garden!

Vulcan chard

Vulcan Chard
This variety of chard is also called rhubarb chard because of its red ribs and stems. While not as long-lasting as perpetual spinach, vulcan chard can tolerate summer temperatures up to 85°F. It’s a highly prolific vegetable and I can never seem to keep up with the amount of leaves my plants put out every week! Even when the leaves are fully mature, they’re still tender and delicately crisp.

Komatsuna

Komatsuna
This Japanese leaf vegetable is related to the common turnip and is sometimes called mustard spinach (again, not a spinach… who comes up with these names?). I actually grow komatsuna year round because it does equally well in the warmer days of summer as it does the cooler nights of winter. It’s one of the fastest growing greens in my garden, reaching maturity in just a few weeks and producing for several months. The leaves have a mild flavor when young and become a bit more bitter as they become larger. Komatsuna is also great for pickling.

Malabar spinach

Malabar Spinach
You’ve probably guessed by now that malabar spinach is, of course, not a spinach. It is a tropical perennial vine with bold red stems that loves to climb… and climb… and climb. My malabar spinach actually doesn’t seem to take off until it’s hot and sunny — long after my real spinach is wilting in the garden! The fleshy leaves are slightly rubbery to the touch and are popular in Asian cooking. They add a nice bite to a salad and taste somewhat like mild beet greens.

Tokyo bekana

Tokyo Bekana
As a Japanese version of Chinese cabbage, Tokyo bekana is a type of mustard that looks like lettuce. Confused yet? It’s a cut-and-come-again crop that grows quickly and can be harvested in the baby leaf stage, or left to grow into large, frilly leaves. The flavor becomes more brassica-like as the leaves mature, so if you prefer a milder mustard taste, use them as baby greens. Tokyo bekana grows best in mild summer climates.

Yukina savoy

Yukina Savoy
This mustard green, part of the Chinese cabbage family, looks a lot like tatsoi but with savoyed (garden speak for wrinkled crinkled) leaves. It’s not the type of green you would think to put in a salad, but the young leaves (stems and all) are delicious raw. Because of the cucumbery/mustardy flavor, yukina savoy pairs well with citrus. It seems to favor any type of growing condition from warm to cool, and lasts all summer long in my zone 10b climate.

Mizuna

Mizuna
Despite being a Japanese mustard, mizuna is neither hot nor bitter. The saw-toothed leaves and tender stems have a slightly tangy flavor when young, and a mildly peppery flavor when mature. Harvest baby mizuna (about 20 days after sowing) to make your own mesclun! Mizuna is technically a cool-season vegetable, though it grows steadily year round for me from 90°F summer afternoons to 40°F winter evenings.

Bloody dock

Bloody Dock
As a member of the sorrel family, it’s also called bloody sorrel, bloody wood dock, bloodwort, or if you prefer a less macabre reference, red-veined dock. Bloody dock is actually a perennial herb that tastes like a tangy spinach. It produces a rosette of green leaves that look like they have little blood vessels running through them. Since the red stems do bleed a bit of color, I use the individual leaves more as an accent in my salads. For being a warm-region plant (hardy from zones 5 and up), bloody dock prefers rather damp conditions, so it’s well suited for areas prone to summer storms.

Butterhead speckles lettuce

Butterhead Speckles Lettuce
And if you don’t believe a salad is a salad without your beloved lettuce, you can try any number of heat-tolerant lettuces from my list, such as the Butterhead Speckles variety. I’ve had success growing a few different heat-tolerant lettuces in summer by starting them in late spring (before the weather turns too hot), and keeping them mulched and moist through most of summer.

Do you grow another summer-lovin’ salad green in your garden? Please share!

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

32 Comments

  • Sharon
    May 11, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    How big of pot do you think I would need for the amaranth? I wanted to try to grow it in a pot. Thank you so much loved this article!

    Reply
  • LaLa Ortiz
    April 17, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    This is so great! Thank you! I love greens, all greens! I like trying different types and rotating regularly to keep from getting too bored and overloaded from any one thing. I’m in NorCal, Sierra Foothills. I get hot Summers and frost in Winters but no snow.

    Where do you buy your seeds?

    Reply
  • Kelly Kelly
    June 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Linda,
    I love your blogs. Do you think it’s okay to buy seeds now and start planting? I’m a complete newbie to gardening. And I have a little balcony. I’d like to plant the yukina savoy and the perpetual spinach.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      October 17, 2016 at 12:09 am

      Hi, we gardeners in California are lucky to live in a year-round growing climate! So yes, you can buy seeds now and start planting. Yukina savoy and perpetual spinach can be started in fall and grown through winter and spring. Just make sure they receive enough sunlight on your balcony (at least 6 hours a day for best results).

      Reply
  • Shulamit Ferber
    March 5, 2016 at 8:34 am

    I was looking for a list like this! thank you

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      March 7, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      You’re welcome. Enjoy!

      Reply
  • jason_darrow
    January 13, 2014 at 2:46 am

    I enjoyed growing Amaranth last summer, but I couldn’t deal with the taste. Ended up not eating it and removing it from my garden.

    My favorite summer plant is Kang Kong (Ipomoea aquatica). It is easy to start from seed or you can root cuttings (roots show in 2-3 days) from the supermarket. It’s super delicious in a stir fry or soup. I live in Asia so just about every supermarket has it. As for the US not sure…

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      January 16, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      I’m not sure if I’ve seen kang kong in an Asian market here, unless it goes by another name. As for the amaranth, the young tender leaves are not as bitter as the mature leaves, but I love them both the same (depending on how I eat or cook them).

      Reply
      • Gregory Carrier
        June 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm

        Kang Kong, aka:
        Ong Choy
        Asian water spinach
        Ipomoea aquatica
        rau muống

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipomoea_aquatica

        Reply
        • Sharon Chu
          June 6, 2021 at 11:20 am

          Also called, “hollow vegetable,” in Chinese. It’s considered an invasive plant in the american south.

          Reply
      • jason_darrow
        October 16, 2016 at 6:40 pm

        Hi, I’m back three years later. I guess I have to eat my words. Now my favorite plant is Amaranth, the Jamaican callaloo cultivar. I guess there is a HUGE difference between Amaranth grown for grain, the kind I grew previously, and Amaranth grown for greens. I no longer grow Kang Kong as it isn’t that versatile. Just had an Amaranth leaf smoothie and everyone loved it.

        Reply
        • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
          October 17, 2016 at 11:38 pm

          I’m so glad you gave it another shot! And yep, big difference between the amaranth plants grown for flowers/seeds versus greens.

          Reply
  • Brian
    June 14, 2013 at 4:28 am

    Now I have to do research on where to get these seeds…:-) Do you know of a place?

    Reply
  • Malina
    May 20, 2013 at 7:25 am

    I just placed my order with Kitawaza for greens. I’m here in South Florida and looking forward to a delicious summer. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    Reply
  • Aaron Gardener
    July 20, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Beautiful photos, Linda. And very inspiring. Although a ‘summer’ vegetable like chard that conks out at 85F wouldn’t stand a chance in a Tennessee summer. We hit a number of 100+ days earlier this month.

    That said, I’m most amazed by how good the greens look. No pest damage visible at all. Do you garden organically? Under row covers? What’s your secret? 🙂

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      July 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks!

      In 100+ degree weather, you can protect the more tender greens under shade, or give them only morning sun.

      I do garden organically. My only secret is growing a good variety of plants, including beneficial plants, and rotating them through my beds every season. Oh, and good compost that I make at home.

      Reply
  • Linda Ly
    July 1, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    You can buy most of these seeds from http://rareseeds.com or http://kitazawaseed.com. I’m sure many other places will have them too.

    Reply
  • v m
    June 26, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I’ve often grumbled the same thing–why no lettuce when the cucumbers and tomatoes are ripe? I was just dealing with it, but a lot of these greens are new to me, so thanks!

    Reply
    • v m
      June 27, 2012 at 8:44 am

      By the way, this post inspired me to finally place an order with Kitawaza and High Mowing seeds, two companies I’d been wanting to check out.

      Reply
  • Julie
    June 24, 2012 at 7:52 am

    I LOVE this post !! I start grumbling once my last kale & spinach bolt and I have to start paying for greens for the first time in like, 7 months. I am going to try to hunt some of these varieties down !

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      I was the same way! I hated buying salad greens in the summer but those (and tomatoes) are two things I can’t just eat seasonally.

      Reply
  • Jeannine Isom
    June 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Great list and most of them completely new to me. Where do you find your plants/seeds?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      I get most of my seeds from http://rareseeds.com and the more exotic Asian varieties can be found at http://kitazawaseed.com.

      Reply
      • Kathy Minnich
        June 29, 2012 at 12:14 am

        Wow, i wanna have some of those seeds. Really like it. How much is that?

        Regards,
        Kathy Minnich
        GMO

        Reply
  • jeannie
    June 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Thanks for this great list! i’ll definitely consider growing some of these yummy leafy greens! It’s hot out here in nyc!

    Reply
  • Bria Phillips
    June 22, 2012 at 8:41 am

    What a great list–thank you! The Red Leaf Amaranth is so beautiful that it seems worth growing even as an ornamental. 

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 26, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      It’s a beautiful landscaping plant. It also reseeds very easily, so this summer I have amaranth all over my yard!

      Reply
  • Jeff Wise
    June 22, 2012 at 7:47 am

    All of those look great and I do live in the south which is blistering hot in the summer.  Can you grow any of those in a planter of some sort?  My yard is just about all rock underneath the dead grass.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      You can definitely grow any of them in a container. Red leaf amaranth can grow pretty tall (6 feet by end of the season) so unless you cut it back regularly, you’d need a large container for it. Malabar spinach needs a trellis to climb. All the other greens are fairly shallow rooted and don’t need much space.

      Reply
      • Sharon
        May 10, 2021 at 8:21 pm

        How big of pot do you think I would need for the amaranth? I wanted to try to grow it in a pot. Thank you so much loved this article!

        Reply

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