By: Elisabeth Ginsburg
When temperatures heat up in early summer, the tender lettuces of spring bolt, choosing to obey the biological imperative and produce flowers and seeds instead of toothsome leaves. Gardeners understand the process, but those of us who are salad lovers still crave home-grown greens to complement bold summer veggies like tomatoes and peppers. Fortunately, salad salvation is easy to find in the form of heat-tolerant greens.
These leafy garden favorites range from low-growing plants perfect for container culture to statuesque specimens that can serve as anchor plants in ornamental potagers or edible landscapes. Seeds or starter plants for these summer-loving salad species are easy to obtain from garden centers or online vendors. Plant them in high-quality planting media, like Fafard Premium Topsoil or Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix, and you can raise a steady supply of cool greens in even the hottest weather.
Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla): Possibly the most glamorous member of the beet family, spinach-like Swiss chard has been fashionable for the last decade or so because it is as beautiful as it is delicious. Varieties like ‘Orange Chiffon’ or ‘Bright Lights’ dominate the vegetable garden with leaves, stems, veins or ribs that shine in shades of green, red, orange, pink, bronze, purple or silver. Chard is versatile and can be grown in-ground or in large containers. In the heat of summer, harvest the young leaves regularly for salads. Later on, reap mature leaves and stems for cooked dishes.
Malabar Spinach (Basella rubra): Gardeners who crave greens and live with space limitations can harvest tasty leaves all summer by growing Malabar spinach, a twining, climbing plant, native to Africa. Though unrelated to true spinach, the mild-tasting, crinkled leaves thrive in hot weather and can be harvested young for salads. Striking reddish stems and older leaves lend a spinach or chard-like flavor to cooked dishes. Malabar spinach is a perennial, but can be grown as an annual in cold winter climates. Planted in-ground or in containers, the vines should be trained on trellises or pillars for best results.
New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides): Another good spinach or chard-like green is New Zealand spinach, also a vining plant that can reach up to 2 feet tall when tied to a support. Featuring thick, pointed, green leaves, New Zealand spinach thrives best in a consistently moist environment. Harvest leaves regularly throughout the summer to promote continued production of fresh, tasty foliage. The plants tend to be prolific self seeders, but removal of flower stalks will control this problem.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea var. sativa): Step on a crack in midsummer and you may find yourself right on top of one of the most nutritious and heat-tolerant summer greens. Known as “verdolaga” in Spanish, common purslane is a low-growing, plant with mild, lemon-flavored leaves. Cultivated varieties, like ‘Gruner Red’ and ‘Goldberg’ golden purslane, are larger than the wild types, with a somewhat upright habit. The species relatively diminutive nature makes it easy to grow in pots. Pinch back growing tips to stimulate bushy leaf growth and prevent the flower formation that leads to weedy proliferation. Harvest leaves regularly.
Vegetable Amaranth (Amaranthus tricolor and other species): Related to the much-loved garden annual, love-lies-bleeding, vegetable amaranth is well known as an heirloom seed or grain producing plant. In many cultures cooks have long harvested the nutritious, edible leaves throughout the growing season for salads, as well as traditional soups and stews. Extremely heat tolerant, amaranth plants quickly grow 2 to 5 feet tall, depending on species and variety, thriving in warm weather with relatively little supplemental water. Amaranth leaves are often decorative enough to hold their own in a mixed-use, ornamental/edible planting scheme and may be marked with green, red, or a combination of the two colors. Terminal shoots should be pinched to promote branching.
Sea Purslane, Mountain Spinach, Orach (Atriplex hortensis): Annual orach is a slightly spicy green that will also add a colorful kick to edible landscapes. The tall stalks top out at 5 to 6 feet tall in summer, bearing pointed leaves that may be green, shades of pink and red, gold or purple. Eaten fresh or cooked, orach leaves grow on plants that are both heat and cold tolerant. Golden-leafed varieties are prized in Europe for fine flavor.
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