11 January 2017

Winter salad leaves

I love the hearty stews, roasts and other comfort food we all eat in winter, but sometimes I get the urge for a good salad. Particularly post Christmas, when it is easy to feel one has over-indulged during the festive periods. It is good to get a bit inventive with winter salads, and I like to include things like julienned root veg, citrus fruit and finely sliced sprouts, but a few interesting leaves always help meld a salad together. Many gardeners grow salad leaves in summer, but far fewer grow them in winter. There are in fact many salad leaves that will grow in winter. Here a few to have a go with.

Because of the low temperatures and reduced daylight hours of winter, winter salads grow much more slowly than their summer counterparts. Many need to be sown in late summer or early autumn, at a time when sowing winter salads might not be at the forefront of your mind. Getting the sowing time right is important - too early and they will run to seed, too late and they won't put on enough growth before winter sets in. Access to a greenhouse or polytunnel will increase the range of salads you can grow in winter, but many can be grown in open ground, under a cloche, or in pots in a cold frame, particularly in milder parts of the UK. If you want to keep your winter salads going all winter, you might have to be a circumspect about how much you harvest, or grow quite a lot. That said, a few large pots sown with a variety of winter salads should give you enough leaves to make an interesting salad when combined with a shop-bought lettuce. Quite a few winter salads can have powerful flavours, so I try to grow some milder ones too to have a good balance of flavour in the salad bowl.



Most varieties of mustard are at least semi-hardy and will withstand mild frosts without protection. Stick them in a cold frame or under a cloche if cold weather is forecast. The hardiest variety I've grown is the aptly named 'green in snow', which will happily sit through spells of cold weather. A variety I like to grow for winter is mizuna, which has large frilly leaves and a relatively mild flavour. Ideally winter mustards should be sown in late August/early September, but can be sown until early October. October-sown seeds can be left during the winter for an early spring crop.


Rocket seeds are sold in a number of varieties, a popular one of which is called wild rocket. This variety produces the relatively thin leaves with serrated edges. It is reasonably hardy, and will over-winter in mild areas or with a little protection. Sow in August for a winter crop.

Corn salad

Corn salad

Corn salad, also known as mache or lamb's lettuce, has a relatively mild and slightly floral flavour. It can be direct sown in the ground or in pots and is pretty hardy. Cut off individual leaves or whole florets as you need them. I sown in August if direct sowing in the ground. You can get away with sowing them in a pot well into September, particularly in a cold frame.



Claytonia is one of my favourite winter salads. It has a mild refreshing flavour and attractive heart-shaped leaves with a slightly crunchy texture. Not only is it very hardy, but it continues to put on growth in all but the coldest weather, and can therefore be harvested more heavily than most winter salads. It is also known as winter purslane and miners lettuce, and can play a lettuce-like role in a the salad bowl. It can be sown between late August and late September. I find it does best in a pot.


Many gardeners sow broad beans in late Autumn for a crop in late spring/early summer. In milder areas peas can also be overwintered. While you're at it, sow some extra beans or peas fairly densely and harvest them as salad leaves through winter. Both broad beans and peas will put on some growth during milder winter weather. The good news is that both can be sown relatively late: peas throughout October and broad beans well into November. Just remember to sow hardy varieties. Aquadulce claudia for broad beans and Meteor for peas are my favourites.

Land cress

Like its relative watercress, land cress has a hot peppery flavour and makes a good addition to many salads. It should be sown in late August/early September and is hardy enough not to need protection. In recent years I have stopped growing it, as I have enough wild bittercress growing in the garden to satisfy my winter cress needs.

Baby kale

Kale can be grown as a micro leaf for eating raw.  It is also possible to harvest the younger leaves from more mature plants for use in the salad bowl, which is what I do. From about mid winter, kale plants start to produce small secondary leaves down their stem (where sprouts appear on a Brussels sprout plant), and these are ideal for the salad bowl. For mature kale plants over winter, sow the previous May and plant out in mid summer. Young kale plants can be sown in late summer, though I find germination can be a bit patchy.

Cavolo nero

Allium stems

If you grow garlic or over-wintering onions from sets, you usually end up with a few left over sets. (Sets are small onions brought on specifically for planting). These can be planted fairly densely into a pot, and either the stems harvested like chives over winter or the whole plant like spring onions. If you put the pot in a greenhouse or coldframe the young alliums will come on quicker. Plant at the same time as you would the maincrop, ie September/October for onions or November/December for garlic.


  1. Great post Aaron. I sort of feel rubbish that I haven't done the same!

    1. Thanks Danny! And don't beat yourself up over it, there'll be another winter when you can grow some salad leaves...

  2. I,too, crave salad greens in winter. Something about that post-holiday feeling and wanting a fresh start, I guess. Plus, as you say, winter salads help to cut the richness of roasts and stews. Thanks for this list.

    1. Please you enjoyed the post Domenica. I hope you're able to source some tasty and interesting greens at your farmers market. A