If you've always wanted to grow your own food, but don't have the space for a full outdoor garden—or you don't have a lot of time or feel intimidated by learning how to garden in general—container gardening is a good place to get started. You don't need a lot of space, and it's a relatively low level of commitment. You can grow your own greens right on your countertop or in a small outdoor space, like a deck. No weeding required.
With the right materials and a little know-how, you're just weeks away from fresh, homegrown salad greens at your fingertips. Learn how to grow salad greens in a container garden—both indoors and out, plus how to care for your salad container garden. Get answers to your container garden questions in our FAQ section, and learn what types of salad to grow in a container. Plus, see delicious salad recipes to help you enjoy your bounty.
In general, greens are a cool-season crop. Plant in the early spring, pause production during the hottest months, then plant again in late summer for a second harvest in fall. Check your seed packet for exact timing.
Drainage is essential, so select a pot with holes in the bottom. Plastic, glazed or metal is preferable to terra-cotta, which pulls away moisture and causes soil to dry out faster. Salad greens do not have deep roots, so a medium-size vessel will do. If reusing an old container, wash it thoroughly prior to planting.
Fill your container with an organic soilless potting mix, as regular potting soil is too dense and will prevent roots from spreading properly. One at a time, pinch seeds between your fingers and gently place into the soil. Leave approximately 1/2 inch between seeds. Cover the seeds with a scant 1/4 inch of soil.
Keep the soil consistently moist—but not waterlogged. A simple spray bottle will help you deliver just the right amount of moisture without disturbing the newly planted seeds.
Once sprouts emerge, in 2 to 4 weeks, you may find your container a bit overcrowded. Remove seedlings as needed to ensure each plant has enough room to grow, per the instructions on your seed packets.
Once your greens have reached their perfectly crisp-yet-tender peak, either remove the entire plant at the base, or cut the outer leaves with kitchen shears and leave the center intact so new leaves can grow. Maturation times vary widely by variety, anywhere from 45-100 days. Consult your seed packet for a more accurate time frame, but, essentially, you can begin harvesting whenever leaves begin to form. For the freshest, crispest lettuce, harvest early in the morning before the sun begins to wilt the greens.
Wash your greens right before you plan to eat them. Soak leaves in a bath of cold water for about 5 minutes. Swirl the leaves gently with your hand to loosen the debris and then lift them out of the water and into a salad spinner and spin to dry.
Pictured Recipe: Watercress Salad with Grapes, Blue Cheese & Pecans
Mix and match your salad greens for a well-balanced combination of textures—don't be afraid to experiment! Try buttery romaine with peppery arugula; tangy chard with a neutral leaf lettuce or the nutrient-packed pair of spinach and kale. Allow the flavors of your carefully homegrown greens to shine—don't douse them in too much dressing or overwhelm them with add-ins. Toss with a simple vinaigrette, or try one of these recipes where greens steal the show:
Garden centers will likely carry standard grocery-store varieties, but you can find more unique, heirloom varieties at places like Seed Savers Exchange, The Cook's Garden (a division of Burpee), Johnny's Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and High Mowing Organic Seeds.
The types of salad greens you plant are really a matter of personal preference, but we recommend combining several types of greens in one container to ensure you have a mix of colors, textures and flavors. Our top picks:
Related: 9 Salad Greens You Should Try
Growing salad greens indoors can be a bit tricky unless you have a grow light—but a sunny window may yield good results. Follow the same steps listed above.
Technically yes—but you may not always love the results. You can carry your harvest through the winter with the help of a grow light or sunny window indoors. However, greens may be slow to grow with sunlight only. If you're eager to start planting in early spring, you can get a jump start by starting seeds indoors and then moving them outside when weather permits. In most places, the hot summer sun causes greens to bolt (go to seed) and become bitter, although placing your container in shade may help.
If you live in an area with hungry rabbits, consider a container too tall for them to reach, or place the container on your deck or tabletop. To prevent damage from other pests such as insects, cover your container with a fine-mesh netting.