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Leafy greens for the summer garden

The end of the spring lettuce and spinach harvest doesn’t mean we have to wait until fall to enjoy home-grown leafy greens. In addition to the kales and collards we know and love there is a world of heat tolerant leafy green crops that grow well in Maryland. These plants tend to grow rapidly and quickly fill their allotted space. They can all be eaten fresh or cooked and can help you introduce new textures, flavors, and culinary accents to your kitchen table.

Find local and online seed sources for these crops and follow planting instructions on seed packets and on seed company websites. Most of the leafy greens below can be treated as cut-and-come-again crops: they put on new growth below each harvesting cut.

Leafy green vegetables are some of the easiest and most nutritious crops our garden can produce. Of course, with any new crop it may take several years of growing and experimenting to decide if it will work for you and the people who eat from your garden.

Leafy (vegetable) amaranth
Amaranthus tricolor (Chinese spinach)
Amaranthus viridis (callaloo, also known as slender amaranth)
Tri-color amaranth is lower growing than callaloo, a popular plant in Jamaica and other countries

Callaloo plant in Baltimore Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Tokyo Bekana (Brassica rapa Var. Chinensis) – fast growing, light green color, mild flavor

Vitamin Green (Brassica rapa Napa group) – a non-heading type of Chinese cabbage with thick stems and large cupped leaves

Malabar spinach (Basella alba; green stem and Basella rubra; red stem) – a vigorous leafy vine that thickens soups and stews (mucilaginous); can also be sautéed

Red Malabar spinach climbing on a trellis in the UME Master Gardener Demo Garden in Montgomery Co. Photo credit Bill Newman

New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides) is a low growing annual with a spreading habit that has somewhat fuzzy, arrow shaped leaves and mild spinach flavor

New Zealand spinach plant- Agriculture Victoria. Photo: A.J. Brown

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) – a fairly well-known garden plant. Mid-ribs are thick and wide and leaf and stem color varies greatly between cultivars. Can produce a large amount of leaf! ‘Perpetual Spinach’ (a.k.a. leaf beet) is closely related and can also be grown through the summer.

“Bright Lights’ cultivar of Swiss chard. Photo credit: Ria Malloy

Molokhia (Corchorus olitorius), known as Egyptian spinach, an important plant in Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Higher in vitamins and minerals than most other leafy greens. This is the jute plant, known for its strong fibers. Young leaves can be eaten fresh, sautéed, or used to thicken soups and stews.

 Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) – young leaves and stems are excellent in many top-of-the-stove dishes. Harvesting leaves, even on a regular basis, will not reduce your sweet potato harvest.

Sweet potato plants growing in containers. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Roselle hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) originated in India and is grown throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. This plant is in the Malvaceae family along with cotton and okra. One type of roselle is grown for its strong fibers. The type grown for leafy greens comes both in red stem and green stem forms. The leaves have a compelling lemon-sour flavor similar to garden sorrel. It’s also grown for its fleshy calyx from which gardeners make tea, juice, and preserves.

Green stem roselle growing in a Howard Co. community garden. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld
Red stem roselle after a harvest Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld


By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist

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