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Four Salads for Winter

This lesson has a grouping of vegetables that are mostly eaten as salad ingredients and grow rapidly. None of them grows in summer, and they are from a selection of plant families.

Other salads such as Oriental leaves, plus rocket and lettuce, are in Lesson 13 (Course 3A) and Lesson 20 respectively. I include some photos of them here for comparison purposes, to show their larger leaves and faster regrowth. They are less hardy to frost than the three featured here.

10th January – corn salad in a -3 °C/27 °F freeze, much stronger than lettuce would be in the same conditions
Four weeks later in February – Valentin lambs lettuce was sown on 14th September and transplanted five weeks later
22nd November – Claytonia, land cress and spinach in the greenhouse, all sown on the same day in September

Three hardy winter salads

1. Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata) is in the Montiaceae family of flowering plants, native to the Americas, in particular to mountainous regions with moist conditions.

Its colloquial name is winter purslane, but it’s not in the Portulaceae/Purslane family.

It’s also called miners lettuce, from its popularity with miners from two very different locations – it was eaten during the 1849 Californian Gold Rush and by tin miners in Cornwall, UK, who (it is said) picked some from the hedgerows to pop in their pasties, before descending.

2. Corn salad (Valerianella locusta) is native to and wild in much of northern Europe and Africa, then was taken to North America and has escaped to grow wild there. Its German name of ‘Feldsalat’ (field salad) reflects how it grows like a weed in disturbed soil, and the English name ‘corn salad’ likewise originates from it growing after harvests of wheat and barley. Other colloquial names are ‘mâche’ and ‘lambs lettuce’.

3. Land cress (Barbara verna) is in the Brassica family, with a pungent mustard flavour very similar to watercress. It’s native to southern Europe and mountainous regions in general, including the Appalachians where it now grows wild. Other names include ‘American land cress’ and ‘upland cress’. It grows in damp soil and is healthiest in the cool of winter.

20th September – showing the contrast of salads in this lesson, with bulkier salads such as rocket and mustards; this is four weeks since transplanting, and we have already picked them twice
Also on 20th September – corn salad is just starting to grow after being sown three weeks earlier
November, and ready for winter – spinach, salad rocket and Claytonia, transplanted a month earlier after clearing runner beans

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: Claytonia – 50, corn salad – 60, land cress – 70

Seeds sown

Late summer

Mid-autumn, mostly before winter

Leaves ready to harvest

Early autumn

Late autumn through winter

  • Best climate is temperate, moist, cool more than hot, can be frosty in winter.

Why grow them

A special attribute of these plants is their hardiness to cold, combined with an extraordinary ability to make new growth in conditions when many other plants do not! They give green leaves through winter when fresh greens are so valuable for our health.

Flavour-wise they are very different. Land cress is pungent, corn salad is nutty and with a waxy leaf, while Claytonia is succulent with soft leaves and not a huge flavour. Corn salad has three times more vitamin C than lettuce.

19th January – a selection of outdoor salad leaves including land cress, chervil and beetroot
Outdoor grown leaves in March – land cress, chard and corn salad, plus a plant of the latter on the right
23rd April – land cress flowers are edible and have a strong cress flavour

Pattern of growth

These are not plants I would attempt to sow in spring for harvesting late spring and summer. They are likely to flower, suffer more pests and grow less healthy leaves – mildew on corn salad that you sow before early autumn, for example.

These plants need regular moisture to keep growing, yet mostly have surface roots. This is partly why it is difficult to grow them in summer, because when the surface dries they suffer, from being unable to root deeply for moisture.

The natural season of leaf growth is autumn through winter, from germination in late summer to early autumn. How much they actually grow in winter depends on the weather. They all survive hard frost, colder than -10° C/14° F, but won’t grow in those temperatures. See the work of Pam Dawling in Virginia USA, who has researched the lowest temperatures for vegetable survival.

Flowering time is early spring and you can easily save seeds then, when you have a few plants growing together to ensure cross-pollination.

November, after an unusual flood has washed a little compost off the surface – you can see the surface roots of corn salad
In the greenhouse in December – Claytonia surface rooting over the edge of a tray, which I have just lifted to show this
Outdoor winter salads – some decent Claytonia and land cress, with some less good endive

Suitable for containers/shade?

These plants are fine for both shade and containers. Their shallow rooting system means that growth is excellent in any kind of box, tray or pot that is not too deep.

The trays I use for winter salad are 10 cm/4 in deep, filled with multipurpose potting or container compost, packed in firmly. Although these plants are not heavy feeders, they crop for several months. To save any need for feeding, it’s good to use compost with sufficient nutrients, such as potting compost.

I compared growth when using different composts, starting in October 2020 with winter salads in four trays, two of which contained commercial compost and two my own compost. Some rocket, mustard and coriander died in my own compost, I think from wet and soggy roots. This shows that when using your own compost in containers, it benefits from a drainage improver such as vermiculite or perlite, about 20%. I shall do that next time!

Salad plants in the photos below are not the only ones of this lesson, but they grow and harvest with the same timings.

  • Sow in September.
  • Transplant into boxes or the ground in October.
  • Harvest through winter, according to the ambient, under cover temperature which regulates growth.
  • Continue picking leaves until flowering initiates in early to mid-spring.
A windowsill planter with salad rocket, sown in September; I find it productive to space plants like this and pick leaf by leaf, rather than to cut across the top
These baby leaves have been sown thickly for cutting, 18 days earlier in mid-September
30th December – many salad plants can withstand a fair amount of frost; the leaves are frozen on these plants in boxes


Claytonia and land cress have not been selected into named varieties. Corn salad is more important commercially and has been bred to produce varieties with attributes like colour and plant size.

Early April – this variegated land cress looks a lot nicer than it tastes, metallic and pungent
Orache is related to fathen – both can be used like spinach, and roach looks lovely in a salad mix; this was sown in February and is now under fleece on 5th April
22nd April – flowering Claytonia in the polytunnel, all edible and a beautiful addition to the salad bowl

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


Either cut the main stems at ground level, or twist out plants to leave most roots in the soil. It’s good to spread some compost in spring, between finishing the winter salads and transplanting summer vegetables.

A cover or mulch of 2.5 cm/1 in of compost will set your soil up nicely for cropping through the whole year.

Under cover, we add 4 cm/1.5 in, because of the intensity of cropping during every month of the year, with both summer and winter vegetables.

1st May in the polytunnel – we just cleared Red Frills mustard, then mulched for the year with compost of old cow manure, before summer plantings

Follow with

These plants are efficient at growing in space that would otherwise be unused in winter. Then they finish in spring, in time for any subsequent planting.

There are few implications related to rotation, and only land cress is related to commonly grown vegetables. You could still follow it with, say, cabbage, if that’s what you want to grow in that bed. It’s a free choice.

Cutting corn salad in early February is a slow job; for once, the cat is not in my way!
30th March – the same bed, and you can more easily see the strawberry plants I put in during late autumn, and the mulch of homemade compost
9th May – I have just twisted out the last corn salad, while the strawberries are now flowering