Growing Mustard Greens

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growing mustard greens in the garden

Mustard leaves are pretty, curly, and flavorful.

Eaten fresh or cooked, the beautiful curly mustard leaves flavor dishes with a hint of spiciness.

Mustard greens are fast growing, nutritious leafy greens. They’re perfect for gardens and containers in both spring and fall. Although not quite as cold hardy as their cousins, collards and kale, piquant mustard greens do tolerate a light frost, which makes their leaves sweeter. In areas where there are no killing freezes, gardeners enjoy growing mustard greens all winter long. The mustard patch is a pretty sight in the cool season garden. The leafy plants are easy to care for and good companions to fall flowers such as pansies.

Mustard greens grow in a rosette of leaves up to about a foot-and-a-half tall. You can simmer the big peppery greens or pick smaller, young leaves to eat raw in salads and sandwiches.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Mustard green seedlings planted in the garden with straw mulch.

Before you plant the seedlings from our pots, separate them into a few clumps to get stronger plants faster.

Mustard leaves grow fast and most tender in moist, rich soil. Sun is ideal, but because they make only leaves and not fruit, they are a little more tolerant of shade than fruiting vegetables like tomatoes. Enrich the soil by spreading 3 to 6 inches of compost over the area you plan to plant. Then turn it into the ground or raised bed with a digging fork. For pots, use a premium quality potting mix. It always seems early when it’s time to plant mustard, but it pays to plan ahead. For fall harvests, set plants in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the first expected frost. In spring, you can start about 4 weeks ahead of the last frost date and continue planting a little after.

Our plants are thickly seeded in their pot. You may set them out as they are, but they will grow faster and give you more if you take a little time to separate the seedlings. Gently tease the seedlings apart into 3 to 6 clumps. Be careful not to tear up the roots. If they don’t tease apart gently, you can cut the clump in half with a knife and in half again. Space clumps 12 inches apart for traditional mustard greens, 12 to 18 inches apart for Japanese Giant Red Mustard.

Mustard greens and kale growing in a garden covered with row cover hoops.

In colder climates, you can grow mustard greens under a hoop house covered in row cover or plastic to protect them from hard freezes. These greens are grown towards the back with kale in front.

Mulch with wheat straw to keep plants moist. It takes about 10 to 12 plants to supply two people with fresh greens plus extra to freeze and use during warmer weather.

Mustard grows fast, so you can begin picking leaves in about 4 weeks, when the leaves are 6 to 8 inches long. Left alone, leaves reach their full size of 15 to 18 inches long in about 6 weeks. To maintain the rapid leafy growth, the plant needs fertilizer. Feed with liquid Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food weekly if you are harvesting often, or bi-weekly otherwise.

If your family enjoys mustard greens, consider planting every 2 to 3 weeks for successive waves of young flavorful greens growing into prime size.

Remember, optimum growth and flavor depends on moist soil. When plants grow under stressful conditions such as drought or heat, the leaves can become unpleasantly spicy for most tastes. Keep the soil evenly moist.

Troubleshooting

Mustard greens flower when the weather warms. The blooms are pretty in the garden and in arrangements.

When the weather warms in summer, mustard greens will send up a flower stalk and produce yellow flowers. The plants should be pulled up at this point, but the flowers will make a beautiful arrangement.

Although mustard greens don’t have many problems, you will need to protect them from cabbage loopers and imported cabbageworms. Flea beetles can also feed on leaves. Floating row covers are a great way to protect the greens without pesticides, or you can spray them with product containing “Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis), for the caterpillars, or insecticidal soap or a pyrethrin-based spray for the beetles. Clubroot is a disease that plagues mustard and other members of the cabbage family. Have your soil tested and apply the lime necessary to maintain a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8 to discourage clubroot. Also, change the layout of your garden each season so members of the cabbage family don’t grow in an area but once every 3 years.

Harvest and Storage

Mustard greens harvested before a freeze.

Mustard greens are not as cold hardy as kale and collards. If you expect a hard freeze, pick your mustard greens and refrigerate. A large harvest will cook down to a good-sized nutritious side dish.

There are two ways to harvest greens. You may pick only the large, outer leaves leaving the center to continue growing and producing more greens. Or you can treat the plant in a cut-and-come again fashion, cutting all the leaves to 3 to 4 inches from the ground and leaving the stub to re-grow. Remember, young leaves have a milder flavor for salads. Mustard greens tolerate frosts and brief temperature dips into the 20′s, but succumb to hard freezes. Like other greens, cold sweetens their flavor.

FAQs

How much water do mustard greens need? Are they drought tolerant?

Mustard greens need a steady supply of water – if it’s not raining enough, water at the first sign of wilt. If watering, apply an inch of water in one watering to encourage deep rooting. More frequent, light watering encourages roots to stay near the soil surface, which makes plants susceptible to drought.

I was weeding yesterday, and today the mustard greens are wilted, even though the soil is moist. What is going on?

Many leafy vegetables – and mustard is one of them – have shallow root systems. As you weeded, if you chopped into soil deeply with a hoe, you might have sliced some mustard roots. Mulch around wilting plants with an organic material (straw, pine needles, chopped leaves, grass clippings) to conserve soil moisture and help protect undamaged roots. Harvest larger, outer leaves from plants that are wilting. This will give existing roots fewer leaves to support. Keep the soil moist, and plants should recover. In the future, hand-pull weeds around greens or go after them when they’re young and tender, so that a gentle scuffle of the hoe removes them.

My mustard greens have started to flower. Can I keep picking leaves?

Mustard is a cool-season vegetable. That means it will naturally start producing flowers when summer’s long, warm days arrive. If you spot flower stalks, you can taste a leaf and see what you think. You may find the flavor too strong and the texture tough. When plants start to flower, it’s time to pull and compost the crop.

Green worms are eating the edges of my mustard greens. Can I spray anything that will kill the worms without hurting my family or pets?

Cabbageworm likes to eat mustard greens. If you’ve noticed a white moth fluttering among the greens, that’s the source of your worms. Spray mustard greens with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control the worms. Bt doesn’t affect humans or wildlife; you can harvest leaves immediately after spraying. Bt targets worms, which die after ingesting it. After you spray Bt, worms may take a few bites from the leaves, but they’ll soon stop feeding and die.

My mustard leaves have squiggly, brownish to transparent lines in them that twist and turn all over the leaf. What is doing this?

Leaf miners are munching their way across your mustard greens. They’re difficult to control because they actually eat inside the leaves, instead of staying on the surface. The best control is to remove affected leaves or the parts of leaves that are affected. Destroy these leaves – don’t compost them.

When should I harvest mustard greens? How do I pick them?

You’ll savor the best flavor when you pick leaves that are young and tender. To harvest, you can cut the entire plant, which is what commercial growers do, or pick just a few leaves. If you’re not cutting the whole plant, pick individual leaves, starting from the outside of a plant. Outer leaves are larger and more mature. By picking these and allowing inner leaves to remain, you’re assured of a continued harvest over time. Toss wilted or yellow leaves on the compost pile.

I picked mustard greens last week and the patch still looks sparse. Is there anything I can do to jump-start growth?

Give your plants a boost by applying fish emulsion or a conventional liquid fertilizer such as 20-20-20 at the rate recommended on the label. Applying one of these fast-acting liquid fertilizers after picking will help plants push out a few new leaves.

16 thoughts on “Growing Mustard Greens

  1. if my kale has yellow leaves in them what do i do or what are they needing also same for my mustard greens and turnip greens

    • Hi Catrina,
      Have the vegetables been fertilized since they were planted? All these veggies are fast growers and need nutrients to maintain their fast growth. Yellowing leaves is an indication that it is time to fertilize. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. I have a small container of mustard greens on my balcony and they are being devoured by a few little green inch worms. Any natural pesticide for these guys?

    • Hi Linda,
      Sounds like you have encountering the common cabbage looper (or other species of cabbage worms). The troubleshooting tab on this page goes into detail on organic pesticides and floating row covers. No doubt you will harvesting your mustard greens soon – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. We planted mustard greens (among other vegetables) in a large planter box. The mustards are doing well, but have a lot of yellow flowers. Do the flowers Inhibit the growth oh the mustards in any way? Should we clip the flowers off the plants or just leave them alone?

    • Hello Janice,
      When mustard greens start to flower, they are nearing the end of the life cycle. You can clip off all the yellow flowers, but you may find that the greens start to have a bitter taste after they flower, and it is better to pull the plant. The pretty yellow flowers can be used in arrangements. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. Why do people plant fields of flowering mustard, but never harvest?

    • Hello Louise,
      Many farmers and gardeners use mustards as a cover crop. Cover crops porvide the gardener with many benefits – from the prevention of soil erosion, capturing of Nitrogen for future crops, as well as overall soil health. This is a cover crop guide from Cornell University extension that you may find handy. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. I read somewhere that it was good to plant mustard greens around the base of your fruit trees, have you ever heard of this?

    • Hi Rodney,
      You are talking about companion planting, planting different plants together that benefit each other in some way. I have not heard of mustard greens and fruit trees, but Cornell Extension has a great list of suggested vegetable combinations to try together. -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. i’m building a grow box using a packing pallet to plant mustard greens. I need to know how deep the roots of the mustard plant goes so i can put in enough soil. will a foot of soil be enough.

    • Hi Donna,
      A foot of soil will be plenty! A lot of the greens can be grown in 6 – 8 inches of soil. -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  7. My first time ever having a mosquito plant. I live in Michigan. If I plant it outdoors will it be back next yr or will the frost totally kill it?

    • Hi Anne,

      You’re probably only going to get away with growing mosquito plant as an annual in your area. You can, however, get a cutting from your plant this summer, keep it indoors over the winter, then replant next spring if you’d like. Read about how this is done at the end of the Soil, Planting, and Care tab above. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  8. hi, why such a bitter taste when picked. would it help to refrig.after cutting.thanks,alan ps the plants are really healthy we do live in hou tx no cool weather here.

    • Hi Alan,

      Glad your mustard greens are growing well! These greens have a unique, peppery, even pungent flavor that some people love and others don’t. Frost will sweeten the flavor of mustard greens, but as you say, you don’t get a lot of frost in Houston! Refrigerating the greens may temper that flavor a bit, but don’t leave them in there too long and let them wilt. If you do, chop them up and use them in omelettes!

      Happy growing,
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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