Different Ways to Grow Leafy Greens: Indoors vs Outdoors. Hydroponics vs Soil

Leafy greens

Green leafy vegetables are easy to grow, and they are much tastier when freshly picked and grown at home. They are also adaptable and can be grown indoors or outdoors, in containers or the ground, with hydroponics or soil. Making them the perfect crop for the novice gardener who wants to grow tasty, nutritious veggies.

Close up of leafy green lettuce

Lettuce is an especially forgiving crop that can be harvested at the baby stage or allowed to fully mature. Leaf lettuces can be harvested throughout the growing season or can be planted in succession to keep a constant supply of fresh, delicious greens on the table. 

Let’s look at some of the different ways you can choose to grow your greens. 

Growing Indoors Vs. Growing Outdoors

Indoor gardening is a good option for those who don’t have access to a yard or much space outside. The benefits include year-round lettuces, protection from disease, sunburn, early bolting, and pests. They’re also right there and ready for harvest whenever you want a homegrown salad. The drawbacks include needing a little more monitoring, but since the plants are indoors, it’s easier to care for them. You also need a good space for the plants and some more equipment to get started, but the tradeoffs are worth it for many gardeners.

Leaf lettuces are especially good choices that can be grown in containers without a lot of setup. Choose a safe space away from drafts or heat sources, and make sure your pets can’t get to your seedlings. A very sunny south-facing window that ticks all of those boxes would be a great option. If you don’t have any place that fits the bill, you’ll also probably need to get some artificial lights to supplement.

Outdoor gardening is a great option for those who have the space, too. Outdoor plants planted in a sunny spot won’t need any extra light supplementation. You won’t need as much equipment to get started, and you probably will have a bit more space to grow. Plants that are planted directly in the ground tend to need a bit less maintenance. However, outdoor leafy greens are more subject to the elements and weather since they’re not in a climate-controlled environment. Leafy greens can become bitter or bolt early if the weather is unusually hot. 

Outdoor gardening is a good choice for head lettuce varieties, collards, kale, and cabbages. These types of green leafies require more room to fully develop and can be a bit more difficult to tackle indoors.

Growing Hydroponically Vs. Growing in Soil

lettuce seedlings in dirt
lettuce seedlings growing hydroponically

Hydroponic gardening is an option many gardeners choose for leafy greens. It’s simply growing crops in water rather than soil. 

Hydroponically grown leafy greens require a specialized nutrient mix to thrive. There are many reasons people choose hydroponics for their leafy greens. 

Hydroponics grow much faster - 30%-50%! That allows the home gardener to fit in more plantings faster and allows you to learn quickly. 

Hydroponics also have the advantage of being in a controlled environment relatively free of pests, weeds, and disease.

Hydroponics can be grown vertically for those who are short on space. If you only have a small area to grow in, a small vertical farm can provide a lot more veggies per square foot. 

Since these plants aren’t having to establish deep root systems to search for water and nutrients, hydroponic plants can be planted much more densely. 

Growing in soil might be the better choice for you, though. Hydroponic systems rely on mineral fertilizers and cannot truly be grown organically if that is your goal. And although they can produce quick yields, hydroponic plants tend to be more delicate and are less resilient than plants grown in soil. 

The ins and outs of hydroponic gardening take some learning, and the initial startup costs of a hydroponic system are significantly higher than with a soil-grown garden of green leafies. 

Hobbyist gardeners can get a lot of satisfaction with a packet of seeds and a space to grow in.

Explore What Works for You

Ultimately, it all comes down to your situation and individual goals. Whatever method you choose to garden, leafy greens are a great bet for year-round vegetables. But if what you’ve tried in the past isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to experiment with something new. You might find that you enjoy having a mix of indoor, outdoor, soil-grown, and hydroponically-grown leafy greens. Or what worked for you in a different location might not be the right choice for now.

Stay open and curious, and most of all, enjoy gardening!

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