What Is Escarole: Learn How To Grow Escarole In The Garden
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By: Amy Grant
Among the wonderful varieties of greens available to grow late in the season there is escarole. What is escarole? Keep reading to find out how to grow escarole and how to take care of escarole.
What is Escarole?
Escarole, related to endive, is a cool season biennial commonly cultivated as an annual. Like chard, kale, and radicchio, escarole is a hearty green that thrives late in the growing season. Escarole has smooth, broad, green leaves that are commonly used in salad. The flavor of escarole is less bitter than other members of the endive family, very much akin to the taste of radicchio. It grows from a large rosette of light green leaves that gradate outwards to dark green on the outer edges.
Escarole is high in vitamins A and K as well as folic acid. Usually eaten raw, escarole is also sometimes lightly cooked with a simple wilting of the green or chopped into soup.
How to Grow Escarole
Plant escarole in full sun in well-draining soil that is amended with compost to aid in water retention. The soil should have a pH of 5.0 to 6.8.
Propagation from seed should start four to six weeks before the last average frost date for your area. Seeds can also be started indoors for later transplantation eight to ten weeks before the last average frost date. While they are more tolerant of heat than lettuce, the plan when growing escarole plants is to have them harvestable before temps regularly get into the 80’s. It takes 85 to 100 days until it’s time for harvesting escarole.
Sow the seeds ¼ inch (6 mm.) deep and 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) apart. Thin the seedlings to 6 to 12 inches (15-31 cm.) apart. Growing escarole plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches (46-61 cm.) apart.
Care of Escarole
Keep the escarole plants consistently moist. Allowing the plants to dry out too frequently will result in bitter greens. Side dress the escarole plants with compost midway through their growing season.
Escarole is often blanched. This entails covering the plant to deprive it of sunlight. This slows the production of chlorophyll, which can make the greens bitter. Blanch escarole two to three weeks before harvesting when the exterior leaves are 4 to 5 inches (10-13 cm.) long. You can blanch several different ways.
The most common methods are to simply pull the outer leaves together and secure them with a rubber band or string. Make sure the leaves are dry so they don’t rot. You could also cover the plants with a flower pot or use your imagination and come up with another solution.
The point is to deprive the escarole of sunlight. Blanching takes between two and three weeks at which time you can begin harvesting.
Escarole can be sown every two weeks beginning in midsummer for continuous crops through the growing season or in areas with mild winters, in the spring, fall, and winter. It can also be easily grown in pots for those without an actual garden plot.
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How to Grow Escarole
Escarole (Cichorium endivia var. latifolium) is an endive variety that belongs to the chicory family. This vegetable, which is a popular staple in salads, has broad, flat leaves and can grow up to 2 feet in height. Escarole can grow as a spring crop or fall crop. Because hot weather can make escarole bitter and tough, it's best planted in fall and harvested in winter, in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 8 and higher. When planted in fertile soil and provided with a consistent water supply, escarole can thrive in temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Endive and Escarole Sowing and Planting Tips
- Endive and escarole seeds are viable for 6 years.
- Endive and escarole can be grown from seeds or transplants.
- Start plants indoors 8 weeks before the last frost or direct sow into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked—usually about 4 weeks before the last frost in spring.
- The optimal growing air temperature is 50°-75°F (10-24°C).
- Sow seed ¼ inch (6 mm) deep.
- Sow seeds 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) apart later thin seedlings to 6 to 9 inches (15-23 cm) apart.
- Seed germinates in 19 to 14 days at or near 70°F (21°C)—but sometimes seed can take up to 2 weeks to germinate if the soil is cold.
- Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds germinate then keep the soil moist until seedlings are well established.
- For intensive planting space plant 10 inches (25 cm) apart in a staggered pattern.
- Make sure there is good air circulation around maturing plants to avoid disease.
- Endive and escarole grow best in full sun but can tolerate light shade.
- Endive and escarole prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8.
- Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing compost will feed the soil and aide moisture retention.
- Avoid planting endive and escarole where radicchio has recently grown.
- Make successive sowings every few weeks for an extended harvest.
- Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.
- Aphids, flea beetle, leafhoppers, snails, and slugs can attack endive and escarole.
Interplanting: Interplant with non-heading lettuce, radishes, turnips, and parsnips.
Container Growing: Grow one plant in a 6-inch (15 cm) pot or grow on 10-inch centers in a large container.
As long as the temperatures are right, you can put endive in the ground any time of year.
Many people sow seeds in the early spring, but you can also plant in the early fall or winter if you have enough good growing days between the first and last average frost date and the heat of summer.
You’ll need about 45-100 growing days, depending on the cultivar.
The ideal average air temps for growing are between 60 and 65°F, though they can handle a broader range than that. A light frost won’t hurt them and can even improve the flavor of the leaves, but a hard freeze will kill off most cultivars.
Like lettuce, if endive gets too much heat, the leaves become bitter and tough, and the plant bolts.
That said, particularly curly varieties, are more resistant to bolting in the heat than lettuce, surviving temps into the mid-80s with some shade during the hottest part of the day.
Just to give you an idea of growing options, in states like Florida and Arizona, it’s grown September through April.
In cooler areas like northern Minnesota, it’s possible to grow endive during most of the summer. In the UK and the Pacific Northwest, gardeners may grow endive from February through October.
Now that you know when to plant, it’s time to prep the soil.
Endive needs well-draining, water-retentive soil that is rich and loamy, with a pH between 6.5 and 7.8.
Test your soil before planting to figure out if you need to add any nutrients or adjust the pH. To amend sandy soil, add well-rotted manure or compost. To loosen clay soil, add compost or rotted leaf mulch.
Put seeds in the ground outdoors on a date when you have enough time for the plants to reach maturity, and when temperatures will be in the right range.
For many people, this means planting as soon as the last frost has passed in the spring, or 45-90 days before the first frost in the fall.
Seeds won’t germinate when temperatures are over about 80°F or below 35°F. Temperatures in the 60s are ideal for germination.
If you don’t have enough ideal growing days in your area, you can start plants indoors and then transplant them when the weather is right.
Start seeds about six weeks before the estimated last frost date in your area and transplant outdoors after the last frost date.
For fall planting, start them indoors 45-90 days before the average first frost date in your area.
Sow seeds outdoors 1/4 inch deep every few inches or so, in rows 18 inches apart. Thin the seedlings to 12 inches apart once they’ve emerged.
Adjust this recommendation based on the specific cultivar you choose, as some will need more or less space to grow.
Some cultivars are self-blanching (we’ll talk more about this in a bit). If you choose one of these, thin your endive to about eight inches apart to encourage self-blanching.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, though. Even plants that aren’t self-blanching can be made to be so.
All you need to do is put the plants four to five inches apart in the garden. As they grow, the heads mash up against each other, and the leaves in the center are naturally forced closed.
Planting this close could encourage pests and diseases to take hold, however, so you’ll need to be extra careful to use good gardening practices to prevent problems.
That means watering at the soil level rather than on the leaves, keeping weeds out, fertilizing appropriately, and checking plants every day for signs of problems.
Regardless of spacing, keep the soil moist but not wet as the seeds germinate and grow.
Indoors, sow in 3/4-inch plug trays filled with a seed starting mix. Keep the growing medium moist and put the trays in a cool area.
Give them 12-16 hours under a grow light per day rather than relying on the natural light from a window to help prevent damping off.
You should see the plants beginning to emerge after about seven days.
Harden them off so that they’re ready to go outdoors once they’ve reached a few inches tall, by reducing the amount that you water and setting them outside in a protected spot for an hour or so.
The next day, put them out for two hours. Do three hours on the third day and so on, until they can sit outside all day hours.
Then, plant as you would a transplant.
From Seedlings or Transplants
You may be able to purchase transplants at your local nursery or garden center, which is ideal if you want to get a head-start on getting these in the ground, or you want the flexibility to plant them a little later.
To transplant, dig a hole in prepared soil that is the same size as the container it was growing in.
Gently remove the plant from its growing container and lower it in place in the hole. Tamp the soil around it to secure it in position. Give the plant plenty of water to help it settle.
Caring for Chicory
Make sure to water evenly throughout the season. Too much water, however, should be avoided to prevent rot. Don’t let chicory dry out entirely, either. Plants need 1 to 2 inches of water per week.
Keep weeds away from your chicory plants. Weeds tend to outcompete chicory and spread disease, which is why you should focus on removing them immediately.
In hot, dry climates, mulch to conserve moisture so that your plants don’t dry out.
Apply a nitrogen fertilizer about a month after your chicory plants have been transplanted outdoors. Don’t overfertilize, though, it may lead to weak root growth and misshapen heads.
Stagger your plantings for a continuous harvest and store witloof roots for successive forcing during the winter months.
If you’ve ever had a salad that tasted quite bitter, it probably had one or both of these leafy greens mixed in.
• This information can be found in The Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Book by Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing
They are different forms of the same plant – endive has curly or crinkly-edged leaves and a sharp, somewhat bitter taste escarole is hardier with flat, somewhat thicker leaves and a less bitter flavor.
Grow them exactly like you would their close relative lettuce. They both get more bitter in warm weather, so plant them in late winter for late spring harvest, or plant in late summer and early fall for early winter harvest. They take up to 90 days or more to mature, but you can harvest outer leaves as their loose heads begin to mature.
Good varieties to start with are ‘Coral’ which is slow to bolt and well-flavored, ‘Sinco’, and ‘Taglio’ which matures early and tolerates a wide range of growing conditions. Also look for ‘Florida Deep Heart’ or ‘Green Curled’.