Endive is a leafy green that’s typically used in salads, but is also delicious cooked into soups or enjoyed on its own. Endive can be a loose-headed plant with frilly leaves called curly endive or broadleaf endive, called escarole. Both types of endive are cool-season plants that grow best before temperatures reach 75 degrees.
How to Grow Endive & Escarole
Endive can be direct seeded into the garden as soon as soil temperatures warm to 45 degrees. Endive will bolt (send up a flower stalk) if temperatures get too hot too quickly. Look for short-season varieties like those that can reach maturity in 45 days. Be sure to time plantings with cool weather and provide some shade for plants later in the season.
- Select a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day, but has some shade as well. Amend the garden soil (or large container) with compost or well-aged manure.
- Set up a watering system using drip irrigation or soaker hose to make sure the vegetable bed stays sufficiently moist.
- Select the endive or escarole varieties that match your taste and plant seeds ¼-inch deep in rows, 3 inches apart. Rows should be at least 18 inches apart.
- Wait for seeds to germinate and for plants to grow several inches tall before thinning. Depending on the variety of endive or escarole, plants may need to be thinned to as far as 8 inches apart.
- Give plants plenty of space because crowding can cause plants to bolt. Use the thinnings to top fresh green salads.
- Make sure plants receive adequate water to keep the soil moist, but not oversaturated. If the soil was adequately amended, you may not need to add additional fertilizer. However, for varieties that take 90 days to mature, a mid-season boost of a well-balanced fertilizer will keep plants growing.
- Watch for insect pest damage, such as chewed bottom leaves or small-round holes in leaves. Slugs and flea beetles could be the culprits. Row cover cloth and/or traps placed early in the season can prevent some insect damage.
Most gardeners wait to harvest the entire plant when full-sized heads have formed. To reduce the natural bitterness of these greens, you may want to take steps to “blanch” the plants.
Here’s how to blanch the endive in your garden:
- Wait until 2 to 3 weeks before the heads are ready to harvest. The outer leaves will be about 5 inches tall.
- Pull the outer leaves of each plant together and tie into place to exclude sunlight from reaching the interior leaves or place a supported board to cover the tops of the plants or cover each plant with a flowerpot. You can also devise your own method of covering the plants.
- Check the heads in 2 to 3 weeks to see if they’re ready to harvest. Use a knife to cut the plant at soil level; remove and compost the bitter outer leaves, unless you prefer to cook with them.
Plant endive with these companions:
Avoid planting near pumpkins or squash.
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- Soaker hose or drip irrigation
- High-quality compost and manure
- Organic mulch
- Well-balanced fertilizer
- Method for covering plants to blanch them
To learn more about growing endives or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.