Growing Crops: Chicory, Radicchio, Endive, Escarole…and Frisee, too!

Why so many different plants in one post? Well, they’re all members of the same family (asteraceae) and genus (cichorium) and have remarkably similar planting requirements and growing conditions. Chicory belongs to the species intybus, and radicchio is a chicory variety. Endive belongs to the species endivia, and escarole and frisee are endive varieties. All of them are cool weather vegetables that tend to bolt during the heat of summer. They make it possible to enjoy salad all year long.

The names of these boldly flavored salad greens (and we use the term “greens” loosely, as they come in red and white as well as green) are often confused for one another. Both endive and radicchio are often referred to as chicory, both escarole and frisee are often labeled endive or curly endive…so to eliminate confusion as to just what is what, click on the links below to see for yourself and decide which ones you would like to try.

Chicory:

Radicchio:

Keep in mind that chicory and radicchio tend to be much more bitter than endive, escarole, and frisee. If you like bitter, go for it. Otherwise, stick with the milder endive species.

Endive:

Escarole:

Frisee:

Best Climate to Grow: None of these plants like heat; they will bolt in hot weather. They do best in cooler climates, but will be OK in warmer climates as long as they are grown during the cooler months of Fall through Spring.

Light Requirements: Full sun – though filtered sunlight to partial shade will benefit them in warmer climates and help delay the inevitable bolting.

Soil Requirements: They aren’t picky about pH levels, as long as the soil is moist, rich, and fertile. Amend your soil with compost or rotted manure the season prior to planting to get them off to a good start.

Feeding and Water Requirements: They will benefit from a side dressing of dilute hydrolyzed fish or rotted manure every 2-3 weeks, particularly the endive varieties. Soil needs to be kept moist at all times, so drip irrigation and mulching is recommended.

When to Plant: Sow directly in the ground for harvest either during the Spring or the Fall – or even Winter if the climate is particularly mild. Spring harvest crops should be planted about a month prior to the last frost, and Fall harvest crops should be planted midway through the Summer. If you are planning on a Winter harvest, sow the seeds in late Summer and be prepared to protect your plants from cold temperatures with cloches or garden fabric.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Sow your chicory and radicchio seeds ½ inch deep, and thin the seedlings to between 6 and 12 inches apart (consult your particular seed packet, as the varieties do vary in size). If planting in rows, make sure the rows are at least 12 inches apart.

Sow your endive varieties ¼ inch deep and thin the seedlings to 12 inches apart. If planting in rows, make sure the rows are 18 inches apart. The endives tend to grow a bit larger than their chicory cousins.

Container Requirements: A medium-sized container at least 8 inches deep should be sufficient for chicory and radicchio. You might want a larger container for the endives, just based on their larger size. The side dressings of hydrolyzed fish or rotted manure may need to be more frequent (possibly every week-and-a-half), and drip irrigation specifically for containers combined with mulching will ensure that your container soil does not dry out.

Harvesting and Storage: The best way to ensure a continuous harvest of all the varieties is to snip the outer leaves with garden shears to encourage new growth. Alternatively, you can wait until the plants are larger and use a sharp knife to slice the plant completely free just above the soil. All of the varieties need to be eaten fresh, as they will not keep much longer than about a week in a lettuce keeper or the vegetable crisper binof your refrigerator.

Harvesting Seeds: If they bolt in hot weather, don’t panic – you can harvest the seeds to plant next year. If they haven’t bolted and you want seeds, stop watering them and they will oblige. Let the plants dry completely before harvesting the flowers and removing the seeds from the pods. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place until it is time to plant again.

Pests to Monitor: Aphids, Leafminers, Cabbage Loopers, Cabbage Worms, Slugs, Snails and Whiteflies. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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