"Mache" and "Corn Salad" refer to many species of weedy garden greens in the Valerianella genus. The name "Corn Salad" is attributed to the plant's history of growing as a weed in fields of corn and grains.
Mache is popular with many gardeners for its subtle nutty flavor and its tender texture. It requires cool weather and bolts at temperatures of about 70 to 75° F.
A few varieties of mache are commonly grown in the United States, with dozens more interesting species and varieties available from specialty seed-sellers. Large-seeded varieties such as Medallion and Big Seeded are slightly more heat tolerant and slower to bolt in response to warm weather.
Mache is rarely available as transplants from local nurseries, and all but the most common varieties must be grown directly from seed. Take note of a local nursery that offers mache transplants for sale at the appropriate time of year; this may be an indication of unusual expertise and diligence among the nursery staff. Many less-common varieties of mache seeds are available only through mail order or online purchasing from specialty seed dealers.
When buying starts, tap the pots, cells, or containers to loosen the rootballs and look at roots. Some visible roots or a fine net of roots are acceptable; overgrown or layered roots at pot edges and bottoms may result in slow-growing, stunted, or stressed plants. Smaller mache starts of 1 to 2 inches tall may be less rootbound and may outperform larger starts after transplant.
Mache needs reasonably loose and moist, well-drained soil, with soil temperatures below about 68° F. It prefers a moderately rich soil but performs well in a wide range of soils. It prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil, with a recommended pH between about 6.6 to 7.0. Mache may underperform, fail, or may produce small, chlorotic, or impalatable leaves in alkaline soils above 7.1 pH, in acidic soils below about 6.3 pH, or in compacted soils.
Mache prefers full sun at cooler temperatures from 45° F to 65° F, and may bolt or become bitter at temperatures above 70° to 75° F. It is often best planted in southern to southeastern exposures with afternoon shade, and may suffer in western or northwestern exposures. Other than being extremely sensitive to warm or hot weather, needing somewhat loose soil and good drainage, and preferring soil pH near neutral, mache is relatively unfussy and performs well in a variety of microclimates and growing conditions.
GZ generally recommends growing mache from seeds. Mache germinates well during cool to cold weather from 45° to 65° F but can be very slow, often taking 10 to 28 days or longer to germinate. Mache seeds may go dormant or not germinate well at soil temperatures above 70° F.
Mache prefers sufficient watering to keep soil moist but not wet. Established plants may need watering only once every one to two weeks during cool weather without rain, with more frequent watering during warm weather.
Broadcast seeds directly outdoors and rake or work gently into soil. Broadcasted seeds should be kept moist for germination, which may require misting or watering with a gentle, fine spray two or more times per day. If broadcasting, use thinned young plants for early salads. Mache may have a long germination time; allow 2 to 4 weeks for sprouting in your planting schedule. Seeds germinate well at temperatures much cooler than most vegetable seeds. Seeds may be planted in fall and overwintered in California areas with snowy winters.
Start seeds indoors 4 to 9 weeks before planting outdoors; practice may be required to know typical germination times for specific mache species and cultivars under your growing conditions. Allowing mache to go too long in small pots may result in rootbound, slow-growing, stunted, or less-vigorous adult plants. GardenZeus recommends germinating mache at temperatures between 50° and 65° F.
If transplanting, spread roots of starts gently outward and downward to encourage a spreading root system. While some experts recommend tearing off excess roots at transplanting, at GardenZeus, we prefer to minimize damage to roots during transplant. Plant slightly deeper than the level at which starts were in packs or pots.
In areas with compacted or poorly draining soils, grow mache in containers or raised beds.
Mature mache plants need spacing of about 2 to 5 inches. At GardenZeus we broadcast mache seeds or err on the side of spacing mache seeds “too close” together, then using thinned plants for early salads, sandwiches, and garnishes.
7 to 30 days or longer to seed germination.
10 days to 3 weeks from germination to transplant.
Early harvest of smaller leaves and thinned plants may begin within 15 to 30 days of germination.
45 to 90 days from germination to harvest of whole plants depending upon variety and growing conditions.
Because we eat the leaves of mache plants, we prefer slow flowering (slow bolting), and are not concerned with pollination unless saving seeds.
Mache is unfussy and somewhat weedy. It does well when planted with most other vegetables. GardenZeus recommends planting in areas of your garden where the soil tends to stay moist, among any low-growing vegetable plants that will not shade it, odd fertile areas, or here and there in open spots after harvesting other vegetables during cool weather.
Mache is an undemanding vegetable for soil nutrients. For vigorous, rapidly growing plants, GardenZeus recommends adding nitrogen in the form of diluted urea or a cup of chicken manure diluted in 4 gallons of water (half cup if fresh manure) and mixed thoroughly about every two weeks or after harvesting mache. Adding too much nitrogen or overly rapid growth may result in insect infestation.
Use a quarter to half-inch fine mulch for small starts under 3 inches in height; increase to half-an-inch or more of fine to medium mulch after plants reach mature size, about 6 to 10 inches tall.
Pinch back as desired for early harvest and to encourage compact growth. Mache otherwise needs little or or no pruning, and cutting only for harvesting.
From seed. GardenZeus generally recommends open-pollinated, untreated, organically grown seeds.
Mache are compact plants, usually no larger than 8 inches tall and/or wide, and are ideal for growing grouped in larger containers or in small groups of a few plants in containers as small as 6-inch or 1-gallon nursery-pot size. All varieties of mache that are suitable for your site and conditions are candidates for container gardening.
Mache is a relatively easy, undemanding garden vegetable. Its one critical need is for cool growing conditions, ideally with temperatures from 45° F to 65° F. Do not attempt to grow mache if you are expecting consistent daytime temperatures of 75° F or above over the next 45 days. Mache's need for cool to cold weather combined with a variable, sometimes long germination period and its sensitivity to warm weather can make it tricky to time seed-starting and transplanting for mache.
Harvest entire young plants as thinnings. For repeat harvesting, GardenZeus recommends harvesting individual leaves and sections of plants after plants are 4 to 5 inches tall, being careful not to remove more than half of any one plant at a time. Add nitrogen to soil and allow 10 days to 2 weeks or longer for plants to recover after cut-and-come-again harvesting. Overharvesting will significantly slow growth of new leaves because the plant is using leaf surfaces to capture the energy needed to grow new leaves. Harvest entire rosettes by cutting the main stem near soil level with a sharp garden knife or scissors.
As weather warms or when growing in temperatures above 70° F, watch mache plants carefully and harvest entire plants at the first sign of bolting. As plants begin to go into their flowering cycle, leaves may become bitter and unpalatable.
Unseasonable heat waves: Many warm inland valleys of California have unseasonable heat waves that may cause mache to bolt early, especially when heat waves exceed 80° F and last longer than a day or two.
Bolting: Mache may begin to flower and go to seed as a result of long days, warm or hot weather, repeated wilting, or other stresses. Leaves may begin to turn bitter as soon as mache starts to flower. There is nothing that can be done to reverse or stop bolting once it begins. GardenZeus recommends harvesting the majority of leaves or whole plants at the first sign of bolting, unless you want to save seeds.
Slow growth, lack of vigor, small plants, production of few or small leaves, yellowing leaves, dried-out or folded edges of leaves, brown or dead leaf tips or edges: These common symptoms may result from soil pH that is too high or too low, compacted soil, alkaline soil, overwatering, underwatering, irregular watering, poor drainage, warm weather, lack of soil nitrogen, other soil nutrient deficiencies, or a combination of these. May also be the result of too much sun, wind, or other environmental and abiotic factors. Burned leaf tips may also result from overfertilizing, sodic soils, or soluble salts in soils.
Late planting, poor germination and/or insufficient planning: Mache requires a long germination period, up to 30 days or longer. One cycle of poor germination or loss of transplants may result in planting being pushed later by 4 to 8 weeks, which often results in mache maturing during weather that is too warm (above 70° F).
Insufficient soil moisture; Mache needs soil that is well-drained but remains moist. This can be a tricky combination in many areas in California. GardenZeus recommends self-watering containers or planting mache where it will seen daily, and keeping a full watering can near mache beds and pots for spot watering.
Slow germination: Mache may take 30 days or longer to germinate. When possible, broadcast seeds or plant seeds directly after weather cools in fall, before winter rains, and in areas that remain moist during winters, and allow seeds to germinate on their own schedule.
Mache generally has few diseases when grown during cool weather.
Common pests of mache include deer, rabbits, gophers, birds, slugs, snails, and aphids.
Mache is best harvested frequently as needed and eaten fresh within a day or two at the most. It is not commonly available at supermarkets and less available than many greens even at farmers' markets because of its short shelf life. Use mache like spinach in soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Many soils throughout California have moderate to high levels of lead, such as in older urban areas or anywhere buildings predate the 1970s, especially in areas where buildings predate the 1950s, in or near industrial areas, near railroad tracks, and in some cases near commercial areas and older roads and freeways. Like spinach, mache leaves are high in iron, but mache's ability to pull metals from the soil also means that mache may extract lead from soils. GardenZeus recommends testing your soil for lead before growing mache in it, especially if your soils match one of the problem areas listed above.
Try broadcasting mache seeds in reasonably fertile soil before a fall or winter rainstorm, or in areas that stay consistently moist as a result of your normal garden watering. Mache will grow happily during cool rainy periods without much attention or maintenance needed, and is content with marginal gardening areas such as bits of fertile ground along the edges of pathways and raised beds, near fountains and pools, and anywhere that stays moist with reasonably good drainage.
Mache is a great plant to get you started with gardening during cool weather. Grow mache in fertile, lead-free or low-lead soils to produce highly nutritious leaves.
Freshly picked mache is highly perishable and can be expected to last no longer than two to three days even under the optimal conditions of 32° F and high humidity. For this reason, GardenZeus recommends that you do not harvest your mache until you are ready to use it. It is particularly important to wash loose mache leaves several times before using; sand and other soil particulates may lurk in the small leaves. Wash before storing in a plastic bag. Some gardeners prolong the life of their freshly picked mache by putting stems of mache in a glass of water and covering them loosely with plastic.
Humidity in refrigerators is too low for mache storage. To store mache in your refrigerator, do so in a humid produce drawer with humidity turned up to full, or with an open bowl of water, and/or in a cloth or paper bag to reduce drying. Storing mache in high humidity is essential to preserve crispness.
Mache is sensitive to the ethylene gas produced by many fruits. So when putting lettuce in your refrigerator, make sure to place it far away from your ethylene-producing fruits.
Mache makes a terrific addition to a bowl of salad greens, adds a tasty layer of greens to a sandwich and provides a nutritional boost to a green smoothie. Place your roasted beets on a bed of mache, and while the beets are still warm coat the food with blend of light olive oil, and citrus juice and seasoning. Enjoy!
Mache is a nutritional powerhouse: 3.5 ounces provides almost 20% of the USDA recommended daily amount of Vitamin A and over 50% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C. It also a good source of beta-carotene, iron and potassium.