How to grow: Chicory

Close up shot of a chicory fully grown.

Chicory is a popular Italian salad crop but they have never really taken off here. One reason could be their slightly bitter taste, but they should be more widely grown for the zing they can add to salads.

There are two types of chicory to consider. One is the ‘Witloof’ chicory which is familiar as the white, green tipped chicons. These are achieved by ‘forcing’ and are a little trickier to grow. The other chicories are similar to lettuce and are either green or red leaved (called radicchio).

Varieties

‘Witloof’
This is the classic forcing variety. Best forced by covering completely with compost to keep the chicons tight.

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‘Palla Rossa’
A forcing or non-forcing type that forms a pretty ball-head of red leaves. Not hardy.

A close up of a chicory plant growing out of a pot.

Growing tips

Sowing/planting

Sow seed outside in shallow seed drills about 6mm (1⁄4in) deep. Rows should be about 30cm (12in) apart. Water well and when the seedlings are through thin out to leave a little space between. As they grow keep thinning out if necessary.

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Growing on

Keep the crop well watered and thin until plants are 15cm (6in) apart (forcing types) or 30cm (12in) apart (non-forcing types).

In autumn the forcing types should be cut back to just above soil level. At this stage the plants can be lifted and replanted in pots of John Innes no 2 compost.

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Pop them in a greenhouse or cold frame to offer some protection from the weather. Keep the stems covered and in darkness. In spring when the chicons are about 15cm (6in) high they can be cut.

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