Red veined sorrel is a knockout in the garden! This edible ornamental forms dense clumps of lime green leaves highlighted by deep red veins. Those leaves can be harvested to add a tart lemony flavor to salads, sandwiches, and soups or used make a tasty pesto. Sorrel is also easy to grow from seed in garden beds or containers for months of tender leaves. Read on if you’re ready to learn how to grow this perennial plant in your garden.
What is red veined sorrel
Red veined sorrel, also called bloody dock or bloody sorrel is a member of the buckwheat family and grown for its edible leaves. There are many types of sorrel including garden sorrel, French sorrel, and common sorrel but I prefer the beauty and vigor of red-veined sorrel. It’s a reliable perennial in zones 5 to 8, but often overwinters in zone 4, particularly if there is ample snow cover. You can also grow it as a fast-growing annual in a salad garden or containers. The plants grow in tidy clumps that when mature are around twelve inches tall and eighteen inches wide.
It may be edible, but you don’t need to plant sorrel in a food garden. It makes a beautiful low border along the front of a perennial garden or mix it with other foliage or flowering plants in garden beds. Or, plant it in a perennial herb garden. I have a few plants tucked along the edge of one of my raised vegetable beds and they’re among the first plants to pop up each spring. Its cold tolerance also makes it a good choice for a winter cold frame or greenhouse. I often transplant a clump into one of my cold frames in early fall so that we have plenty of the flavorful leaves to harvest in late autumn and winter.
Like spinach sorrel contains oxalic acid which interferes with the absorption of nutrients like iron and calcium. It may cause mild stomach upset in those who are sensitive to it. Sorrel is generally added to mixed green salads and enjoyed in moderation. Cooking breaks down some of the oxalic acid.
How to grow red veined sorrel from seed
From time to time I’ve spotted red veined sorrel seedlings for sale at local garden centres, but generally it can be difficult to source as a plant. It is quite easy to grow from seed with the plants ready to harvest in less than two months. There are two ways to grow sorrel from seed: by direct seeding outdoors in garden beds or by starting the seeds indoors first.
Direct sowing seeds
Direct sowing is an easy way to grow red veined sorrel. Plant the seeds in a sunny garden bed two to three weeks before the last spring frost. Space them two inches apart and bury them a scant quarter inch deep. Keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate and the plants are about two inches tall. At that point they can be thinned to a foot apart. You can replant the thinnings in a different part of the garden or even a container. Or, you can eat the baby plants.
Sowing red veined sorrel seeds indoors
I like to start red veined sorrel seeds indoors under my grow lights to give the seedlings a healthy head start. I sow in cell packs placed in 1020 trays, but you can also use four inch pots. Fill containers with a high-quality, pre-moistened potting mix. Sow the seeds about one quarter of an inch deep, with two seeds per cell or four seeds in a four inch diameter pot. Cover trays with a plastic dome or a sheet of plastic wrap to hold humidity until the seeds germinate. Once they’ve sprouted, remove the cover so air can circulate.
Keep the soil lightly moist and feed with a diluted liquid organic fertilizer every seven to ten days. Start the hardening off process around a week before you intend to move the seedlings to the garden. To harden off, place the seedlings outdoors in shade for a few days, gradually introducing them to more light over the course of a week.
How to grow red veined sorrel
The key to growing a bumper crop of red veined sorrel is to plant it in the right spot. Look for a site with full sun to partial shade and soil rich in organic matter. As a hardy perennial, it requires little ongoing care but I like to water deeply every few weeks when the weather is hot and dry. You can also mulch around plants with straw or shredded leaves to hold soil moisture.
When flower stalks emerge in summer I clip them off with garden snips. They’re not very attractive but the growing flower stalks also slow new leaf production. Plus, if the flowers are allowed to mature and produce seeds, new plants pop up throughout the garden. After a few months of summer heat, you may notice your red veined sorrel plants beginning to look a bit ragged. This is when I grab my clippers to shear the plants back hard to force new growth. It won’t be long before you see plenty of fresh, tender leaves emerging.
Another task is to divide overgrown plants. Every few years I use my favorite garden shovel to dig up and divide my plants to rejuvenate them. The pieces can be replanted, moved to a new spot, or shared with fellow gardeners. Each spring I sidedress with a fresh application of compost and a balanced organic fertilizer.
If you’re growing this plant as a short-lived salad green, practice succession planting from mid-spring to late summer to ensure a continuous crop of baby leaves.
Growing sorrel in containers
Because it’s so lush and beautiful, red veined sorrel makes an excellent foliage plant for edible or ornamental containers. Be sure to pick a container, planter, window box, or fabric pot at least twelve inches in diameter if planting sorrel by itself so it has room to grow. Also, pick a pot with drainage holes to allow excess water to drain. It can also be combined with container favorites like calibrachoa, geraniums, petunias, begonias, grasses, and sweet potato vines. Harvest the leaves as needed and the plants will continue to fill out all summer long.
How to grow red veined sorrel as a microgreen
Sorrel makes an excellent microgreen for growing indoors under grow lights or in a sunny window. The small plants are ready to harvest after just a couple of weeks and add their bold green and red color to salads and sandwiches. I use a 1020 tray to grow microgreens, filling them with about an inch of a high-quality potting mix. Red veined sorrel seeds should be spaced about a half inch apart and covered lightly with potting mix. Keep the growing medium consistently moist until the seeds germinate in about a week. Begin scissor harvesting with herb snips once the seedlings are one and a half to two inches tall.
I harvest red veined sorrel from my zone 5 garden all year round. In spring, summer, and autumn I have plants in my raised bed vegetable garden as well as in containers on my deck. In winter I like to have a couple of plants tucked into cold frames or in my polytunnel beds. There are two main ways to harvest sorrel:
- Pluck individual leaves as needed. For salads and fresh eating, I pick leaves that are three to four inches long. These are the most tender. Older leaves are tougher and sharper in flavor.
- Grow it as a ‘cut and come again crop’. Need a bunch of sorrel at once for pesto or another recipe? Shear the plants back to just a couple of inches above the ground. This gives you a big harvest but also forces the plants to push out new growth for future meals.
For further reading on growing salad greens, be sure to check out these articles:
- How to plant lettuce: A guide to growing and harvesting lettuce
- 8 salad greens to grow that aren’t lettuce
- Growing a salad garden
- How to grow kale
- Unusual salad greens to grow
Do you grow red veined sorrel in your garden?
David Hopkins says
If it is in the buckwheat family, and withstands some cold, would this make a good eatable cover crop for off season? I am in zone 6B.
Niki Jabbour says
Great question! Yes, you can use it as a cover crop planting in early Sept and eating from mid to late Oct into late autumn/early winter. Turn under in early spring. – Niki
Janie Bryant says
I found your article very informative and would like to give this a try in my garden and also perhaps in one of my flower beds. I have a hobby greenhouse and will start the seeds there. Could you please share a seed company where I might purchase red veined sorrel.
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Janie, sure! It’s easily sourced from companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and many more. Thanks! Niki
If you are in Canada, Richters sells the seed, too
Kris L says
I found these beautiful plant as starts when I lived in San Diego; they were stunning in the garden but so bitter that no one in my family could eat them. Would that be because of the warm, dry climate? Worth trying again now that I’ve moved from the Mexican border to the Canadian?
Tom Harmon says
Here in Atlanta, my local Ace Hardware has a wonderful garden center ‘Garden Thyme’. They have it available in 6-cell packs. In the late summer it benefits from a bit of afternoon shade, if possible. It is a fantastic addition to any garden and puts on a great show in large mixed containers and is the first thing to come back in the spring and often offers up delicious greens in mild winters in my herb garden on the south side of my home.
Hi! I planted a red sorrel plant in my mini food forest two years ago. This year it started to grow long stocks with seeds pods. Is this bad? Is it bolting, like lettuce? Or is this part of its cycle?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Erin… that is part of the cycle, but don’t worry, the seeds it produces will yield plenty of new plants. 🙂
Thank you for the lovely article! Do you know that they would keep on dividing from year to year? I was wondering how long do they live. I was very pleasantly surprised that they came back in my garden during the winter here as I thought they were just an annual. Now they are lovely and full of tender leaves.
Trudi Dear says
Will it be too hot and humid on the north east coast of Australia to have this growing outside?
Niki Jabbour says
That is a great question!! I find this is more heat tolerant than lettuce or spinach, but it doesn’t thrive in very high temps and dry conditions. I would try growing it in the shade and see how it does. You can also grow it as a microgreen indoors too – under grow lights. It’s super pretty and of course has the lovely lemony flavour. Good luck!! Niki
Ginny Landers says
How do you get the red veins so thick and red?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Ginny, It’s about variety selection. Standard sorrel has green leaves, but the red-veinned types like Raspberry Dressing have the lovely red leaf veins. So pretty! Hope that helps, Niki