Lettuce is a staple in most households. It’s cheap to buy in the grocery store, but even cheaper to grow at home. Lettuce that is grown at home is not only fresher when you use it but it has much better flavor than the bagged varieties found in your grocery store. It’s an easy to grow vegetable that will make its way to your plate in no time. This crop is ideal for beginner gardeners because it’s low maintenance and produces crops in as little as 30-40 days after planting.
There are two main types of lettuce: head lettuce and leaf lettuce. Head lettuce is lettuce that grows leaves in a large bunch or head. Two examples of head lettuce are Romaine and Iceberg. Leaf lettuce doesn’t create a head. Leaf lettuces are what you typically see in a bag of mixed or spring greens.
Lettuce is a cool season crop and grows best in the spring or summer, when temperatures are between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Lettuce is a crop grown for vegetation, not flowers or fruit. You’ll want to avoid letting your lettuce bloom, a process known as bolting. When lettuce bolts, it shoots upwards at the center and will start to get flowers on it. Lettuce that bolts is bitter and inedible. Some lettuce varieties may also develop a woody texture rather than the normal, crunchy or soft texture that you’re used to. In order to avoid bolting, don’t try to grow lettuce when temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant lettuce from seeds to get the most bang for your buck. A packet of lettuce seeds contains hundreds of seeds and will cost you about as much as a bag of lettuce at the grocery store. Lettuce transplants will be ready to harvest sooner, but they reduce the amount of harvests you’ll get and aren’t as cost-efficient. When you buy lettuce seeds, you’ll also have a much larger variety to choose from.
Sowing lettuce seeds is simple. Lettuce seeds are tiny and can be difficult to work with, so choose a lettuce seed that has been coated. This makes it easier to sow individual seeds. The coating is often brightly colored so that you can see it easily against the soil. To sow lettuce seeds, plant them ¼ to ½ inches deep. The type of lettuce that you plant will determine how you need to space the seeds apart.
Lettuce varieties that develop a head will require more space between the individual plants than leaf lettuce varieties. Leaf lettuce can be planted as close as 4 inches apart. If you harvest your leaf lettuce a little at a time from each plant, you can plant as many as 10 seeds per square foot.
For Romaine, Iceberg or butterhead lettuce, sow seeds 6-8 inches apart. As the seedlings mature, thin the plants out to give each plant 12-12 inches of growing room. The removed seedlings can be transplanted or eaten.
Don’t stress if you have a day or two of less than ideal growing temperatures for your lettuce. If the days get too warm, you can use overhead watering to cool your lettuce plants off. When temperatures drop below freezing, a clear, plastic covering can be used as a miniature greenhouse to help keep your plants warm. You can also grow lettuce under cold frames if you live in an area where temperatures frequently dip below 55 degrees.
Feeding and Watering
One of the most important factors in successful lettuce gardens is soil moisture. Lettuce doesn’t develop deep roots so your soil will need to be consistently moist to provide the plant with enough water. With that being said, you don’t want to over water your lettuce plants because they can quickly develop root rot. If the tips of the leaves of lettuce start to turn brown, this is called tipburn. Tipburn occurs when the moisture in the soil isn’t consistent.
Tipburn can be trimmed off and isn’t harmful for you to eat. When the soil around lettuce is moist, the plant puts on succulent, tender leaves. Check the soil each day. When the top of the soil is dry, water the lettuce. Lettuce loves to have water over the leaves, so don’t be afraid to use overhead watering with your lettuce plants. Mulching around the plants can also help to retain moisture and keep the soil moisture content more stable.
You want to promote leafy growth in your lettuce plants. A nitrogen-rich fertilizer will promote leafy growth in your lettuce plants. Bloodmeal, cottonseed meal or composted manure are great organic options that you can use to add nitrogen to the soil in your lettuce garden. You can also opt for a nitrogen rich synthetic fertilizer.
The way that you harvest lettuce will depend on the type of lettuce that you are growing. Leaf lettuce can be harvested differently than head lettuce. Leaf lettuces can be harvested from multiple times while head lettuces are harvested once.
To harvest leaf lettuces, you’ll need a clean pair of scissors. Disinfect your scissors before using them to help prevent the spread of bacteria and disease. It’s best to have a pair of scissors that are dedicated to garden use rather than using the trusty scissors you have laying in your junk drawer.
To harvest leaf lettuce, simply use the scissors to snip outer leaves from the plant. Snip the leaves off at the base of the plant, as close to the soil as you can get. Don’t harvest the entire plant at a time unless you plan on sowing more seeds. Cutting a few leaves off at a time won’t kill the plant and will encourage more growth.
To harvest leaf lettuce, you’ll need a clean, sharp knife. Rather than snipping off a few leaves at a time, you’ll be removing the entire head of lettuce. To remove the head all together, use a sharp knife to cut through the stem of the lettuce about ½” below the base of the leaves. You may find it easier to harvest if you gently pull on the head and tilt it over to the side to expose the base.
Don’t cut through the head where the leaves are. This will cause the head to fall apart when you pull it off of the plant. Aim for the stalk below the leaves to keep the head intact. Once you have harvested the head, the plant will die back. In order to get multiple harvests from your head lettuce, sow new seeds each week. This will give you new heads of lettuce each week to harvest from.
Best Varieties of Lettuce
You can find lettuce in various shades of green, red and purple with an abundance of texture options. Buttercrunch (left) is a variety that grows in loose heads with amazing flavor. The Red Sails (pictured right) variety is colorful and has fluffy, curly texture that will create a salad with tons of height.
Lettuce mixes are another great option for creating texture in a salad. The Salad Bowl Mix, Spinach Salad Blend and the Italian Salad Mix are wonderful options when you can’t make your mind up about which variety to try. Since lettuce is so quick to grow, why not try more than one kind?
What types of lettuce will you be growing this year?
Today’s post about growing lettuce comes from Shelby DeVore, founder of Farminence.com [https://farminence.com/]. Shelby is a former agriculture teacher and a multi-generational home gardener. She currently lives on a small farm with her husband and three children where they raise way too many animals and grow a large vegetable garden each year.