Lettuce is a great, easy to grow crop for the garden. It’s suitable for almost all areas, and can be easily grown from seed
Homegrown lettuce is so much tastier- and you can grow lettuce varieties that go past just romaine or iceberg lettuce!
Whether you want to enjoy daily salads or top your favorite sandwich or burger, it’s worth learning how to grow lettuce in your backyard garden (or container garden!)
How to Grow Lettuce From Seed
Lettuce is almost always directly seeded into the garden or container. It is a cool weather crop and dislikes hot weather.
Direct seed your lettuce into the garden 2-3 weeks before your last frost date in the early spring.
If you want to get a head start you can use row covers to give the tender seedlings protection from frost and also warm the soil a little bit. These row covers can allow you to start your lettuce seeds a few weeks earlier as well.
Lettuce seeds are very small, so you don’t want to sow the seeds very deep. Simply sprinkle them in your bed or rows and then gently rake the soil so that they are barely covered.
Don’t worry about spacing at this point, you can thin your lettuce seedlings as they grow.
Your lettuce seeds should sprout in 2 days to 2 weeks depending on soil temperature, water, and light conditions.
Varieties of Lettuce to Grow
You can choose from head lettuce varieties or loose leaf varieties. I prefer loose leaf or loose head, as it tends to be quicker and easier, and more of a come and cut again variety of lettuce.
Some head lettuce varieties to try are: Buttercrunch , May Queen Lettuce, Butter King,
Some loose leaf lettuce varieties to try are: Romaine, Red Romaine,
Some other considerations when choosing a type of lettuce, is your climate. If you live in a warmer climate you should look for heat tolerant or bolt resistant lettuce types. These types can handle warmer temperatures better and will extend your harvest season.
How to Care for Your Growing Lettuce Plants
As your seedlings grow you will need to thin the plants to ensure that they get enough space, air circulation, and nutrients to their roots.
Head lettuce will need a final spacing of about 8-10 inches per head.
Loose leaf lettuce can be planted more closely, about 4-6 inches apart- but still ensure they have enough circulation around them to prevent disease.
The great thing about thinning lettuce is that you can enjoy these first lettuce leaves in early spring salads and meals!
There aren’t too many pests when it comes to lettuce, aphids are about it, and even then I don’t usually have much of those- we have plenty of ladybugs around for natural control!
Keep the soil moist and watch for signs of wilting in your lettuce plants. Water as needed.
To have a continuous lettuce harvest all spring long make succession plantings ever 2 weeks until the weather it too hot for proper germination.
Planting lettuce in the shade off your other taller plants, such as corn, tomatoes, or potatoes, can help extend their growing season a bit more as well.
Plant a fall crop of lettuce in August or September, and enjoy garden fresh lettuce until hard frosts hit!
How and When to Harvest Lettuce
Lettuce is best harvested when it is still young and tender. The flavor will be much more mild and sweet, and not at all bitter.
Many loose leaf lettuce varieties can be harvested as soon as the leaves are 3-4 inches tall (or before if you are thinning your plants)
To harvest leaf lettuce just take the outer leaves, and your plants will continue to grow. This is often referred to as “come and cut again” lettuce since you can continue to harvest until the weather is too warm and the plant bolts.
To harvest head lettuce, you can also harvest the outer leaves as well, if you don’t have a need for an entire head at once.
Other methods of harvesting head lettuce is to dig up the entire plant or cut the plant off above the soil. If using the latter, the plant may continue to grow and give you another small harvest.
Lettuce is best harvested early in the morning, when it is sweetest.
Store your lettuce in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container. It should keep up to 10 days- though during the growing season it’s best to just pick what you need when you need it.
For some tips on keeping lettuce fresh check out this article which tells you how to keep lettuce fresh up to 5 weeks.
How to Grow Lettuce in Containers
Lettuce is an easy crop that doesn’t require a lot of space or full sun making it perfect for container gardens!
I have grown lettuce in long window boxes on a deck with no problems.
Lettuce has shallow roots, so it doesn’t need very deep containers or a lot of soil.
Because space is more of an issue in containers, choose loose leaf lettuce varieties that can be planted much more closely.
Choose a container that is at least 6 inches deep with good drainage holes.
Other than this, growing lettuce in a container is much the same as in a garden bed.
Because lettuce does not require pollination, you can also successfully grow lettuce indoors in containers. You will need a sunny window or a growlight set up but you can enjoy fresh lettuce year round with just a little prep work!
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