Lettuce is a versatile crop that thrives in cool weather and can be grown easily in almost any location, making it an ideal choice for cultivation. Its fresh and sometimes spicy flavor profile makes it a welcome addition to any meal.
Growing your own lettuce offers a plentiful supply of leafy greens for harvesting, and you can even share some with loved ones. Due to its shallow roots, lettuce is well-suited for planting in various settings, including cold frames, garden rows, or space-saving troughs, making it accessible to all, regardless of their gardening space.
Lettuce plants have broad leaves that efficiently absorb light, enabling them to flourish in areas that receive only partial sunlight. Therefore, even spots in the garden that receive half a day of sun are suitable for lettuce cultivation.
How to Plant Lettuce
When planting lettuce, start by selecting your preferred variety or multiple types. Seed suppliers like Burpee now offer seed tape, which simplifies the process of sowing seeds. Although seed tape may cost more, it saves time and provides the ideal spacing between lettuce plants. However, creating your own DIY seed tape is a simple and cost-effective alternative.
If you prefer a more economical option, plant seeds and space them out yourself. Prior to planting, enrich your soil with compost, either store-bought or from your own compost pile. You can also use soil designed specifically for raised bed gardens.
Lettuce thrives in full sun, but it can also tolerate partial shade. Sow seeds at a depth of 1/4 inch, spaced 1 inch apart, when the soil temperature is above 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit). If you are using seed tape, place it in the soil and create an indentation in the soil with a hand cultivator or your finger for seed planting.
Cover the seeds or seed tape with additional soil. Germination takes anywhere from 2 to 10 days, depending on the lettuce variety. Weed the area by hand to avoid competition for nutrients and water.
Consider adding successive plantings to the garden every two weeks until two weeks before the first fall frost. Begin with early lettuce varieties, switch to heat-tolerant lettuce for summer, and then return to cool-season lettuce for fall. Water the lettuce at regular intervals, unless rainfall is sufficient to support the crop.
How to Harvest Lettuce
Looseleaf and butterhead lettuce varieties can be harvested at any time by picking individual leaves, while outer leaves of romaine can also be harvested selectively.
Different lettuce varieties mature at different rates, with heading varieties taking longer. For example, romaine takes 75 to 85 days, while crisphead takes 70 to 100 days. The Butterhead European Bibb lettuce variety shown in the picture is a popular choice among gardeners since it doesn’t bolt.
For the sweetest and most moist leaves, harvest lettuce early in the morning. If you’re serving salad in the evening, refrigerate the leaves beforehand to keep them fresh. Use clean and sharp garden scissors or kitchen shears to cut the outer leaves about 2 inches above the crown, ensuring continuous growth.
After harvesting leaves, encourage more growth by applying organic vegetable fertilizer to the soil. To harvest heads of lettuce such as Buttercrunch, crisphead, Batavia, and romaine, cut the plant at the soil line. If you notice an elongated crown on the lettuce plant, remove and compost it since it is past its prime.
To avoid a bitter flavor, harvest lettuce sooner rather than later. When temperatures drop below 2 degrees Celsius, protect plants from wind, frost, and freezing temperatures by covering them with a row cover, cloche, or other apparatus. This helps to extend the growing season as well.