How to Grow Lettuce
Lettuce is the starting point for every good salad. It is a basic in sandwiches,
and as a decorative underlayment for many other foods. It is nutritious,
yet low in calories. That is why it is so popular for dieters, and for those
who want to stay trim. Dieting and health issues aside, we eat lettuce because
it tastes good!
Did You Know? Generally, lettuce is only used as a fresh vegetable.
It is not frozen, canned, dried, or cooked. However, one site visitor contributed
a Lettuce Soup recipe. Got
a soup or vegetable recipe to share? Email us today!
Popular Varieties of Lettuce:
Good news! There are many types of Lettuce. They are separated into two basic
Head Lettuce- This group's leaves form into a ball or head, as it
grows and matures. It also includes varieties which head or bunch up, called
"loose-head". Members of this group includes:
Loose Leaf Lettuce- Members of this group have leaves which make little
or no attempt to group or bunch together. They commonly called "loose leaf".
Days to Maturity:
Loose leaf varieties can be ready to begin cutting in as little as three
weeks. Varieties which form loose or tight heads need more time, up to several
weeks. Because there are so many varieties, check the information on the
seed packet for more specific growing times.
Sowing Lettuce Seeds:
Lettuce seeds are very fine. Plant in rows, spreading the seeds as thinly
as possible. No matter how hard you try, they are so difficult to disperse,
that thinning of the seedlings is must. You can purchase properly spaced
seed tapes of some of the more popular varieties. While seed tapes
cost more, it is a time saver. Cover the seeds with a very fine layer of loose
soil or starting mixture.
You can also plant indoors in pots. This works well for bunching or heading
types of lettuces, and will give your seedlings a more controlled environment
. Given a lot of direct sunlight, it also results in a strong seedling. When
transplanting in the garden, you can give it the proper spacing.
Ideal soil pH: 6.0 - 7.0
More on soil pH
Succession planting is a common and useful practice. Lettuce are perfect
candidates for succession planting. Plant small rows or sections of your
garden with lettuces every week to ten days. This will provide a continuous
harvest. Vary the types you plant to afford variety over the season.
Whether sowing indoors or out, you will likely want to transplant your seedlings
with the proper spacing for full development without crowding. Lettuce likes
cool weather and lots of moisture. Transplanting should only be done in cool,
preferably cloudy weather. If the weather is hot and sunny, we recommend
putting off transplanting if possible. If this is not possible, then transplant
in the evening. Water thoroughly and every day after, unless it rains, for
about a week.
The key to growing crisp, sweet lettuce, is to get it growing at a fast pace.
That means plenty of water, and a healthy dose of fertilizer.
Tip: When transplanting lettuce in hot weather, place some form of
sun shade over the plant for a couple of days. Any makeshift shade will do.
Pick lettuces as soon as it is big enough to use. On loose-headed varieties,
the outer leaves can be picked and the inner leaves allowed to grow. Or,
use the plants pulled while thinning. Use a sharp knife or scissors. Loose
leaf varieties will grow back after cutting.
Storage Tip: Put a slightly wet paper towel into the sealed plastic
bag with lettuce, to keep it from turning brown.
Insects and Pests:
Bunnies like lettuce. Got bunnies!? Then, a rabbit fence is in your future.
Insects can become a real problem, too. Lettuce is delicate, and can absorb
many insecticides. If you want or need to use insecticides, look for brands
that are less harmful to you and the environment. We like to avoid insecticides
on leafy vegetables wherever possible. We suggest organic sprays and a
willingness to give up some of the harvest to insects versus using pesticides.
After all, one of the reasons most of us have gardens is to avoid the pesticides.
Note: We do not recommend insecticides at all for loose leaf lettuce
Slugs are a real problem for all types of lettuces. There are a variety of
control methods. More on Slugs and
Lettuce will wilt and rot in hot, humid weather. The plant will also "bolt"
or go to seed stage in higher heat. Heading or bunching types are more
susceptible to rotting and bolting. Leaf types grow and mature quickly, and
have fewer disease problems.
More on Bolting
All forms of lettuce thrive in cooler weather, with moderate moisture. Lettuce
does not like mid-summer heat, or dry conditions. Many gardeners will plant
a crop for spring and early summer harvest, leaving the mid summer months
to the tomatoes and the corn. Then, as the late summer heat begins to wane,
they plant a new lettuce crop for a fall harvest.
As a tender annual, lettuce will die with the first fall frost. If you're
plants are still healthy and productive, cover them if frost is in the forecast.