What garden isn’t complete without lettuce? Easy to grow and versatile to use, lettuce is a garden staple; you just have to know how and when to plant it.
The beauty of lettuce is that once it starts growing, even kids can help you pick it, hopefully inspiring them to eat more salads.
Lettuce is fairly easy to grow, and because its roots are so shallow, can even be grown in a container on a balcony. The key to growing lettuce is to provide moist soil that has good drainage.
When to plant lettuce: Plant your lettuce when it is still cool out, but the risk of frost is over. Then, make sure it has adequate water and protection from the hot sun. In just 30 days you will have lettuce that is ready to pick.
Planting Lettuce in Different Climates
The heat and humidity of a tropical climate will not be able to sustain lettuce. While it will like the moisture in the soil, it will not enjoy the warm air.
Unfortunately, trying to grow lettuce in a dry climate will lead to nothing but frustrations.
You would have to provide ample row covering to block out the sun’s heat and engage in constant watering.
Perhaps the best climate for growing lettuce is the temperate climate. The not too harsh winters mean you can start growing lettuce a but earlier in the spring and the naturally moist soil will do well with lettuce.
As long as you time it right, lettuce can grow in a continental climate. While the cold winter season means a later growing start with lettuce, there is still time to get your seeds in the ground before it gets too hot for lettuce to really grow.
If you are unsure about growing lettuce in this climate, it’s best to start your seeds indoors.
Lettuce will not grow in a polar climate.
Choosing Lettuce Seeds
When deciding which lettuce to grow, there are many considerations to go through. The first is what kind of lettuce you enjoy eating the most and then the issue of space should be addressed.
There are a lot of loose-leaf varieties, which are especially recommended for patio gardens. Popular varieties include Green Ice and Salad Bowl.
Or, if you want a more colorful option, you can try red leaf varieties such as Red Sails and Ruby Red. However, red leaf lettuce definitely needs a cooler climate as the coloring actually absorbs more heat than green lettuce.
Romaine lettuce is also popular, and you can choose from Cosmy Savoy or Green Towers. Finally, if you want a crisphead variety, look for King Crown or Summertime.
How to Plant Lettuce Seeds
Lettuce loves cool weather and this means you can actually plant it twice a year, in the summer and the fall. While it does love cool weather, it doesn’t love cold weather, so be sure to plant it after the risk of frost.
If you are starting lettuce indoors, you can plant seeds in early spring, at the beginning of April.
If you are planting lettuce directly into your garden, or are transferring seedlings, wait until May, either the beginning if you are in a warmer climate, or the end if you are in a colder climate.
Lettuce is one of those crops that can be ready all at the same time, and because it doesn’t keep well, it’s best to stagger your crop.
Plant a patch of lettuce and then two weeks later, plant another row. Depending on your climate, you could even squeeze in a third planting a further two weeks later.
For those wanting to plant a second crop in the fall, August or September is the best time. Just be sure that the soil is moist during this time.
You can even add straw to the ground which will keep the soil cooler by deflecting warmth from the sun.
When planting lettuce, find a space that gets either direct sun or at least partial sun. While it grows best in sunny areas, it doesn’t need to be full sun.
Moist soil is what lettuce loves the most, so work the soil properly so that it isn’t compacted when you plant. Add some organic matter like compost to provide enough nutrients.
When you open a package of lettuce seeds you will see that they are quite tiny. Make sure that the area is well prepared or else they can be impacted by stones and clumps of clay.
Again, because of the size of the seeds, you don’t have to worry too much about spacing. In fact, lettuce does better together as there is less chance of weeds comping up.
To plant your lettuce seeds, dig a line that is just 1/8 or ¼ of an inch deep. Don’t put too much soil on top of the seeds as they need light to start germinating.
If you find there is too much lettuce bunching up together, you can thin them when there are at least four leaves on a stem.
While lettuce can grow next to each other, the rows should be spaced about 13 to 15 inches apart.
How to Water Lettuce
As we’ve mentioned above, lettuce grows best in moist soil, although it should have proper drainage. After you plant your lettuce seeds, be sure to give the area a thorough watering.
Afterwards, aim to maintain that moist soil, which may necessitate watering every day. If you are unsure if your lettuce needs more water, simply look at its leaves.
If your lettuce is drooping, then it is time to water it. If it is particularly warm out, you can even sprinkle water on your lettuce during the day, as this will cool the lettuce and allow it to absorb more water.
Many gardeners make use of row covers to protect their lettuce from the sun. This layer of mesh allows sunlight to get through but also provides a bit of respite from the hot temperature.
How to Grow Lettuce
Once your lettuce starts sprouting, it’s time to take proper care of it. There are many different types of lettuce, and these varieties need different levels of care.
For example, loose leaf lettuce can be spaced fairly close together, with rows just 4 inches apart.
On the other hand, romaine lettuce needs to be about 8 inches apart. And then, if you are growing a crisphead lettuce, such as iceberg, be sure to space it about 14 inches apart, as the whole head needs plenty of room to grow.
Lettuce is susceptible to plenty of pests, so you want to keep an eye out for these. Slugs love lettuce but are usually deterred by a ring of broken eggshells.
Aphids are also attracted to lettuce. You can grow garlic or chives around your lettuce, which will help control aphids.
Because lettuce does much better with cooler temperatures, once the mercury rises, the issue of bolting may present itself. When it is warmer that 70 degrees Fahrenheit, a central stem can grow, which results in a bitter taste to the lettuce.
Try your best to prevent bolting from happening by using a row cover or shade cloth. Also, add an extra watering if it gets too hot so your lettuce stays well hydrated.
One fun tip is that you can plant natural shade plants, such as tomatoes or corn, which provide a bit of shade for lettuce.
How to Harvest Lettuce
Once your lettuce leaves are fully matured, it’s time to craft that perfect salad. Young and tender leaves taste the best, so harvest once the leaves are full size.
The outer leaves of lettuce are the oldest, so if you cut these back and use them, the inner leaves will continue to grow for future use.
Just don’t leave your lettuce growing for too long as it becomes woody and bitter in taste when past maturity.
If you have loose leaf lettuce or romaine, then you can either pick the outer leaves or dig up the whole plant. As for crisphead lettuce, its center should be nice and firm before you harvest it.
If you time it right, pick your lettuce in the morning so that the afternoon sun doesn’t get a chance to wilt it.
Once picked, store lettuce in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 10 days. And, if it is wilted, simply submerge the leaves in ice-cold water for 10 minutes and they will be rejuvenated.
How long does it take for lettuce to grow?
Lettuce is so versatile because it can be grown in a garden, a raised bed, or even a container on your patio. Once they are in the ground, lettuce seedlings will emerge from the ground in about 7 to 10 days.
Once they start growing, you can expect to enjoy some crisp lettuce in about 30 days.
Lettuce will be ready in just 30 to 40 days and the beauty of it is that you can plant it twice, in the spring and in the fall.
Whether you want a bit of loose leaf lettuce for your sandwich or crisp romaine lettuce for a salad, this garden staple is sure to delight.