Growing Lettuce – Quick Tips on How to Grow Lettuce

Lettuce is a favorite in the garden because it is relatively easy to grow, is one of the first crops that can be planted, and is one of the first crops to yield in the spring. It doesn’t take a lot of room, and because of its shallow root system does well in containers too. Let’s take a look at some tips for growing lettuce.

You can plant lettuce 2-4 weeks before the last frost date, and in the fall should be planted about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost date. Lettuce is somewhat tolerant of frosts, although it will not take extended freezing temperatures. On the other hand, it will tend to bolt in higher temperatures. Because of this it is very productive in fall gardens. Also, it doesn’t pay to let it go, lettuce is better picked early than late.

Lettuce will do well with only 5 or more hours of sunlight a day, and in areas where the temperature will get fairly hot you can take advantage of that by planting on the east side of a building or fence, or putting up a shade structure.

In general lettuce is a light feeder, so an initial application of fertilizer is probably all that will be needed. A soil pH of about 6.0 to 7.5 is preferred. If you are planting in a container then try to get a soil depth of at lest 6-8 inches.

There are 4 major types of lettuce:

Leaf lettuce – Many varieties, among the most heat tolerant and easiest to grow. The leaves are loosely bunched instead of a tight head, with many types and colors. It not only grows quickly, but the harvest can be extended by simply cutting a few leaves at a time, cutting a couple of inches above the ground. Some examples are Black Seeded Simpson, Early Curled Simpson, Red Sails and Oak Leaf Lettuce.

Butterhead Lettuce – The leaves form small, open heads, and get their name from the buttery center of the head. The smallest of the lettuces, it still is not a tightly bunched head, they are often mutlicolored, and a favorite for salads. The most popular is Buttercrunch, other varieties include Tom Thumb, Summer Bibb, and Little Gem.
Romain – Sometimes referred to as Cos, these are very colorful, and form upright clusters of leaves. A staple for salads, some examples include Dark Green Cos, Green Towers, and Ideal Cos.

Crisphead – This is your traditional head lettuce. This one is harvest once and done, there is not a second wave of lettuce. Pick it when the head is firm and solid, and the outside leaves turn a slight yellow green color. Iceberg is the most common, others are Ithaca and Great Lakes.

Planting lettuce – If you are direct seeding in the garden (not really recommended for head lettuce), since the seeds are small, plant them 3/8 to 1/2 inch deep, and cover with a fine soil. The spacing varies with the variety, leave lettuce can be thinned to about 8 inches part, but crisphead needs to be spaced about 12-14 inches apart. Often the seeds are started inside and transplanted. If you do start them inside be sure to harden them off by exposing them to the outside conditions a few hours a day for several days ahead of planting, or use a coldframe.

Watering – 1/2 to 1 inch a week, but lettuce needs the watering to be consistent.

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Comments on Growing Lettuce – Quick Tips on How to Grow Lettuce »

August 2, 2009

Leslie @ 8:36 am

While we were on vacation, our lettuce grew sort of out of control. It is quite tall and growing up the middle (very high). Does that mean it is done?

John @ 9:14 am

Yes, it’s bolted and it’s done.

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January 10, 2010

Elaina @ 5:54 pm

My lettuce never really seems to grow nice & bushy. I get small plants and then they bolt. The vege garden is small approx 2m x 1m and approx 40cm deep. It gets morning sun. Please tell me what I am doing wrong?

March 6, 2010

Theresa @ 6:38 pm

Dear Elaina,

I just happen to find this site and saw your comment. I wonder if no one has replied to you because there is not sufficient information to give a definite answer.

Just so you will know,I have been raising lettuce for over 32 years. It was one of my favorite things and my husband and I eat LOTS of it! I am an organic gardener and not conventional in the way I approach gardening.

I don’t know where you live, etc. but I will give you the answer that first came to mind when reading your question.

Lettuce grows according to how much daylight it has when it germinates. If for example I plant lettuce here in Virginia in March it’s possible to have it last through July. If I did another planting in say May, it could bolt at the same time as that planted in March because of the
amount of daylight when planted. (Coupled with the hot weather of course.)

In addition certainly you have to look at your soil condition
as well. Sufficient organic matter? Good drainage? Adequate sunlight? (I prefer at least 5 hours for lettuce.)

I hope my comments will help you. Lettuce is so delicious and I hate the thoughts of a fellow lettuce-lover being without it.

June 9, 2011

Chris @ 10:32 am

Such a concise and informative article! My wife and I are starting small gardens for our kids. Aside from the fact that we want to teach them the value of patience and hard work — and that you can reap only when you sow — we would also like our family to start eating right and healthy. Thanks for sharing all these nifty tips with your readers. We’ll be back for more!

John @ 11:30 am

Lettuce needs to be replanted each spring and in enough time to ripen all the way before temperatures get hot. After it bolts, and sometimes before if temps reach extreme upper degrees, it is finished. If the lettuce looks fine, but tastes bitter, that is a sign that it is finished also.

You can let it bolt, collect the seed, and use that seed to plant next year, but I have not done this with lettuce since it is an easy crop to plant by just sprinkling seeds in a row or rows.

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