I’m always counting down the days until I can start planting in my garden in the spring. But even when it’s too cold for most crops, there are some plants you can start a little earlier than most.
Lettuce is a plant that likes the cooler temperatures of spring over the hot summer sun. If your body has been craving fresh greens after a long, cold winter, lettuce may be precisely the thing.
Here’s what you should know to grow lettuce successfully:
Types of Lettuce
If you like to have a variety of lettuce options in your garden to change up your salad game from time to time, you’re in luck because there are many types of lettuce available:
Arugula is one of my favorite types of lettuce. Though it looks like basic leaf lettuce, it’s anything but basic.
In fact, it has a dark green color and is packed with nutrients, and it boasts a unique pepper flavor sure to spice up any salad it’s included in.
‘Italian Cress,’ ‘Wasabi,’ ‘Slow Bolt’, and ‘Garden Tangy’ are all varieties worth checking out.
French Crisp (Batavian)
If you like a salad with a variety of colors in it, you’ll love French crisp – also known as Batavian or summer crisp lettuce. The head of lettuce boasts both green and red colors.
Don’t let the colors fool you. All the leaves taste the same though they vary in color. This type of lettuce is excellent for warmer climates as it seems to stand up to the heat better than other varieties.
‘Cherokee Red,’ ‘Young Sierra,’ ‘Nevada,’ ‘Sierra,’ and ‘Cardinale’ are all tasty options worth checking out.
Are you looking for lettuce you can enjoy both cooked or raw? Endive is what you need. It’s crunchy when eaten raw, but if you cook it, the lettuce is sturdy enough to withstand the heat but will soften to be more palatable.
There are three types of endive: Belgian, curly, and broad-leafed.
If you’re interested in growing endive, check out: ‘Glory,’ ‘Curlesi,’ ‘Benefine,’ or ‘Rhodos.’
If you’ve been to a grocery store lately, you’ve seen butter lettuce. It’s a gorgeous variety because of the way the leaves flower out. Both Bib and Boston lettuce are considered butter types.
It’s a crispy variety, though the leaves are more delicate than some of the other options.
Check out ‘Tom Thumb,’ ‘Santoro,’ ‘Victoria,’ and ‘Butter Babies’ varieties. They’re particularly tasty.
Romaine (Cos lettuce)
Have you eaten a Caesar salad before? Chances are you’ve enjoyed Romaine lettuce.
It’s a sturdy option for lettuce which makes it great in any salad. The leaves are hearty and crunchy which can even withstand grilling.
‘Red Romaine’ and ‘Cimmaron’ have red leaves. ‘Pensacola,’ ‘Xalbadora,’ ‘Dragoon,’ ‘Breen,’ and ‘Coastal Star’ are all good varieties worth growing.
If you don’t know your vegetables well, iceberg lettuce could actually become mixed up with cabbage at first glance.
Iceberg forms large, tight heads. It’s a favorite to many gardeners for growing lettuce because it’s able to withstand heat while also resisting diseases too.
‘Crispino’ is a particularly good variety for the home grower, with a medium-sized head and high yields.
Plus, this variety of lettuce takes less than two months to be ready to harvest. If you want a salad in a hurry, reach for the leaf lettuce.
Leaf lettuce comes in red, green, and oak varieties. Check out ‘Lollo Rosso,’ ‘New Red Fire,’ or ‘Tropicana.’
If you struggle to grow crops, you should get along well with growing lettuce. It’s incredibly simple. Here are a few steps to help you along in the process:
When to Plant
Lettuce, no matter the variety, is considered a cool-weather crop. It grows best in the spring or fall because lettuce prefers temperatures between 60-70°F.
Though lettuce can technically germinate (depending on variety) in temperatures anywhere from 40-85°F, it’s also an annual crop meaning you must replant it each season. It won’t return on its own.
It’s a good idea to practice successive planting with lettuce to extend your harvest. Plant lettuce every two weeks but keep an eye on the temperature.
Approximately one month before the temperatures begin to rise, stop planting lettuce because most lettuce varieties take 30-60 days until they’re ready to be harvested. By planting too late, the lettuce may bolt.
You can start head lettuce indoors approximately one month before it should be planted outdoors.
The Ideal Space
We’ve established lettuce prefers to be grown in a cooler climate. It can grow in USDA zones 4-9.
Make sure it’s growing in full sun.
There are some varieties of lettuce that can withstand the heat. If you’re going to grow lettuce in the summer, make sure you plant it in partial shade to help the soil remain cooler.
An option for growing lettuce in the summer could mean strategically arranging your garden to accommodate it. For instance, plant lettuce next to taller plants to provide shade and cooler soil conditions.
Depth and Spacing
When planting, make sure each seed is planted 1/2 inch deep in the soil. If growing from seed, plant no more than 10 seeds per foot of growing space.
Make sure you leave the proper spacing of about 12 inches between the rows. As the seeds germinate, you may have to thin them out.
The idea is to leave 12 inches between each plant as well if growing a large head variety of lettuce. With leaf lettuce, the spacing isn’t quite as big of a concern.
If you’re unsure of your soil’s pH level, test it. You should aim for a pH 6.0-7.0.
How to Care for Lettuce
Caring for lettuce is easy as it doesn’t require much fussing. Here are the few things you should do to help your lettuce harvest remain healthy:
Most of the time I encourage in-depth watering sessions of your plants every other day or every three-day basis.
Lettuce is the exception to the rule. Since lettuce has shallow roots, it’s essential to keep the soil moist but not soaked.
If you water too hard, too deep, or too frequently you can damage your crop. Try to moisten the soil a little every day for the best results.
If the leaves on your lettuce are wilting, they need water.
Watering lettuce during the hotter parts of the day is okay. Water lightly to cool the crop and soil down.
Fertilize three weeks after planting seeds or transplanting seedlings. Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as fish emulsion.
Mulch around your lettuce to help keep the weeds down, keep the soil moist, and keep the temperature of the soil nice and cool.
Weed by hand with caution. You don’t want to damage the roots of the lettuce where they’re shallow.
Problems and Solutions for Growing Lettuce
Creatures love lettuce as much as we do. Here are the few pests, critters, and diseases that could attack your lettuce crop:
You can create a fence from chicken wire, and it will make it difficult for the rabbits to enter your garden. If you can’t fence your garden, consider blocking the rabbits’ scent (or offering fewer desirable scents) by putting dried blood or blood meal around the perimeter of your garden.
Aphids are annoying little creatures that are now found in most areas. They’re little brown, white, pink, black, tan, or green bugs that suction themselves to your plants and feast on them.
You can blast them away with a powerful shot from your water hose. If this doesn’t work, consider spraying them with soapy water or neem oil.
Earwigs may be seen as a welcome visitor because they like to munch on aphids. The downside is they’ll munch on the rest of your garden while they’re at it.
You’ll know you have earwigs when you notice your leaves begin to look as though a tiny chainsaw was chewing through them and left jagged edges. Try rubbing petroleum jelly on the base of your plant to keep them away.
Cutworms are the larvae of moths. They hatch in the fall and begin to do damage to your crops from this point forward. Here’s how to spot them and get rid of them.
Downy mildew appears on crops as a fuzzy white fungus on leaves. The plant will turn brown and die off.
Make sure you have well-draining soil to avoid soggy plants and stay on top of weeds to give your plants proper airflow. Also, try to water your plants so they have enough time to dry before nighttime sets in.
Rotate your crops every few years to prevent it from taking hold in your garden.
Best Companion Plants
There are some crops that tend to grow better when planted close to each other. Here are the best companion plants for lettuce:
Worst Companion Plants
Lettuce doesn’t do well with plants in the allium family. The allium crops put off a chemical that hinders lettuce’s growth, and they seem to compete for nutrients. Try to avoid planting these crops near lettuce:
The cruciferous family doesn’t do well when planted around lettuce, either. Be sure to avoid planting these vegetables near lettuce:
How to Harvest and Store Lettuce
Harvesting lettuce is as simple as growing it. Your lettuce should be ready for harvest anywhere from one to two months after planting.
You don’t want to let your lettuce reach full maturity before harvesting because the leaves get bitter. When the lettuce reaches your desired size, pluck the outer leaves to let the rest of the plant continue to grow or cut the entire plant off at the base.
The goal is to harvest while the lettuce is still younger to make sure the leaves are tender and maintain their sweeter flavor.
Once you’ve harvested your lettuce crop, store it without washing in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. Don’t seal the plastic bag around the lettuce. Leave room for it to breathe. It should be good for approximately ten days.
You now know everything you must to start growing lettuce and have a successful crop.
Whether you’re an experienced gardener or someone new to gardening, hopefully, this will give you the information needed to expand your gardening horizons.