As the warmer temperatures of spring begin to waft into your neck of the woods, you can’t help but dream of lush gardens growing.
We all know the gardening season will be here soon, but there are some crop varieties you can start a little earlier than others.
Lettuce is one which prefers 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 what it needs.
I’m going to walk you through the entire process of growing lettuce from start to finish. Here’s what you must 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 to you:
Arugula is one of my favorite types of lettuce. Though it looks like a 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.
2. French Crisp
If you like a salad with a variety of colors in it, you’ll love French Crisp. 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.
Are you looking for a lettuce you can enjoy both cooked or raw? Endive is what you need. It comes in smaller and tighter heads of lettuce.
It’s a crunchy variety when eaten raw, but if you cook it, the lettuce is sturdy enough to withstand the heat but will soften to be more palatable.
4. Butter Lettuce
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.
But it’s also a crispy variety of lettuce though the leaves are more delicate than some of the other options.
Have you eaten a Caesar salad before? Chances are you’ve enjoyed Romaine lettuce if you answered yes because this is its most common use.
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.
If you don’t know your vegetables well, iceberg lettuce could actually become mixed up with cabbage at first glance.
Iceberg forms larger, tighter heads. It’s a favorite to many gardeners for growing lettuce because it’s able to withstand heat while also resisting diseases too.
7. Leaf Lettuce
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.
How to Grow Lettuce
If you struggle to grow crops, you should get along well with growing lettuce. Here are a few steps to help you along in the process:
1. Plant at the Right Time
Lettuce, no matter the variety, is traditionally considered a cool weather crop. It grows best in the spring or fall because lettuce prefers temperatures between 60-70° Fahrenheit.
Though lettuce can technically germinate (depending on variety) in temperatures anywhere from 40-85° Fahrenheit, 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.
2. The Ideal Space
When planting lettuce during the proper time make sure it’s growing in full sun.
However, there are some varieties of lettuce which 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 arranging your garden to accommodate it — for instance, plant lettuce next to taller plants to provide shade and cooler soil conditions.
3. Depth and Spacing
You can start head lettuce indoors approximately one month before it should be planted outdoors. Otherwise, you can grow all varieties of lettuce outdoors from seed. The choice is yours.
When planting the seeds in the proper grow spot make sure each seed is planted ½ 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.
4. Soil and Water
Most of the time I encourage in-depth watering sessions of your plants on an 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.
How to Care for Lettuce
Caring for lettuce is easy as it doesn’t require much. Here are the few things you should do to help your lettuce harvest remain healthy:
- Fertilize three weeks after planting seeds or transplanting seedlings.
- 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.
- Mulch around your lettuce to help keep the weeds down, the soil moist, and the temperature of the soil down too.
- Weed with caution by hand because this could damage the roots of the lettuce where they’re shallow.
Common Issues with Lettuce
As much as we love lettuce, unfortunately, creatures outdoors love it too. Here are the few pests, critters, and diseases which 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 which are now found in most areas. They look like little white bugs which suction themselves to your plants and feast upon them.
You can either hand pick aphids off your plants or blow them away with a powerful shot from your water hose. If this doesn’t work, consider blasting them with soapy water.
3. Ear Wigs
Earwigs may be seen as a welcome visitor because they do 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 eating 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.
They’ll munch on the foliage of lettuce and cut the stems in the soil. The best way to avoid cutworms on your lettuce is to sprinkle coffee grounds, broken eggshells, or diatomaceous earth on the ground around your plants to slice and dice the cutworms and rid your garden of them.
5. White Mold
White mold appears on crops as a white fungus which starts at the stems. The plant will turn brown and die off.
To avoid white mold, spray your crops with fungicide, make sure you have well-draining soil to avoid soggy plants, make sure you stay on top of weeds to give your plants proper airflow and try to water your plants when they have enough time to dry before nighttime sets in.
Best Companion Plants
There are some crops which tend to grow better when planted in close vicinity of 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 which hinders lettuce’s growth, and they seem to compete for nutrients. Try to avoid planting these crops near lettuce:
However, we aren’t out of the woods yet. There’s a second family of vegetables which don’t seem to grow well around lettuce. The cruciferous family doesn’t do well when planted around it. Be sure to avoid planting these vegetables near lettuce:
Some gardeners say it’s okay to plant cauliflower and kale around lettuce. You can attempt it in your own garden and see what your results may be, but I haven’t had good luck in my own experiences.
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, go ahead and either pluck 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.