Growing

How to Grow Lettuce: Complete Guide

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Do you enjoy a fresh garden salad for lunch? If you have a garden at home, then consider growing yourself some lettuce this summer.

Growing fresh lettuce at home is far better than eating the store-bought stuff. Your organic produce is higher in vitamins and minerals that the iceberg lettuce you pick up at the store.

Plant your lettuce in the early springtime, 2-weeks after the last frosts settle on the ground. You can sow a second harvest 8-weeks out from the start of the first frosts in the wintertime.

Lettuce enjoys colder growing conditions than most other vegetables in your garden, and it’s a popular garden vegetable in the northern states of the country.

Some varieties of lettuce will survive the seedling stage, even with light frosts falling on the ground in the later stage of the winter. You can start sowing your lettuce seeds as soon as the ground temperature rises above 40F.

Lettuce seeds will germinate in soil temperatures of between 55 to 65°F, and the first sprouts emerge above the soil line in a week to 10-days after planting.

Lettuce is a fast-growing plant, and you can expect your harvest to finish within 45 to 55-days after planting. If you stagger your planting, you can get several crops throughout the growing season.

Recommended Lettuce Varieties

There are dozens of varieties of lettuce to plant in your garden this growing season. Some of our favorite lettuce varieties for your first crop include;

  • Crisphead varieties – “mission” and “King crown.”
  • Romaine (cos) varieties – “Paris white cos,” and “Wallop.”
  • Loosehead varieties – “Burpee bibb.”
  • Red Leaf varieties – “Red Sails” we recommend that you avoid using this variety in warm weather, and the pigment in the leaves absorb the heat from sunlight, wilting the plant.

Planting Your Lettuce

Before planting your lettuce seeds, you’ll need to plan your garden. Choose a spot that receives at least 6-hours of direct sunlight during the day.

Prepare your soil by digging at least 18-inches into the ground. Digging the soil allows the roots to grow fast in loose soil, enhances the drainage, and provides excellent aeration for the roots of your plants.

We recommend that you fertilize the soil one to two weeks before you plant. Use organic matter for your fertilizer, and work it into the ground evenly. Lettuce seeds are tiny, and a well-tilled soil makes all the difference in the roots taking.

If your soil has plenty of stones and clots of dirt, the roots will struggle to get around these objects, resulting in slower growth of your lettuce. The plants also don’t compete well with weeds, and the weeds will overrun your harvest if you don’t regularly maintain the soil.

Lettuce is also prone to diseases when the weather turns cloudy, and it starts to rain for days on end. Check your plants for disease in the first three days after a heavy rain spell. If you plant your lettuce close together, it helps with your weed management strategy.

We recommend that you sow your seeds directly into the ground as soon as the soil reaches temperatures above 40F. If you want to grow multiple crops through the season, you’ll need to start planting early indoors. Germinate your seeds in containers around four to six weeks before the start of spring.

Lettuce Seeds
Planting Lettuce Seeds

Plant your seeds at least a quarter-inch deep, and thin the plants when they have four real leaves. If you’re transplanting from pots, then wait until your lettuce develops 6-leaves before moving it into the garden. This strategy gives the plants time to establish a robust root system that doesn’t die off during the transplant.

Transplant your lettuce near the last frost date for your region. Make sure you leave 12 to 15-inches between your lettuce rows and plant 4-inches apart. For cos lettuce and loose-headed lettuce varieties, plant 8-inches apart. Plant any firm-headed varieties at least 16-inches apart of each other for the best results.

After planting, cover your seeds with a quarter-inch of soil and water thoroughly. If you’re planting transplants, then ensure you water deep to reduce transplant shock in the plants.

Create a barrier around your garden using chives and cilantro. These plants will safeguard your lettuce crop from destruction by aphids. Lettuce also makes an excellent candidate for cold-frame growing as well.

Caring for Your Lettuce Crop

After transplanting your lettuce, we recommend that you wait at least three weeks before you start to fertilize your lettuce. Fertilizer helps to increase the yield of your lettuce, so it’s a must for any gardener wanting to grow robust, healthy lettuce plants.

Your lettuce enjoys soil that’s rich in organic nutrients. When planning your beds, make sure you rely on organic materials like compost and mulch to bring nutrients into the ground. Lettuce also loves nitrogen, so make sure you add plenty of this nutrient to the soil as well. We like using alfalfa meal or another type of slow-releasing fertilizer.

Lettuce Growing
Lettuce Growing in the Garden

It’s critical that your soil drains well. Lettuce doesn’t enjoy having “wet feet,” and over-watering your lettuce results in root rot and withering of your lettuce leaves. You’ll know your lettuce needs water when the leaves start to look limp.

We also recommend that you water over the leaves, as they absorb the moisture and perk up. Wetting the foliage helps to reduce transpiration rates, cooling off the plants. Weed your bed by hand, and make sure you do this regularly throughout the growing season. Lettuce roots are shallow, and weeds can crowd them out quickly.

We also recommend that you plant your lettuce between other taller vegetables in your garden. The shade from the plants helps the lettuce stay cool on hot days. If you want to plant a fall crop, then moisten the ground in August, and cover it with hay.

A week later, the ground will be cooler than the rest of the soil in your garden, allowing your lettuce to root properly and thrive. You can sow a row of lettuce three-feet long every other week until the weather turns cold. Rotate your hay around the garden to create further planting sites later in the season.

Pests and Diseases Affecting Lettuce Crops

There are a variety of pests that enjoy munching on your lettuce, and the plants are also at risk of developing diseases as well. The most common pest found in lettuce crops include;

  • Aphids – Brought in by ants, these little pests get inside the folds of the lettuce at the base of the plant. Aphids are challenging to get rid of without using an organic pesticide. We recommend you sow a barrier wall of cilantro and chives around your lettuce to prevent these pesky pests from reaching your lettuce plants.
  • Earwigs – These pests will start munching on the stems and inner folds of the plant, but they are less common than aphids.
  • Cutworms – are also another problem pest for lettuce., These worms burrow into the stems of the lettuce, causing the leaves to wilt and turn yellow in appearance.
  • Fungal Infection – Lettuce is also predisposed to fungal infection as well. After a heavy rain, if the weather remains cold and overcast, check your plants daily for signs of mold. White mold is the most common pathogen affecting your lettuce crop.
  • Woodchucks and rabbits –  love lettuce, and they can flatten your crop in a day or two if you aren’t paying attention. Some gardeners live in regions of the United States where woodchucks and rabbits are common in the wild. If this is the case for you, fence in your garden, or grow in a greenhouse to keep these critters away from your plants.

Harvesting Your Lettuce

Most varieties of lettuce reach maturity in 45 to 55-days. When harvesting your lettuce, wait until the leaves are a few days away from reaching maturity before picking. This strategy helps you keep the lettuce fresh in the crisper drawer of your fridge, extending its shelf life. Lettuce leaves also taste better when they are younger, with a sweeter taste than mature lettuce leaves.

  • When harvesting your lettuce, do it in stages.
  • Pick the outer leaves first, and then leave the inner leaves to develop before the second round of harvesting.
  • You can harvest romaine or butter lettuce by picking off the leaves, digging up the head, or cutting the plant free and inch above the surface of the soil.
Harvesting Your Lettuce
Harvesting Your Lettuce

Pick crisphead lettuce varieties with the center of the head is firm. If you leave your lettuce to long after the harvest date, you can expect it to develop a woody texture with a bitter flavor.

We recommend that you harvest your lettuce in the early morning before the sun starts to shine. This harvesting strategy leaves you with sweet, juicy lettuce leaves that are ideal for your afternoon salad lunch.

Storing Your Lettuce Crop

After harvesting your lettuce, we recommend that you don’t rinse it before storage. Pack it into Ziploc bags and store it in the crisper drawer of your fridge for up to 10-days.

Hollie Carter

Hollie is a life-long gardener, having started helping her Dad work on their yard when she was just 5. Since then she has gone on to develop a passion for growing vegetables & fruit in her garden. She has an affinity with nature and loves to share her knowledge gained over a lifetime with readers online. Hollie has written for a number of publications and is now the resident garden blogger here at GardenBeast. Contact her at hollie@gardenbeast.com or follow on twitter https://twitter.com/greenholliec

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