So your’e wondering “Can You Freeze Lettuce”.. Your’e in the right place!
Storing food can be done a different ways, freezing being one of them.
With vegetables however, the case is a little different. Vegetables like lettuce contain a large percentage of water.
When they are frozen, the water in them is transformed to ice which breaks down cell walls and leaves you with a slimy mess.
That’s why you need extra care and extra knowledge on how to properly freeze lettuce.
So to your question about freezing lettuce, the answer is simple: Yes and NO.
If you want to make a tossed salad with a vegetable that already contains 94% water, the answer is “NO”.
But for cooking and flavored uses, yes you can freeze lettuce!
The truth with freezing lettuce is: there’s only so much you can do. Leaving them out will cause them to spoil faster and freezing them will lead to loss of some flavor.
However, if you freeze them properly, you can keep them for about 6 months while maintaining most of their flavor.
Before we get all serious about the benefits of lettuce and how you can make them last longer, here are a few fun facts about lettuce.
Did you know?
Lettuce is one vegetable that is highly immune to any kind of preservation.
Iceberg lettuce takes eighty-five days from sowing to maturity.
Lettuce is the second most popular fresh vegetable in the United States after potatoes.
Thomas Jefferson had 19 varieties of lettuce growing in his garden in Monticello.
China is the world’s largest producer of lettuce.
Table of Contents
- What are the benefits of lettuce?
- Can You Freeze Lettuce?
- Types of Lettuce to Freeze
- How To Freeze Lettuce
- Freezing Lettuce Ice Cubes
- Lettuce And Frost: Does Lettuce Need To Be Protected From Frost
- Does Lettuce Need to be protected from Frost?
- Lettuce and Frost Resulting Symptoms
- Lettuce and Frost Protection
- How Hardy Is Lettuce?
- Growing Lettuce (Lactuca Sativa)
- Growing Lettuce
- You might also like these
- 5 tips for growing lettuce in winter
What are the benefits of lettuce?
As you avoid lettuce you must know that it is very rich in antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium.
Fights inflammation: Proteins in lettuce help control inflammation. Studies have proven that lettuce can be used as a form of medicine to treat inflammation and pains in the legs i.e. arthritis.
Vitamin K present in lettuce can drastically reduce inflammation. The darker lettuces contain more antioxidant.
Aids weight loss: Like the romaine lettuce, it contains 95% of water which keeps your stomach full and prevents you from eating more.
If you’re on a weight loss journey, you should consider adding lettuce to your diet.
Healthy brain: You have to feed your body the right nutrient for your brain to stay healthy.
Lack of nutrients can cause neuronal cells to die leading to a disease called Alzheimer’s.
Lettuce has nutrients that help to stop the death of those neuronal cells in our brains.
Prevents heart attack and high blood pressure: The potassium in lettuce helps to prevent heart disease and lower your blood pressure.
Is it also a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin C that is responsible for strengthen the arteries and improves blood flow to prevent heart attack.
Helps fight cancer: Lettuce helps to protect against different types of cancer like the stomach, mouth, throat, and esophagus.
Studies have shown that smokers who consume lettuce have protective effects on their lungs.
Reduces the risk of diabetes: Studies have shown that vegetables like lettuce reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes.
This can be attributed to the effect of a particular food on your blood sugar levels of lettuce, which means it doesn’t cause much of a rise in blood sugar levels.
Maintains a healthy immune system: Our immune system cannot stay healthy without nutrients.
Lettuces have vitamins A and C in lettuce which is good for the immune system.
Improves muscle strength and metabolism: Lettuce helps to boost your muscles.
Osteoporosis is associated with low potassium level which can be gained by eating lettuce.
Lettuce contains potassium which provides muscle strength and also boosts your muscles.
Hair and skin treatment: Lettuce contains vitamin a which helps to your skin.
The potassium in lettuce improves circulation which supplies oxygen and other nutrients to the skin. vitamin C present in the lettuce helps to protect the skin from radiation.
Lettuce enhances your natural glow by delaying signs of aging and also detoxes your system.
Wash your face thoroughly with lettuce extract or juice in the morning to improve your skin health.
Vitamin K helps to boost hair growth and strengthen the hair. You can use lettuce as a natural shampoo to wash your hair to prevent hair loss and premature gray hair.
Helps with insomnia: If you ever find it difficult to sleep, add lettuce to your diet. It makes you feel relaxed and puts you to sleep due to the presence of latucin.
Promotes Digestive Health: The fiber present in lettuce helps to prevent constipation, stomach pain and bloating. It also aids in the digestion process and improves intestinal health.
Types of lettuce
There are so many types of lettuce but many people know only a few (iceberg, butter head, leaf, and romaine).
Few other lettuces you should know are oak leaf lettuce, red leaf and green leaf lettuce.
Iceberg Lettuce nutrition facts
Serving size: 100 grams
Serving % Daily
Calories from Fat 1
Total Fat 0 g 0%
Saturated Fat 0 g 0%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 10 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 3 g 1%
Dietary Fiber 1 g 5%
Sugar 2 g
Protein 1 g
Vitamin A 10% Vitamin C 50%
Calcium 2% Iron 2%
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 72 kJ (17 kcal)
Carbohydrates 3.3 g
Dietary fibre 2.1 g
Fat 0.3 g
Protein 1.2 g
Vitamins Quantity %DV†
Vitamin A equiv. 36%
Folate (B9) 34%
Vitamin C 29%
Minerals Quantity %DV†
Other constituents Quantity
Water 95 g
Romaine lettuce has so many beneficial nutritional values it can provide to the body. They include:
Vitamin C helps to support the immune system and is high in antioxidants which help to keep your bones and teeth strong.
Calcium is important for the building and maintaining your bones, muscle movement, nerve function, and blood clotting.
Vitamin k helps to prevent your blood from clotting. It works with calcium to prevent bone mineral loss and fractures due to osteoporosis.
Vitamin A provides antioxidant for cell growth and reproductive health. It also helps to maintain your essential organs; heart, kidneys, and lungs. Vitamin A also supports the eyes.
Folate is a B vitamin that supports cell division, production of DNA, and genetic material. As a pregnant woman, lack of Folate can lead to complications in pregnancy like premature birth or low birth weight.
Phosphorus works with calcium to make your bones and teeth strong.
Magnesium helps enzymes function and relaxes the muscles in your body. It works with calcium to build tissue.
Potassium helps your heart beat regularly. It supports your nerve function and helps your muscles contract normally.
Potassium also helps your cells to move and consume nutrients. It minimizes the negative impact of sodium on the body.
Different Ways to Eat Lettuce
If you’re ever thinking of ways to eat lettuce without having to eat it alone, these are a few ways you can spice up your diet and also live healthily.
Soup: lettuce gives you soup a sweet flavor and it’s also a good way of adding extra nutrient to your meal. Escarole is a personnel favorite.
Juice: Lettuce contains a lot of water, this is the best way to take advantage of that and add it into your juice blend or smoothie. You do not need a large quantity, just add few leaves to your fruits and blend properly.
Lettuce wraps: don’t you just love the taste of lettuce in your burger or taco? Well, lettuce wraps can be a substitute for bread which helps you avoid carbs.
It can be layered into spring rolls and wraps.
How long does Lettuce Last?
How long lettuce last, depends on a few factors which include the date the lettuce was purchased, its preparation method and its mode of storage.
Lettuce is best stored in a loosely closed plastic bag. And it’s also advisable you do not wash it until you’re ready to eat it.
Lettuce stored under this condition could last from a minimum of 7 days to a maximum of 10 days.
While lettuce that has been chopped, it can last a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 5 days.
But of course, any food not stored properly will last a shorter period of time before it spoils.
Lettuce can still be used to compliment your meals even after the best by date elapses.
How to Freeze Lettuce to make Them Last Longer
Although we have established that lettuce is probably not the best food to freeze (especially if you plan to use it in a salad), if done right, you can get a pretty good result out of it.
Preserving lettuce requires extra care and attention, or else it would all be for nothing.
First, cut off the stalk. Note that using a knife to cut lettuce leaves might make them turn brown in no time.
It is best you use your hands to separate the leaves. Lettuce varieties like Iceberg and Romaine that have stiff cores usually last longer, when their core is removed.
Leave the core on lettuce varieties with thin and tender leaves.
Second , separate the damaged and brown leaves from the good ones.
Leaving them together will cause the entire lettuce to deteriorate faster and even lose taste.
Third, wash the leaves thoroughly with cool, clean water. Use a soft cloth or paper towel to dry the leaves and leave them out for a few minutes.
Ensure that you dry the thoroughly as moisture rapidly degrades the texture of lettuce. It might even completely destroy them.
When you are sure that they are completely dry, place them in waterproof freezer bags.
Squeeze out any excess air before sealing off the bag Be careful not to over stuff each bag with too much lettuce else you risk damaging the leaves.
Now place them in your freezer to store.
When it comes to storing lettuce, it is ideally advisable to store leafy greens in the coldest part of the freezer.
It is also important that you avoid bruising.
I.E. squeezing the leaves into tighter space with other foods. Do not store lettuce in the same drawers with other fruits and vegetable which release high portions of ethylene gas, that can cause spoilage.
Also, watch out for the container when water is running down the sides of the container. Reduce the humidity settings of the freezer, and if you see ice on the leaf increase the temperature of your freezer.
How to Keep Romaine Lettuce Fresh
You should know that romaine lettuce has a high water nutrient so you can be careful on how to keep romaine lettuce fresh.
By following these few procedures, it should guide you on how to keep romaine lettuce fresh.
Fill half of your sink with clean room temperature water.
Use a clean sharp knife to cut off the core of the lettuce.
Separate the romaine lettuce leaves and keep them in water.
Shake off the lettuce leaves properly in the water until all of the dirt or other residues have been removed.
Dry the romaine leaves with a clean towel and leave to dry on a tray.
Put dry paper or kitchen towels in the crisper drawer to absorb excess moisture from the lettuce.
Arrange the lettuces layer by layer on the paper or kitchen towels and leave to preserve.
How to Keep Iceberg Lettuce Fresh
Iceberg lettuce is used for making salads so you have to keep it fresh and crunchy.
Repeat the same method with the romaine lettuce but it is preferable that you place the lettuce in a plastic bag before placing it in the crisper drawer.
Frequently change the paper towel as well to prevent it from absorbing excess moisture.
It is important that the lettuce stays crunchy.
Lettuce is a healthy vegetable that is easy to grow that you should adding to your diet.
And with all the information we’ve divulged in this post, you have no excuse anymore.
- Trim off the end of the stem and separate the leaves.
- Fill up the sink (or a very large bowl) with cold water and submerge the leaves. Gently swish the leaves around in the water. Any grit will sink to the bottom of the sink. Remove the clean lettuce, or empty the bowl and repeat this step for especially dirty lettuce.
- Now you’re going to want to dry the lettuce. The best way to do this is in a salad spinner. But don’t cram the leaves into it. Cut them in half (or smaller) so that you don’t bruise them trying to squeeze them in.
- Salad-spin until all the water has drained away. The leaves will still be slightly damp—that’s what you want.
- Take the basket out of the salad spinner and cover the leaves with damp paper towels. Transfer the basket to the fridge. (You could use a large colander instead of the salad spinner basket.) You might want to set it on a plate or tray to catch any additional drainage, but don’t use a bowl—remember, you want airflow.
- Once the greens have chilled for about 30 minutes, they’ll be crisp and ready to use. But you can store your lettuce in the fridge this way for 3 to 5 days. Rewet the paper towels if they dry out. Squeeze out excess water—they only need to be damp, not soaking.
Can You Freeze Lettuce?
Freezing lettuce may not be the most common approach used in the kitchen. However, you can certainly freeze lettuce, but because lettuce leaves are full of water, ice crystals will form and change the texture. Iceberg lettuce, which contain around 96% of water, will certainly not be ideal for salads after it has been thawed. This doesn’t mean mean that frozen lettuce can’t be used. If you follow the proper steps it can work for lots of healthy recipes. This is also a sustainable way to minimize waste and it prevents otherwise unused lettuce from winding up in a landfill.
Frozen butter lettuce leaves.
Types of Lettuce to Freeze
Even though iceberg lettuce have a very high water content, it can still be used. Romaine lettuce and butterhead lettuces are a better choice because they are not as tender as iceberg lettuce. This means that they will be less soggy and more flavorful when defrosted. Romaine lettuce and butterhead lettuce are also very high in B vitamins and antioxidants and therefore may be a better nutritional choice if available. Remember that any type of lettuce you freeze will come out more or less soggy once thawed. Any frozen lettuce will be far from its original fresh texture. However, you can still freeze any type of lettuce and use it for different dishes.
How To Freeze Lettuce
Whether you start with a head of lettuce or shredded lettuce, you will want to make sure it has been washed thoroughly and dried. But before washing, when you begin to separate the leaves from a head of lettuce, do so with care, pulling them apart at the base of the stem. Using a salad spinner to remove excess water before you freeze the lettuce is an effective way to reduce the moisture. You can then blot the lettuce dry with paper towels. Lettuce leaves are best when placed in a large freezer bag that allows them to lie flat. Make sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing. Label the bag with the contents and an expiration date, and you will want to use the frozen lettuce within 6 months. You could also freeze an entire lettuce without separating the leaves, but make sure it has been been properly washed before you put it in the freezer.
Frozen lettuce after thawing.
To prepare frozen lettuce for use, remove it from packaging and place at room temperature on paper towel. This will help absorb moisture as the frozen lettuce slowly defrosts. This should take approximately an hour. You can also use frozen lettuce without defrosting it in soups, casseroles, quiches, and stews. Or why not just saute the lettuce with some other vegetables, and add some soy sauce to give it a good flavor.
Freezing Lettuce Ice Cubes
Freezing lettuce for smoothies is an obvious choice. This allows you to add vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber to your smoothie without really changing the taste. So, why not make your own lettuce ice cubes? Yes, that’s right! The best way would probably be if you could puree the lettuce in a blender together with a little bit of water. Once mixed you will get a smooth texture, which you would pour into the ice cube tray slots.
If you do not have a blender you can still use shredded lettuce in quantities as small as an ice cube to add some texture and make your smoothie cold and refreshing.
– What can you do with frozen lettuce?
As mentioned earlier, besides freezing lettuce for smoothies, there are other simple ways to use frozen lettuce. Because defrosted lettuce will no longer be crisp or crunchy, using it for a salad really isn’t an option. Soups, casseroles, quiches, and stews are a great choice because they lend themselves to softer ingredients and usually involve a blend of different vegetables.
– Can you eat lettuce while it is still frozen? Is it safe?
Yes, frozen lettuce is safe to eat. However, if you want to keep the lettuce crunchy, you can keep it in the freezer for around 1 to 2 hours. Take it out and serve it with a dressing of your choice.
Lettuce And Frost: Does Lettuce Need To Be Protected From Frost
Lettuce is a veggie that does best when grown in cooler, moist conditions; temperatures between 45-65 F. (7-18 C.) are ideal. How cool is cool, though? Will frost damage lettuce plants? Read on to learn more.
Does Lettuce Need to be protected from Frost?
Growing your own lettuce is a beautiful thing. Not only is it rewarding to pick your own fresh produce, but once picked, lettuce will continue to grow, giving you successive harvests of fresh greens. But what happens when temperatures dip toward the freezing mark? Does your lettuce need to be protected from frost?
Lettuce seedlings will generally tolerate a light frost and, unlike most vegetables, continue to grow through the fall when the possibility is a probability in some regions. That said, cold, clear nights may create frost damage in lettuce. especially if the duration of the cold snap is lengthy.
Lettuce and Frost Resulting Symptoms
Frost damage in lettuce causes a variety of symptoms relating to the severity and length of the freezing period. A common symptom is when the outer cuticle of the leaf separates from the underlying tissue, causing a bronzed color due to the death of those epidermal cells. Severe damage causes necrotic lesions of the leaf veins and spotting of the leaf, similar to pesticide burn or heat damage.
On occasion, the tips of young leaves are killed outright or frost damages the edges, resulting in thickening of the leaf tissue. Any damage to lettuce due to frost should be removed or the plants will begin to decay and become inedible.
Lettuce and Frost Protection
Lettuce is tolerant of cold temperatures for short periods of time, although growth will slow down. To protect lettuce in frost prone areas, plant romaine or butterhead lettuce, which are the most cold-tolerant.
When frost is predicted, cover the garden with sheets or towels to provide some protection. This will help in the short term, but if prolonged frost is due, your lettuce is likely in jeopardy.
Finally, outdoor freezes may not be the only concern for lettuce and frost. Frosty conditions in your refrigerator will definitely damage the tender lettuce greens, leaving you with a slimy mess. Obviously, don’t put lettuce in the freezer. Adjust the setting of your fridge if it is prone to frosting up.
How Hardy Is Lettuce?
Lettuce is generally regarded as being a hardy annual vegetable. But how hardy is it really? This year I have been experimenting to try and find the answer to that question. And a colder than usual November and December has been helping me in my research.
My amateur experiment involves growing several different lettuce varieties in my homemade cold frames, along with some other hardy greens like spinach, arugula, komatsuna, tatsoi and mizuna. The cold frames are 4 foot square, and about 8″ tall in front tapering to 12″ tall in the back. The top is a hinged wooden frame covered in spunbonded polyester row cover fabric (like Reemay or Agribon).
Why not cover the tops with plastic? That’s a good question, and one my wife asked recently. Covering the tops with plastic turns the cold frame into a mini greenhouse that can quickly overheat on a sunny day, even in winter. Since I’m not always at home to open them, if I went that route I would need to put an automatic opener on the cold frames.
For this experiment, the polyester cover is ideal. It provides only a few degrees of frost protection, but its main purpose is to keep the wind and snow out. The greens can handle the cold better than the wind or moisture. My goal this year was to find out just how much cold they can take.
The beds under the cold frames were planted in mid October. Six weeks later, in late November, the cold frames were full of greens big enough to begin harvesting. In the bed in the photo below (taken November 30th) from left to right we have lettuces Winter Density, Oak Leaf, Sea of Red, Radichetta, and Ruby. To the far right we have the Spinach Spargo.
(click on any photo to enlarge)
Through the month of November we had 10 nights of temperatures below freezing, the lowest temperature being 23F. That’s 10 cycles of being frozen at night, then gradually thawing the next day. It didn’t seem to bother the plants any. On December 1st we started harvesting some of them. The lettuces were still not quite full sized, but there was plenty to eat, and the leaves were tender and mild. It’s hard to believe they have spent that much of their lives frozen!
It’s still a matter of scientific debate regarding the exact mechanisms plants use to survive freezing temperatures. It’s thought that lettuce and other hardy plants have the ability to move water out of their cells into the intercellular spaces so that the cell walls don’t rupture when they freeze. Of course different species vary greatly in their adaptability to cold.
The secret to harvesting lettuce in winter is to not harvest while it is frozen. Instead, wait until temperatures get above freezing and the plants can naturally defrost themselves. If you harvest while it is frozen you will wind up with limp and slimy lettuce.
The other cold frame in my experiment was planted with (from left to right) arugula, komatsuna, Yukina savoy (tatsoi), Spotted Trout lettuce, and Gigante Inverno spinach. The photo below was also taken on November 30th.
So far we have harvested all the tatsoi and some of the arugula and Spotted Trout lettuce. All were in great shape and seemingly unaffected by the cold. The spinach is not quite big enough to harvest, so it will likely have to wait until late winter or early spring. The komatsuna is reportedly very hardy, so we left it growing longer.
In early December the weather turned even colder. So far it has been below freezing every night, with the lowest temperature being 14F. For three days last week the high temps did not even get above freezing. When it finally did get above freezing, I harvested some more lettuce. This lettuce is just as good as that harvested before the weather turned colder. The lettuce is not growing much in the short days of winter, but it is surviving the cold. In the bowl below we have Winter Density, Oak Leaf, Ruby and Spotted Trout.
bowl of hardy lettuce in December
I have now begun replanting some of the areas where plants have been harvested. I have been planting with seedlings of mizuna and tatsoi, as well as Rouge d’Hiver lettuce. Given their late planting, it will be interesting to see if any of these plants survive the winter. The photo below was taken this morning, while temps were around 20F. The plants in there were quite frozen.
So were the plants in the other cold frame. It will be interesting to see how the komatsuna plants taste when we finally harvest them.
After the last two photos were taken, it started snowing. Tonight and later this week the low temperatures are supposed to be below 10F. Now the plants and the cold frames will really get tested!
cold frames are doing their job
I will report later in the month on how the lettuce and other plants are doing. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy salads from the lettuces we’ve already harvested. Good night, little lettuce plants, and sleep tight under those cold frames!
Good survival of Green Forest and Revolution lettuce (sown September 24) in our hoophouse after the Big Freeze, on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
We keep a list of lettuce varieties for each season. We had extremely cold weather at New Year, -3F on Jan 2 and Jan 3, followed by -8F on Jan 6 and -9F on Jan 7. In past years we did not often need to add inner rowcover over our crops in the hoophouse at night, but in recent years, this has become more common. Our guideline is that if we expect the night-time low to be 8F or lower, we use rowcover. This winter, even with rowcover, we lost some lettuce and pak choy. Here are some before (December 20) and after (January 10) photos and notes.
Merlot lettuce on December 20.
Photo Pam DawlingMerlot lettuce from our September 15 sowing on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
Merlot is one of our favorite reds and previously we regarded it as one of our more hardy varieties. Other ones from last year’s list of hardy varieties include Green Forest, Hyper Red Rumple Wave, Tango, Winter Marvel and Red Tinged Winter. Hyper Red Wave (as we call it for short) didn’t do so well either.
Hyper Red Rumple Wave from our September 15 sowing, on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
Nor did Outredgeous from the earlier sowing, although the later sowing did better – the plants were smaller. Often smaller (younger, not stunted!) plants can survive colder temperatures.
Outredgeous lettuce from our September 15 sowing, on January 10.
Photo Pam DawlingOutredgeous lettuce from our September 24 sowing still alive but with some damage on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
The real stars of red lettuce for cold-hardiness this winter have been Revolution from Fedco Seeds and Buckley from High Mowing.
Revolution lettuce in the foreground, Buckley in the background, on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
Another big star is Red Tinged Winter from Fedco Seeds. That’s the one I harvested leaves from on January 10.
Red Tinged Winter lettuce from our Septemebr 24 sowing in our hoophouse on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling Tango lettuce from our September 24 sowing on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
And, for green lettuce, Tango, also from Fedco, came through, as always.
Green Forest lettuce from our September 15 sowing on January 10.
Photo Pam Dawling
Our Green Forest romaine had mixed results. Once again the bigger, older sowing survived less well.
The same Green Forest lettuce on December 20. Photo Pam Dawling Hampton lettuce from our September 24 sowing. One plant has collapsed with sclerotinia lettuce drop.
Photo Pam Dawling
Other green lettuces include Hampton and Ezrilla, two more of High Mowing’s Eazyleaf lettuce varieties. Not as hardy as their red Buckley, but not as wimpy as some. The older sowing of Hampton died, but the younger (seen here) mostly survived. We did not have any Ezrilla in our later planting. Now I wish we had, as I like this lettuce.
Ezrilla lettuce from our September 15 sowing on January 10. The damage was quite variable.
Photo Pam Dawling
Remember that these lettuces have been through very cold temperatures. That any survived is remarkable. We will learn from this and adjust our variety list before next winter!
Growing Lettuce (Lactuca Sativa)
How To Grow Lettuce In Warm Weather
Growing lettuce is relatively easy. Well, as long as it is cool enough.
Unfortunately lettuce is NOT a tropical plant! In the tropics you can only grow lettuce during the cooler months. Lettuce does NOT like hot weather.
But I come from a cooler climate originally. I do love my lettuce and grow it every year and that’s why tips for growing lettuce are included here.
I don’t just love eating lettuce, I also love to grow lettuce. Lettuces are so pretty!
I have a whole collection of varieties. Big round leaves and small frilly ones, dark red and light red, green and freckled, wide leaves, narrow leaves, oak leaves…
You name it, I grow it.
Did you know…
- The earliest mention of lettuce in history is a carving on an Egyptian temple. Lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac in Egypt.
- The Greeks used lettuce as a medicinal plant to induce sleep.
- The Romans also grew lettuce. They cultivated a narrow leafed Cos/Romaine type lettuce, much like today’s “Rabbit Ear” lettuce.
- As so many other crops, lettuce was brought to us by Christopher Columbus.
- The name lettuce and the botanical name Lactuca come from the Latin word lac. It means milk and refers to the milky sap inside lettuce leaves and stems.
- Lactucarium is an opiate-like substance found in the milk of lettuce. It is also called Lettuce Opium. Supposedly it helps to induce sleep. And in my experience it does.
- In some Asian countries lettuce is used as a cooked vegetable. Both the stem and leaves are used. There are even varieties of lettuce that are grown for the stem rather than the leaf.
(I grew that once, out of curiosity. The seed company called it “stem lettuce”. It is also known as “celtuce”.)
Why You Should Grow Lettuce
Have you ever tasted a lettuce fresh from the garden? I mean, FRESH? Picked less than 30 minutes ago? It’s amazingly delicious! You will never settle for shop lettuce again after you tasted a truly fresh garden lettuce.
When I still worked outside the house I used to pick a big bowl of lettuce every evening. Half I ate for dinner (yum!), and the other half I kept to make lunch at work the next day.
I neither washed nor chopped the leaves. I just put them in the fridge in a sealed bag to take to work the next day. When I ate it, the lettuce had been picked less than 24 hours ago and already it tasted bland compared to my evening meal.
The flavour still beats the shop lettuces any day, but it’s definitely not the same as a garden fresh lettuce. That’s one reason to grow lettuce.
(Lettuce also tops the list of vegetables that have the most pesticide residues on them, but I assume you are smart enough to buy organic anyway, right?)
The other reason to grow lettuce is that lettuces are so incredibly ornamental. You know I don’t believe in the separation of a strictly defined “veggie patch”, kept separate from the ornamental part of the garden.
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read my article about Permaculture Zones.)
Do you know how many colourful varieties with different kinds of leaves there are?
You can plant the most beautiful swirls and patterns just out of lettuce!
But even individual plants or clumps of a few, strategically placed, can look as gorgeous as any typical bedding flower.
So lets finally get into growing the stuff!
What Lettuces Like And Dislike
- Lettuces need good soil. It should be light, free draining and rich in organic matter. It needs to hold lots of water and lots of nitrogen and other nutrients.
- Lettuces taste best when they are grown as fast as possible and for that they need water and food.
- Lettuces need lots of everything, and they want a steady supply of it. Any set back they suffer will at least make them tough and bitter, at worst it will cause them to bolt to seed straight away without making any leaves for you! So make sure they never get stressed (e.g. by forgetting to water them).
- Lettuce has shallow roots, so it dries out easily!
- Any gardening book (all written for cooler climates) will tell you that full sun is essential. Full sun is best ONLY when it isn’t too hot. Once the temperatures approach the thirties (climb above 80 F, if you think in Fahrenheit), your lettuce will definitely appreciate some shade!
Growing Lettuce From Seed
Direct seeding is the easiest way to grow lettuce.
Either spread the seed very thinly along a row and cover lightly with soil, or sprinkle it over a bed and rake it in. Lettuce seed is very fine and not easy to spread evenly, therefore both methods will likely require you to thin your seedlings later. (But if you wait long enough you can eat the thinnings as baby lettuce.)
Lettuce seeds usually germinate within seven to ten days but can take as little as two or as long as twelve days. It depends on the variety, the temperature, the moisture and other factors.
To thin your seedlings if they are too dense, cut the surplus lettuce plants rather than pulling them out, so you don’t damage the roots of the neighbouring plants.
Direct seeding will likely cause some losses. Emerging lettuce seedlings are very vulnerable to all sorts of bugs. Slugs love them, so do grass and leaf hoppers, and earwigs and other soil insects can get them before they even break the surface. Also, lettuces grow very slowly in the beginning and are easily overgrown by weeds.
You can also grow your lettuces in pots or punnets and transplant them when they are big enough to handle.
Handle them very carefully to minimize the transplanting shock. Ideally you don’t disturb the roots at all. (For that reason punnets or planting trays with individual slots are preferable to pots.)
Only transplant lettuce in the late afternoon to give them the longest possible time to settle in, before they have to cope with the sun and heat.
If your lettuce seedlings were grown in shade or semi shade you need to sun harden them before transplanting them.
Alternatively you can provide shade for a few days in their new position and then gradually remove it. (A couple of hours the first day, longer the next and so on.) If it’s very hot, you may need to do both.
The cooler the weather, the better your chances to successfully transplant your lettuce.
I ALWAYS direct seed. In this climate it’s easier.
Growing Lettuce Plants
Lettuces need to grow fast to taste good, so keep up the water and nutrients. If the weather is very hot and your soil sandy, you will need to water daily. Stick your finger in the soil if not sure. Lettuces have a very shallow root system, so if your finger does not find any water, neither does the lettuce!
If your lettuce grows slowly despite having plenty of water, then it needs more food. Ideally you planted your lettuce in a well prepared bed that has lost of organic matter and compost in it. If not, then you need to supply extra nutrients, especially nitrogen. The problem is that too much added nitrogen makes plants sappy and weak and very attractive to bugs. Therefore repeated small doses of fertilizer are better than one big dose.
(A classic high nitrogen fertiliser would be chicken manure.)
Lettuces need some shade in hot weather. Don’t plant them in deep shade though, like under a tree. They will just grow into pale, leggy things with few leaves on them. Ideally you find a position that provides dappled shade in the afternoon. Other options are interplanting between taller plants that will not totally shade them (capsicums/peppers or eggplants, staked tomatoes).
Growing lettuce in a patch of coriander/cilantro works well for me. Cilantro is even more heat sensitive than lettuce. It bolts to seed first and the fine leaves and flower heads shade the lettuce just enough to allow it to hang in there.
(This will not work for everyone. It depends on your climate and what lettuce variety you grow. But take the idea and experiment with it!)
If you get surprised by a heat wave, you can always cut a leafy branch somewhere and poke it in the ground next to your lettuce.
You can start harvesting loose leaf lettuces (like cos or oakleaf varieties) only two to three weeks after they germinate. At that time they’ll be only microgreen size, but hey, it’s a start. Carefully remove a few outer leaves as you need them. You can also remove whole plants by cutting them at soil level if your lettuces are growing too densely.
Initially your harvest won’t amount to more than a sandwich topping, but soon enough you’ll have enough for your first salad bowl. You can continue harvesting your lettuce like that for many weeks.
After about eight weeks the leaves will have reached their mature size. If you do not harvest the outer leaves now, then the plant will start to elongate and develop a seed stem at which point it will start to taste bitter. But keep picking the outer leaves and you can delay this “bolting to seed”. Of course, this also depends on the temperature. Once it gets too hot, nothing will stop your lettuce from seeding.
I don’t recommend growing hearting lettuce varieties in hot climates, but if you want to try anyway, or if you live in a cooler climate, then you will have to wait for ten to twelve weeks for Romaine varieties and up to 15 weeks for crisphead varieties to mature. Naturally, you then harvest these lettuces by cutting the whole plant.
Again, once the head starts to elongate to form a seed stem the leaves will turn bitter, so don’t leave it too late just because you are hoping for a bigger head still.
I personally can’t think of a good reason to grow hearting varieties. To me the looseleaf varieties have too many advantages.
Problems When Growing Lettuce
Nearly all problems you may encounter when growing lettuce are caused by hot weather. The most common problem, apart form the plants bolting to seed prematurely, are brown edges on the leaves. This happens especially if you get very hot weather after a cool spell.
I already mentioned above that slugs and snails love lettuce. But if the lettuce grows fast enough, they shouldn’t do much damage. Slugs are mostly a problem when the plants are still small.
Bugs that chew on your lettuce are often a symptom that your plant is not as happy as it could be. Bugs are attracted to stressed plants. So in the end it comes down to everything that I explained above. Enough water, enough nutrients, just the right amount of shade, and… Accepting that lettuce is not a tropical vegetable!
Some More Tips For Growing Lettuce In Hot Weather
Not all kinds of lettuce are created equal! Sorry, Iceberg is out. Do not bother with it. In a tropical climate it will just rot from the centre.
The other hearting lettuce varieties, like Butterhead or Batavian (Summer Crisp) may do ok in the coolest months. (The upper temperature limit to grow heading lettuces is 28°C/83F)
Unfortunately the Cos/Romaine types (my favourite) are also very heat susceptible. I do grow those but they are the first to bolt to seed at the first sign of hot weather.
The most heat tolerant kinds of lettuce are the open leafed varieties. All the pretty fancy lettuces you see in the shops, the frilly and curly varieties, they are your lettuce varieties of choice for hot weather.
There are also differences in the heat tolerance of the open leafed lettuce kinds.
Darker lettuce absorbs more sunlight than lighter colours, so it suffers sooner (but they are prettier). Choose light green over dark red.
The most heat resistant kinds of lettuce in my experience are the oakleaf varieties.
Here in Australia we have a green oakleaf lettuce called Darwin, named after Australia’s most tropical city. It is by far the hardiest lettuce I know, but any light green oakleaf variety does well in my garden.
Growers in other parts have different experiences. Lettuce is a crop that you need to experiment with yourself to see which varieties are happiest in your garden. And why not? Experimenting with lettuce is fun and rewarding!
If I grew lettuce only for eating, I’d grow just my Darwin lettuce. But lettuces are waaaay too pretty to limit myself to that.
I grow a lot of the green oakleaf as my staple, and I grow all others for their ornamental value. My favourite kind of lettuce to grow is a light green Cos or Romaine type with pink, red or purple dots, called “Freckles” :-).
You can always buy a packet of mixed seeds, and then save the seeds from those varieties that lasted the longest before flowering.
Lettuce flowers mostly self pollinate. If you grow several varieties next to each other you will end up with about 95% of seed that is just like the parent, and 5% of surprises. And you never know, one of those surprises may be even more heat tolerant!
Just save the best seed every year, and within a few years you have the most heat tolerant lettuce, perfectly adapted to grow in your garden, something you’d never be able to buy.
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It’s the time of year when a gardener’s fancy turns toward cool-weather crops. And lucky for us, in the Southeast there are some fresh vegetables you can continue harvesting while the north winds blow. We count on cole crops such as broccoli and cabbage; the root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, beets and carrots; and the leafy greens of spinach, collards and kales. But only lettuce (Latuca sativa) and other salad greens grow reliably not only into the cold weather, but right through it.
Plant lettuce in your garden this fall, and it will not only survive the frosty mornings, but anytime we have a warm afternoon it will also do some growing. And the great thing about lettuce is that you can continually harvest it, and it will just keep on growing.
Lettuces of all types grow reliably and easily from seed. You can sow the seed directly into your vegetable garden, or plant it in pots on your patio or by your back door where it is easily harvested for a quick salad. Sow lettuce thinly, about 1/2-inch deep. Keep your rows about 12 inches apart to allow space for growth.
Once the seedlings get to about 2 inches tall, thin them out to about 6 inches between plants. Be sure to keep these thinnings for a salad. To keep your lettuce harvest producing continuously, you can sow crops every two weeks or so.
Varieties to Try
Mesclun mixes make good container plantings for beginners. From the French for “mixture,” mesclun originated in Provence, and traditionally it is a blend of arugula, chervil, endive and leaf lettuces. But once Americans got hold of the idea, anything leafy became fair game – spinach, chard, mustard greens, frisée, radicchio, mizuna, mâche, sorrel – you name it. Sow seeds in a 14-inch-diameter pot and you’ll have a seemingly endless supply of baby green, red, bronze, smooth, puckered, frilly, buttery, peppery, sweet, bitter, soft and crunchy leaves for salads that delight the eye as well as palate. Mesclun seed mixes are available at most garden centers. I’ve also ordered excellent producers online from both Renee’s Garden and The Cook’s Garden.
Lettuce starts, pictured clockwise from upper left: spicy arugula; decorative romaine ‘Flashy Trout Back’; frilly ‘Outredgeous’ romaine; heirloom (1885) French red romaine ‘Rouge d’Hiver’; and green ‘Buttercrunch’ leaf lettuce.
Butterhead lettuce is a heat-tolerant variety, but I sowed mine as an afterthought around Halloween, and it did great. The butterhead group of lettuces is famous for its sweet flavor and soft texture. Well-known types include both ‘Boston’ and ‘Bibb’.
While known for heat tolerance, romaines (L. sativa var. longifolia) produce well in cool weather. Also known as cos lettuce for the Greek island of Cos, where it most likely originated, romaine is used as the “bitter herb” in Passover Seders, and has a prominent place in Middle Eastern cuisine. Technically a heading lettuce, it makes a great cut-and-come-again source of baby leaves high in antioxidants.
Personally, I have better luck with the leaf varieties of winter greens, probably because I’m not usually patient enough to wait for them to head up. Leaf lettuces come in green, red and bronze varieties, and are characterized by their mildly crispy texture and delicate flavor.
Many salad greens aren’t lettuces at all. Arugula (Eruca sativa) has a peppery bite, a solid crunch and the record for cold hardiness in garden. Endive (Chicorium endivia) may be sold as the Italian cookery standard, escarole, lacy frisée, and Belgian endive, a blanched form. Another chicory relative, radicchio (C. intybus) has no family ties to radishes, despite its red-purple color. Good news for winter growers: Cold weather mellows its bitter flavor. Lacy chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), sometimes called French parsley, carries a faint hint of anise. Mâche (pronounced “mash,” Valerianella locusta), also known as lambs lettuce or corn salad, tastes nutty and sweet. Japanese mustard or mizuna (Brassica rapa nipposinica) belongs to the same family as turnips, mustard and napa cabbage. Its flavor is mildly spicy, but less peppery than arugula.
Lettuces and the other salad greens can’t be beat as cold-season crops. If you live where frosts are heavy and frequent, consider covering them or bringing them into unheated spaces, such as basements or garages, when bitter weather threatens. Other than that, though, you really can have your lettuce and eat it, too, all winter long.
Photos courtesy of Kathy Fitzgerald.
Posted October 2013 Kathy Fitzgerald grows lettuces and other vegetables her husband won’t eat.
5 tips for growing lettuce in winter
How would you like to step outside your door, even in the winter months, and pick your own lettuce for a salad?
It’s a definite possibility, said Kim Bonastia, manager at Signal Mountain Nursery.
The hearty vegetable can, with care, grow in our area year-round.
Local gardeners who have lettuce in their gardens now planted it in early fall, said Bonastia.
“It could die out after this week of cold weather unless protected with a freeze cloth,” she said.
“The lettuce that we see today started out as a weed around the Mediterranean Basin,” according to www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov. “Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to the New World, and from there lettuce in the United States began cultivating.”
1. Till and compost topsoil with mushroom compost. Weed when necessary. Fertilize with a 6-12-12 mixture and work into the soil. Always add lime. A more neutral pH is better for vegetable gardens. Plant in full sun or at least five hours of direct sunlight for spring and fall plantings.
2. To have lettuce in late spring, plant in early spring. If the lettuce bolts (blooms), the lettuce leafs become bitter. The plants you plant in spring will bolt as soon as the temperatures get hot. You will need to replant in the fall.
3. When planting lettuce to grow in the fall and winter, amend the soil used for the spring and summer lettuce. Use mushroom compost. Tilling and putting down lime helps the soil not to be so acidic.
4. Romaine, ruby leaf lettuce, Bibb lettuce and spinach do well in the fall and, if protected with a freeze cloth, will do well during the winter.
5. Plant lettuce in early spring, or at the end of August only if it has been a particularly wet month. Otherwise, plant fall lettuce in September.