- How to Harvest Buttercrunch Lettuce
- Keep It Cold
- Variety of Types, Variety of Tastes
- A Jump Start
- The Care and Feeding of a Salad
- Fighting Pests and Disease
- The Reward
- When to Harvest Buttercrunch
- Harvesting Leaves
- Past Its Prime
- Harvesting Mature Heads
- Buttercrunch Plant Info: What is Buttercrunch Lettuce
- What is Buttercrunch Lettuce?
- Growing Buttercrunch Lettuce
- Buttercrunch Lettuce Care
How to Harvest Buttercrunch Lettuce
When to Harvest
Harvest lettuce early in the morning. The daytime sun will dry it out and if harvested when dry it will wilt quickly. The firm, young heads taste best and store the longest. If the head is too mature, the leaves become tough and bitter. Here are three methods for harvesting buttercrunch:
- Cut and come again
- Cutting the Head
- Pulling the Head
Cut and Come Again
Buttercrunch can be harvest as a ‘cut and come again’ green like most lettuces. This allows you to begin harvesting 21 days after planting and come back again throughout the season. To do this, simply remove the lowest leaves of the plant as they come into maturity. Leave the roots and the center where new leaves are growing intact.
Cutting Butter Crunch
Between 50 and 75 days after planting, your buttercrunch will produce a rosette head. When the plant is well hydrated, cut the base of the step with a clean knife. Remove the head with the leaves connected at the bottom, but leave as much stem in the ground as possible.
The stem in the ground will sprout and within a week or two you’ll have new lettuce leaves to harvest. It won’t head again, but you can continue to take leaves from the base until it flowers. Once a lettuce plant flowers it produces a milky, bitter compound that makes it far less palatable.
Pulling Butter Crunch
Often buttercrunch is sold in stores with its root system intact. It keeps the head crispier and full for longer since the leaves still have access to nutrients from the roots. Lettuces grown hydroponically are commonly harvested this way.
You may want to loosen the soil around the roots of the head with a spade to avoid breaking them off as you pull it from the ground. Be gentle and give it a little shake as you pull from where the stem meets the soil.
Once it’s out of the ground, rinse off the root system to avoid contamination from soil bacteria. Store it with the roots attached, and remove them when it’s time to eat the head.
Upon harvesting immediately mist the plant. Whether you’ve harvested leaves or heads, roots or no roots, give it a bit of misty moisture to discourage wilting. Store in a plastic bag with a paper towel inside to soak up excess water. Put in the refrigerator and keep for up to two weeks.
Harvesting a large crisp head of lettuce from the garden is a wonderful thing, but for faster yields and longer harvests, a cut and come again lettuce bed can put salad on your plate all season long.
There’s something beautiful about growing and harvesting a whole head of fresh lettuce from the garden, and it can be well worth the wait; but for both an earlier and an extended harvest of salad greens, the cut and come again method can yield an abundance of leafy green goodness all season long.
Lettuce is one of those fairly simple to grow garden crops, as it doesn’t require pollination or waiting quite as long as other veggies in order to harvest and enjoy, but if you want to grow head lettuce, it does take a bit of patience. If you’re an impatient gardener, or want to extend your salad harvesting season, you might consider planting a bed or two with leaf lettuce that can be cut over and over again.
To grow head lettuce, each lettuce plant needs its own space around it, which can restrict the total amount of lettuce grown in a garden bed, and because many of the varieties are prone to bolting (sending up a flower stalk) once the heat of summer hits, harvests of head lettuce are often more suited to spring and fall, unless they’re grown under shade cloth.
To grow lettuce with the cut and come again method, it’s best to plant loose-leaf lettuce varieties (although head lettuce varieties can also work), and to use mesclun (mixed) lettuce seed to provide some variety in color, texture, and flavor. The rows of cut and come again lettuce can be much closer together than head lettuce (as close as 4 to 6 inches apart), and the seeds can be planted much closer together as well, so there’s no thinning necessary.
Prepare a garden bed as for any other seedlings, then lay out your rows and plant the seeds close together, either in a single row or as a 4 to 6 inch band. Once the leaves have reached the size of baby greens (about 4 inches long), the outer leaves can either be harvested individually (which takes a lot longer), or can be cut one handful at a time with garden shears or scissors, about one inch above the crown of the plant (cutting into or below the crown will most likely kill the lettuce plant). I like to start at one end of a row and loosely grab a handful of leaves and cut them with scissors, which is a quick and efficient method of harvesting them, especially if you have a big garden bed.
One of the keys to growing a perpetual harvest of lettuce with the cut and come again method is to not plant all of the rows at once, but to instead start several rows (depending on the size of your household) each week or every other week. This way, you’ll always have a row or two ready to cut when you want fresh greens, and will allow the rows you’ve previously cut to send up a new batch of leaves for future harvests. Different varieties and gardens in different climates will have different growth rates, but a general rule of thumb is that new lettuce leaves will be ready to harvest again about two weeks after cutting a row. It’s possible to get at least four cuttings from each planting of lettuce, and possibly more, depending on your weather and garden conditions.
To add some variety to your cut and come again lettuce beds, consider using a spicy greens mix with mustard or other ‘bitter’ greens, adding some chard or spinach seeds to the rows, or planting radishes either between the rows or in the rows, which can be harvested as soon as a couple of weeks.
Before the weather really heats up in the summer, rows of lettuce can be covered with shade cloth or row covers, which will slow the plants’ tendency to bolt and extend the harvest into the hot season. Once the lettuce begins to bolt, you can either let them go to flower to nurture the pollinators, and to set seed (which can be saved for next year’s planting if they are a non-hybrid heirloom or open-pollinated variety), or the plants can be pulled and fed to chickens or the compost pile. As fall approaches, more rows of lettuce can be planted and grown under row covers, or existing beds can be covered with row covers or low tunnels to extend the harvest well into the cold season.
This updated story was originally published in 2014.
It’s not hard to grow lettuce, and everyone should really give it a try. You can grow it in containers, in a window box, or tucked unassumingly among flowers.
It’s fast growing, and with a little planning, you can have a crop all spring, and again in fall.
There are many different varieties, and with each comes slightly different growing requirements, and tips to keep in mind. But we’re here to help you out! Here’s what’s ahead in this guide:
Ready to learn how to grow your own? Let’s get started!
Keep It Cold
It’s funny that big strapping pumpkins and acorn squash are fragile little babies and something as delicate as lettuce is considered hardy.
As such, this cold-hardy, leafy vegetable grows best when temperatures fall somewhere between 45 and 80°F.
That means you need to plant your crop when it’s still quite chilly in the spring and/or in the fall, after the heat of summer has dissipated.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to go without fresh lettuce during the dog days of summer. In a sunny window, you might even have some success growing it indoors in the air conditioning. And row covers can also help to keep slow-bolt varieties cool.
Once you taste fresh picked, it will be hard for you to go back to buying the stuff in the grocery stores.
Variety of Types, Variety of Tastes
There are four main types of lettuce, based on growth habit.
Loose leaf is in a category all its own.
Then there are the head lettuces: butterhead, romaine or cos, and crisphead.
And each type offers a plethora of varieties, bringing an array of qualities and flavors to the table.
Read on for the details.
Loose leaf lettuce, which refers to varieties that don’t form any type of head, is considered the easiest to grow.
It matures in 40-45 days, but no need to wait that long to enjoy it! You can start thinning (and eating the trimmings) in as little as three weeks.
Leaf lettuce grows up a single stalk and the outer leaves are harvested with scissors or a sharp knife, 1-2 inches above the ground. The stalk will produce more leaves, which you can continue to eat.
A read leaf variety.
Loose leaf is the least prone to bolt (go to seed) in hot weather and also has the highest nutritional value. And while it has a stronger taste than iceberg, most foodies agree that after you get used to it, you can’t go back. Iceberg is watery and bland in comparison.
Loose leaf varies in color from red to green, with the texture either curly or ruffled.
A few likely familiar names in this category include arugla, endive, and mesclun.
Of the head-forming lettuces, butterhead is considered to be a loose-heading type because the leaves don’t form tight, hard heads, like iceberg.
Instead, it forms soft, loose heads that taste “buttery,” hence the name.
Leaves are tender and often mild but flavorful. And plants overall are smaller and more stout than the upright head and cos types.
Butterhead being organically grown with plenty of compost and mulch.
Butterheads often do better in cooler temperatures, and may develop a bitter taste quickly once the heat arrives, although heat tolerance will vary quite a bit depending on variety.
Boston, bibb, and buttercrunch are a few of the most popular varieties.
When to harvest depends largely on variety as well, as quick maturing types can be ready to pick in as little as 35 days. Others might take up to 70 days.
So, if you have a small window of cool weather to work with, look for a fast-maturing butterhead that is less likely to bolt.
Organic Butterhead Seeds
As a first go, head over to True Leaf Market and give buttercrunch a try. It’s a great option for beginners that tends to do well.
Butterheads are flexible in terms of harvesting. You can wait until it reaches maturity and harvest the entire plant at once, or harvest individual leaves as desired while it grows.
I prefer the latter option. To do this, just focus on harvesting the outside leaves when they reach a good size.
The plant will continue to produce new leaves from the center.
When the heat arrives, cut the whole plant off just above the soil.
Romaine (or cos) grows straight up out of a tight central bunch, and forms an elongated head. It generally takes 70-85 days to mature.
The heads, once formed, are cupped like a spoon and, in some cases, stand up to a foot tall.
Romaine growing in a planter box.
Crispy and crunchy, the outer leaves are typically a dark rich green with leaves of a more pale shade as you get closer to the center.
While they may not bolt right away as the heat sets in, they do tend to get bitter.
Out of all the homegrown varieties available, romaine is the most common today.
Again, heat tolerance and maturity rate vary between cultivars, but to get started check out ‘Paris Island’ cos, which is disease resistant and sweet to taste. Seeds are available from True Leaf Market.
‘Parris Island’ Seeds
To harvest, wait until the leaves in the center grow together and form an obvious elongated head. Then, with clean scissors or pruners, cut the entire plant off at the crown.
For all types, keep in mind that it’s best to wait to wash the leaves until you are ready to use them. Wrap loosely in plastic and store in the refrigerator for a few days if you need to, or harvest and enjoy immediately.
Some gardeners do prefer to wash their produce before putting it away, especially in the case of an insect infestation. Alternatively, it’s alright to wash, dry, wrap loosely in paper towels, and place in an open zip-top bag or a bowl in the refrigerator.
Crisphead lettuce is more difficult to grow than the other lettuce types and it has the lowest nutritional value.
They typically take a long time to mature, usually around 80 days, and are less heat tolerant than other types.
The much maligned iceberg, growing happily in the earth.
So unless you have a long cool season, you may not have much success with crispheads.
They form a tight, thin-leafed head. And they happen to transport and store better than all other types.
Iceberg is the quintessential crisphead. Personally, I think iceberg gets a bum rap and it’s become unfashionable to even admit that you like it.
‘Webbs Wonderful’ Seeds
If it weren’t for the much maligned iceberg, many of us who grew up in the city and continued to live there until the “foodie” revolution took off in the early 2000s would never have known a salad.
Crisphead ‘Webbs Wonderful’ seeds are available from True Leaf. This variety matures in about 72 days and has a higher heat tolerance.
A Jump Start
With most of the tender crops grown in the home garden, you start seeds indoors while you wait for the ground to warm up.
It’s the opposite for lettuce. Seeds germinate best when soil temperature is between 55 and 65°F, but anything over 40°F is fair game.
So, you’ll want to sow seeds directly into the ground in the early spring, as soon as the soil is thawed and workable.
If you’re sowing seeds in August for a fall harvest, you’ll likely need to cool the soil down.
Try watering a section of the soil and then covering it with natural mulch, such as straw. In about a week, the soil should be significantly cooler in that area of the bed.
Since this leafy plant grows best in cool weather, it is ideal to have some seedlings ready to plant as soon as the soil is workable in early spring.
To start seeds indoors, fill a flat with a rich humus soil that has excellent drainage.
Cover the flat with plastic wrap until the shoots start peeking through the soil. Don’t transplant until your seedlings have one set of “true leaves.”
Whether sowing directly into the garden or starting seeds inside, plant the seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.
The seeds are very tiny and hard to handle, but try to get 4 to 5 inches between each seed. Don’t worry too much about spacing as you can always thin and eat the sprouts.
You’ll experience the highest productivity if the soil has a pH around 6-7.
Lettuce, especially loose leaf and quick maturing varieties, is a great crop to sow in succession for a more continuous harvest. Plant a new batch every 10-14 days so you will have plenty to harvest as long as the season stays cool.
Cover your seeds with a fine layer of soil and firm gently with the palm of your hand, to ensure contact between seed and soil.
Water carefully and keep the soil moist until germination.
As your seedlings grow, continue to water them with care. A spray bottle with a fine mister works great while they’re still inside.
The secret for rapid growth is frequent, light watering and giving each plant sufficient room.
When you transplant leaf, butterhead, and romaine types, try to keep the seedlings about 8 inches apart. Crisphead needs about 10 to 12 inches between seedlings.
When it’s time to transplant the seedlings, dig a small hole with your trowel and work in a healthy dose of rich compost.
Dribble water into the hole until it’s mucky.
Using a pencil or a pointy stick, lift the seedling from the flat, taking as much of the planting mix with it as you can.
Carefully hold the little guy with his leaves above the soil line and his roots in the hole, and push more soil around the roots. Using both hands, gently firm the soil around the seedling.
Mulching your seedlings will help keep their roots cool as well as cut down on weeds.
Lettuce has a shallow root system, so be careful when you’re cultivating around them or pulling weeds.
The Care and Feeding of a Salad
Over-watering to the point of sogginess is a recipe for disease. Once your seedlings are established, water when the top two inches of soil are dry.
Frequent and light watering is best. Many gardeners love to utilize a soaker hose for this.
Miracle Gro MGSPA38100FM Premium Bulk Soaker Hose Kit with EZ Connect Fittings, 3/8-Inch by 100-Feet
Add nitrogen rich fertilizer, such as fish emulsion for leaf growth. Fish emulsion along with a mixture of kelp is also packaged and sold via Amazon as a concentrate as the photo below alludes to.
Neptune’s Harvest Organic Fish and Seaweed Blend Fertilizer, 2-3-1, 1 Gallon
A layer of clean sand spread around the base of the plant will prevent the leaves from coming into contact with the damp soil. This is a great preventative measure against lettuce rot.
The hotter it gets, the more bitter your leaves will become. If it gets too hot and your lettuce hasn’t reached maturity, try shading the plants.
Shading your plants will help production last longer into the summer.
Sadly, if it gets too hot, your head-type lettuce won’t form heads.
The heat may cause your plants to “bolt” or go to seed. If that happens, harvest immediately and salvage what you can of the leaves.
Use taller crops, like tomatoes and corn, to shade your cool weather lovers.
As the heat-loving crops grow taller, they’ll provide shade and hopefully extend the harvest of your lettuce.
Fighting Pests and Disease
The most common pests that will bug your lettuce (pun intended) are aphids.
Aphids are tiny, sap-sucking insects and come in a number of varieties themselves. They are soft-bodied and appear in large numbers, usually lining up on the stem of a plant.
My favorite way to deal with aphids is with the firm blast of a hose.
However, there are other pests that are just as loathsome, especially when the weather warms.
Keep your eyes open for: flea beetles, leafhoppers, leaf miners, cabbage worms, loopers, army worms, and slugs.
Adult flea beetles, which look like tiny, shiny beetles, will chomp circular holes out of leaves.
Evidence of leafminer damage on a radish leaf. They’ll do the same thing to your lettuces! Photo by Allison Sidhu.
The larvae of a number of pests are considered leaf miners and they eat visible, tunnel-like paths out of the leaves.
Most leaf miners live inside the leaf, so as soon as you see this type of damage, remove the affected material.
Leafhoppers pierce the plant, suck out the goods, and create a sort of white, stippling effect in the process.
And caterpillars, such as cabbage worms, army worms, and loopers, eat obvious, ragged chunks out of the meat of the leaves. These pests come on quickly and can easily make skeletons out of once luscious crops.
By far, young plants and new leaves are the most susceptible to pest damage.
Being a diligent observer is key to thwarting pest populations. In the coolness of dusk or dawn, go out and inspect your garden.
Turn over any leaves, keeping your eyes peeled for unwanted critters. Pick caterpillars and slugs off as you see them.
The problem with pesticides is that the leaves absorb anything you spray on them.
Making your own organic pesticide could be a solution, as is encouraging the proliferation of beneficial insects that hunt and eat these little suckers.
Your enemy, the aphid.
Another option to minimize pest damage is to separate lettuce plantings in different beds or areas of your garden.
Also consider using barrier plants, like chives, garlic, basil, and catnip, in between lettuce plants as a natural deterrent to aphids and other pests.
And, since the greens are the focus, you can actually grow lettuce under the protection of a row cover to keep unwanted pests to the ultimate minimum.
Lettuce can also be afflicted with sclerotinia and mildew.
Again, healthy, well-draining soil with plenty of room between plants to allow for air circulation is the best prevention against moisture-related diseases.
Another common affliction is tip burn, which is caused by a change in moisture and often related to a calcium deficiency.
If the edges of the leaves turn brown and seem to “die back,” you’re probably facing tip burn.
The leaves are still edible, just clip off the damaged area and salvage the rest. There are some cultivars that are resistant to tip burn. If this is a concern, check seed packets for this quality when you are deciding what to purchase.
Once you learn how to grow lettuce and you understand just how good it can taste, you’ll probably turn into a little bit of a “lettuce snob.”
That means you won’t need a “loaded” salad anymore. Just the leaves, with an excellent vinaigrette dressing, and maybe a few added garden goodies like radish slices or fresh herbs.
What will you add to the garden this year? Share your lettuce secrets with us in the comments below!
Photo by Allison Sidhu © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via True Leaf Market, Neptune’s Harvest, and Miracle-Gro. Uncredited photos: . Originally published by Mike Quinn on August 31st, 2014. Last updated on June 29th, 2018.
About Amber Shidler
Amber Shidler lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and holds a dual bachelor’s degree in botany and geography. For four years she worked as a horticulturist, but is now a stay-at-home mom. With experience in landscape design, installation, and maintenance she has set her sights on turning her tenth-of-an-acre lot into a productive oasis. Amber is passionate about all things gardening, especially growing and enjoying organic food.
Harvesting Buttercrunch lettuce (Lactuca sativa ‘Buttercrunch’) — a variety of Bibb lettuce — is as simple as cutting away select leaves or even the entire head. It’s a simple process, but avoid harvesting too late or you may get bitter or tough leaves.
When to Harvest Buttercrunch
The entire head of Buttercrunch lettuce will be mature at between 55 and 70 days after planting seeds, but you can typically start harvesting leaves when the plant is just 21 days old. While it’s often grown as an annual, lettuce is hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9 and prefers cooler weather. Gardeners typically plant seeds both in the early spring as well as the fall, offering a harvest through much of the growing season.
When your Buttercrunch plant has formed a few leaves, you can start harvesting the baby leaves, washing them and adding them to salads or sandwiches. Cut away a few of the outer leaves of the plant and leave the inner leaves — which are typically smaller — to continue to grow. Do this right before you want to eat the baby leaves, as loose-leaf lettuces, including Buttercrunch, can wilt quickly.
Past Its Prime
As you continue to harvest and eat the outer leaves of your Buttercrunch lettuce, you’ll probably notice if the leaves begin to taste bitter or if they begin to get tough. At that point, it’s a few days past the ideal harvesting time for leaves or the entire head. Likewise, if your Buttercrunch lettuce is bolting — sending up a long shoot from the center — you’ve waited too long to harvest the entire head. Bibb varieties tend to get bitter in high temperatures. You can still harvest it and eat it, but the lettuce may not taste as tender and delicious as earlier harvests.
Harvesting Mature Heads
When nearing maturity, Buttercrunch lettuce will form a loose “rosette” or “head,” and the leaves may turn slightly reddish. Plan to harvest the entire head at between 55 and 70 days after planting — or when the leaves are full and still tender. Harvest the entire mature head by cutting the plant at its base. Leave the base in the ground, however, since it may develop more leaves that you can continue to eat.
Buttercrunch Plant Info: What is Buttercrunch Lettuce
If you like lettuce wraps, then you’re familiar with butterhead types of lettuce. Butterhead lettuce, like most lettuce, does not do well with severe temperatures, so if you are in a warmer climate, you may have been reluctant to grow this green veggie. If that’s the case, then you’ve never tried growing Buttercrunch lettuce. The following Buttercrunch plant info discusses how to grow lettuce ‘Buttercrunch’ and its care.
What is Buttercrunch Lettuce?
Butterhead lettuces are sought after for their “buttery” flavor and velvety texture. The small loosely formed heads yield leaves that are at once delicate and yet strong enough to roll into lettuce wraps. Butterhead lettuce has soft, green, slightly curled leaves wrapped around a loose inner head of
blanched, sweet flavored interior leaves.
The butterhead lettuce ‘Buttercrunch’ has the above qualities with the added advantage of being slightly more tolerant of heat.
As mentioned, Butterhead lettuce is more resistant to heat, thus bolting less than other butterhead lettuces. It stays mild long after others become bitter. Buttercrunch was developed by George Raleigh of Cornell University and is an All-American Selection winner for 1963. It was the gold standard for butterhead lettuce for years.
Growing Buttercrunch Lettuce
Buttercrunch lettuce is ready to harvest in about 55-65 days from sowing. Although it tolerates heat better than other lettuces, it should still be planted early in spring or later in the fall season.
Seeds may be sown indoors a few weeks prior to the last frost for your area. Sow seeds 8 inches (20 cm). apart in partial shade or an area of eastern exposure, if possible, in fertile soil. Space plants about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm.) apart with a foot (30 cm.) between rows.
Buttercrunch Lettuce Care
If the plants are situated in an area with more sun, use a shade cloth to protect them. Keep the plants moderately moist.
For a continuous supply of lettuce, plant successive plantings every two weeks. Leaves can be collected throughout the growing cycle or the entire plant can be harvested.