When to harvest lettuce?

Lettuce is one of those gifts that keeps on giving if you know how to harvest it correctly. Different varieties have different tolerances for how they are harvested {meaning, some will go to seed faster than others if you pick it as you need it}.

Head lettuce is really best harvested as a whole head when it has matured. Just grab a sharp knife and holding the base firmly, cut off the head. Make sure to leave the base and roots IN THE GROUND, because you will get one more {maybe two} smaller harvest off of them that way. If you pick the outer leaves of head lettuce, instead of harvesting the whole head, it will go to seed faster.

Leaf lettuce is the best choice if you want a continual salad all season long. For leaf lettuce {and lettuce like Romaine}, you can just pick the outer leaves as they are needed. Don’t let the leaves get too big, or they will start to get tough and bitter tasting. To harvest them, just snap each leaf off at the base of the plant, being careful not to uproot the whole plant {it’s best to snap off the leave about a 1″ above the base of the plant}. As long as you keep up with snapping off the outer leaves, the lettuce won’t go to seed until it gets too hot {which in a nice shady area, might mean you can have fresh salad spring, summer, and fall}. Even if your leaf lettuce threatens to bolt, you can snap out the center of the plant and buy yourself a little more time…and a little more lettuce.

Homegrown lettuce makes store bought seem like punishment, so might as well make the most of your harvest.

~Mavis

Don’t you just love lettuce? The crisp and the crunch of it while it is covered in your favorite dressing along with other good vegetables. It just makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many people like to grow it, especially in the fall when it is nice and cool.

See, lettuce loves cool temperatures. That is why it can be produced during winter in a greenhouse, in early spring when your body is craving something fresh, or in the fall as the weather starts to cool off after a long hot summer.

But if you are going to grow it, then you need to know how to harvest lettuce and also how to make it last as long as possible. Well, here is the information you are going to need:

Everything You Need to Know About Your Lettuce Harvest

Harvesting Lettuce

Harvesting lettuce will vary a little depending upon what kind of lettuce you have decided to grow. If you go with a leaf lettuce, then you’ll need to trim it off when it is about 4-8 inches tall. You can snap it off with your fingers, but I personally prefer to use scissors to cut it.

However, I would recommend only planting a small amount of leaf lettuce (unless you have a really large group of people to feed) because if you trim it back to the surface, the plants will produce new foliage in only a matter of weeks.

So you will constantly have fresh lettuce coming in.

But if you plant lettuce that forms heads like Romaine lettuce or Iceberg lettuce, then you’ll want to wait until the heads have reached the desired size.

Then you can use a sharp knife to cut the heads of lettuce off at the soil. When you have harvested your lettuce, you’ll want to put the heads in a larger basket so they don’t bruise in between the garden and getting them to your kitchen.

Also, be sure to cut the core and any dark or damaged spots out of the lettuce prior to bringing it in for storage.

Once you have harvested your lettuce, you’ll need to know how to clean and store it.

How to Clean Your Lettuce

Now that you have harvested your fresh, green, and crisp lettuce it is important to know how to clean it. The downside to growing your own lettuce is that if you don’t clean it thoroughly, you could end up ingesting dirt and bugs.

Though those things aren’t really bad for you, in our minds, they are rather gross so we try to avoid it.

So you’ll want to ask yourself a few questions before cleaning your freshly harvested lettuce:

  1. Am I going to consume the lettuce right away?
  2. What type of lettuce am I looking at?

If you are going to consume your lettuce right away, then you’ll definitely want to wash it. When washing it, you’ll want to place each head in lukewarm water for about 30 seconds. This helps to loosen any really tough, stuck on dirt and determined little bugs.

Then you’ll want to remove the lettuce and wash it under cold water for about 30 seconds. This round of washing will remove any loose dirt.

Finally, you’ll run the lettuce under the cold water as many times as you feel necessary for 30 seconds at a time until you feel comfortable that you have removed all dirt and bugs.

Then you’ll need to place the lettuce in a colander or lettuce spinner to dry. If you use a colander, you’ll want to allow it to drip dry for about 10 minutes. If you use a lettuce spinner follow the instructions. It usually only takes about 2 minutes for dry time.

Now, if you aren’t planning on using the lettuce right away (and you are washing head lettuce), then you’ll want to wait to wash it until you are going to use it. Just follow the same steps when this time comes. When using head lettuce, it actually lasts longer if it is not introduced to excess moisture.

However, we still must answer question number 2; what kind of lettuce am I looking at? If you have grown leaf lettuce, it is a great producer, but only lasts for about a week at a time.

So you’ll definitely want to wash and use as quickly as possible.

But if you grew head lettuce, like Romaine or Iceberg, then don’t wash it, and it should last for at least a couple of weeks.

How to Store Lettuce

How you store lettuce also determines how long the lettuce itself will last. Moisture is a huge enemy for lettuce so it is important to store it in a way that excess moisture can’t ruin it, and it is also important to keep your lettuce cool.

So let’s begin with leaf lettuce. If you have harvested leaf lettuce, you’ll want to follow the instructions above to clean it.

Then you will want to allow the leaf lettuce to dry.

Next, you’ll wrap the lettuce in a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. You then place the leaf lettuce in a storage bag and place in your fridge. Keep an eye on the paper towel every day. If you begin to see that it is full of moisture, then it is time to unwrap the lettuce and wrap the leaves in a fresh paper towel which can better pull moisture.

Now, if you are trying to store head lettuce, you’ll want to delay washing until you plan on using it.

However, if you have a large head, then you’ll want to wash, dry, wrap in a paper towel, and store in a plastic bag in your fridge until you use it up.

Again, it is important to watch the paper towel to make sure that it doesn’t become too damp. If you see that it is becoming saturated with water, then you’ll need to pull that paper towel out and wrap the lettuce in a fresh paper towel. This is important because the more moisture you keep away from the lettuce, then the crisper it will remain.

Can You Preserve Lettuce?

Yes, you can actually preserve lettuce for long-term use. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t actually can it.

However, you can use other preservation methods. The first method you can use is freezing. Yes, you can actually freeze lettuce! How cool is that?

Now, I need to be upfront with you. You don’t want to freeze it thinking you’ll have fresh salads in the middle of winter. Instead, you’ll freeze it to use in a casserole, soup, or a stew even. You would definitely have to cook it for it to be desirable to your taste buds.

But you just clean the lettuce and pop it in a freezer bag until you are ready to cook with it. It is very simple and a great way to preserve your lettuce harvest if you have too much come in at once.

Also, I should mention, that thicker lettuce types (like Romaine) are best for this method. When you freeze lettuce, it will crystalize. If you freeze thin lettuce, then it turns into a goopy mess.

But if you freeze a thicker type of lettuce, then it can withstand the moisture from the crystallization process that takes place during freezing.

Our second method is fermenting lettuce. I know, you may be thinking I’ve lost my mind, but I really haven’t.

Now, I’m still having to jump on board with all of the fermented foods crazes. I know they are good for gut bacteria which is great for our health, but I’m still new to this.

However, this seems like a great way to preserve lettuce and enjoy it in a unique and healthy manner. Not to mention, it doesn’t take many ingredients to actually ferment lettuce, which is always a good thing.

Finally, you can dehydrate lettuce. This seems like a really great option in my personal opinion because it is easy, quick, and you can use it for lots of different things.

For instance, if you are really big into healthy green smoothies, then you might like dehydrating lettuce for that burst of green in your smoothie. You just dehydrate and then turn your lettuce into a fine powder that will easily add a health boost to your favorite smoothie.

Or you could use dehydrated lettuce leaves for making delicious chips. This could be a healthy snack that you might really enjoy.

Recipes to Utilize Your Lettuce Harvest

When you grow lettuce, let’s be honest, you can only eat so many salads before you are just burned out. That is why I wanted to bring you a couple of recipes from around the web that will show you that lettuce can be used for much more than a basic salad.

Here is what I came up with:

1. Stir-Fried Lettuce

This lettuce looks like a delicious side to add to any healthy dinner. It includes many of the traditional flavorings of other stir-fries you might have had.

But this one is all based around Romaine lettuce, and it only takes about 5 minutes to make too!

Try this lettuce recipe

2. Lettuce Soup

This might blow your mind that on a cold winter day, lettuce might be what you use to warm up.

But with this recipe, that could definitely be the case. You’ll want to check it out!

Try this lettuce recipe

3. Grilled Romaine Lettuce

This is another hearty dish that is based around lettuce. You take a whole head of Romaine lettuce and grill it with other delicious vegetables and flavors.

Then you have quite a healthy, delicious, and easy meal in no time flat.

Try this lettuce recipe

4. Lettuce Wraps

The first time I ever heard about a lettuce wrap was from my sister about 10 years ago. PF Changs had just moved into our area, and she was hooked.

Now, fast forward a decade later and lettuce wraps are very common, but I still think most would agree that PF Changs’ wraps are still amazing. Which is why I thought many people would appreciate this recipe.

Try this lettuce recipe

Well, you now know how to harvest, clean, store, and preserve your lettuce harvest. You even have a few recipes to utilize your harvest that is a bit outside of the norm.

But I’d love to hear from you. What is your favorite lettuce to grow? Why? What do you normally do with your lettuce harvest?

We’d love to hear from you so please share your thoughts with us!

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Growing Lush, Green, Crisp Lettuce

You might not be surprised to find out that the most widely planted salad vegetable in the United States is lettuce. As the foundation of your salad and your garden, lettuce is an ideal garden vegetable. You can tuck it into small areas, it grows easily and it loves cool weather. These lettuce growing tips will keep your garden and salad bowl full of crisp, green lettuce.

  • How to Grow Lettuce
  • How to Harvest Lettuce
  • Growing Different Types of Lettuce
  • Common Questions About Growing Lettuce

How to Grow Lettuce

Lettuce is an easy-to-grow annual vegetable. Considered a spring and fall crop, lettuce thrives when temperatures are between 60 to 70 degrees F. Many varieties reach maturity in as little as 30 days, and some can even be harvested much earlier as microgreens. From your garden beds to patio containers, these simple steps will give you a bountiful supply of crisp salad greens throughout multiple seasons.

    1. When to Plant Lettuce

Lettuce loves cool weather. You can begin planting leaf, romaine and butterhead lettuce as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Depending on the variety, lettuce germinates in temperatures between 40 to 85 degrees F. If you plant lettuce in successive plantings, with 10 to 14 days in between, you’ll have an extended harvest. To prevent summer bolt, stop planting one month before warm summer temperatures start. Begin planting fall lettuce in late summer so it reaches maturity when the fall air is cool.

Head lettuce is usually started indoors or in a cold frame and transplanted in the spring after the last frost date. Growing lettuce from seedlings for early spring transplant is a good way to get a head start on the growing season.

    1. Where to Plant Lettuce

The ideal lettuce growing location for spring and fall is in a spot that receives full sun. If you plan on growing lettuce during the summer or in warm planting zones, partial shade can provide protection from the heat. Growing lettuce from seed in late summer may require generous artificial shade to help cool the soil for germination. Once days become cooler, the shade can be removed to give plenty of sunlight to young lettuce plants.

Lettuce grows best in loose, cool soil with good drainage. The addition of organic materials, such as compost or manure, will increase drainage, provide essential nutrients and improve your lettuce growing conditions. If you’ve had trouble with lettuce growth, consider purchasing a soil test kit. Lettuce is sensitive to low pH. The addition of lime can help bring the pH to at least 6.0.

    1. How to Plant Lettuce

It doesn’t take much work to grow lettuce from seeds. Lettuce seeds are often quite small and only require a planting depth of ¼ to ½ inch deep. Growing lettuce in rows gives your garden a traditional look. Consider alternating rows of green and red lettuce for a whimsical touch.

How far apart to plant lettuce depends on the type of lettuce you’re planting. When sowing seeds directly into the soil, you should plant approximately 10 seeds per foot. Space your rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin leaf lettuce seedlings to 4 inches apart. Romaine and butterhead lettuce seedlings require 6 to 8 inches between each plant. Removed seedlings can be transplanted or eaten as delicious, tender microgreens.

Head lettuce is usually grown from seeds started indoors during warm weather for a fall garden. Transplant head lettuce in rows 12 to 18 inches apart with 10 to 12 inches between each plant.

    1. Water Requirements for Lettuce

You don’t need lettuce to develop deep roots. In fact, you want to encourage leaf growth over rooting. Lettuce watering should be light, frequent and consistent. The goal is to simply keep the soil moist. Avoid watering too often – overwatering leads to root rot, disease and stunted growth.

    1. Protecting Against Disease and Pests

Aphids can easily destroy a lettuce patch. Leaves curl and wilt as nutrients and water are sucked away. Aphids also spread disease and create mold issues. You’ll find these annoying little white pests hiding on the undersides of lettuce leaves. There isn’t a systemic insecticide to control aphids, so your best option is to encourage natural predators, such as lady beetles, or to apply a horticultural soap or neem oil.

Snails, slugs and caterpillars also love lettuce. Insecticides are one option, but traps, organic bait and hand picking provide organic solutions to these common pests.

If you notice your lettuce beginning to brown and curl, it could be suffering from a physiological condition known as tipburn. Tipburn is often seen on lettuce when moisture is not consistent. Simply trim the browned lettuce and begin a consistent watering schedule.

How to Harvest Lettuce

You don’t have to worry about how to pick lettuce – it’s one of the simplest vegetables to harvest. Most lettuce can be harvested between 30 to 70 days after planting. When to harvest lettuce depends on the variety and what it will be used for. Really, timing is based on individual preference. Once your lettuce reaches the size you want, it’s ready! Harvesting lettuce in the morning gives you the best flavor.

Knowing how to harvest leaf lettuce is easy. You can either cut the entire bundle off at ground level, or you can remove just a few leaves at a time. Romaine, butterhead and head lettuce are easily cut off near ground level. If you harvest every other lettuce plant, you give the remaining plants room to continue growing.

Growing Different Types of Lettuce

There are four popular types of lettuce grown in the United States: romaine, butterhead, head and loose-leaf lettuce. Although the growing and care process is similar for all types, each lettuce has distinct characteristics in the garden.

Growing Green and Red Leaf Lettuce

Leaf lettuce varieties are the easiest lettuces to grow. Although many people assume red leaf lettuce is grown differently, growing red leaf lettuce is exactly the same as growing green lettuce. You can grow leaf lettuce in rows for nice bundles of loose leaf lettuce, or you can sow it thickly in a garden bed or container for harvest as young, tender lettuce. By harvesting leaf lettuce through trimming it a few inches above the soil, you can get two to three harvests from one planting. Popular cultivars include Red Sails, Tango and Slobolt.

Growing Romaine Lettuce

Romaine, also known as cos, forms tall, tight bundles of thick, sweet lettuce leaves. Reaching up to 20 inches tall, most romaine lettuces take 60 to 80 days to harvest. The extended growing season works because romaine is able to grow without bolting in the warm summers. Growing red romaine lettuce requires the same garden techniques as growing green varieties. Green Towers, Valley Heart and Red Eyes Cos are all interesting romaine cultivars.

Growing Head Lettuce

Crisphead lettuce, or head for short, is the lettuce we know as Iceberg. One of the most popular types of lettuce, salad lovers all over the country often wonder how to grow Iceberg lettuce. Growing Iceberg lettuce requires a bit more care than other varieties. For the best results, plant head lettuce in your fall garden. By avoiding the warm summer weather, you produce sweeter lettuce. In addition to Iceberg, Ithaca, Great Lakes and Crispivo are great head lettuce cultivars.

Growing Butterhead Lettuce

Butterhead lettuce varieties produce tightly folded heads of tender lettuce leaves. The middle leaves are often self-blanching to a delicate white color. Named after the subtle butter flavor, this mild lettuce adds a sweet touch to salads. Try Ermosa, Esmeralda or Nancy in your lettuce garden.

Common Questions About Growing Lettuce

How Long Does It Take Lettuce to Grow?

Lettuce grows fairly quickly. Leaf varieties reach maturity in 30 days but can be harvested as soon as they reach the desired size. Other types of lettuce require 6 to 8 weeks to reach full harvest size.

Can you grow lettuce year ’round?

Garden zones with minimum temperatures in the 60s can grow lettuce all year round. Lettuce seeds germinate in temperatures between 40 to 80 degrees F, depending on the cultivar. Active growth takes place when days are between 60 to 70 degrees. Warmer zones can grow lettuce throughout the winter if you stick to planting lettuce in the fall. Other areas can use modifications, such as cold frames, row covers and greenhouses to extend the growing season.

Can you grow lettuce in hot weather?

Lettuce does not like hot weather. The plant panics and decides that it better produce seeds as quickly as possible. Seed stems develop, and the plant begins diverting nutrients to seed production. This process, known as bolting, produces bitter lettuce.

To reduce lettuce bolting, first look for bolt-resistant lettuce cultivars. Slobolt, for example, can be grown in warmer temperatures. Other gardening tricks to prevent bolting in warm weather include planting lettuce in shady areas, using mulch to cool the ground and conserve moisture, and providing a light mist of overhead irrigation to cool plants.

All About Lettuce

Can I Grow Lettuce?

Gardeners can select from a large variety of lettucesthat are easy to grow, highly productive in limited space, and virtually pest and disease free. Lettuce is definitely one of the more “”care-free”” crops.

For maximum lettuce production, it’s wise to select a site where the soil drains well, yet retains some moisture. The soil should also be rich in nitrogen and potassium, The best way to accomplish this is to work in plenty of organic matter (compost, rotted manure, or leaf mold) that will loosen and enrich the soil. Strive for a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
Most lettuce varieties mature in 45 to 55 days, allowing many gardeners to plant two or even three crops. But looseleaf and butterhead leaves can be harvested at just about any time in their development. Heading varieties take longer to mature. Romaine takes 75 to 85 days and crisphead 70 to 100 days.

By choosing the right varieties, it’s possible to have lettuce in your garden throughout the growing season.
________________________________________

Lettuce Plant History

Lettuce, one of the oldest food plants known to man, is believed to have originated in India and Central Asia. Herodotus wrote of lettuce being served in ancient Greece, and it was a favorite vegetable in ancient Rome. In fact, the word “lettuce” is derived from the Latin root word “lac” meaning “milk,” referring to the milky juice found in mature lettuce stems.

Should I Plant Lettuce Seeds Or Plants?

Lettuce is so easy to grow it can be started indoors for early transplants or sown directly in the garden. In fact, doing both is recommended to get maximum production.
Start some lettuce seeds indoors in peat pots a few weeks before the last frost date in your area. Provide the seedlings with plenty of sunlight or keep them under artificial lighting until ready to move into the garden. Transplant the seedlings as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. If a hard freeze threatens, protect the seedlings with a cloche or row cover. Reserve a number of lettuce seedlings to fill empty spaces in the garden as the season progresses.

To sow lettuce directly in the garden, simply plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep, tamp them down, and water. It’s that simple! Space the sowings according to packet directions that are based on the size of the mature lettuce. For example, a crisphead may require a square foot of garden space. As many as nine plants of a small leaf lettuce variety can grow in the same space.

How To Cultivate Lettuce Plants

Here are two cultivation tips to keep in mind:

Succession plantings

Lettuce is ideal for succession planting. Sow seeds every two weeks for production throughout the season, starting with early lettuce varieties, using heat-tolerant varieties as your main crop, and then switching to fall crops late in the summer. Or, if you prefer, use lettuce in successions with other crops. For example, plant lettuce in the spring, followed by bush beans in the summer, followed by lettuce again in the fall.

Watering

Lettuce Growing Tips

To improve overall lettuce production, consider using the following four techniques.

Raised Beds

To maximize lettuce production, plant seeds in raised beds. The raised beds warm up faster than the surrounding ground. You should be able to get an earlier start in the spring and a later crop in the fall.

Living mulch

To make the most of limited garden space, plant lettuce around taller plants like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants. The lettuce helps its neighbor by keeping the surrounding soil moist and cool and keeping weeds shaded out. As the taller plants grow, they provide needed shade for the lettuce as the days get warmer.

Tucking

You can also start lettuce seedlings indoors for filling vacancies in the garden in late spring and again in early fall as other crops are harvested. Simply ‘tuck’ a seedling in the vacant spot to keep every inch of garden space in constant production.

Ornamental Use

Lettuce Insects & Diseases

Lettuce is generally disease and pest free, but you should still be vigilant.
Cutworms and slugs are the most bothersome pests. Use a paper collar around young lettuce seedlings to keep the ravenous caterpillars at bay. Slugs are tougher to control. Sprinkle wood ashes or diatomaceous earth over the soil around the plants to discourage the nasty mollusks. Be sure to reapply after each rainfall.

Lettuce Harvest Tips

Lettuce can be harvested any time after true leaves form. For the best quality, better to pick early than late as lettuce allowed to grow too long may be bitter and tough.
To harvest crisphead, Batavia, and romaine varieties, cut the plant right at the soil line when mature, if you prefer to harvest full heads. You can do the same with butterhead and looseleaf lettuce, but I prefer to harvest only the outer leaves as needed. This keeps the plants in production longer. Try to harvest in the morning when the leaves are crisp, sweet, and full of moisture.

Lettuce Recipes & Storage

Primarily water, lettuce does not store well. For the best quality and flavor, use homegrown lettuce soon after harvest. This is particularly true for many of the looseleaf varieties, which wilt readily.

See all our Lettuce

Lettuce seedling

Lettuce grows best in the cool weather of spring and fall.

Time lettuce seed sowing so plants come to harvest before very warm and hot weather, Hot weather will trigger bolting and seed-stalk formation. Bolting can be slowed by picking the oldest leaves first but it can’t be stopped. Lettuce that bolts will be bitter flavored, so it is best to harvest lettuce before the weather gets too warm.

There are many types of lettuce to choose from: butterhead or Bibb is loose textured with a loose head; looseleaf has a loose, rosette of leaves; romaine or Cos has an elongated, erect head; crisphead or iceberg has a solid, tightly folded head.

Lettuce matures in 40 to 80 days depending on the type planted: looseleaf in 40 days, butterhead in 40 to 70 days, and romaine and iceberg in 80 days.

Lettuce Sowing and Planting Tips

  • Lettuce is grown from seeds or transplants.
  • Seed is viable for 5 years.
  • Start lettuce indoors 4 weeks before transplanting; sow or transplant lettuce into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked.
  • Seed germinates in 2 to 10 days at or near 70°F (21°C)—but sometimes seed can take up to 2 weeks to germinate if the soil is cold.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds germinate then keep the soil moist until seedlings are well established.
  • Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch (6-13mm) deep.
  • Sow seeds 4 inches (10cm) apart; later thin seedlings according to type: leaf, 6-9 inches (15-23 cm) apart; head, 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) apart. Make sure there is good air circulation around maturing plants to avoid disease.
  • For intensive planting, space plants 10 inches (25 cm) apart in a staggered pattern.
  • Lettuce grows best in full sun but can tolerate light shade.
  • The optimal growing air temperature for lettuce is 40°-75°F (4-24°C).
  • Lettuce prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing; compost will feed the soil and aide moisture retention.
  • Avoid planting lettuce where radicchio, endive, escarole, or artichokes have recently grown.
  • Make successive sowings every few weeks for an extended harvest.
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.
  • Aphids, flea beetle, cutworms, earwigs, leaf miners, snails, and slugs can attack lettuce.

Interplanting: Interplant lettuce with beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, radishes, and strawberries.

Container Growing: A single head of lettuce does well in a 6 inch (15 cm) pot; in larger containers plant on 10 inches (25 cm) centers.

Lettuce Planting Calendar

  • 10-8 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct-sow in a plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • 6-4 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct sow in the garden
  • Every 3 weeks sow succession crops for continuous harvest; hot weather will cause bolting.

For Fall Harvest:

  • 8-6 weeks before the first frost in fall: direct-sow or transplant seedlings into the garden.
  • 6-4 weeks before the first frost in fall: sow or transplant in a plastic tunnel or cold frame for fall and winter harvest.

Sow lettuce very 3 weeks for continuous harvest.

Lettuce Recommended Varieties

  • Butterhead type: ‘Bibb’, ‘Buttercrunch’, ‘Migonette’, ‘Boston’, ‘Four Seasons’, ‘Tom Thumb’.
  • Leaf types: ‘Black-Seeded Simpson’. ‘Lolla Rossa’, ‘Black Oak’, ‘Red Sails’, ‘Salad Bowl’, ‘Ruby’.
  • Romaine type: ‘Little Gem’, ‘Parris Island’, ‘Rogue d’Hiver’.
  • Iceberg type: ‘Great Lakes’, ‘Nevada’, ‘Sierra.’

Botanical Name: Latuca sativa

Lettuce belongs to the Compositae (Asteraceae) or sunflower family.

More lettuce growing tips: How to Grow Lettuce.

For the antsy gardener waiting in anticipation for the last spring frost, growing leaf lettuce eases the tension. Its fresh, vibrant leaves are quick to rise and are a welcome sight in the early weeks of spring.

Leaf lettuce refers to varieties that don’t produce any type of head. They are easier to grow than other varieties – including romaine, butterhead, and crisphead – and produce multiple harvests throughout the season.

Homegrown lettuce is also more nutritious and flavorful than anything you will find at the grocery store.

Freshly harvested, crisp leaves are highest in vitamin A and potassium. And experimenting with different varieties will open up your palate to new flavors of this leafy green you never knew existed.

Teeny-tiny lettuce seeds, with seedlings growing in a raised bed in the background. Photo by Allison Sidhu.

Not to mention, very few garden tasks are more satisfying than assembling a freshly harvested salad.

Individual plants require very little space, basic maintenance, and you can harvest leaves as needed once they reach a useable size.

Available in a multitude of varieties and colors, leaf lettuces liven up your garden and your dinner table.

Keep reading for more information on how to grow this cool season garden staple at home.

Take Care to Prepare the Bed

Taking a little more time to prepare the garden bed will have a big impact on your harvest.

Most leaf lettuces can be planted in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. So, it’s best to prepare the bed as soon as possible.

Ideally, soil should be loamy, well draining, and rich in organic matter, which helps to maintain soil moisture. Optimal soil pH is between 5.8 and 6.5 for lettuces. Reach out to your local extension office to see if they offer soil tests.

Seeds are incredibly tiny and you’ll have better germination rates in soil that is free of large clumps.

Plants are also fast growing and small, with shallow roots. As such, they are more susceptible to water-related stress, and are less vigorous in the presence of weeds.

Stale seedbed cultivation is one proven method to reduce weed seeds.

Prepare the soil a couple of weeks before planting garden crops. Once weeds begin to appear, lightly cultivate the soil so as to uproot the weeds, but not so heavily that new weed seeds are brought to the soil’s surface and given a chance to germinate.

This method dramatically reduces the presence of weeds.

Sow, Water, Repeat

The key to delicious, tender leaves is to maintain a fresh supply of young plants. To do this, sow seeds successively.

Start one batch of seeds indoors six weeks before your area’s average last spring frost date, or 8 weeks before the first average frost date in fall.

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Photos by Allison Sidhu, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: .

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.

How to Plant Lettuce Seeds

Lettuce is a vegetable that prefers growing in soil with temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees. If the temperature rises above 60 degrees, lettuce plants will “bolt.” Bolting is when a lettuce plant sends up a tall flower before going to seed, creating bitter leaves. Plant lettuce seeds as early as you can work the soil because lettuce tolerates frost easily.

Prepare a sunny garden area early in the spring, as much as four weeks prior to the last anticipated spring frost. Work the soil with the spade, making it extremely fine. Lettuce seeds are tiny and may have trouble breaking through large chunks of soil. Spread a 2-inch layer of compost over the soil and work it in with the spade. Rake the surface of the soil smooth.

Sow the seeds by scattering them. It is difficult to plant lettuce seeds in rows, due to their size. Cover the lettuce seeds with 1/4-inch of soil. Water the lettuce seeds lightly after planting.

Water every two or three days so the seeds, and later the seedlings, do not dry out. Give the seedlings at least 1 inch of water per week.

Thin lettuce seedlings when they are approximately 2 inches tall. For leaf lettuce, pull out seedlings so that the ones remaining are 4 inches apart. For head lettuce, thin seedlings to 8 inches apart.

Harvest leaf lettuce during the morning hours when leaves are between 2 and 6 inches long. Use the scissors to cut the leaves approximately 1 inch above the soil level. Harvest head lettuce when the heads are firm as you press on them. Pull the entire lettuce head and roots out of the soil and slice the roots from the lettuce head with the garden shears.

If harvesting lettuce is in your near future — especially if you’re growing lettuce for the first time — it’s time for us to talk about how to harvest lettuce and when to harvest lettuce. You know how when you go to the store you can choose a head of romaine or butter lettuce? Put that notion right out of your head.

Now that you’re growing your own lettuce, you want that work to pay off. What happens when you pull a head of lettuce from the ground roots and all? You eat a salad, sure. But more importantly, that particular lettuce plant has come to the end of the road. It will no longer provide lovely greens for your family.

When to harvest lettuce

It’s a good idea to make a note on your calendar when your lettuce is expected to mature. To do this, check the seed packet for ‘days to maturity’ and do some calculating. Lettuce can take 65-100 days or so to reach maturity, depending on the variety that you tuck into your garden bed.

Head lettuce grows like the iceberg lettuce you see in the supermarket — you’ll know when to harvest it based on the size and shape of the head. It should be firm, with a well-shaped head. It’s harvested by cutting the head off the stalk.

I prefer to grow leaf lettuce though, because that window of when to harvest lettuce is so much wider. And knowing how to harvest lettuce will help that crop produce for weeks.

Related: Growing Lettuce in Containers to Eliminate Pests

Instead of cutting the head from the stalk as you do when harvesting head lettuce (thus ending the fresh salads), you can harvest leaf lettuce varieties a leaf at a time.

When to harvest lettuce this way? As soon as the lettuce leaves reach a couple of inches in length, you can begin harvesting “baby lettuce.”

To harvest individual leaves, use scissors to cut off the outer leaves near the base of the plant. Leave the inner leaves intact and the entire lettuce plant will continue to grow. Harvesting loose leaf lettuces this way allows the plant to continue growing and producing leaves, providing you with fresh lettuce for months rather than for a single meal.

Leaf lettuce will continue to produce new leaves until the plant begins to flower and produce lettuce seeds. (When you see this happening — a sturdier stalk will emerge from the center of the plant — stop harvesting. Lettuce becomes bitter at the end of its growing season.) Unless you’re aiming for beautiful heads, use the cut and come again method to harvest your crop.

Related: Partial Shade Vegetables for a Successful Harvest

Related: Growing lettuce in an indoor winter garden

The photo on the left (above) is what my lettuce looked like before a harvest. The photo on the right is after harvesting. Within a week, it will look like that first picture again. I snipped off those lovely outer leaves, made a beautiful salad from that loose leaf lettuce, and those same plants will feed us again soon.

This is a great method for harvesting lettuce for anyone who puts work into a garden (might as well get the most bang for your buck, right?) but it’s an especially good tip for urban gardeners who don’t have a lot of space. Make those container gardens work for you!

Embrace succession planting

While you can extend the life of each lettuce plant by harvesting in this manner, another way to be sure to have lettuce as long as possible is to embrace succession planting. Instead of planting just once, stagger plantings so that you’ll have crops maturing every two to three weeks across the growing season. That way, as one batch of plants comes to the end of their lives, new heads will be ready to harvest. I suggest setting a reminder to plant more lettuce — if you’re like me, you’ll forget! You can read more about the concept of succession planting here.

Keep in mind that lettuce grows best in cool weather. Plan to grow salad greens during the spring and again in the fall if you live in a region with hot summers.

This post was originally published in April 2012; it has been updated.

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