Growing lettuce is a fun and easy garden project in both spring and fall, when the soil is nice and cool. Lettuce comes in many different colors, textures, and flavor varieties, and there’s something for everyone and every taste bud! Lettuce grows best when outside temperatures stay between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so now is the right time for planting and growing lettuce for many climates.
There are many different kinds of lettuce you can grow. You can grow loose-leaf lettuce, bibb lettuce, romaine lettuce, or traditional (more dense) heads of lettuce. Or, if you’re like me and love lettuce – just grow them all! Loose-leaf lettuces are nice and tender and can be harvested quite quickly. Bibb lettuce, also called butterhead lettuce, form small heads very quickly and have crunchy ribs many lettuce enthusiasts love. Romaine lettuce has very tall leaves and stiff, upright ribs. Romaine is a favorite with gardeners because it is very adaptable to stressful weather. Traditional head lettuce, like the ever-familiar iceberg variety, are extremely easy to grow.
You can start lettuce early in a coldframe, approximately 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. And, in some climates, you can grow it nearly year round in one. You can start lettuce seeds indoors under lights and then move them outdoors when they are around 3 weeks old. My favorite way to grow lettuce is to direct-sow my seed approximately 2-3 weeks before the last expected spring frost. (I’ve even had luck as early as 4 weeks ahead of time, but I live in the south.) Lettuce will begin to sprout a few days to a week after soil temperature hits 55 degrees or higher.
You can grow lettuce again come fall. You’ll want to sow your lettuce in 1-2 week intervals starting about 8 weeks before your first expected fall frost. You may want to only sow cold-hardy lettuces, like butterheads and romaines in the fall the closer you get to the frost date. You may also be able to use a coldframe for growing more lettuce as the weather turns colder.
Lettuce Growing Tips
Lettuce likes loose soil that drains well, and thrives in rich soil. Prepare your beds to be 8-12 inches deep for best results, and mix in an inch or two of compost.
Sow your lettuce seeds a quarter of an inch deep. You can plant them in rows or squares, or you can simply scatter your seed evenly over the soil. I like to use an old shaker bottle to plant my lettuce seed nice and evenly over an area. Lightly sprinkle a very thin layer of soil on top of the seeds and water gently.
When sowing indoors, keep your lettuce seeds under fluorescent lights. When transplanting outside, your lettuce will need a little shade or cover to acclimate themselves to the sun for the first few days.
Keep your lettuce patch moist, but not soggy. Lettuce does best in soil that is continually moist.
Pull up (and eat) young plants until you achieve the spacing you desire between lettuce plants.
Pick your lettuce early in the morning for best results. Harvesting during the heat of the day may result in wilted lettuce, even when you hurry to put it in the refrigerator. Use scissors for harvesting loose-leaf or baby lettuce. For harvesting entire heads of lettuce, you may want to use a knife to gently remove the head.
Wash lettuce thoroughly with cool water. (Sometimes lettuce needs to be washed multiple times due to contact with the soil.) Shake off excess moisture or run through a salad spinner. Store in plastic baggies in the refrigerator as soon as possible.