Great Lettuce Growing Tips

Lettuce growing will be a snap with these helpful tips for choosing, planting, and harvesting.

| April/May 2010

Imagine that extraterrestrials have invaded and commandeered earthlings’ home gardens in order to produce energy for their fleet of veggie-powered flying saucers. Armed with hoes and digging forks and with determination in their eyes, gardeners take to the streets. To quell the insurrection, the aliens announce they will allow gardeners to grow one vegetable for their own consumption. Which crop would you choose? For me, the choice would be as easy as this scenario is far-fetched: lettuce.

You could make a good case for growing other things instead: a highly caloric crop such as potatoes, a more flavorful one such as tomatoes, or a better keeper such as carrots. I recommend growing lettuce because it’s easy, reliable, requires little space, and enjoys a long growing season, allowing for multiple and continuous harvests. Lettuce is also one of the best vegetables to grow because it offers a nice mix of nutrients in a compact package, including iron, folate, and vitamins A and C. It’s for all these reasons that new gardeners should choose lettuce as their first step in their journey to delicious, homegrown self-reliance. We've compiled some proven lettuce growing tips to get you started. For a chart with lettuce variety details, see Great Lettuce Varieties. 

Lettuce Types

While “iceberg” is the bland poster child for store-bought lettuce, it’s part of a larger, diverse, and better-looking family than people realize. Gardeners can choose from hundreds of varieties, all falling into six types. (See “Six Lettuce Types: Which Ones Will You Try?” below.)

For beginners, I recommend starting with loose-leaf lettuce varieties, also known as “cut and come again” lettuces (meaning you can cut a harvest, then harvest again in a few weeks). These varieties are not only the easiest to grow, but they come in many seed mixes, offering a balance of colors, textures, and flavors.

To add some extra color and zing to your salad bowl, I suggest planting a row of spicy mesclun mix for every row of lettuce you grow. Most seed companies offer mesclun mixes of arugulas, kales, and mustard greens, which, with the addition of some cheese, chopped walnuts, and a couple of edible flowers, can turn a ho-hum salad side dish into a memorable main course.

Preparing to Plant

As with any crop, delicious salad greens start with the soil. Lettuce does best in sandy loam soil with a high level of moisture-retaining organic matter, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t have those conditions. Lettuce grows all around the world in all types of climates and soils, including your own.

Patti Anne
5/12/2011 11:30:57 AM

I am a new to gardening. I am trying the method of using bags of topsoil to put my plants in. So far I have succeeded. I have planted Buttercrisp lettuce and have have 3-4 good picking but now my plants are almost 3 feet tall. Should I keep picking and letting them grow? I live in Central Fla and our temps are already reaching 90 degrees F. My plants are starting to look like Christmas trees. My last picking was last week and it still tasted good. Can anyone tell me what to do? If I let them go to seed will they come back. I appreciate any help. Thank you. Patti Anne

Lisa Phillips
7/14/2010 2:57:59 PM

I've heard that making tubes of rolled up newspaper and filling then with a spoon or 2 of peanut butter will attract the earwigs. Coffee grounds keeps away the slugs and cats too

Rob C.
6/7/2010 12:07:52 PM

@Alan- If by pincher bugs you mean earwigs (looks like a giant dark termite with a long abdomen, but with pincers on the rear and the front?) try this: fill a small garden pot with straw or dried grass and place it up-ended on an 8" stake around the parameter of your bed. Empty the straw in mid-day and replace with fresh straw each day. The earwigs crawl up into the straw for shade and shelter during the day and come out to make mincemeat of your garden at night. Good luck!

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