Lettuce is a cool-season crop and belongs to the daisy family. It is popular in salads and is one of the easiest plants to grow, whether in containers or garden beds. Also, growing lettuce is expensive, and as a cool-season crop, it grows well in spring and fall’s cool and moist weather.
Lettuce comes in four common types: butterhead, romaine, loose-leaf, and head lettuce. Each type has similar growing and care processes but also clear characteristics.
This cool-season crop is very easy to plant. However, knowing when and where to plant lettuce is important for its growth. The guide on how to grow lettuce also lists down how to harvest and care for it, and the common pests and diseases that your lettuce may attract.
In this article, we will discuss how to grow lettuce in your backyard. We will also differentiate the common types of lettuce you can grow and the pests and diseases that may hinder their growth.
Here are more guides on growing Vegetables:
How to Grow Lettuce
Lettuce is an easy-to-grow vegetable that is also considered a spring and fall crop. Garden zones with a minimum temperature can grow lettuce all year round. They grow better when temperatures are between 60 and 70°F.
Most types of lettuce mature 30 days after planting them, and some can be harvested earlier as microgreens. You can also plant lettuce in your garden beds or into unused plastic containers.
- How to Plant Lettuce
Planting lettuce doesn’t require much work from seeds. Lettuce seeds are small and only need to be planted ¼ to ½ deep in the soil. For a traditional look, you can grow your lettuce in rows.
The space in between your lettuce depends on the type of lettuce you’re growing. The ideal space between your rows is 12 to 18 inches. Thin leaf lettuce requires to be kept 4 inches apart, while romaine and butterhead require 6 to 8 inches between each lettuce.
Approximately 10 seeds per foot is the recommended amount when you’re sowing seeds directly to the soil. The removed seedlings can be transplanted, or if not, can be eaten as delicious and tender microgreens.
The watering of lettuce should be light, frequent, and consistent. Since lettuce loves moist and loose soil, your goal is to keep the soil moist at all times to encourage better growth. However, overwatering your lettuce leads to root rot, stunted growth, and diseases.
Lettuce doesn’t need to develop deep roots. In fact, you should encourage leaf growing instead of over rooting.
- When Is the Best Time to Plant Lettuce?
The best time to plant lettuce begins in early spring, and for northern U.S climates, can extend until fall. In warmer regions, lettuce can be grown outdoors. Increased daylight hours and hot temperatures stimulate lettuce to bolt, which makes it more challenging to plant during the summer months.
Since lettuce is a cool-season crop, it can be directly seeded in the garden as soon as the soil is worked in the spring. If the ground is still frozen, patiently wait until it thaws. You can also start planting lettuce indoors. Try succession planting and growing different types of lettuce with different maturing times to harvest it throughout the growing season.
As previously mentioned, lettuce loves cool weather. Thus, you can start growing leaf, romaine, and butterhead lettuce as soon as the soil is worked in the spring. Depending on the type of lettuce, it can germinate in temperatures between 40 and 85°F.
If you plant lettuce in successive plantings, within 10 to 14 days, you will have an extended harvest. Begin planting lettuce in late summer so it reaches its mature age when the fall air is cool.
- Choosing and Preparing the Site
When choosing a planting site for your lettuce, make sure to select a sunny spot for the best growth. Most plants require at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but lettuce can still grow if given less than that. Also, the soil must be loose and drain well so it can stay moist without being soggy.
To keep your soil fertile, work it out with organic matter, such as manure or compost, for a week before you seed or transplant the lettuce. This will increase drainage, provide important nutrients, and improve your lettuce growing conditions.
Lettuce seeds are small, so it is essential to put them in a well-tilled seedbed. Allow enough space in between each lettuce to control weeds since they don’t compete well with weeds. Rotate the location yearly to reduce the occurrence of diseases.
If you have problems with your lettuce growth, consider buying a soil test kit. Lettuce is sensitive to soils with a low pH. Adding lime can help bring the pH level up to at least 6.0.
- How to Harvest Lettuce
Lettuce is one of the vegetables that are easy to harvest. It can be harvested 30 to 70 days after planting it, depending on its variety and usage. Once your lettuce reaches full size, but just before maturity, it is ready for harvest. The morning is the best time to harvest lettuce since it gives you the best flavor then.
Learning how to harvest your leaf lettuce is easy. You can cut the entire bundle at ground level or cut a few leaves at a time. Head, romaine, and butterhead lettuce cut off easily near ground level. Give the remaining plants enough room to grow if you’ve harvested every other lettuce.
When harvesting butterhead, loose-leaf, and romaine lettuce, you can either remove their outer leaves, dig and pick up the whole plants, or cut the plants an inch above the soil ground. If it’s your second harvest, the first and last method is the ideal one.
Here are other tips for harvesting lettuce:
- Mature lettuce gets bitter and woody if it isn’t harvested on time. It spoils or goes bad quickly too.
- Lettuce is best to harvest in the morning, before the leaves are exposed to sunlight.
- As time passes, lettuce loses its hardiness, so it’s best to plant new seeds instead of transplanting or waiting for new ones.
- To keep your lettuce fresh, you can keep it in a loose plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
- If your lettuce leaves are wilting, you can put them in a bowl of cold water with ice cubes. Soak them for 15 minutes.
- How to Care for Lettuce
Like any other plants, shrubs, and trees, lettuce also requires some care as it grows. Having a delicious salad relies on how you care for the lettuce. Lettuce thrives and grows better in cool temperatures, with consistent watering and organic fertilizers.
Here are care tips for growing lettuce:
- Fertilize the soil three weeks after you transplanted your lettuce. Lettuce prefers soils that are high in organic materials. With an abundant supply of compost and nitrogen, your lettuce will thrive better. You can also use organic alfalfa meal or slow-release fertilizers.
- Ensure that your soil is moist and that it drains well.
- You’ll know if your lettuce needs to be watered. If the leaves are wilting, water them.
- An organic mulch helps preserve moisture, prevent weeds, and keep the soil cool during the summer.
- Lettuce roots are shallow, so be careful when pulling the weeds around them.
Bolting is the major problem caused by hot temperatures. When lettuce bolts, it begins producing a seed stalk, central stem, and its leaves taste bitter. To delay bolting, put a cover or shade cloth on your lettuce patch so it will receive filtered light. Watering is essential and must be maintained during the summer months.
Common Pests and Diseases in Lettuce
Aphids are the most common enemy of lettuce. They can easily destroy and munch on your lettuce patch. You’ll know when your lettuce patch is infested as you will notice the leaves curl and wilt because the nutrients and water are being shipped away.
Aphids also spread diseases and cause mold problems. These white, annoying pests tend to hide under the lettuce leaves. As there are no insecticides to control their infestation, the ideal solution is to encourage natural predators, like lady beetles, to get rid of them. You can also use neem oil or horticultural soap.
If your lettuce is turning brown and curly, it could have a physiological condition known as tip burn. Tip burn is mostly found on lettuce, especially if the moisture isn’t consistent. When that happens, simply cut the brown lettuce and implement a consistent water schedule.
Here are other diseases and pests that may damage your lettuce patch:
- Powdery mildew
- Lettuce mosaic virus
- White mold
Types of Lettuce
Lettuce is an easy-to-grow kind of crop that you can harvest weekly. You may different types of lettuce in your garden, including the four most common types, which are loose-leaf, romaine, butterhead, head lettuce. These four types of lettuce have the same growing and care processes, but each type comes with distinct characteristics.
- Loose-leaf Lettuce
Loose leaf is the easiest kind of lettuce. Although it comes in both green and red loose-leaf lettuce, most people think red loose-leaf lettuce is grown differently. But, growing green and red loose-leaf lettuce is similar as you can plant them in rows for a good bundle. You can sow it thickly in your garden or plastic containers for harvesting tender and young lettuce.
To harvest loose-leaf lettuce, trim it a few inches above the soil. In one planting of lettuce, you can have two or three harvests. Red sails, Slobolt, and Tango are popular cultivars of loose-leaf lettuce.
- Romaine Lettuce
Romaine lettuce is also known as cos. It is tall and has tight bundles of thick and sweet leaves. It can reach up to 20 inches and takes 60 to 80 days to harvest. The extended growing season works well for romaine lettuce because it can grow without bolting in the summer.
Growing red and green romaine lettuce may require some gardening skills and techniques. Green Towers, Red Eye, and Valley Heart are popular and interesting romaine cultivars.
- Butterhead Lettuce
Butterhead lettuce produces tightly folded heads of tender leaves. The middle leaves are sometimes self-blanching to a white delicate color. This kind of lettuce is named after a butter flavor. This variety makes a perfect and sweet touch to salads. Esmeralda, Eramosa, and Nancy must try cultivars of butterhead lettuce.
- Head Lettuce
Crisphead lettuce, or head lettuce, is known as an iceberg variety of lettuce. It is one of the most popular types of lettuce and people who love salads often wonder how to grow iceberg lettuce. Growing head lettuce requires extra care compared to any other type.
For best results, plant head lettuce during fall, and to produce sweeter lettuce, avoid the warm summer weather. Great Lakes, Crispino, Ithaca, and Iceberg are great cultivars of head lettuce.
Lettuce is a great crop to have in your backyard. You can tuck it into small spaces and it grows easily. Although, it is important to learn about its growing process before planting lettuce in your garden.
With this article, you now know how to grow lettuce in your garden. You can then start growing lettuce like an expert.