Lettuce is one of the first vegetables we can plant outdoors in spring. It shrugs off light frosts, although growing temperatures between 45 and 75° are preferred. I’ll be planting lettuce outside next week.
Plant lettuce in loose, well-drained soil that has been amended with compost. Mix in high-nitrogen fertilizer like blood meal.
Plant seeds at the depth recommended on the seed packet, in rows to grow like soldiers standing at attention or broadcast seeds to grow a carpet of lettuce. Keep the soil moist until seedlings appear. When they develop true leaves (their second set of leaves), thin them so plants are 6 to 18 inches apart depending on the variety. Directions for thinning is included on seed packets. Lettuce plants grown too closely together are prone to disease so show no mercy with the scissors. Cut out excess plants so those remaining grow at the proper spacing.
To ensure a continuous supply of lettuce, plant a third of the seeds now, a third in two weeks, and the remaining seeds two weeks after that.
When I plant lettuce next week, I’ll be planting little transplants started from seeds a few weeks ago and that have been growing under lights. Your local garden center has several varieties of large transplants if you want a big head start. Plant them at the same depth in the garden as they are growing in their pots. Check their tags for spacing recommendations but generally leaf lettuces are planted 4 to 6 inches apart and loose-headed types 8 to 12 inches apart.
Because lettuce is shallow rooted, it needs consistent moisture as it grows. If Mother Nature doesn’t provide at least an inch of water each week, do some supplemental watering. Keep fertilizing every few weeks with an organic fertilizer high in nitrogen and pull weeds to eliminate competition for food and water.
To harvest loose-leaf and butterhead lettuce, gather some leaves toward the outside of the plant and cut them almost all the way down to the soil. Leaves in the center of the plant will continue to grow. Start harvesting as soon as the leaves are big enough. The younger the leaves, the sweeter they taste. If you are harvesting Bibb or Romaine lettuce, wait until the plant is near its mature size and cut the entire plant. Pick lettuce early in the morning when it is at its sweetest and most crisp.
Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in containers as long as their watering requirements are met. I tuck lettuce plants in with pansies and other cool-season annuals in pots and window boxes.
Which is your favorite kind of lettuce? Butterhead lettuces form small, round, loosely formed heads of melt-in-your-mouth leaves. Boston varieties have larger leaves than Bibb types. Leaf lettuces don’t form heads. They are available in green or red varieties. Oak leaf types have oak-leaf shaped leaves that taste a bit spicier. Leaf lettuces grow quickly and are best for harvesting a few leaves at a time. Romaine lettuces have open, upright heads of long richly-colored leaves. They have stronger flavor than leaf lettuces and their midribs give a crunch to salads or sandwiches.
Growing lettuce is easy, takes very little space and tastes great. Get some seeds or transplants and garden with me!