How to Grow Lettuce in Your Home Vegetable Garden

Growing lettuce is an excellent choice as an addition to your home vegetable gardening. It is very healthy and takes up little space, which is why I recommended planting it under your growing cucumbers for space and shade.

Lettuce is a hardy and cool climate vegetable that enjoys an average temperature around 60-70 degrees. However, we are going to touch on it later, a method to keep lettuce from bolting in the face of a hot summer.

First I do want to discuss why lettuce thrives best in cooler weather. Lettuce should be planted in early spring or late summer.

lettuce plants thriving in cool weather

Those high temperatures result in stunted growth to your growing lettuce. The leaves may turn bitter and the seed stalk lengthens quickly.

Now if you insist on growing lettuce in extremely hot weather, it can be done and as said many times before, nothing is impossible but you do have to take some precautionary procedures for hopes of any success.

Your first consideration needs to be the leaf type chosen to fight this battle. The leaf variety is far superior to the head form growing lettuce.

Now, you can cut the outer leaves and give the lower center leaves the opportunity to mature.

This actually fools the lettuce plant into believing it has not matured and not go to seed or bolt. I know this sounds like the lettuce has a brain, but plants are predictable even though it is only a vegetable.

The Five Specific Types of Lettuce That You Can Grow

There are five types of lettuce leaf, romaine, iceberg or crisphead, butterhead, and stem as sometimes referred to as asparagus lettuce.

Of course leaf lettuce is by far the most popular; I believe that almost all gardens maintain a row of leaf lettuce. Romaine which is found mostly in supermarkets is a growing lettuce, with an upright and prolonged head does quite well in salads and sandwiches.

The butterhead type has small loose heads and the leaves are tender and soft with a great sweet taste. As for the stem lettuce, well frankly, I rarely have seen except in Chinese restaurant dishes and stews.

ready to be harvested stem lettuce
The stem lettuce.

Growing lettuce such as crisphead or iceberg found everywhere in grocery stores is groomed for northern conditions and does require a bit more care.

In sections of the country, where lengthy coolness is not prevalent, this growing lettuce is most always started from transplants and transplanted to the outdoors when the iceberg plants are ready. The iceberg lettuce is very influenced by heat, so it must mature before the hot spells of summer arrive.

Soil and Planting Guidance

Of course, the case with most home vegetable gardening is the presence of good soil and growing lettuce is no exception. The nitrogen level should be high by the need to use a good 30-10-10 NPK.

This little abbreviation stands for 30 nitrogen, 10 phosphorous, and 10 potassium. This fertilizer will provide lots of nutrition and assist in producing healthy leaves. Leaf, romaine and butterhead may be put in the soil during any part of the spring.

The soil needs to be dry so that it is possible to rake the surface. If you can manage two or more continuous plantings over a period of 10 to 14 days, you should achieve a steady supply of lettuce.

Water is an essential part of the seed germination, and the ability of your young plants to survive. A bit of shade will favor your plants that have been sown for the summer harvest.

If you are going to be raising head lettuce in most cases, it needs to be transplanted from indoors or started in a cold frame, and then moved to your garden as early in the spring as possible, but not before the weather has settled into a consistent pattern.

You can harden the transplants so they become accustom to the surroundings in which your lettuce will mature. The seeds, if not using transplants, should be planted one-eighth to three eighth inch deep.

Each plant should be separated from the previous plant by six to twelve inches. Romaine will flourish fine at a smaller spacing, but crisp lettuce requires more room. If the decision is to plant in rows, then I would maintain a separation of rows by at least 20 inches.

Keeping the Soil Moist Is Good

It is good to keep the soil moist but don’t leave it soaked. Growing lettuce is not a deep rooted plant, so there is a need to find sufficient moisture near the surface.

It still is a good idea to keep the leaves from getting wet as it only promotes disease during nighttime temperatures. It is, however, a good practice to wash the lettuce on occasion preferably in the morning.

This will keep the plant fresh and clean, and may temporarily assist in washing off some attacking insect at least disrupting them from their destructive ways.

Attacking Insects and Diseases to Be Aware Of

The variety of insects and diseases attracted to lettuce is numerous. The insects find the leaves delectable, and the nooks and crannies are ideal spots for fungi to flourish.

a flea beetle munching and destroying a leaf
The flea beetle.

The arrays of insects include but are not limited to aphids, flea beetles, leafhoppers, and slugs.

Info on Anthracnose can be found here. Another disease, which is yet to be discussed on this web site, is Rhizoctonia solani or bottom rot. It is usually the result of poorly draining soil.

It is best to keep the foliage dry and plant in good draining soil to reduce this infectious disease. A good practice is to inspect your plants at least once a week.

This disease normally occurs just at maturity and the growing lettuce is headed. However, rust colored leaves that are touching the soil surface can begin to appear as early as week four after seeding.

The most insidious result of this disease is providing a path for soft-rot bacteria. This produces a quick dark-colored and slimy decay of the head. You may need to consult with your local garden shop for the best fungicide to use for the protection of your plants.

Ready For Harvest

Leaf lettuce maybe cut when it is deemed large enough to use. There is a two way approach to this harvest. Depending on the quantity required for your use, you may want to cut only some leaves from one plant.

very appetizing fresh green lettuce

However, if more lettuce is needed, then cut every other plant to the ground providing more room for the remaining crop. This variety usually reaches maturity in 50 to 60 days. The butterhead type is usually ready for harvest in 60 to 70 days.

The most inward leaves have the tendency to pale providing a real delicacy. Romaine types have upright growing habits and develop an elongated, medium-dense head. Storage of lettuce should include washing, drip drying and placement in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

A caution should be noted here avoid placing your lettuce with apples, pears or bananas. These fruits give off an ethylene gas, which is a natural ripening factor that will make the lettuce form brown spots and decay.

There is no successful means of long term preservation for lettuce. This is the direct result of the high content of water close to 94.9%. Lettuce will not respond to attempts at freezing, canning or drying.

Lettuce should be used when it is fresh and crisp, so don’t harvest more than is necessary for your salad needs. With good preparation of your soil, good planting techniques and care you can enjoy lettuce several times during the growing season.

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