The Complete Guide on How to Grow Lettuce
Lettuce is one of the most versatile and popular vegetables in the world. It can be incorporated into countless recipes or enjoyed by itself. And, one of the greatest things about lettuce is that you can grow it at home! The idea of growing your own food might sound daunting, but by following our simple guidelines, you can learn how to grow lettuce for your entire family to enjoy.
When To Plant Lettuce
The first thing you need to know about how to grow lettuce is when it should be planted.
Lettuce grows best between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Known predominantly as a spring and fall crop, you can begin growing most varieties in the early spring and early fall. Begin growing your spring lettuce after the last frost has melted and your soil has thawed.
If you are interested in how to harvest lettuce so it keeps growing continuously, you should consider succession planting. Rather than planting your lettuce all at one time, begin planting in April and plant new seeds or starter plants every 10 to 14 days to extend your harvest. Just be sure to stop planting at least one month before hot temperatures in the summer begin, to prevent bolting.
You can follow this same process in the late summer/early fall to have a continuous harvest until the cool fall temperatures hit.
How Long Does it Take Lettuce to Grow?
There are all different types of lettuce, and the length of time they take to grow depends on the types you choose. The most popular varieties of lettuce people choose to grow are:
- Crisphead/Iceberg – Matures in 70-80 days
- Butterhead – Matures in 55-75 days
- Romaine – Matures in 70 days
- Looseleaf – Matures in 40-45 days
Where to Plant Lettuce
The next most important thing to know about growing lettuce is where to plant it. Lettuce grows best in loose, cool soil with good drainage, but there are also a few other elements to keep in mind when choosing where to plant your lettuce. Check out these frequently asked questions about planting lettuce in your backyard.
How much sun does lettuce need to grow?
Most lettuce varieties enjoy full sunlight. For the best turnout, make sure you plant your lettuce in an area that receives approximately 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Some varieties can also be grown in partial shade, receiving 4 to 6 hours a day.
If you are planting your lettuce when the temperatures are getting hotter, make sure you provide some shade to prevent the plants from becoming overheated.
How much space does lettuce need to grow?
If you are planting your lettuce in a garden, make sure you space the plants correctly. Larger heads of lettuce should be planted about 10 to 12 inches apart. Baby lettuce can be planted 6 to 8 inches apart.
Lettuce can also be grown in any container that is at least 4 to 6 inches deep and has drainage holes. Some of these include:
- Window boxes
- Fabric planters
How to Plant Lettuce
If you want to learn how to grow lettuce, you’ll need to understand the two ways to get started: from seed or from a starter plant. There is no right or wrong way to plant lettuce, but growing from seed will require more time and effort.
How to Grow Lettuce From Seed
Sow your lettuce seeds in rows, keeping in mind the type of lettuce you are growing and the amount of space it needs. If you are growing several varieties of lettuce, you may want to place markers in the soil so you know exactly where each type has been planted.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, making sure you do not sow them too deeply (so that sunlight can reach them for germination). You may also want to consider sowing your seeds in small pots or even egg cartons indoors to prevent them from drowning in rainwater while they germinate.
How to Grow Lettuce From a Starter Plant
Lettuce starter plants are widely available at most greenhouses and nurseries in the spring and fall. Whether you’re planting lettuce from a store bought starter plant or transplanting your seedlings from indoors, the same rules apply. Keep in mind the distance between each plant as well as the sun exposure depending on which variety you are planting.
Care and Maintenance for Lettuce Plants
Once you know how to grow lettuce, it is important to know how to care for it. In order to keep your lettuce healthy and thriving, there are a few guidelines you should follow. These tips will ensure your lettuce grows well and leaves you with a healthy harvest to enjoy.
When watering your lettuce, keep it light and consistent. For the first two weeks after planting your lettuce, you should water it lightly daily. After the first two weeks, you can start watering your lettuce less – twice a week or every four to five days depending on the temperature and shade level.
Try to water your lettuce in the early mornings or late afternoons, so that the mid-day sun doesn’t evaporate the water before it has the chance to soak into the soil.
Lettuce does well in nutrient-rich soil. Once the lettuce seedlings emerge, fertilizer can be added to maximize lettuce leaf production. Since the majority of lettuce plants mature quickly, only one dose of fertilizer is usually needed.
When choosing your fertilizer, make sure it is well balanced. This means equal parts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate. If you opt for a granular fertilizer, look for 10-10-10 or 5-5-5 mixtures. These numbers represent the amount of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate in the fertilizer.
Disease and Pest Prevention
Aphids are one of the most common pests for lettuce plants. They are tiny white pests that hide on the undersides of lettuce leaves. Aphids can cause molding and disease by sucking the water and nutrients from your lettuce plant.
There isn’t a systemic insecticide that prevents aphids, which means the best way to repel them is by using natural predators, such as lady beetles, or applying a horticulture soap or neem oil.
When it comes to diseases, the most prevalent is tipburn. If your lettuce begins to curl and turn brown, it could be suffering from this disease, due to inconsistent moisture. Trim the brown pieces and begin a consistent watering schedule to prevent tipburn from spreading.
Now that you’ve learned how to grow lettuce and how to care for it, you are ready to finally reap the rewards of your hard work and harvest your lettuce. After harvest, it will be time to wash and enjoy your lettuce in countless recipes.
When to Harvest Lettuce
Choosing when to harvest your lettuce is partially up to you. Each lettuce variety has a different growing season length, but most are mature within 30 to 70 days. If you’re feeling impatient or craving some leafy greens, you can harvest single leaves whenever you like.
How to Harvest Lettuce
There are three ways you can harvest lettuce:
- Harvest as a baby green by picking or cutting leaves off the plant or harvest the entire immature plant.
- Harvest selectively by taking outer leaves from looseleaf or heading varieties as the lettuce grows.
- Harvest the entire head by slicing it off approximately an inch above the soil.
Once you’ve harvested your lettuce, store and clean your lettuce properly to ensure it stays fresh and healthy for as long as possible.