Whether you're a garden virtuoso or a total newbie, lettuce is one of the easiest crops you can grow. That holds true for big, buttery lettuce heads or armloads of colorful baby lettuce leaves. Seriously, a few simple basics can lead to multiple bumper crops of tender, nutritious leafy greens. Follow these tips for homegrown lettuce harvests and you'll see how easy lettuce can be!
Lettuce seed mixes create spring mix right in the garden, no blending required.
When spring comes around, no matter where you live, lettuce is one of the earliest crops you can plant outdoors. As soon as your soil is dry and ready to work, lettuce seeds are good to go. One of the biggest tasks is deciding which types to choose. It's a lot like growing tomatoes — the options can keep you busy for years.
Lettuce comes in hundreds of varieties, from head- and rosette-forming types like Emerald Oak and its dark, oak-shaped leaves, to rich leaf lettuces that never form a head, like Waldmann's Dark Green, the standard by which all leaf lettuces are judged. You can even choose pre-mixed seeds, like our fabulous All Lettuce Mix organic seed, that combine colors from green to purple-red and textures from smooth and soft to ruffled and crisp.
Lettuce seeds can germinate when soil temperatures are 40 degrees Fahrenheit — barely above freezing. But you don't need to rush. Lettuce plants grow best when air temperatures finally reach 60°F to 65°F. Like cabbage and other cool-loving veggies, lettuces flourish in cool spring weather, but most lettuces grow tough, dry and bitter in summer heat. As soon as cooler fall temps return, they're ready to go again.
Head-forming lettuces like romaine and butterhead take longer to grow and harvest than leaf lettuces. Depending on where you garden, spring can be a race for heads to mature before temperatures get too hot. To give head lettuce a head start — pun intended — start seeds early indoors. Leaf lettuces get the job done faster and easier: Seed them straight into spring garden soil.
Plant seeds in wide, tight garden rows or not. It's your garden; anything goes.
Most homegrown vegetables like full sun, but lettuce is an exception. A site that gets full morning sun and late-afternoon shade is perfect for these leafy greens. Lettuce grows best when soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.0 — that's where most plants, including lawn grasses, thrive. Well-drained soil with rich organic matter provides the perfect foundation for all lettuce types.
Before you plant, revitalize your soil with Pennington Rejuvenate Natural & Organic Garden Soil Mix. It's full of good ingredients that work with nature, not against it — from essential plant nutrients to beneficial earthworm castings, bio-stimulants and sustainably sourced peat. You'll enhance soil nutrients, improve plant nutrient uptake and retain water and soil nutrients. All good news for your lettuce crop.
Head lettuce seedlings are garden-ready when they hit three to four weeks old, but gradually acclimate them to the Great Outdoors. Space according to the info on your seed packet: 8- to 12-inch intervals are common for most head types.
For leaf lettuce seeds planted straight into your garden, 1- to 2-inch spacing is typical. (You'll thin them out a bit when they get 2 inches tall.) Plant in rows, spirals or foot-wide swaths, whatever you want to do. Just keep the widths manageable for harvesting. Lightly cover lettuce seeds with 1/8 inch of soil and press gently to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Depending on the variety, most lettuces are ready for your table between 30 and 60 days after planting. For a near-continuous supply, plant seeds in succession plantings every two to three weeks. For fall lettuce crops, work backward on your calendar. You'll need four to eight weeks of growing time before your area's first expected fall frost.
Rosette-forming lettuces can pull double duty as baby leaves and full heads.
Regardless of the lettuce type you choose, be prepared to water. Delectable lettuce depends on consistent soil moisture. Floppy and dehydrated greens just aren't the same. Water lettuce whenever the top inch of soil gets dry. Warmer weather means more frequent watering.
Regular lettuce feedings pay off in robust leafy growth. The blend of organic and natural ingredients in Pennington Rejuvenate Plant Food All-Purpose 4-4-4 provides nitrogen and other essential lettuce nutrients, and gives your soil an added boost. Weeds compete for water and nutrients, so keep your gloves handy and your garden weed-free. A layer of organic mulch or clean, weed-free straw discourages weeds and helps keep soil moisture steady.
Harvest head lettuces when heads are fully formed — or earlier if you like loose heads or just can't wait. Use a sharp, clean knife and cut at the soil line. Leaf lettuces offer more options: For more than one harvest, wait until leaves reach about 4 inches tall. Harvest the top 3 inches and leave the bottom inch intact. Then wait for another round.
For extra fun — for kids or you — grow lettuce leaves from a kitchen scrap. Just place a scrap lettuce head base in water, and watch it grow. Narrow-necked bulb vases work great to keep leaves high and dry while roots grow in water below. Think of it as a homegrown version of the hydroponics commercial lettuce growers use.
Stop slugs and snails before they decimate your lettuce crop.
Unfortunately, many garden pests like tender lettuce leaves — and they never learned to share. Slugs and snails are two of the worst offenders. If you're wondering what's eating your lettuce leaves, look for clues. Large, irregular holes and telltale slime trails are sure signs slugs and snails are to blame.
Slugs and snails aren't insects. They're mollusks, like clams and squid, so soaps or other insecticides won't work. Corry's Slug & Snail Killer ready-to-use pellets stop slugs and snails from feeding as soon as they eat the bait. Your family, fur babies included, can keep enjoying your garden while these pests meet their fate.
Fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf spot, root rot and downy mildew also attack lettuces, especially when wet weather persists. Once fungal diseases are active, they can spread quickly, so prevention is your best defense. Avoid overhead watering that wets lettuce leaves. Use drip irrigation or water the soil around the plants instead. Water early in the day so any wet leaves quick-dry in the sun.
Few tastes can compare to the first tender homegrown lettuce of spring — or fall. It's right up there with the season's first tomato bliss. With a crop that's simple to grow and eager to please, you can't miss. Got a question? We'd love to hear it. We're Pennington, and we're here to help your garden dreams come true.
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