Growing Different Lettuce Varieties
Salad is a staple at many meals but the same store-bought lettuces can become dull after a while. Growing your own lettuce is an easy way to introduce more variety to your salads. From century-old French heirloom cultivars to lettuces with ruby red leaves, once you start experimenting with different varieties, you will want to try them all. Lettuce is easy to grow, compact, and gives you the benefits of enhanced flavor and nutrients unique to homegrown plants.
When to Plant Lettuce
Lettuce is a cool weather crop usually planted in the fall through early spring. In Southern California, we can grow lettuce in all but the hottest months. As spring heats up it is best to switch to more heat-tolerant varieties such as ‘New Red Fire’ and ‘Batavian.’
Some lettuce varieties, when planted from starters, can be harvested as early as three weeks from planting with most varieties maturing around 50 days. To provide a steady harvest for your home, plant new plants every two weeks.
How to Plant Lettuce
Lettuce needs 4-8 hours of sunlight per day. In warmer months, it will benefit from being protected from the afternoon sun. They grow best in loose, well-drained, fertile soil, either in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers. You can incorporate high-quality, organic compost into your soil before planting to achieve this.
For a tidy look, plant lettuce in rows that are 12-16 inches apart. Or, just pop them all over your garden wherever they will fit. I like to plant them between my garlic plants as the garlic takes up very little room above ground so it will not compete with my lettuce. At the same time, garlic can deter some pests such as aphids.
The type of lettuce you are planting will dictate the space needed between plants. For romaine, iceberg, and butterhead lettuce seedlings such as ‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons,’ provide 8-10 inches between each plant. For loose leaf varieties such as ‘Red Sails,’ you can pack them as closely as 6 inches apart.
Lettuce is a perfect plant for container gardens as they do not require much root space. Try planting the frilly red ‘Lolla Rossa’ lettuce in a decorative pot for a showy display.
Caring for Lettuce
Lettuce plants have a shallow root system and do not want to be water-logged. Keep the soil moist but not soaked. A well-draining soil or a raised bed will help with this.
Snails and slugs love lettuce maybe more than we do. The best way to control them is through organic methods such as hand-picking and traps or by using a completely organic and safe bait like Sluggo.
When temperatures increase (usually above 70°F) lettuce may start to bolt. This is when plants send up a central stalk, eventually with flowers at the top. Once this happens, leaves begin to turn bitter. To delay bolting, place a shade cloth over your plants when the days heat up.
You can harvest loose-leaf lettuce as soon as you have sizable leaves by gently removing the outer leaves; new leaves will continue to grow from the center. For romaine, iceberg, and butterhead varieties, the whole plant is usually harvested by cutting the plant about one inch above the soil surface.
I am always amazed by how much longer my garden lettuce lasts in the fridge than store-bought. After harvest, store your lettuce in a loose plastic bag in a crisper drawer. Do not wash it until you are ready to use it. I have had lettuce stored like this for as long as three weeks.
Facts About Lettuce to Impress Your Friends
The first documentation of lettuce cultivation is from Egypt over 6,000 years ago.
Augustus Caesar is said to have erected a statue of lettuce.
Thomas Jefferson planted 17 varieties of lettuce at Monticello, some are still grown there today.
‘Outrageous’ lettuce, a red romaine, was the first vegetable to be grown and eaten on the International Space Station
For more information about growing lettuce, view: how to plant maintain leafy greens for cooking juicing in fall or how to harvest lettuce