Planting Guide - Lettuce Seeds
Planting Lettuce in Your Garden
Plant out lettuce throughout the spring and summer to ensure a continuous supply of salad. You can grow your own young plants from seed, taking advantage of all the wonderful varieties we have to offer. Lettuce makes an ideal quick crop to grow between other vegetables before they mature, or even at the front of flowerbeds and in pots.
When & How to Grow Lettuce
Lettuce seeds are small, and can be a challenge to sow individually. If you would like the “Mr. Macgregor’s Garden” look of perfectly spaced lettuce heads dotting each row, then consider starting your lettuce seeds in starter pots where you can easily thin out extra seedlings by snipping them off with scissors. Later, you can plant these starts at their correct spacing. If you would like to directly sow into your garden, keep in mind that lettuce doesn’t mind being overcrowded! Sprinkle in your seeds, and do your best to space them out. Mixing you seeds with a bit of sand will help you distribute them thinly rather than in clumps.
Lettuce is a cool-season crop that does best in a sunny location in cooler temperatures, roughly 60-65F. Wait until your ground thaws and is workable before sowing lettuce seeds, but you can begin 2 to 4 weeks before the last expected frost. Unlike other veggies, lettuce seedlings can tolerate a light frost.
Growing Guide for Lettuce Seeds
Lettuce grows in average soil. Dig about 4” deep, work in some compost and organic matter and plant your lettuce by sprinkling it in and covering with a layer of soil. Rule of thumb is that seeds should be planted to a depth of three times their diameter. For lettuce, that means approximately 1/8” deep. Expect to see sprouts in a week to 10 days.
Because the seeds are so small, the best you can do is sprinkle the seeds onto the soil, and then as the seedlings emerge, you can then begin to thin them out. Lettuce roots are small and shallow, so take care as you pull out the seedlings, or better yet, use a pair of scissors or clippers to cut at soil level. The advantage of cutting the seedlings at soil level diminishes the amount of dirt and grit you’ll have to wash off the young seedlings once you bring them inside to add to that night’s dinner salad.
We recommend 4-6 inches between butter head varieties, 10-14 inches between loose-leaf cultivars and 12-16 inches between romaine and crisp head varieties.
Keep your lettuce well watered by not soggy. If your planting area gets full sun all day long, you may want to protect this crop with some afternoon shade.
Home-grown lettuce is so wonderful, you will want to plant in succession to ensure that you have a constant harvest, so be sure to seed every 2-3 weeks. This way you won’t be without fresh lettuce during the springtime.
A small root structure and few pests makes lettuce a great companion plant in the garden. Mints, including hyssop, sage, and various balms repel slugs, a bane of lettuce. Broccoli when intercropped with lettuce was shown to be more profitable than either crop alone. Where carrots need room to grow their long roots, lettuce needs very little, and so are good companions to plant together. Growing radishes with lettuce in the summer helps to make the red vegetable tenderer. A bed containing radishes, different varieties of leaf lettuce and carrots would do well.
When and How To Harvest Lettuce
Loose head varieties called butter head or Boston include Buttercrunch, Bibb, Tom Thumb, White Boston, and Little Gem; these will mature in 60-75 days. Crisp head varieties which form cabbage-like heads include Iceberg and will mature in about 75 days. Loose-leaf varieties which are suited for cut-and-come again harvests include Oakleaf, Salad Bowl Red, Salad Bowl Green, Prizehead, and Cimarron which mature in 40 to 60 days. Romaine or COS varieties with long, narrow leaves and heads include Parris Island COS, Tricolor Romaine Mix; which mature in 75 or more days.
Harvest your lettuce in the morning when it is the crispest. Loose-leaf varieties can be harvested by trimming outside leaves, moving from outside in. Heading types should be just firm at harvest; you can use a knife to cut heads below the lowest leaves, leaving the roots covered in soil behind.
Preparing for Next Season
Lettuce is not a heavy feeder and therefore leaves the spring soil ready for you to plant your summer veggies.