One of my dreams is to be able to grow lettuce all year long. But temperature really does matter, especially when it comes to growing lettuce and when it gets too hot, lettuce turns bitter.
This year, I tried growing even in the hot summer days. I added a shade cloth to a raised garden bed and the seeds sprouted with no problem in the heat. I used heat tolerant varieties, many of them with red leaves, like Cimmaron, Ruby Gem, and Lollo Rossa. These lettuce plants were in full sun for 8 plus hours a day.
By the 4th week of 100-degree summer temperatures, I tasted the lettuce to see how it was growing. The lettuce was bitter and would not taste good in salads. I knew that my goal of salads through the summer would not happen this year. This next year, I will start my lettuce in the fall, continue growing through the winter, grow more in spring, and then add lettuce to containers that are completely shaded to combat the heat.
I want fresh organic salad all year!
By using the methods shared below, I want to help you grow lettuce all year long. Read further about growing backyard lettuce: a guide on how to grow and harvest.
Best Time of Year to Grow Lettuce
The best time to grow lettuce depends on the variety, but generally, it thrives in cool weather. Therefore, the fall crop, early spring crop, are considered cool season crops and are optimal for planting in cooler weather.
Lettuce seeds can be sown as soon as warm weather appears and as the soil is warm enough to be worked in the spring. For a fall harvest, start planting lettuce about 8 weeks before the first frost date. In spring, start planting lettuce seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost.
In hotter climates, lettuce can be grown in the winter months. Remember, lettuce prefers temperatures between 50-70°F, and most varieties can take cold temperatures and even tolerate a light frost. However, in hot weather when temperatures consistently stay above 80°F, lettuce may bolt, or go to seed, resulting in bitter leaves. That’s why planting in the shade could work for your lettuce production.
Benefits of Growing Lettuce and Spinach in Containers or Pots
One of my favorite ways to grow lettuce is using containers or pots. Grow lettuce in plastic pots, in ceramic pots, in cloth pots in small spaces because it offers many benefits especially if you only have a balcony or a patio. Read more about small space gardening HERE.
Container gardening provides better control over soil quality and watering conditions, which can lead to healthier, more productive plants.
Grow lettuce in pots or containers or vertical planters because it makes it easier to manage pests and diseases since it is a small space. I often move my containers when they need less or more sun to keep my plants growing. In the hotter days, I move to the shade to keep the temperatures under 80 degrees. If it is getting below 60 degrees, I move to warmer, sunnier spots. And if it is under 40 degrees, I add a plant cloth to grow lettuce in its only little pretend house.
The vertical planter I use for growing lettuce and greens is a Greenstalk. Check out more information with a short course that can help you plant out a vertical planter in a weekend. Or find out more information about vertical planters especially in small spaces HERE.
Sun vs. Shade- How much is needed?
Ideally, when lettuce grows well it needs about 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Too much sun can cause it to bolt or, in simpler terms, grow too quickly and become bitter. I often use a sunshade to protect my lettuce crop when the temperatures get close to 80 degrees or over.
If your garden area is more shaded, than it may not get enough sun to grow the lettuce. Make sure to keep track of the sun and shade in combination with the temperatures. You might have to try different locations to see what works best for growing lettuce in each season.
Having the right balance depending on the temperature is key to growing lettuce.
How to Grow a Lettuce Plant
Step 1: Choose Your Lettuce Plant Variety
First things first, decide on the type of lettuce you’d like to grow. From the Crisp head lettuce to romaine, there’s a variety to suit every salad lover’s palate!
Step 2: Pick the Perfect Spot for Lettuce Plants
Lettuce isn’t picky, but it does enjoy a nice balance of sun and shade. Find a spot in your garden that gets about 4-6 hours of sunlight a day.
Step 3: Prepare the Soil
Next, let’s get that soil ready. Loosen it up with a garden fork and mix in some organic compost. Your lettuce will thank you for this nutrient-rich environment!
Step 4: Time to Plant
Sow your seeds about two inches apart, 1/4 inch deep and then start seeds 1 inch apart in rows. Remember, lettuce likes a bit of personal space!
Step 5: Water Well
Keep the soil consistently moist. Lettuce roots are quite shallow, so they’ll appreciate regular, consistent watering too.
Step 6: Watch for Weeds
Weeds can be a nuisance, competing with your lettuce for nutrients. Keep an eye out and remove any that pop up.
Step 7: Harvest Time of Lettuce Plants
Your patience has paid off! Once leaves reach your preferred size, cut them off at the base and enjoy your homegrown lettuce.
Remember, gardening is a learning process, so don’t worry if things aren’t perfect the first time around. With a little patience and care, you’ll soon be enjoying fresh, crisp lettuce straight from your garden.
Sowing Lettuce Seed
Gently sow your seeds about 1/4 inch deep into the soil. Make sure they’re about 1 inch apart in rows. Cover lightly with soil and pat it down softly. Once they start growing, lettuce does not need much room to grow as they have a shallow root system. Check the seed packet to see when the germination is going to take place.
How Far Apart to Plant or Space Lettuce Seedlings or Seeds
You can plant 5-9 lettuce plants in a square foot. It’s all about being smart with your space, giving each lettuce plant enough room to thrive without crowding its neighbors.
While the plants in garden beds may be close together, they still need regular watering and harvesting. Some recommendations are to plant six to eight inches apart. Experiment and see how many of different varieties you can put in a small space especially if using raised beds and great potting soil.
Planting Lettuce Seedlings
Start by preparing the soil in your garden bed or container- a good mix of compost and soil can start a garden out right. Plant lettuce transplants by making a small hole top few inches in the soil, just deep enough to comfortably fit the root ball.
Gently place your lettuce seedlings into the hole, making sure the base of seed stalk of the plant is level with the soil surface. Fill in any gaps with extra soil, gently firming it around the root rot the plant.
Remember to water it well and consistently each week even in the cooler months. That water can help insulate your lettuce plants and protect them through the cold.
Succession Planting Lettuce
Succession planting is a strategy that keeps your garden growing through the year with harvesting lettuce all season long.
Succession planting involves planting new lettuce seeds every couple of weeks throughout the growing season. This means just as one batch of lettuce is ready to harvest, another batch is sprouting up, ready to take its place. A constant supply of young leaves = fresh, homegrown lettuce.
Getting started with successive planting starts by planting your first batch of lettuce seeds. Then, mark your calendar for two weeks from that date. When that day rolls around a few weeks out, plant your next batch of lettuce seeds. Continue this pattern throughout the growing season as the lettuce grows.
The hard part of successive planting is needing to keep empty spaces available for the next planting. I get so excited to plant, I oftentimes use up all my spaces and forget to save room for future plantings.
Succession planting is an excellent way to maximize your lettuce harvest and enjoy fresh salad greens all season long.
Main Types of Lettuce for Your Garden
There’s a whole array of types of varieties, each with their unique textures and flavors. Plant lettuce that will meet the needs of your taste buds and the season that you are in.
Romaine: This is a classic choice for any garden. Romaine lettuce is known for its robust flavor and crisp texture, making it an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches.
Looseleaf: Leaf lettuce is a broad category that includes a number of lettuce types. The main characteristic of these types is that they do not form a compact head like iceberg or romaine lettuces do. Instead, their leaf lettuce leaves freely branch from the stem, creating a loose, leafy appearance. The loose-leaf types are some of my favorites.
Butterhead: Butterhead lettuces, such as Buttercrunch, form small, loosely formed heads with soft, tender leaves that have a sweet, buttery flavor. They’re a favorite among gardeners for their heat resistance and their deliciously distinctive taste with fresh lettuce taste.
If you want more details of the specific varieties you can plant within each category of romaine lettuce, loose leaf types of leaf lettuce, or butterhead than check out THIS BLOG POST ON VARIETIES of lettuce.
How to Harvest Lettuce Plants
There are two types of methods of harvesting lettuce. One will give you a harvest a little at a time for months, letting the plants grow as you harvest 1/3 of the leaves. This is called the cut and come again method. The second is harvesting lettuce by cutting the whole head of lettuce at one time. Both types of harvesting are useful.
I usually use the cut and come again at the beginning and middle of the lettuce season. Then I harvest the whole lettuce head towards the end of the lettuce season before it gets bitter with heat.
The Cut and Come Again Method
This technique will give you a continual harvest from your lettuce plants over many months. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
Wait for the right moment: Once your lettuce leaves have grown to about 3-4 inches tall, as baby greens, it is time to harvest leaf lettuce.
Take a gentle approach: Using clean and sharp scissors, cut the outermost leaves about one inch above the soil level. This encourages new growth from the center of the plant.
Repeat the process: As new leaves grow; you can keep harvesting them in the same way. With this method, a single lettuce plant can provide you with fresh greens for several months!
Harvesting the Whole Head
If you prefer to harvest the entire head of lettuce at once, follow these steps:
Look for mature plants: The right time to harvest the whole head is when it’s firm and full-sized, but before it starts to bolt (or send up a flower stalk).
Use a knife: Cut the lettuce head off at the base, just above the ground level.
Enjoy immediately: Whole heads of lettuce are best enjoyed fresh, so plan to use them within a few days.
How to Store Lettuce
Storing lettuce or leafy greens might seem tricky, but not to worry – with a few simple steps, you can keep your greens crisp and tasty for longer.
Rinse and Dry: Give your freshly harvested lettuce a gentle rinse under cold water to remove any dirt or bugs. Then, pat it dry or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.
Bag it Right: Place your lettuce in a plastic bag with a few paper towels. The towels will absorb any extra moisture, helping to prevent soggy leaves.
Refrigerate: Pop the bag into the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Your lettuce can stay fresh for up to 10 days.
And there you have it! With these tips, you’ll be enjoying the fruits (or rather, leaves) of your labor for days to come. You’re doing an amazing job. Keep up the great work, and as always, happy harvesting!
Common Lettuce Pests and Diseases
Identifying these pests and diseases early can make all the difference in maintaining the health of your lettuce garden. Here’s most common lettuce pests:
Beetles: Some types of beetles, such as flea beetles and darkling beetles, are known to feast on lettuce.
Aphids: These small, sap-sucking insects pose a significant threat to lettuce plants.
Cutworms and Whiteflies: Less common but still problematic, cutworms and whiteflies can harm your lettuce crop.
Armyworms: Armyworms can cause considerable damage to lettuce and other vegetable crops.
Pill bugs: Also known as Roly Polys, pill bugs can become a pest if they are present in excessive numbers.
When you find these little pests, pick them off of your plants or soil to reduce the numbers. Once you remove some, it will help to protect your lettuce plants overall.
Essential Gardening Products
Choosing Your Lettuce
First things first, decide on the type of lettuce you’d like to grow. Pick a variety of lettuces to enjoy different types and tastes.
Plant lettuce from small transplants or directly from seeds. Make sure to get the timing right.
Lettuce thrives in loose, well-draining soil that’s rich in compost. Make sure that the lettuce gets at least six to eight hours of direct sun each day. However, lettuce can also tolerate partial shade because they are not heat tolerant. If there is some afternoon shade, this could help your lettuce grow in warmer climates.
Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
With growing your own lettuce, you have the flexibility to harvest what you need when you need it.