Since Lettuce is an easy crop for even novice vegetable gardeners to experience great enjoyment and success with, Lettuce is a popular choice for home vegetable gardens. A versatile vegetable, easily incorporated into salads, decorative accents for appetizers, soups, and other dishes, Lettuce is a practical choice as well. Growing Lettuce will be even simpler when there is a foundational understanding of the best conditions in which to grow lettuce. Lettuce can be planted the moment the last frost has passed and is a crop that can be enjoyed well into the fall season. Learn from expert vegetable gardeners how to identify the best conditions for growing Lettuce and begin your own home Lettuce garden.
Lettuce is a crop that can grow equally well in containers or in free soil. Lettuce has a shallow root system so it should be planted in an area that is relatively protected from foot or other traffic. Lettuce does best in cool to moderately hot temperatures, between 70 to 75 in the daytime and 55 to 60 at night, and while it needs on average about five hours of sunlight per day, it will not tolerate the hot afternoon sun well, so finding a location where shade is available in the afternoon is ideal. This important because Lettuce is a "short day" grower, and excessive exposure to light and daytime conditions will impact its health and viability. Lettuce can survive frost but not a hard freeze, so it should be sheltered from undue cold. Lettuce enjoys soil with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.5, and soil should be kept moist and enriched, and should offer an excellent drainage system. Lettuce will need access to frequent hydration as it grows, as drought can cause undesirable side effects such as "bolting". Meeting Lettuce growing requirements is the best recipe for a healthy crop.
There are four main types of Lettuce that are most commonly planted in home vegetable gardens, but each shares similar growing preferences. The four main types of Lettuce are Leaf, Butterhead, Romain, and Crisphead. Within each of these four main types are many hybrid varietals, so it can be helpful to consult the specific growing recommendations for the exact varietal selected before planting Lettuce.
Lettuce can be planted very early in the spring, ideally after the final frost. It can be grown earlier from seeds in a greenhouse setting, then transplanted to an outdoor container or free soil. While growing Lettuce doesn't require a lot of space, care should be taken not to overseed the plot as Lettuce does not tolerate overcrowding well. Spacing between seeds or young plants will vary depending on the varietal selected, so consult the recommendations for that varietal prior to planting.
Lettuce will need continually moist soil, which for most climates ranges from one half to one inch of water per week, and more in conditions of drought. Lettuce usually does not require heavy applications of fertilizer and sometimes just one application is all that is required. Lettuce has a four stage growing cycle, consisting of the juvenile vegetative, the adult vegetative, the juvenile intermediate, and the adult intermediate, and is at its most vulnerable in stage three, when it can be subject to what is called "bolting" if conditions become too hot or underwatering occurs. When Lettuce comes into contact with hot weather, it begins to form flowers and seeds which destroy the flavor of the Lettuce. It can be helpful to place a shade cloth or shelter above growing Lettuce if more than five hours of direct sunlight per day is anticipanted, or if temperatures begin to climb. It will be important to weed around growing Lettuce and remove undesirable plants that may compete with Lettuce for hydration and nutrients, but care must be taken not to injure or destroy the shallow root system while weeding.
To harvest Lettuce, clip off the leaf portion only with a pair of sharp, disinfected garden shears. Take care when removing mature leaves not to disturb the lower stem or root portion, as Lettuce will quickly begin to grow a new head of leaves for later harvest if harvesting is done properly. It can also be possible to gently twist away the mature leaf head from the stalk to harvest mature Lettuce. To encourage faster growth, leave a few of the outer mature leaves attached to the stem and the Lettuce plant often produces two or even three new Lettuce heads in place of the one that was removed.