How to Grow Lettuce
Instructions for Growing Lettuce
in Your Vegetable Garden
Growing lettuce crops are most effective during your area's cool seasons (this vegetable tends to go to seed and get bitter in hot temperatures). However, there are varieties out now that can tolerate warmer temperatures, and a few tricks to help too.
Lettuce is a good vegetable for container gardening, particularly if using smaller leaf-lettuce type varieties. For more information on growing lettuce in pots, review: container gardening.
Lettuce can also be a good companion plant to many garden vegetables. For more information on growing lettuce with other complimentary plants, review the companion planting guide.
Lettuce provides: Dietary Fiber, Chromium, Manganese, Potassium, Vitamin C, A, K, Copper, Phosphorus, Iron, Riboflavin, Calcium, Magnesium, Thiamin, Folate
Depending upon the variety you select, lettuce can be grown in nearly all gardening climates, year round.
Lettuce will grow in either sun or partial shade. However, it doesn't take hot locations very well. In most climates, this vegetable will grow best in the early spring or fall.
Gardening Tip for Growing Lettuce - If you have a crop growing during dry, hot weather, make sure you water regularly, and try to provide some shade (to offer a break from the heat). Mulching around the plants may help also.
A soil pH of beween 6.0-7.0 is best for growing lettuce. Lettuce doesn't grow well in alkaline soils. (Instructions: How to test your garden soil pH level.) Mix in compost and well-rotted manure several weeks before planting.
Prepare your lettuce garden bed by digging in fertilizer with the soil, one week prior to planting.Plant lettuce year round if you're in a temperate climate. Cooler seasons are best when growing lettuce. In warmer gardening climates, plant in part shade. Lettuce seems happiest at under 75 degrees (and can tolerate temperatures into the 40's).
Note: Unless you're in a very cool climate, you may want to select varities other than head lettuce. Growing lettuce of this type is very difficult and unsuccessful in most climates.
Plant the seed directly into your prepared garden bed. Make your rows 1 foot apart, and cover the seed with a very thin (1/4") layer of light garden (or seed starting) soil. Keep the soil moist.
NOTE: Make small successive plantings every few weeks, to keep a continuous crop coming throughout the growing season.
Once the plants have reached a height of 3” tall, thin them. Overcrowding stunts this vegetable's growth. Use the thinned plants as tender and tasty accents to your next salad!
Also, keep this vegetable's bed weed free. Mulching around the lettuce plants will help keep the weeds at bay (and save you time!). Plus, mulch helps to keep the roots cool.
Gardening Tip for Growing Lettuce - Don't leave mature lettuce plants in your garden. Pick them (give them away to your friends/neighbors, to the local food pantry, or compost them). If you leave them in the ground past maturity, they can invite plant diseases that can affect the rest of your lettuce crops.
When growing lettuce, it is best to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. During hot dry spells, extra watering may be needed. Lettuce will not do well in dry soils. Do not allow the soil to dry out when growing lettuce.
Note: Lettuce is one of the very few vegetables that actually thrives when watered from above.
Spray the plants with compost tea or similar fertilizer every two weeks. (This also helps ward off many of the fungal disesases that can occur when growing lettuce.)
Lettuce doesn't keep well. This is why it is best to have small plantings, but many of them throughout the summer.
- Slow the bolting process (when a seed stalk appears at the center of the plant) and/or onset of bitterness in the leaves during hot temperatures, by providing partial shade for any hot sunny spells (over 75 degrees). Note: once bolting starts, there's no stopping it.
- Don't plant seeds if the temperatures are over 80 degrees. The seeds won't grow.
- Rotate your crops - don't plant lettuce where you had it last year, or the year before. This helps avoid many of the plant diseases that can happen when growing lettuce.
- Young plants are severed from the root stalk. Cutworms are the cuplrit. You can make collars for the plants, or sprinkle bran mixed with BTK around the plants (these are nocturnal feeders - so spread it around just before evening comes), you can also buy parasitic nematodes for the soil (but these really need to be added to the soil before you plant). Collars can be made from cardboard (paper towel tubes, cut into 2" heights work well. I've seen all sorts of things used, such as tin cans, layered newspaper strips, aluminum foil, rings made from plastic soda bottles.)
- Slugs are often attracted to lettuce. You can trap (and drown) the slugs by placing a shallow pan or pie tin in the lettuce patch, filled with beer (stale beer is fine). You can also try sprinkling wood ashes around the plants.
Note: the advice and information contained herein is based upon our experience and study. As with any advice, please apply at your own discretion.