Easy to grow and care for, lettuce is a handy vegetable to have in your garden. Pluck a few leaves for a quick salad or harvest an entire head for more extensive meals. The value of lettuce in your garden is in its convenience and easy care. With some strategies to protect your patch from critters and organic rich soil for steady growth, lettuce will deliver a healthy, nutritious addition to your meal.
Lettuce comes in many different types, from classics like Loose Leaf and Romaine to more exotic colorful and flavorful varieties. Versatile for lunch and dinner, lettuce is also helpful for roasting meats and as a plate garnish. How you plant the lettuce will depend on the type it is, as they tend to have different growing habits and needs.
Best Soil for Lettuce
Lettuce will thrive in organic soil, but the nutrients need to have a chance to settle first. Mix composted manure or organics into the soil two weeks before planting or sowing, allowing the mixture to mellow and creating soil that will retain water well.
A pH level of 6.0 to 6.5 is the best for lettuce and they need to be planted in a partially sunny spot. If you plant them within the heavy, hot midday sun you can expect them to bolt, resulting in less produce. Also, a consistently moist soil will keep your lettuce plants growing well. Too wet and you encourage slugs and other problems, too dry and the plant will wilt quickly.
When to Plant Lettuce
Start your lettuce seeds beforehand in your greenhouse or under growing lights about four to six weeks ahead of the last frost. This will produce an early spring harvest for you to enjoy. Move out into your garden once the seedlings are about 1” tall.
For a continuous harvest throughout the summer, stagger the seeds directly in your bed about three weeks apart. Lettuce seeds can take some cold, but might appreciate light insulation on top for protection.
How to Plant Lettuce
If you don’t start lettuce in seed pots inside, you can direct sow into the soil. Dig a shallow hole about ½” deep and about 2” apart and sow seeds. Cover lightly with organically enriched soil. Water well using a gentle spray.
To keep the lettuce coming all season long, plant rows of lettuce about 12 to 15” apart at intervals of three weeks apart. That means the next row will be growing as you harvest the first and so on throughout the coming weeks.
Proper care for Lettuce
Mulch your lettuce plot to keep the moisture in and the weeds out. Organic mulches such as wood chips are a good idea and will enrich the soil for the next growing season. Other mulch forms include a weed mat laid on the soil with holes cut out for the lettuce plants. This will work well to combat weeds and prevent drying out.
Weed the lettuce patch regularly, since plants don’t like competition for water or nutrients. Keep the soil moist with daily watering. A gentle spray at the base of the plant is the best method, as wet leaves will encourage fungus and insects.
When to Harvest Lettuce
Lettuce harvesting is somewhat different depending on the variety planted. For hearted types, you will harvest the entire head at once. For the other, non-hearted types it’s possible to pick one leaf at a time.
Either way, make sure to harvest before the lettuce plant flowers. Once that happens the leaves will become bitter and nearly inedible. For crisphead lettuce varieties you’ll need to watch for the center of the plant to become hard.
Harvesting in the morning will yield a sweeter crop, while waiting until afternoon or evening will deliver leaves with low sugar content.
How to Harvest Lettuce
Peel the leaves directly off of the plant for romaine and other non-hearted types. It’s best to take off the outer layers and leave the inside to mature. Often the very outside layer will be the dirtiest and may have been snacked on my insects – feel free to peel it off and then harvest another layer to eat.
For hearted varieties, use a sharpened knife or pruners to cut the plant off close to the soil line. This head will keep in your crisper for a few days, but is tastiest when eaten right away.
Common Lettce Pests and Diseases
The common rabbit is a well known fan of lettuce plants, especially young seedlings. To keep these and other nibbling creatures at bay, plant lettuce leaves in a raised bed or put up a wire fence around the rows for protection.
Slugs and earwigs are some of the tiny creatures that feast on lettuce leaves. To keep the slugs away, try to water below the leaves. Also, sink slug traps into the soil around the lettuce or border the rows with companion plants like carrots and radishes. These will also to repel those nasty earwigs that may surprise you by hiding in the heart of a lettuce head.
Gardening Tips and Tricks for Growing Lettuce
Growing lettuce is all about timing. Make sure to sow seeds in a scattered schedule for optimum crop and harvest before the flowers appear. That way you will enjoy a plentiful amount of homegrown lettuce. Crisp, tasty and nutritious, having your own lettuce patch makes summer salads so much better.