Lettuce

PrintPrintEmailEmail
Your rating: None Average: 4.2 of 5 (125 votes)

Botanical name: Lactuca sativa

Plant type: Vegetable

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun exposure: Part Sun

Soil type: Loamy

This is a half-hardy vegetable that you can keep growing all season long by planting one small crop at a time. Days to maturity tend to be short. Garden lettuce is far superior, in both taste and vitamin A content, to supermarket brands.

Planting

  • Lettuce is a cool-season crop that grows well in the spring and fall in most areas. Lettuce seedlings will even tolerate a light frost. Temperatures between 45 F and 65 F are ideal.
  • Loose, fertile, sandy loam soils, well-supplied with organic matter are best. Soil should be well-drained, moist, but not soggy with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Since the seed is so small, a well-tilled seedbed is essential. Large clods will reduce germination.
  • Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost date for earliest crop.
  • One week before setting seeds or transplants in the ground, till in compost or organic matter, especially if you have heavy soils.
  • Harden off seedlings for about one week, and transplant outside between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after last spring frost.
  • Direct sowing is recommended as soon as the ground can be worked. Plant seeds ½ inch deep. Snow won’t hurt them, but a desiccating cold wind will.
  • Seed may be sown in single rows or broadcast for wide row planting. When broadcasting, you'll need to "thin" for the proper spacing.
  • Leaf lettuce: Plant 4 inches apart.
  • Cos and loose-headed types: Plant 8 inches apart.
  • Firm-headed types: Plant 16 inches apart.
  • Your rows of plants should be 12 to 15 inches across.
  • Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.
  • Water thoroughly at time of transplant.
  • Consider planting rows of chives or garlic between your lettuce to control aphids. They act as "barrier plants" for the lettuce.

Care

  • You should be able to sow additional seeds every two weeks for a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.
  • Fertilize 3 weeks after transplanting. Lettuce prefers soil that is high in humus, with plenty of compost and a steady supply of nitrogen to keep if growing fast. Use organic alfalfa meal or a slow-release fertilizer.
  • To plant a fall crop, create cool soil in August by moistening the ground and covering it with a bale of straw. A week later, the soil under the bale will be about 10 degrees F (6 degrees C) cooler than the rest of the garden. Sow a three foot row of lettuce seeds every couple of weeks—just rotate the straw bale around the garden.
  • Make sure soil remains moist but is well-drained.
  • An organic mulch will help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and keep soil temperatures cool throughout the warmer months.
  • Lettuce will tell you when it needs water. Just look at it. If the leaves are wilting, sprinkle them anytime—even in the heat of the day—to cool them off and slow down the transpiration rate.
  • Weed by hand if necessary, but be careful of plant roots: They are shallow.
  •  Planning your garden so that lettuce will be in the shade of taller plants, such as tomatoes or sweet corn, in the heat of the summer, may reduce bolting.

Pests

Harvest/Storage

  • Lettuce should be harvested when full size, but just before maturity. You want it young and tender.
  • Before maturity, you can harvest leaf lettuce by simply removing outer leaves so that the center leaves can continue to grow. Butterhead or romaine types can be harvested by removing the outer leaves, digging up the whole plant or cutting the plant about an inch above the soil surface. A second harvest is often possible this way. Crisphead lettuce is picked when the center is firm.
  • Mature lettuce gets bitter and woody and it will go bad quickly, so check your garden everyday.
  • As time passes, you will want to cut the whole plant from the ground.
  • It’s best to harvest in the morning before leaves have been exposed to sun.
  • Keep lettuce in the refrigerator for up to 10 days in a loose plastic bag.

Recommended Varieties

  • Crisphead: 'King Crown', 'Mission'
  • Cos (Romaine): 'Wallop', 'Paris White Cos'
  • Loose Heads: 'Burpee Bibb'
  • Red Leaf: 'Red Sail' (Not recommended for hot weather, their red pigment absorbs more heat.

Recipes

Wit & Wisdom

Lettuce is a member of the sunflower family.

Lettuce wilted? Put the leaves in a bowl of cold water with ice cubes and soak for about 15 minutes.

Comments

Hello, We have done our

By Michele adlon

Hello,
We have done our first raised beds with organic soil and then beautiful, broken down mulch and love them. Have two problems…our tomatoes are splitting even the smaller ones and my lettuce was doing great, a leaf blend, but then overnight had holes in every leaf. Help!

Although splitting tomatoes

By Almanac Staff

Although splitting tomatoes can sometimes be caused by fluctuating temperatures, they are more often caused by uneven watering (including drought/heavy rain), especially during the late stages of ripening. Some varieties are more susceptible than others. Try to be consistent in your watering and water deeply; adjust during dry periods and with heavy rain. Provide mulch to conserve moisture. If you had a dry spell and heavy rain is predicted, you might harvest your almost-mature tomatoes to catch them before they split; they'll complete their ripening on a windowsill. Harvest split tomatoes as soon as possible; those left on the vine may be subject to insects and diseases.
 
As for the lettuce, it sounds like they might have been attacked by slugs or snails. These pests come out at night to chew vegetation, leaving slime trails and large ragged holes in leaves. Remove any mulch around your plants where these pests like to hide. Pour beer in a small plastic container and sink it in the soil near your plants so that about 1/4 inch of the rim is above the soil. The slugs/snails will drown in the beer. You can also place boards around, where the pests will congregate, and you can then dispose of the pests the next day. For more information, see:
http://www.almanac.com/content/slugs

I planted a garden for our

By Jenna Garner

I planted a garden for our local food pantry. Looking good and I planted lots of leaf lettuce in early spring. I already harvested a lot of outer leaves that were big, but it is starting to get really warm during the day. How do you know when the lettuce is bolting? Should I wait and plant the remainder in the fall when it cools? I was originally going to plant every 2 weeks all summer long. I live in southern IL. Love this site!! Thanks!!

Lettuce is bolting when it

By Almanac Staff

Lettuce is bolting when it starts to form a long flower stalk, usually in the center of the plant. The leaves on the stalk will be smaller and more elongated, and eventually, the stalk will form a flower spike. Leaf flavor becomes bitter. Bolting is caused by increasing day length as well as increasing temperatures.
 
For Illinois, you might want to stop the succession planting until late summer (about mid August or so), when you can sow for fall crops. If you do want to give summer growing a try, provide filtered shade all day for your plants, or complete shade in the mid afternoon onward, to protect them from the heat. Be diligent about watering.

I have had problems with

By Henry Cross

I have had problems with starting seeds in peat pots my seeds always seem to get tall too fast. What would the problem be. And how do I correct this.

Sometimes leggy seedlings are

By Almanac Staff

Sometimes leggy seedlings are caused by too rich a soil (too much nitrogen), or too warm a soil (seedlings like it cooler than seeds). But more often, it is not enough light. If you are using sunlight, choose a south-facing window, and rotate the seedlings every so often so that they do not grow toward the window but keep upright; if the light is still not enough, supplement it with artificial light (fluorescent bulbs or grow-lights). If you are using artificial light, adjust the height of the bulbs so that they are a bit closer to your seedings (the distance will depend on the bulbs you use, but usually they are positioned about 2 to 6 inches above the plants). In general, try to provide about 12 to 16 hours of artificial light.
 
In addition, you can have an oscillating table fan on the gentlest setting blow air on the seedlings for a few hours each day, which will help them to grow sturdy stems (make sure the air is not too strong for them).

What is good to plant with

By New2gardening

What is good to plant with lettuce to keep the bugs off?

Hi, New2! Official companion

By Almanac Staff

Hi, New2! Official companion plants for lettuce are asparagus, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries, sunflowers, and tomatoes. Broccoli is a no-no. The trick to keeping bugs off lettuce is to plant something nearby that will attract insect predators, such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps, that will eat bugs such as aphids. Toward that end, think about dill, parsley, marigolds, nasturtiums, and cosmos. You're in your salad days of gardening ... good for you!
 

Hello I have a question

By Lee Walden

Hello I have a question regarding a small Varity of lettuce growing well, should I let flowers continue or should I crop off tops

Question Folks have small

By Lee Walden

Question Folks have small Varity of lettuce doing well do I crop off flowers at top of plant Thanks

Yes, cut off those flowering

By Almanac Staff

Yes, cut off those flowering stalks. When lettuce forms a flowering stalk and blooms, it is called bolting. This will make the lettuce more bitter, but you can try to slow it by cutting off the stalks as soon as you see them develop. You might also be able to slow or discourage bolting by partially shading the lettuce from the heat, keeping the soil evenly moist (but not soggy), and harvesting the outer leaves at regular intervals. Bolting happens when the temperatures become warmer and daylight lengthens. As an alternative, when you see signs of bolting, harvest the entire plant before the leaves become bitter.

Working in a community garden

By Anonymous

Working in a community garden where unknown species of lettuce was planted extremely close together (less than an inch apart) in two rows. Can/Should I dig some up to put more space between them? I know their roots are shallow and I don't want to traumatize them. Thank you!

This site is an incredible source, so helpful!

I usually have good luck

By dan symonds

I usually have good luck growing lettuce in raised beds and over wintering under plastic. THis year the lettuce is very dry and stringy, wilting on picking, and not growing very fast. The only thing I did differently is to add some gypsum (mixture of CaSo4 and MgSo4--"Soil Doctor") last fall because we have a heavy clay soil. Is gypsum harmful to lettuce?

Thank you very much for any help.

the topic must be include

By Adane

the topic must be include from land preparation to harvesting.I went to agronomic and management of lettuce ifyou voletary o ivit me

Hi Dan, Amending the soil

By Almanac Staff

Hi Dan, Amending the soil with gypsum is not harmful but adding compost or aged manure to the clay soil would be better. If your lettuce is dry and stringy you may need to water more frequently.
 

Thanks so much. I think you

By dan symonds

Thanks so much. I think you are absolutely right: the answer is more mulch!

Could you please tell me, how

By Terry baker

Could you please tell me, how does one make the head of a lettuce form into a head ??
My lettuce for some reason never form into round tight heads ! Just grow tall with loose unbound leaves, would be great to eat one if it woul form into an actual lettuce, thanks .

First, make sure that you

By Almanac Staff

First, make sure that you have a "heading" variety such as Iceberg or Romaine if you want a head to form.
Some types, such as Bibb lettuce, form a loose head. Iceberg won't head tightly in warmer climates and you should treat it as a leaf lettuce and harvest the leaves as they get large enough to eat. 
Lettuce will head better if it stays cool. In warmer climates, it can be better to grow lettuce in the fall.

Thank you for the information

By Nia

Thank you for the information in this site.
Very helpful as I am starting to grow my own vegetables.
I can't wait for my Paris Island Cos lettuce to grow, I am on my 4th day and sprouts are now visible from seeds.

Is it best to sow or plant

By lynordb

Is it best to sow or plant rows of my Romaine Parris Island Cos, if I want to have some all year long, and want to save my seed? And when do I try to make it seed, at the very end of the year, or at the end of each planting?

it's best to direct sow

By Almanac Staff

it's best to direct sow lettuce seeds in single rows or broadcast for wide row planting. If you broadcast (as the seeds are so tiny), you'll just thin to the right spacing. We like to take a row and just plant a square every 2 or 3 weeks so that we have a continual harvest
Lettuce seeds are so tiny and hard to collect, so we don't usually save this crop. If you wish to try, go for it!
1. Leave a plant or two to produce a
seed stalk.
2. After the plant blooms and the flower
forms a miniature “dandelion head,”
gather the seeds.
3. Separate the seeds from the chaff by
rubbing them with your fingers

Thank you guys for being such

By Paige Moore

Thank you guys for being such a wonderful and knowledgeable site. :) :) :) Y'all are awesome :) :) :)

I've planted some lettuce.

By Marius Rousseau

I've planted some lettuce. Before the plant is ready to harvest, it produce seed and the leaves are bitter. What am I doing wrong?

Hey just want to say that I

By Jon Davison

Hey just want to say that I love your site, been using it the past week to help me make a vegetable guide, anything I don't know, you do :) Truly wonderful what your doing

Jon, Many thanks for your

By Almanac Staff

Jon, Many thanks for your kind words—and taking the time to share them.  Best, the OFA editors

We've just started a school

By Yuli

We've just started a school garden. After harvesting complete heads of lettuce, how does one prepare the ground for another crop?

Thanks!

I'm working on science

By Logan L

I'm working on science project for 6th grade. How long does lettuce take to sprout from seeds? Approximate time to mature for harvesting too. Need to know length of time, to be able to complete project on time.

Logan, I just started 4 types

By Cliff Hebisen

Logan, I just started 4 types of lettuce seeds and they all came up about the same time 4-5 days. They will fully mature in about 45 days but you can use some as early as 25 days. Hint: to start seeds use a spray bottle and mist the soil with warm water and keep them in a warm and sunny location. Mist them several times a day. Good Luck

Do I need to cover my

By Knowlesh

Do I need to cover my romaine, red leaf & head lettuce if freeze is forecast? Thank you.

Lettuce can withstand light

By Almanac Staff

Lettuce can withstand light frost (see below), however, it will not survive a freeze and you'll need to harvest.

I am growing a fall crop of

By K A Wright

I am growing a fall crop of loose leaf lettuce. We are starting to get overnight frosts here in north Alabama & I'm wondering if I should cover the lettuce or if it can take frost.

Lettuce can take a light

By Almanac Staff

Lettuce can take a light frost though no more. Cover growing beds with row covers or blankets or throw-cloths supported by stakes or wires. Milk jugs can cover individual plants. Mulching is a good way to protect very small gardens. Use several layers of newspaper, straw or chopped cornstalks.

how many days does it take

By mayamiko

how many days does it take for lettuce to be ready? i want the exact days.

Check the seed packet or any

By Almanac Staff

Check the seed packet or any online seed retailer and it lists the days to maturity for the variety.

Can I plant in the middle of

By Andrew Craun

Can I plant in the middle of August?

Yes, depending on where you

By Almanac Staff

Yes, depending on where you live.  Lettuce is a cool-weather crop and is usually grown in spring and fall. Seed in mid-August for good germination and you'll have a fall crop! If it's too hot where you live, the lettuce will flower and turn bitter.

Is it possible to grow

By Marta B.

Is it possible to grow lettuce year round inside, as long as it is exposed to sunlight?

Yes, you can grow lettuce

By Almanac Staff

Yes, you can grow lettuce inside year-round, though we'd grow outside when you can. The main requirement is sunlight. Place pots in a bright, sunny south-facing window. In many regions without strong winter sunlight, you'll need to supplement with a combination warm-white/cool-white fluorescent fixture. You'll know if the light is insufficient light because the plants will get leggy and tall.

I don't know what kind of

By timaree

I don't know what kind of lettuce I have planted. it is growing up like a stem with long leaves. I don't know when to harvest it either. can anybody let me know? I thought it was supposed to grow into a head, but I don't know. thank you

There are many varieties of

By Almanac Staff

There are many varieties of lettuce that do not grow into a head. Leaf lettuce is probably the most popular and  you will see individual leaves loosely arranged on the stalk. Stem lettuce would be unusual; it forms an enlarged seedstalk and you might see it in Chinese dishes.

My lettuce and brocoli

By Deborah Trujillo

My lettuce and brocoli produce plenty of flowers but not seed. My garden is at 3400 meters with cold nights and warm to hot days. What is going wrong?

All these veggies will go to

By Almanac Staff

All these veggies will go to seed eventually. Lettuce can need some help for the flowering stalk to emerge. Try using a knife to slit the heads partially open. The seeds will start to ripen though it may take 2 weeks. Your broccoli should throw up a tall flower stalk covered in lots of small yellow flowers. The flowers should form slender seed pods. Once they begin to look dry, cut the plant and remove the seeds from the pods.

When harvesting individual

By naomifior

When harvesting individual lettuce leaves, where on the plant do you cut if you want them to regrow? Should you leave a little of the leaf (where it connects to the stem) or is a clean cut better?

Harvest leaves starting at

By Almanac Staff

Harvest leaves starting at the outside of the plant, leaving the central bud to grow more leaves. Or, if the lettuce is closing to going to seed, just cut the entire plant at the soil line.

How do you know exactly when

By Jon Naranjo

How do you know exactly when lettuce is mature? First timer with lettuce but we are kind of using the store size as scale? one can pull off leaves as its growing for salads or sandwiches? what if your leaves taste kind of bitter?

Really, you can harvest

By Almanac Staff

Really, you can harvest lettuce any time after true leaves form. It's better to pick lettuce earlier vs. later; it gets that bitter taste if you leave it too long. Grocery store leaves are much bigger. If you harvest the outer leaves first, it lasts longer. Harvest in the morning when leaves are full of moisture.

How do I produce my own

By MissB

How do I produce my own lettuce seeds without buying them at the store?

You can "save" and "exchange"

By Almanac Staff

You can "save" and "exchange" seeds with other gardeners. After the weather gets too warm for lettuce, it will "bolt" and grow a flower on a long stem. The flower will produce seeds which will start to dry up as the lettuce dies. Before they are completely dry, shake them off the stalk onto a piece of paper and let them dry. Lettuce seeds are very small and black. Store in a cool dry environment, in an envelope, or in a small glass jar until next planting season. You can see more about saving seeds on our Web site here: http://www.almanac.com/content/quick-seed-saving-guide-beginners

Great information! Thanks

By Normand Cloutier

Great information! Thanks

How many inches apart should I plant?

By Anonymous

Can't tell what variety my lettuce is all I know is that it is Butter crunch. Please reply with how many inches apart should my variety and type of lettuce should receive.

4 inches apart

By anonymous

4 inches apart

Butter Crunch

By Anonymous

6 inches. Just planted some myself

Post new comment

Before posting, please review all comments. Due to the volume of questions, Almanac editors can respond only occasionally, as time allows. We also welcome tips from our wonderful Almanac community!

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.