Learn how to grow lettuce like professional growers. If you’re tired of store bought lettuce, growing it in your backyard is easy. Lettuce is surprisingly quick to grow, too, so there’s also the almost-instant gratification of harvesting soon after planting seeds.
How to Grow Lettuce
Lettuce plants should be grown from seeds sown directly into the garden soil. Head lettuce such as iceberg can be started indoors and moved to the garden as young plants. I prefer starting all of my lettuce directly in the raised beds in the vegetable garden.
Sow seeds as soon as the soil can be worked in your gardening zone. The best temperature to grow most lettuce varieties is between 40 to 80 degrees F.
Amend the soil in the garden bed with plenty of compost or peat moss. Sprinkle the lettuce seeds on top of the soil. Plant about 10 lettuce seeds per foot with the rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Add a thin layer of soil over the seeds.
Never plant lettuce seeds more than 1/4 inch deep or they will not germinate. Lettuce, like grass seed, requires light as well as moisture to germinate. Water the seeds lightly twice a day to keep them moist until they sprout.
Caring for Lettuce Plants
Instructions for how to grow lettuce must include how to care for plants, too.
Lettuce develops shallow roots. It can be planted in pots, containers, or a window box, as well as in the garden soil. Keep it moist and water it once in the morning and once at night if it is planted in the ground and there is no rainfall that day.
I don’t fertilize my lettuce plants but I do weed around them often. This keeps the weeds from taking all the moisture and nutrients in the soil for themselves. You can use clean, seed-free straw or another natural mulch around the plants to suppress weeds.
How to Grow Lettuce Using Succession Planting
Succession planting takes into account the fact that lettuce stores only for a short time in the fridge and must be eaten quickly before it spoils. It enables gardeners to harvest mature lettuce almost continuously until it’s too hot to grow it.
To learn how to grow lettuce using succession planting, simply add more seeds or rows of lettuce every two weeks. This way, you will have mature lettuce about every two weeks after the initial sowing matures in about 30 to 70 days after you first plant it.
To harvest loose-leaf lettuce, you can either pull up the entire plant and snip off the roots or take scissors out to the garden and cut the leaves off at the soil line. I prefer the latter, as it allows the plants to grow additional leaves and keep the crop coming in longer.
Head lettuce should be completely pulled free from the soil. The roots can be cut off and the head of lettuce washed before heating.
Pests and Disease
Slugs are the most common pests to attack lettuce and similar greens, such as escarole, in the garden. You can tell when slugs visit because they leave a shiny, slimy, silvery trail behind. Slugs eat the leaves you want to eat, so it’s important to deter them from the garden.
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- A natural product called diatomaceous earth can be used safely around children, pets, and wildlife. It kills slugs that crawl through it.
- Another natural product to combat slugs is copper tape. Place the tape on the edge of a raised bed or in a circle on the soil around the plants. When slugs crawl over the copper, their slime trail interacts chemically with the copper and gives them a shock. It’s like an electric fence for slugs that won’t shock you, your kids, your pets, or the random squirrel scampering across the garden.
- Beer traps are another popular option to get rid of slugs. To make a beer trap, dig a shallow depression in the soil near the lettuce plants and insert a clean, empty pie plate. Pour in about half an inch of beer (any kind). Slugs love beer. They’ll crawl in and drown.
It’s not hard to learn how to grow lettuce. With a little sunshine, some seeds, and plenty of water, you’ll have a beautiful salad garden in no time at all!
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.