There’s no need to wait until tomatoes ripen in summer to embrace garden-to-table deliciousness. That’s because lettuce, a suitable plant for small-space gardens, is exceptionally easy to grow in cool weather. Plant lettuce in early spring and your table will overflow with tender, flavorful greens 6-8 weeks later.
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Planting Loose-Leaf Lettuce
Because loose-leaf lettuce displays an open-growth pattern, it does not form a head. Loose-leaf types include varieties of mesclun lettuces. Look for seed mixes by the names of 'Cut and Come Again', 'Flashy Trout Back', 'Paris Market Mix', and 'Wine Country Mesclun'. Plant several varieties of mesclun at the same time to enjoy a mélange of colors, textures, and flavors in your favorite salads.
Related: Shredding Cabbage or Lettuce
Plant loose-leaf lettuces outside in early spring. Choose a full-sun spot with finely worked soil. Sow seeds by scattering them by hand into wide rows or over an entire seedbed (this method is called broadcasting). Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of fine soil. Gently firm the soil, then water the seedbed lightly.
Planting Head Lettuce
Head lettuces, such as butterhead, crisphead, iceberg, and romaine, develop into upright clumps that are loosely packed or tightly bunched. Plant head lettuces outside in early spring where they will receive full sun. Sow seeds ¼ inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows 6 to 8 inches apart. Keep the seedbed evenly moist. Gradually thin the seedlings so the remaining plants are 12 inches or so apart. The thinned seedlings can be harvested and enjoyed as baby lettuces.
Related: Healthy Lettuce Wrap Recipes
Lettuce Care Must-Knows
Lettuce thrives in mild weather with consistent moisture. Extend the harvest season by sowing small patches of lettuce every three weeks until late spring, then again in late summer for fall harvest. Handle hot weather by either building a shade structure over your planting beds or planting lettuce (either in the ground or a container) in a shaded location. Protect planting beds with row covers or netting to deter birds attracted to the young seedlings.
Related: How to Grow Lettuce
Although spring is the primary season for lettuce production, this edible annual also thrives in cool autumn weather and winter in mild climates. Plant fall crops in early September after summer's heat passes. Winter crops can be planted throughout fall in mild climates.
Begin picking the outer leaves of butterhead, loose-leaf, and romaine lettuce varieties when they are 2 inches long. Continue to harvest outer leaves as long as the flavor remains good. You can also cut the entire plant at the base when it reaches the desired size.
Related: Tips On Storing Lettuce Properly
More Varieties of Lettuce
'Buttercrunch' butterhead lettuce
Lactuca sativa 'Buttercrunch' has ruffled outer leaves, but it forms a tightly bunched, blanched yellow heart with a creamy texture. 65 days
'Ithaca' head lettuce
This variety of Lactuca sativa forms a firm head with good disease resistance. 65 days
'Lollo Rossa' leaf lettuce
Lactuca sativa 'Lollo Rossa' bears frilly, dark red curled leaves that are great for garnishes or to add color and texture to mixed salads. 50 days
'Parris Island Cos' romaine lettuce
This selection of Lactuca sativa is an old-time favorite with a white heart and stiffly upright green leaves. 70 days
'Outredgeous' romaine lettuce
Lactuca sativa 'Outredgeous' offers bright red leaves, even in low-light conditions. Baby lettuce is ready to harvest in 28 days; full-size plants in 57 days.
'Marvel of Four Seasons' butterhead lettuce
This Lactuca sativa cultivar is also known as 'Merville de Quatre Saison'. Its heavily textured, red-tipped leaves form a loose butterhead. 60 days
'Red Salad Bowl' leaf lettuce
Lactuca sativa 'Red Salad Bowl' is often sold as a mix of red and green forms. It produces a cluster of undulating leaves. 45 days
'Royal Oak' leaf lettuce
This variety of Lactuca sativa tolerates heat well. A red version is also available. 50 days
'Summertime' head lettuce
Lactuca sativa 'Summertime' is heat-tolerant and slow to bolt. It forms a light green head. 68 days
Garden Plans for Lettuce
Spring Vegetable Garden Plan
Enjoy spring's freshest flavors with this fun and easy garden plan.
Planting Plans Inspired by the White House Kitchen Garden
Grow a 4x12-foot version of the White House Kitchen Garden (designed by Better Homes and Gardens garden editors) on your own south (or east or west) lawn. All you need is a spot that gets six or more hours of sunshine each day.