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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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