Lettuce

Lettuce
Plant Type
Sunlight Amount
'Tango' oakleaf lettuce
Credit: Marty Baldwin
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'Tango' oakleaf lettuce

Lettuce

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.

genus name
  • Lactuca sativa
light
  • Part Sun
  • Sun
plant type
  • Vegetable
height
  • Under 6 inches
  • 6 to 12 inches
width
  • 2-12 inches wide
propagation

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.

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.

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.

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.

Harvest Tips

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.

More Varieties of Lettuce

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'Buttercrunch' butterhead lettuce
Credit: Scott Little

'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
Credit: Julie Maris Semarco

'Ithaca' head lettuce

This variety of Lactuca sativa forms a firm head with good disease resistance. 65 days

'Lollo Rossa' leaf lettuce
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'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
Credit: Peter Krumhardt

'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
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'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
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'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
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'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
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'Royal Oak' leaf lettuce

This variety of Lactuca sativa tolerates heat well. A red version is also available. 50 days

'Summertime' head lettuce
Credit: Scott Little

'Summertime' head lettuce

Lactuca sativa 'Summertime' is heat-tolerant and slow to bolt. It forms a light green head. 68 days

'Tango' oakleaf lettuce
Credit: Marty Baldwin

'Tango' oakleaf lettuce

Lactuca sativa 'Tango' is a deeply lobed oakleaf-shape loose-leaf lettuce. Baby lettuce is ready to harvest in 28 days; full-size plants in 45 days.

Garden Plans for Lettuce

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Spring Vegetable Garden Plan
Credit: Illustration by Gary Palmer

Spring Vegetable Garden Plan

Enjoy spring's freshest flavors with this fun and easy garden plan.

Click here to get this plan.

Cool Season Kitchen Garden illustration
Credit: Illustration by Michael R. Burns

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.

Get this garden plan!

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