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Growing Lettuce That Can Survive in the Summer Heat

Updated on May 3, 2013

I make a great salad

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Cool-season greens can survive warm weather

I adore fresh lettuce hand plucked from my vegetable garden. I have no issues growing plenty of it in the spring and fall, but when the summer heat sets in it becomes more difficult. As a crop, lettuce loves cooler temperatures. It produces heaps of crisp, delectable leaves in the spring and fall. However, in the summer heat it tends to bolt to seed, and the leaves can become bitter as the flowerstalk shoots up. So ends a delicious harvest.

Fresh lettuce is an excellent staple of the summer garden, since it is a great accompaniment to all the cucumbers, tomatoes, and other veggies which reach their prime in the heat. Fortunately, it is possible to grow tasty lettuce even in warm weather. There are numerous varieties of lettuce plants that are heat-tolerant and bolt-resistant.

Another way to manage a lush lettuce garden in the summer heat is to make sure that the plants are heavily mulched, regularly watered, and provided afternoon shade. Mulch aids the plant in retaining moisture when the sun’s rays beat down on the plant and dry it out. Also, planting lettuce in a site where it receives adequate morning sun, but is sheltered in the afternoon is perfect. It helps keep the plants cooler.

Different varieties of lettuce vary in their heat tolerance. There are five basic types: crisphead, romaine, looseheaed, looseleaf, and bibb. Crisphead lettuce requires a long, cool growing season to produce large heads of crisp leaves. Iceberg lettuce like you may purchase at the grocery store is in this family. These lettuces will not form tight, wrapped heads if overheated. Romaine lettuces also have trouble in the heat since they are quick to seed. However, they do not become bitter like other lettuces due to the heat. They maintain their sweet crunch that is so necessary for a good Caesar salad. The loosehead, looseleaf, and bibb lettuces fare far better in the summer heat.

Growing lettuce in the summer takes nutrient-rich soil and extra care. The soil should be loose with a ph around 6 or 7. Peat moss, compost, and sand are excellent for enriching the soil. Other organic matter, such as, leaf mold or grass clippings can also help retain moisture in the soil. A 10-10-10 fertilizer is great for keeping lettuce robust when used sparingly. Lettuce seeds will germinate in the cool weather of early spring, but they will not sprout at 80 degrees or warmer. After planting the seeds, keep them moist. They should sprout in a matter of days.

If you cannot plant your lettuce in a site where it can be protected from the afternoon sun, you can create your own shade. You can place fencing or cardboard over the
plant bed in the afternoon. If this is too much work, you can plant your lettuce in pots that can be easily moved based on your lettuces’ needs. Another way to shade lettuce is to plant it among taller plants in the garden so that it receives natural shade from its neighbors. My lettuce is happy being neighbors with my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Once your lettuce has developed its true leaves you can harvest it at any time. If you cut the plant down to about two inches off the soil the plant will continue to produce leaves in about a month. I love eating young tender leaves, so I am always ready to plant more seeds, but I also like getting multiple harvests from the same plant.

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