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How to Grow Lettuce in Your Garden

Updated on March 1, 2016
Lettuce growing in a California field.
Lettuce growing in a California field. | Source

Lettuce is a Basic, Tasty Vegetable

Lettuce is a fairly easy vegetable to grow in the home garden. It has an extremely long growing season, from early spring well into fall. There is a wide variety of lettuce types to choose from and they can be grown in almost any type of soil.

The home gardener that makes the decision to grow lettuce will find it generally easy to grow and plentiful in production. With the wide varieties available there will always be at least one type that everyone in the family will enjoy. This is a general guide on how to grow lettuce and any known problems that may be associated with it.

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When to Plant Lettuce

Lettuce gives you choices on exactly when you would like to plant it. You can start the seeds in an indoor seed starter about two weeks before last frost in your area. Starting the seeds indoors will require putting the seedlings through the hardening process to ensure they are able to survive outside once planting time arrives.

If you are choosing to direct sow your lettuce seeds into the garden, I have found from my personal experience and experiments with growing lettuce that anytime in the spring is fine to direct sow lettuce. The process is simple. Just spread the seeds on top of the soil and lightly rake them in. Lettuce is a vegetable that you can plant in both spring and fall. Some varieties do very well in cold frames which extends the harvest into winter when properly cared for.

Tips on Planting Lettuce in Your Garden

Soil Conditions, Watering and General Maintenance of a Lettuce Crop

Lettuce is a very forgiving vegetable and will grow in almost any type of soil. If you soil is compacted and full of clay, you may loosen it up by adding things like compost and peat moss. It grows best in loose, sandy type soils because the roots are able to dig deep. It will grow in regular, untreated and harder soils, just not as well.

When choosing an area to plant your lettuce, you'll want to take a few things in consideration. Lettuce will do great out in full sun during the cooler spring months of the year. Once the weather starts to heat up, you'll want to either shade it with larger plants or have it planted in a partial shade setting. This vegetable will only need about 4 hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive.

Give your lettuce about an inch of water a week and watch it take off! I have heard many different ways to water a lettuce plants. Some people swear that it doesn't matter how you water it and others have said that watering the plants from the top can cause mildew issues. I have found that what works best for me is to water the plants at the base with a hand held hose avoiding the leaves as much as possible in the process.

Head lettuce varieties such as iceberg and tiber will only be harvested once per plant. The heads are ready for harvest when they feel like they are solid when you grab them. Cut the head loose from the bottom of the plant in order to enjoy a freshly harvested head lettuce that you grew yourself.

Leaf lettuce varieties such as red romaine, butter head and oak leaf lettuce continue to produce leaves the entire growing season. The more you cut them, the more they will grow. Leaf lettuce is a very productive type of vegetable. To harvest any variety of leaf lettuce you just need to cut the leaves at the base of the plant and enjoy.

Known Pests and Problems

Lettuce has few pests and is a fairly problem free vegetable for the home gardener to grow. An early pest to watch for is the cutworm. This pest will literally eat the seedling by cutting it off at the ground. One way to organically battle the cutworm is to plant your lettuce as seedlings instead of direct sow and contain them inside small collars made out of cut and recycled toilet paper or paper towel rolls.

There is another pest in the lettuce growing world named the wireworm. The wireworm eventually turns into a click beetle. These pests can overwinter in your garden's soil. The eggs hatch and you have a problem. The wireworm likes to eat the roots of garden vegetables and is a bit hard to fight organically unless you are willing to release beneficial nematodes into your garden soil to eat the wireworms and other pests.

A lettuce crop can also fall victim to a powdery mildew that has yellowish or green spots in it. It will look like your plants have been dusted with a lightly colored powder. This is one of the issues that can arise from watering lettuce from the top of the plant. If this problem pops up in the garden, simply removing the parts of your lettuce crop that are infected and disposing of it should do the trick. If this happens to you, start to water your plants at the base to help prevent any more mildew issues.

The Benefits of Growing Lettuce in a Home Garden

Lettuce is an excellent low calorie food that is unbelievably rich in nutritional value and fiber. This is one of the reasons why so many people looking to lose weight turn to lettuce as a salad and use it to dress up other foods such as hamburgers. Lettuce has a hydration value which is beneficial in the hotter months of the year. Each variety has a different flavor that can add some pizzazz to an otherwise plain tasting salad. No two varieties are alike except for the fact that are all extremely nutritional and healthy.

This vegetable is very simple to grow and has a small number of problematic pests. It is easy to harvest and considered a great vegetable for children to grow to help them learn more about where their food comes from and introduce them to gardening. It can be planted more than once in a season even though it will grow again after being harvested until a hard frost creeps into the area. It also does well in cold frames that protect the plants from frost to extend the growing season well into late fall and winter. Lettuce is an excellent garden vegetable for beginning gardeners because as long as it has plenty of water, it is a very forgiving vegetable to grow in the garden.


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