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Growing: How to Grow and When to Harvest Red Leaf Lettuce

Updated on August 8, 2015
How to grow and harvest red leaf lettuce.
How to grow and harvest red leaf lettuce. | Source

Growing Red Leaf Lettuce for My First Time

I have always been a fan of the beautiful leaves of the red leaf lettuce - but I had no idea just how easy this lettuce was to grow. This year I planted several red leaf lettuce plants from seed and have been blown away by the spectacular results. Not only have I harvested several salads from my lettuce crop but have many more leaves to harvest in the coming weeks.

I originally planted about 20 or so seeds in a germinator and most of them came up. When they were big enough to transplant (about 2" tall or so), I planted the red leaf lettuce right into the ground. I had prepared the soil well with compost (about 3 bags from Home Depot for a 4' by 6' area) and made sure the ground was free of weeds and debris.

Within days of transplanting, the lettuce wilted horribly after a hot spell and I was sure that I had lost my lettuce crop. Not one to give up easily though, I gave the little red leaf transplants a good dose of water and - voila! Within days my little lettuces popped right back up. They not only came back quickly but they started growing with a vengeance after that (don't you just love a plant that handles adversity well??)

Home Grown Red Leaf Lettuce

The red leaf lettuce formed heads before they turned into a "tree"
The red leaf lettuce formed heads before they turned into a "tree" | Source

Red Leaf Lettuce

This is a photo of the Red Leaf Lettuce growing in our community garden plot in Hayward,Ca.
This is a photo of the Red Leaf Lettuce growing in our community garden plot in Hayward,Ca. | Source

Learning How to Harvest Red Leaf Lettuce

After the red leaf lettuce survived that first wilt it not only thrived but it literally flourished. The leaves grew rapidly and took on a beautiful neon glow (much to the envy of my gardening neighbors) And thanks to those same gardening buddies they stopped me from making a big blunder before I was about to harvest my first red leaf lettuce. In my zeal I was going to chop the lettuce right off at the base (which you can do but is not necessary) I was told instead to chop off the top 2/3 of the head and leave part of the stem with a few of the bottom leaves. My friend told me that the lettuce would regrow side shoots and provide more lettuce for future harvests if I did it this way. Not one to ignore good gardening advice by those wiser than I, I did exactly as I was told and was pleasantly surprised when the lettuce started growing new red leafy side shoots within days (and the new leafy curls are just about the cutest thing imaginable-all frilly and fresh and crunchy!)

Thanks to my wise neighbor, I will have many more salads to enjoy for the next few weeks and perhaps even months (red leaf lettuce will just keep propagating this way) Speaking of salads, not only does red leaf lettuce make a wonderful salad on it's own but it's also great mixed in with other greens. It is absolutely gorgeous as a garnish (many caterers use the leaves for the garnish under party trays) So when you want to have something fancy to present your dinner on - or impress at a party - you can take a few snips of the red leaves and you are in business!

Basically with red leaf lettuce you can harvest as much or as little as you want. Take a few leaves for a garnish, take a bunch for a family salad or take just a few leaves for a salad for yourself. Throw some balsamic dressing on it (my favorite!), and you have a great healthy meal which is also high in nutritional value. I find the taste to be slightly tart with a nice crunch from the textured leaves.

Harvesting Seeds from Red Leaf Lettuce

Red leaf lettuce is high in many vitamins and minerals. It is a good source of Dietary Fiber, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. Not only is Red Leaf Lettuce easy to grow but it is also easy to harvest seeds from. To harvest the seeds you leave the top of the plant on while growing (you can still pick and eat the leaves from below the seed head) Then when the seed-heads have formed at the top you cut off the top and hang the stem upside down in a paper bag. The seeds will then fall into the bag for your next round of lettuce.

An interesting side note on the red leaf lettuce: As mine grew, some of the ones I didn't harvest ended up looking like little purple green Christmas trees.So if you want to have a unique Christmas tree for your guests to ohh and ahh over this year, try using a red leaf lettuce as your table piece this holiday!

If you have enjoyed this article on how to grow red leaf lettuce a thumbs up would be appreciated and good luck in your gardening endeavors!

(Dorsi Diaz is a freelance writer/publisher/blogger in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more articles about gardening in some of her other hubs here)

The Red Leaf Lettuce "Christmas Tree"

How about a different kind of Christmas tree this year? One made of a giant red leaf lettuce?You will be the envy of all your friends!
How about a different kind of Christmas tree this year? One made of a giant red leaf lettuce?You will be the envy of all your friends! | Source


Submit a Comment
  • Dorsi profile imageAUTHOR

    Dorsi Diaz 

    7 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    You are very welcome Cliff! Enjoy your red leaf lettuce!

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    This article helped a lot. I learned how to pick the lettuce and get more seeds for next time Thank YOU.

  • Dorsi profile imageAUTHOR

    Dorsi Diaz 

    7 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @Craigor) You are very welcome! And yes, aren't they beautiful?

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Thank you for taking the time to share your valuable experience with everyone! You answered my question about when to harvest! They are gorgeous plants in the garden!!!

  • Dorsi profile imageAUTHOR

    Dorsi Diaz 

    8 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @yolanda) Thank-you and best of luck on your red leaf Christmas tree!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Very good information I'm going to plant my red lettuce now and hope to have that beautiful shape for Christmas time.

    Thank you and have great time in your garden :)

  • Dorsi profile imageAUTHOR

    Dorsi Diaz 

    9 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @lyn) I'm not sure. I have only seen red leaf grow this way. Let me know if you find out though! Thanks for reading.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    The first time I had seen lettuce like this was at my grandparents house but it was not the red leaf lettuce and it was not curly. I have been trying to find or figure out what kind they were growing. Do you have any idea what other lettuce grows like this?

  • sheryld30 profile image


    10 years ago from California

    Absolutely a fool for Gardening!!~ Thanks for sharing!!~ Would love, LOVE~ to see more!! :)

  • IslandVoice profile image

    Sylvia Van Velzer 

    10 years ago from Hawaii

    So lovely! I wish i had green thumb. Maybe my daughter can do this. I liked the red leaf lettuce Christmas trees very much!

  • Dorsi profile imageAUTHOR

    Dorsi Diaz 

    10 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Thanks for stopping by Jen and Nancy. I miss you too Jen and isn't that "Red" Christmas Tree a hoot Nancy?

  • profile image

    Nancy's Niche 

    10 years ago

    Very interesting article on the "red leaf lettuce." I had no idea they could grow like a tree...

  • jenster profile image


    10 years ago from Bay Area

    awesome...and it made me hungry for a salad...thanks for sharing this hub. miss you


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