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How to grow lettuce at home – Lettuce is the perfect vegetable to start growing in your backyard garden it’s easy to grow and ready to use fast!
Lettuce has to be one of my favourite vegetables to grow.
We grow lots of different lettuces each year from head lettuce, leaf lettuce to Boston style lettuce.
Don’t you just love lettuce too?
It can be used in so many ways from tasty salads, to a bread replacement (lettuce wraps yum!) or used in sandwiches, subs, etc.
If the only lettuce you’ve had is store-bought lettuce, well your info a real treat when you start growing your own lettuce!
It just tastes so much better. It’s also a great vegetable to start with if you want to have a garden in a small space.
Leaf lettuce varieties especially can be grown as baby lettuce for high yields in smaller gardens.
How To Grow Lettuce At Home
The goodness is that lettuce is very easy to grow even if you are starting your first garden! Lettuce doesn’t need a lot of space either so you can grow many types of lettuce in a small space.
What Types Of Lettuce Are There?
Often called Bibb or Boston lettuce butterhead lettuce is the largest variety of lettuces. Many of them are very cold tolerant making them the perfect choice for growing lettuce in the fall or winter harvest (with protection).
Butterhead types of lettuce form loose heads of leaves that fold over each other.
They can also be harvested early for individual leaves if you like.
Buttercrunch is one of our favorite Bibb lettuces. It doesn’t get bitter in hot weather but also grows well in the cool weather in the spring and fall.
This is the type of lettuce that you most commonly find in grocery stores and we grew up eating.
While iceberg lettuce from the store isn’t one of my favourite I actually love homegrown iceberg lettuce! It tastes so much better.
Dillion is our favourite variety of iceberg lettuce to grow at home. It’s a short 45-day lettuce that forms small, tight heads with lots of water content and crispiness.
This has to be my favourite lettuce to grow. Leaf lettuce comes in many varieties and is really early to harvest.
As soon as the leaves are about 3 inches long you can start harvesting outer leaves. They also don’t need much space to grow so you can plant lots of lettuce in a small space.
It’s a great choice for planting around the edges of your garden beds and in-between larger plants.
Simpson Elite is a great leaf lettuce to start with because it grows well in cool weather but is very slow to bolt once the warm weather arrives too.
This makes it a perfect leaf lettuce for growing year-round and it’s ready to start picking in just 45 days.
Red Dear Tongue – This is an old heirloom leaf lettuce that is one of our favorites. It’s easy to grow and needs very little care. This one grows easily for us all season long. It’s mature in 75 days but can be picked early like all leaf lettuces.
Also called cos lettuce after the Cos island in the Mediterranean that it’s said to have come from. Romaine lettuce grows long upright leaves that form heads 8 to 24 inches tall. But it can also be harvested as young baby leaves when they are just 3 to 5 inches long.
Most romaine lettuces are a deep green color but there are some red and speckled varieties that make a beautiful addition to your salads.
When Should You Plant Lettuce?
Lettuce is a fast-growing green that loves cool weather! But it’s not as frost or cold-tolerant as spinach or kale.
You can direct sow lettuce seed in your garden 2 weeks before your last frost date in the spring.
If you would like to start planting seeds earlier or transplanting out lettuce seedlings then make sure to protect them from frost and strong cold winds.
For a fall lettuce crop, you will want to start planting lettuce 8 weeks before your first frost date in the fall and plant a little more every 2 weeks so that you will have a continual harvest.
How To Plant Lettuce
For growing baby lettuce you can simply sprinkle the seeds thickly over your prepared bed. Gently scratch the seed into the soil using a rake or your hand and water well with a fine spray.
If you want to grow mature heads of lettuce you will want to space the plants further apart.
You can do this by simply thinning out a patch of baby lettuce by removing whole plants (and eating them) slowly increasing the space between the plants to 6 inches for smaller varieties or 12 inches for larger varieties.
We have experimented with a lot of lettuce spacings and we’ve found the one that works best for us is a modified version of the square foot gardening.
We plant lettuce transplants 12 inches apart, with rows 6 inches apart but stagger the rows so that the 2nd row is started 6 inches further in than the one previous.
As you can see in our wooden planting grid above we plant into each corner following this spacing.
This makes each plant 12 inches apart in the rows and 8.5 inches apart diagonally from each other. This provides lots of room for each plant to grow well and gives us a high harvest.
How Long Does It Take For A Head Of Lettuce To Grow?
Lettuce is a pretty fast-growing green but how quickly it will be ready to harvest depends on what type of lettuce you are growing. On average most varieties of lettuce will mature in 45 to 55 days.
Leaf lettuce is the earliest type of lettuce that you can start harvesting from because you can start picking the outer leaves as soon as they are large enough instead of waiting for the plant to fully mature.
Butterhead lettuces take a little longer than leaf lettuce to harvest but are still very quick between 60 and 70 days to maturity. They can also be harvest early like leaf lettuce.
Crisphead varieties normally take 70 to 100 days to form a head whereas romaine lettuce is harvestable between 75 and 85 days.
Do Lettuce Plants Need Full Sun?
Early in the spring when the weather is still cool lettuce will love growing in the full sun.
However, once the weather starts to warm up they will do much better with some shade.
We’ve found that planting spring lettuce in an area of the garden that gets the morning sun but is partly shaded in the afternoon provides the best growing conditions.
The lettuce gets enough sunlight to start growing quickly but is protected from the hot sun once the warmer weather arrives.
Don’t worry if your garden is very shady then lettuce will still grow very well for you, although it may grow a little slower in the early season.
On the other hand, if your garden is in full sun, you can use shade cloth to provide protection to your cooler season vegetables.
How Often Should Lettuce Be Watered?
Normally, when our lettuce plants are small we water them deeply twice a week. At this stage their roots are shallow and like all leafy greens, they need a lot of water.
After the first few weeks, we cut back to watering the lettuce once a week or not at all if we have had enough rain.
Watering deeply encourages the roots to grow further down into the soil to find water building a larger root base to support a healthy plant.
The best way to know if your lettuce needs to be watered is to simply stick your finger into the soil near the plants. If the soil is dry 1 inch down then they need to be watered.
How To Harvest Lettuce
When you are growing lettuce you have lots of options for harvesting it.
You can let the lettuce grow into fully mature heads or for leaf lettuce types start harvesting baby lettuce leaves from it.
To harvest baby lettuce leaves from leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce simply let it grow until the outside leaves are about 3 inches long.
Then pick the larger leaves off from the base of the plant. Leave the smaller leaves in the center to keep growing until you’re ready to pick again.
Picking the outer leaves in that way is the best way to harvest lettuce so it keeps growing.
But you can also cut off all the lettuce leaves at once leaving a 1-inch stump on the bottom of the plant.
If you keep them well watered and fertilized with compost tea or fish fertilizer they should start to sprout new leaves.
That method also works well but the second crop of lettuce is slower to grow back than if you simply picked the outer leaves.
If you prefer to harvest full-sized heads of lettuce simply let it grow until it’s reached maturity for the variety you are growing.
But be careful because letting lettuce get over-mature is one of the causes of bitter lettuce.
See it really is easy to grow your own lettuce at home and there are so many varieties of lettuce to choose from. What is your favorite type of lettuce?
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Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.