Gardening: Growing Lettuce

Lettuce has quickly become my favorite thing to grow in the garden. It’s easy, it’s practical, it’s beautiful, it’s delicious, and there’s something totally satisfying about going to the garden and just picking your own salad for dinner (especially when you remember the price tag at the store for that same amount of produce!). I’d say that, by far, we’ve gotten the most bang for our buck with our lettuce crops. We put it to use much more than any other crop we’ve planted so far, which saves us a lot on our produce bill at the store! (Gotta love that!) So I guess it’s easy to see why this is one of my favorite things to see popping up in the garden each year (and no… that is not my garden pictured below–I WISH!). 😀

Lettuce is mainly a cool weather crop–which I find interesting since I usually crave it most during the hot summer months when I want something light and refreshing to eat. But regardless, you want to plant it when your temperatures will be mild (generally between 45 to 75 degrees F, and most lettuce can even survive a light freeze). During the hot weather, lettuce tends to turn bitter and bolt (which means it sends up a flower stalk at the top, and basically it’s done growing). This happened to us this past summer, and the lettuce isn’t really salvageable at that point (unless you like eating bitter lettuce), so your best option is to just pull it up and replant when temperatures are cooler, or to plant in a location that receives more shade (particularly afternoon shade). You can also find lettuce varieties that are more resilient to heat and don’t bolt as quickly. {I’m thinking I’m definitely going to have to look into that this year!}

Planting: When planting lettuce, it’s fun to choose a variety. {Right now we’ve got about three different kinds growing, and the mix makes for a beautiful salad. I especially like the small amount of red romaine we’ve got included.} Prepare your soil by loosening the top 10 inches or so, and mix in some compost to the top layer.
You can plant lettuce by either broadcasting the seeds (which means you basically just sprinkle them all over your prepared garden soil area), or you can plant them in rows to a depth of about 1/4″ and spaced about 1″ apart. I like to plant in rows, but the seeds are so tiny that I don’t worry about how far apart they are spaced within that row. I just sprinkle them down the row and then, when they start growing, you can thin the plants out, if needed.

Tending: Lettuce does best when the soil is kept cool and moist. Water in the early mornings so that the leaves have time to dry during the day and you can avoid mildew and fungal problems that can come if the leaves are continually wet overnight.

Harvesting: One way to “thin” out your lettuce is to just start eating it! As the plants start growing and getting crowded together, just pick the outer leaves (new ones grow from the middle of the plant) and throw them into a salad and leave the rest to continue growing. There’s no need to let the whole plant grow to a certain point and then pull it out or cut it all together. Just harvesting the outer leaves allows for a continued growing process and you will enjoy your lettuce for a long, long time (or at least until the end of the growing season). Also note, that it’s often best to harvest in the mornings. This is especially true if your days get pretty warm as they move to the afternoons. The hotter temperatures will make the lettuce wilt in the afternoon hours and then it’s hard to get your lettuce to be crisp (even if you stick it in the fridge). However, if your temperatures are mild all day long, you can really harvest at any time during the day.

We’ve got a good amount of lettuce growing right now in our winter garden and it is doing pretty well (yes, that is lettuce from my garden pictured above). Granted… Houston’s “winter” isn’t exactly the same as the majority of the country. We don’t usually get to freezing temperatures until sometime in January/February, and even then, the periods of freeze are so short (generally only a few overnight hours) that crops can often make it through unharmed. {You hate me now, but trust me… you’ll be the one with the last laugh when I’m suffering through the miserable, humid, Houston summer heat with withered vegetables! :)}
We lost a fair amount of the crop over the Christmas holidays when we were on a 3-week vacation right during the time the lettuce was sprouting up and needing to be thinned… so we came home to a fairly tangled mess of mixed up and strangled lettuce leaves (not to mention the weeds!), but I was just impressed any survived at all! 🙂 We were able to revive quite a bit of it by getting rid of the bad parts and giving the rest room to thrive and grow.
So anyway, we’ve been enjoying having a healthy salad dinner at least one or two times a week without having to buy any lettuce at the grocery store! It. is. SO. cool! I absolutely love it. If you’ve never planted lettuce, you have seriously GOT to try this. 😀 You will not regret that you did!
(And P.S. If you don’t have any garden space at your home, lettuce would do awesome in a small or decorative pot as well!)
Happy Gardening!