Lettuce is a broad category of easy-to-grow salad greens There are so many different varieties of lettuce, that it would be impossible to describe them all. When shopping for the kinds of lettuce you want to grow, keep these four general types in mind:

  • Butterhead—The small, round, loosely formed heads with soft and tender leaves.
  • Crisphead—The large, round, tightly packed heads commonly called iceberg lettuce.
  • Leaf lettuce—The easiest lettuce to grow has leaves that branch from a single stalk in a loose bunch.
  • Romaine—Elongated heads of lettuce with dark outer leaves and a crunchy midrib.

How to Grow Lettuce

The key to growing great lettuce, no matter what type, is to give the plants enough room to grow, to grow them quickly and provide plenty of moisture. Lettuce grows best when it’s allowed to mature in cool weather. If temperatures turn too hot, the heading varieties won’t form a head.

If you want to grow from lettuce transplants, start seeds indoors in early spring. Plants take 4 weeks to reach transplant size. Time the planting before the last average frost date for a spring harvest. A fall harvest can be planted in mid-to-late summer.

Prepare

  • Lettuce will grow in just about any good, well-drained garden soil. Before planting either lettuce seed or transplants, prepare the planting bed (or large container) by digging in compost or well-aged manure. An addition of pre-plant fertilizer will give plants a headstart.

Plant

  • Wait for the garden soil to warm to at least 35 degrees before planting. The best weather for growing lettuce is when days are warm (mid-60s to low-70s) and nights are still cool (45 to 55 degrees). Warmer daytime temperatures can cause heads to soften, become bitter or bolt (go to seed prematurely).
  • Even if temperatures drop to below freezing, lettuce will slow but will continue growing when temperatures warm up.
  • Plant lettuce seeds ¼ inch deep and several inches apart.
  • For head lettuce, allow 8-12 inches between plants; 12 or more inches between rows.
  • Leaf lettuce can be broadcast or spread over the planting area.
  • Thin plants as needed to make sure heads have enough space to reach their full size. After thinning, sidedress with a nitrogen fertilizer.

Maintain

  • Make sure plants receive adequate water. Work to keep lettuce growing quickly to avoid problems associated with hot weather, like brown spots or bolting.

Harvest

  • Baby lettuce can be cut at any time the leaves reach several inches in size. Cut the plant, leaving a few inches of stem, so the plants will continue to grow.
  • Looseleaf lettuce can be harvested in as little as 40 days, depending on the variety. Snip the outer leaves and let the remaining leaves to continue to grow.
  • Butterhead and romaine type lettuces are usually ready in 50 to 70 days; crisphead lettuce takes longer, usually 70-120 days from seeding. Cut heads at ground level with a sharp knife.
  • Wash, dry and store lettuce in airtight bags in the refrigerator and use as quickly as possible.

Companion Plants

Plant lettuce with these companions:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Radishes
  • Strawberries

Avoid planting near cabbages.

Materials for Success

  • Soil thermometer
  • Soaker hose
  • High-quality compost and manure
  • Light-weight mulch
  • Dry fertilizer, high in nitrogen
  • Small scissors for cutting leaf lettuce; sharp knife for harvesting mature heads

To learn more about growing lettuce or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center. 

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About Lettuce | Cold Weather Crops | Nick's Garden Center | Denver CO
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