This care guide is all about growing your own lettuce. The guide provides helpful tips on how to grow different types of lettuce, including hearting varieties and loose-leaf lettuce, and explains the benefits of growing your own produce. The guide also includes information on how to select lettuce seeds, when and how to sow them indoors and outdoors, and how to harvest and care for your lettuce plants. Additionally, the guide provides advice on how to avoid common pests and problems, such as premature flowering and bitterness, and suggests ways to ensure a continuous supply of fresh lettuce throughout the summer.
Growing your own lettuce is a popular and easy way to add fresh and delicious produce to your diet, even if you have limited space. Lettuces are versatile and attractive enough to be grown in a range of settings, from containers on balconies to flower beds. By sowing small batches of seeds regularly, you can ensure a continuous supply of fresh lettuce throughout the summer.
It is important to harvest hearting lettuces as soon as they mature to prevent them from flowering prematurely, as this can make them unusable. This is why it is best to sow just a few seeds at a time, rather than all at once. Loose-leaf lettuces and salad-leaf mixes are even easier to grow and can be harvested as a “cut and come again” crop over several weeks.
While lettuces are generally easy to grow, they can be susceptible to pests such as slugs and snails, and hot, dry weather can cause the leaves to turn bitter. To avoid these issues, it is important to keep your lettuce well-watered and lightly shaded in the summer. By re-sowing on a regular basis, you will always have replacements available.
Growing your own lettuce not only provides you with fresher, tastier, and more nutritious produce but also helps reduce your reliance on plastic-wrapped store-bought options that can wilt quickly in the fridge. By following these tips, you can enjoy a bountiful supply of delicious and healthy lettuce all summer long.
When selecting lettuce seeds, you’ll be delighted by the wide range of choices available. You can browse a variety of delicious and outwardly engaging assortments – going from fresh and crunchy to delicious and succulent, energetic green to dark red, frilly or smooth, and many more. Growing your own lettuce offers the added benefit of a diverse range of leaves that far exceeds what you can find in supermarkets. Additionally, you can choose from different types of lettuce, including hearting varieties, fast-growing loose-leaf, and mixed salads.
To grow hearting lettuces, which have a dense centre, you should allow up to three months for them to reach maturity before harvesting the whole head. These lettuces are ideal for ground planting due to their need for more space, but they can also be grown in large containers. There are three main types of hearting lettuce to choose from.
Butterhead lettuces have a soft, open shape with juicy leaves and a mild flavour. They mature quickly and can tolerate poor growing conditions, but they do not store well and are best eaten fresh.
Cos lettuces have an oblong, upright head and come in various sizes. They feature a crisp mid-rib and are a favourite among gardeners.
Crisphead lettuces, including the popular iceberg variety, produce large curled leaves with a mild flavour. They are more resistant to premature flowering, known as bolting, and store well in the fridge.
Loose-leaf lettuces and salad-leaf mixes are perfect for those who have limited space or wish to harvest individual leaves. They form less dense foliage rosettes and come in a range of leaf colours, shapes, textures and flavours, adding an attractive element to your garden and plate. These types of lettuce grow faster than hearting varieties, and you can start picking your first leaves as early as one month after sowing. You can continue to harvest leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis for several weeks.
To ensure a hassle-free and delicious crop, consider selecting varieties that have earned the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). This award indicates that they have undergone successful trials.
To grow your own lettuce, you have the option to sow the seeds indoors or outdoors, in either containers or the ground. You can do this during spring, summer, or autumn, depending on when you want to harvest.
Sow the seeds outside between the end of March and the end of July for a harvest in the summer or autumn. For an earlier crop, start indoors in early February and transplant them outside in early March with the use of cloches or plastic tunnels.
Sow the seeds outdoors at the beginning of August for a winter harvest, then cover the plants with closed cloches until late September. You can also grow lettuce in a container or on the border of a greenhouse.
For spring harvests, sow winter cultivars in September or October. You can grow them in an unheated greenhouse or in mild areas under cloches or in a cold frame.
During hot spells when sowing in summer, keep in mind that high temperatures can prevent some cultivars from germinating. It’s best to sow in the evening, water with cold water, and provide some shade to reduce temperatures. The hot sun can also cause plants to flower prematurely, so in the middle of summer, it’s best to sow in areas that receive light shade, especially during the hottest part of the day.
Early and late sowings might require security from the cold, utilising cloches or plastic tunnels.
When it comes to growing lettuce, starting indoors is a great option, especially if temperatures outside are too low or if you want to protect the seedlings from pests like slugs and snails. Indoor sowing allows the lettuces to grow larger and become more robust before being transplanted outside.
Once the last frost has passed and spring has arrived, you can move your indoor-sown lettuce seedlings outside. Details on planting can be found in the section below. However, if the colder months persist, you can keep your young lettuce plants sheltered in a greenhouse border or container. This will provide the necessary protection and warmth they need to continue growing.
To grow your own lettuce, start by selecting a warm and sunny location with fertile, moisture-retentive soil. Weed the area thoroughly and enrich the soil with garden compost. Use a rake to level the soil and remove any large stones.
Sow the small lettuce seeds thinly, about 1cm deep, in rows spaced 30cm apart. To ensure a continuous harvest and avoid a sudden abundance, sow a short row every two weeks.
Alternatively, you can plant lettuce seeds in large containers or growing bags. Make sure the containers are placed in a warm, sunny spot and that the seeds are sown thinly into damp multi-purpose compost. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine compost and water regularly.
Lettuce plants, especially loose-leaf varieties, don’t take up much space and can be used to fill small gaps on the veg plot. You can also plant them between slower-growing crops like parsnips and sweetcorn since they’ll be harvested before the main crop needs space.
As soon as the first true leaves appear, thin out the seedlings and continue to do so gradually until they’ve spaced 15-30cm apart, depending on the variety. Use the seedlings you remove in salads. Thinning is particularly important with hearting types since they may not form a firm head if they’re overcrowded.
It’s essential to protect your seedlings and young plants from slugs, snails, and sparrows. Cover them with fleece in early spring to protect them from cold temperatures.
When it comes to growing your own lettuce, there are a few important steps to take. First, if you’re starting with indoor-sown plants or large plug plants, wait until the risk of frost has passed in spring or throughout the summer before moving them outside. Be sure to acclimate them gradually to outdoor conditions by hardening them off before planting.
Then, pick a warm and radiant spot for your lettuce and set up the ground by weeding completely. Dig in about two buckets of garden compost per square metre and firm it gently. Take out any large stones and level the soil.
Alternatively, if you’re growing lettuce in a container, use a large one that is at least 30cm wide and deep. Fill it with multi-purpose compost and place it in a warm and sunny location.
The spacing between lettuce plants will depend on the variety, so check the seed packet for guidance. For larger hearting lettuces, plant them about 30cm apart, while smaller loose-leaf types can be closer, at around 15cm apart. It’s important not to plant them too closely together, as this can prevent them from forming good hearts.
In the spring, cover your plants with cloches or fleece to help them establish more quickly. In hot weather, be sure to water your young transplants regularly and choose a lightly shaded spot to help deter bolting.
Finally, take care to protect your vulnerable young plants from slugs and snails. In the early part of the year, sparrows can also be a problem, as they find young lettuce plants irresistible. Protect them with fleece, chicken wire or similar materials to keep them safe.
Lettuce Plant Care
Weeding and removing
To ensure optimal growth of your lettuce, it’s crucial to keep the seedlings and young plants weed-free. Weeds can create competition for water and sunlight, causing slow growth in your lettuce.
In addition, dense weed growth can attract pests like snails, which can hide in the foliage, and inhibit air circulation. The likelihood of fungal diseases like grey mould may rise as a result of the lack of air movement. Therefore, regularly removing weeds is essential to maintain healthy lettuce growth.
To ensure the healthy growth of your lettuce, it is important to provide adequate water to young seedlings and newly transplanted lettuces, especially during warm weather. It is essential to continue watering the plants frequently to maintain moist soil and prevent drying out.
If you are growing lettuce in containers, be aware that they are particularly vulnerable to drying out quickly. Check the soil moisture levels regularly, and during the summer months, it may be necessary to water them daily.
Watering your lettuce in the early morning is the best time, as it will set the plants up well for the day ahead. However, avoid watering in the evening as the dampness can attract slugs and snails overnight, as well as encourage fungal diseases like grey mould.
To retain soil moisture and prevent dehydration during hot weather, apply a generous layer of mulch around your lettuce plants. Garden compost is an excellent choice for this purpose.
To ensure tasty lettuce, it is important to prevent flowering, which causes the leaves to become bitter and inedible. In hot and dry weather, lettuce plants tend to bolt or start to flower sooner. Therefore, it is crucial to water them regularly during the summer.
During the hotter months, when conditions are cooler and damper, it is best to grow lettuce in light shade to create a favourable environment. While establishing lettuce in compartments during summer, it is recommended to move them out of the early afternoon sun and keep them watered, as the fertiliser can dry out rapidly.
To ensure a continuous harvest of lettuces throughout the year, it is recommended to sow suitable seasonal varieties regularly from late spring through to winter. The fastest-growing lettuces are loose-leaf varieties, which can be ready for harvest in just four to six weeks when grown in warm weather. Hearting lettuce takes 10 to 14 weeks to mature, depending on the variety and season.
For the freshest and juiciest leaves, it is best to harvest lettuces in the morning. If the weather is hot, it is recommended to place individual leaves straight into the water to prevent wilting.
When harvesting whole lettuces, it is important to wait until a firm heart has formed before cutting through the stem, leaving a stump about 2.5cm tall. This will encourage the plant to re-sprout leaves, providing at least one or two additional smaller harvests.
Loose-leaf varieties can be harvested as soon as the leaves are big enough to eat when they reach about 10cm high. It is recommended to harvest these varieties as a “cut and come again” crop. To accomplish this, each plant in the row must have a few leaves removed to allow the plants to mature. All of the top growth must be removed simultaneously to leave a short stem that should yield at least one more crop of foliage. However, this may not be possible in hot or dry weather conditions.
Lettuces are a great addition to any home garden, but they are also attractive to a variety of pests. Here are some tips to help prevent pest infestations and other issues when growing your own lettuce:
- Slugs and snails can be a problem for lettuces. You can try using slug pellets to control them.
- Aphids can feed on soft lettuce leaves, so it’s important to check your plants regularly and remove any infested leaves. You can also use insecticidal soap or a strong stream of water to wash off the aphids.
- Root aphids can cause older plants to wilt and die. From June to August, plant new lettuce in newly prepared soil and cover it with insect-resistant mesh or fleece. Alternatively, you can choose to sow resistant varieties.
- Sparrows may peck at young seedlings in early spring. If this is a problem, cover your crops with fleece.
- Cutworms can eat the roots of your lettuce plants, causing them to wilt and die. To deter them, keep your lettuces well-watered and free of weeds. You can also cover your crops with fleece.
- Grey mould can be a problem in cool, humid summers. To prevent it, remove any faded leaves promptly and space your plants widely to ensure good air circulation. Harvest your lettuce plants as soon as they reach maturity.
- In hot, dry weather, lettuces can start flowering (bolting) before they reach maturity, which can make the leaves bitter. To prevent this, keep your lettuce well-watered and mulch the soil. Sow your lettuce in light shade during the summer. Choose varieties that are more resistant to bolting, such as crisphead and cos types.
- Hot weather can also reduce germination in some varieties of lettuce. To increase your chances of successful germination, sow your seeds on cooler days or in the evenings when temperatures are lower.
In conclusion, growing your own lettuce is an easy and rewarding way to enjoy fresh, nutritious produce right at home. Whether you have limited space or ample room, there are different varieties of lettuce that you can choose to grow. By regularly sowing small batches of seeds, you can ensure a continuous supply of fresh lettuce throughout the summer. However, you need to take care of the plants to prevent them from being damaged by pests and harsh weather. By following the tips in this guide, you can enjoy a bountiful supply of delicious and healthy lettuce all summer long. While reducing your reliance on store-bought options that come wrapped in plastic.