Once you know when to plant lettuce, you'll be able to enjoy the healthy and nutritious leaves with nearly every meal.
Lettuce is available in a wide range of colors and flavors, from crisp and crunchy iceberg, slightly bitter romaine varieties, to milder tasting, frilly loose leaf lettuce, such as burgundy tinted lollo rosso. An easy crop for your home vegetable patch, even novice vegetable gardeners will be able to quickly get to grips with how to grow lettuce.
Homegrown lettuce is both more flavorsome and more economical than buying bags from the grocery store – which have sometimes wilted before you even get them home – so once you start growing lettuce you'll never look back. Pick a variety to plant for your vegetable garden ideas and you'll be spoilt for choice of what to add to salads. Below, we explain everything you need to know about when to plant lettuce.
When to plant lettuce
When you plant lettuce seeds will depend on when you want to harvest the leaves, the variety you choose, and also where you live.
'Lettuce should be succession grown, which means good timing and good choice,’ says celebrity gardener Monty Don in his Gardeners' World programme.
'Be sure to choose the right variety of lettuce for the right season for a supply throughout the year,' he adds.
Lettuce is a cool season crop so prefers conditions that are not too warm; if you live in a hotter zone, then opt for varieties that can cope with warmer conditions and won't bolt – produce flowers – as easily, and plant them where they will benefit from some shade. This can be achieved by companion planting them next to taller, leafy crops.
If you like to include lettuce in salads or sandwiches almost year round, then there are different times for sowing.
Lettuce is also suited to vegetable container garden ideas, so you can extend the growing season by placing containers to sheltered spots.
What month should you plant lettuce?
There are many months in which you can plant lettuce.
Lettuce can be sown direct outdoors from early spring until late summer, for crops through summer and fall. 'Sow lettuce directly into the garden under a fine layer of soil after the last hard frost,' advises gardening guru Jo Gardener, although most lettuce can tolerate a mild spring frost.
The seeds will germinate in one to two weeks in soil that is between 40 and 75°F (4-23°C) , 'but between 40 and 60°F will produce the best results,' Joe adds.
Sow seeds thinly, about ½in deep, 8in apart, in rows about 1ft apart.
By sowing seeds every couple of weeks, you'll have a continual supply to harvest, which makes the best use of space as a small vegetable garden idea.
How early can you plant lettuce outside?
The earliest you can plant lettuce outside is after the last hard frost for most varieties, which will vary from region to region.
However, for an earlier crop, in late spring, you can sow the seeds indoors in early February, or about 4 weeks before the last hard frost as part of your greenhouse planning and then plant out the seedlings in early March, under cloches or plastic tunnels.
'Some varieties, especially iceberg-type lettuces, can be started indoors earlier, about 8 weeks before the last frost,' says Joe.
To start off indoors, 'fill seed trays with compost nearly to the top, then thinly scatter one or two seeds across the surface of each cell. Cover with a fine layer of compost, and give them a gentle water,' advises Sam Corfield in his book Sow Grow Gather: the beginner's guide to growing an edible garden.
By starting lettuce seedlings indoors and planting out as soon as possible, you will get the maximum harvest from the lettuce plants before they start to bolt in the warmer weather.
If you are staggering sowing every couple of weeks through spring and summer, then as the soil temperature rises it may prevent some cultivars from germinating.
The experts at the RHS recommend sowing in the evening in hot spells, then water well and provide the lettuce crops with some shade to keep them cooler.
You can also choose lettuce varieties that are more heat tolerant, such as butterhead and loose leaf. Check the seed packets for those labeled 'heat resistant'.
How late can I grow lettuce?
The latest you. can leave it for when to plant lettuce will again depend on the variety.
You can sow lettuce in late summer for winter crops, protecting the plants with cloches once the temperature starts to dip.
There are some winter lettuces, such as Winter Density, a cross between butterhead and romaine, that can be planted or sown in the fall, especially in milder areas, and then protected with cloches. Or if you live in a cooler zone, sow the winter lettuce in a greenhouse or cold frame. These will be ready to harvest in spring.
When do you plant lettuce in containers?
Lettuce is an ideal crop for planting in containers and can be planted a little earlier than if you are growing it direct in the ground as you can protect the potted crops from frost.
If you have started off your lettuce in seed trays, they once the plants are about 3in tall, 'fill up your chosen container with potting soil and create small holes 8in apart. Pop a baby lettuce into each hole and gently press down around the base to secure. Keep them well watered,' advises Sam Corfield.
Cut-and-come-again loose leaf lettuce make the best use of container space and will be easier to maintain. Ensure the container has good drainage and place it in a sunny spot, although in hot spells move to a shadier location to avoid the lettuce bolting.
So with careful planning of when to plant lettuce and selecting the right varieties to grow at different times, you can enjoy a homegrown crop of the delicious salad leaves nearly every month of the year.
Rachel is senior content editor, and writes and commissions gardening content for homesandgardens.com, Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors. She has written for lifestyle magazines for many years, with a particular focus on gardening, historic houses and arts and crafts, but started out her journalism career in BBC radio, where she enjoyed reporting on and writing programme scripts for all manner of stories. Rachel then moved into regional lifestyle magazines, where the topics she wrote about, and people she interviewed, were as varied and eclectic as they were on radio. Always harboring a passion for homes and gardens, she jumped at the opportunity to work on The English Home and The English Garden magazines for a number of years, before joining the Period Living team, then the wider Homes & Gardens team, specializing in gardens.
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