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Growing Lettuce

Growing lettuce varies from easy to not quite so easy depending on which type you chose and when you sow them. Generally, the loose-leafed varieties are the easiest and quickest to grow, while the crisphead varieties are less simple and take longer to mature.lettuce clipart

  1. Lettuce Varieties
  2. Lettuce Likes and Dislikes
  3. Growing Lettuce with Companion Plants
  4. How to Grow Lettuce
  5. Tips


Lettuce Varieties

There are about 4 different types of lettuce: the loose-leaf lettuces, the cos lettuces, the butterhead lettuces and the crisphead lettuces.

loose-leaf lettuceLoose-leaf lettuces are the easiest to grow, the quickest to reach maturity, and tend not to bold as they don't have a 'heart'. They can be ready to eat withing 4-6 weeks of sowing, depending on how early in the year you start. A good starting lettuce for kids and can also be grown indoors throughout most of the year. 'Salad Bowl' is a favourite variety to chose. Pick off individual leaves, like you would with spinach or chard, and the plant will carry on producing more leaves for a few weeks. The loose-leaf lettuce tends not to bolt.

Cos lettuces are also called romaine lettuces and have somewhat upright growth and longer heads, they can look a bit like cabbage. The most well-known and possibly well-liked variety is called 'Little Gem' and the leaves are both crisp and sweet. 'Paris White' is another favourite: larger, self-folding crisp leaves with a very pale green heart.

butterhead lettuceButterhead lettuces are probably the most well-known and popular variety. They have soft, smooth-edged leaves, grow fairly quickly and tolerate poorer soil. Some varieties are also fine for planting in the autumn for a spring crop. Good seeds to go for are 'Four Seasons', as it can be sown in spring, summer and autumn and is slow to bolt in hot weather. A lovely butterhead to grow with young children is 'Tom Thumb' - the fully matured head is only the size of a tennis ball and it is lovely and tasty; especially good for a summer crop.

iceberg lettuceCrisphead lettuces have large crisp hearts and fewer outer leaves than the butterheads. They do well in the cooler seasons and tend to take longer to mature than other varieties, but if you like a crunch to your salad, then this is the type to go for. The 'Iceberg' (see image to the left) is probably the most popular variety, but 'Webb's Wonderful' might be more reliable during the summer months, and 'Rouge de Grenoblouse' is gaining in popularity as it matures quicker, is more bolt resistant and can withstand light frosts, which extends the outdoor growing season if only by a few weeks.

Lettuce likes and dislikes

Lettuce likes:

  • sun hiding behind cloud clipartSpring, when the frost has passed and the days are getting warmer.
  • A shady spot in the hotter months, especially in the middle of summer. Planting in the shade of tomato plants or cucumbers is a good idea.
  • Fertile and well-draining soil, with organic matter added recently.
  • Radishes, strawberries and cucumbers.

Lettuce dislikes:

  • Getting too hot in full sunshine during the summer. They dislike it so much, they might try to bolt!
  • Being watered in the evening, as it tends to make them more prone to disease. Water them in the morning instead.
  • snail clipartOvercrowding - thin them out to the right distance for the lettuce variety as soon as the true leaves appear.
  • Slugs and snails! Slugs will love you for growing lettuce, but lettuces don't like slugs and snails! Protect them from slug attack as soon as they pop up.

Growing Lettuce with Companion Plants

Lettuce get on well with most other vegetables, but especially with radishes, strawberries and cucumbers. The summer crop will appreciate being sown in the shade of cucumber or tomato plants. They don't get on well with any type of beans, be it bush beans or runner (pole) beans, or peas.

The main enemies to growing lettuce in the garden are slugs and snails, which will quite happily nibble their way through the entire plant at any stage during its growth. Protect your lettuce from slug attack as soon as the first seedlings appear.

lettuce clipart

How to Grow Lettuce

Lettuce can be planted outdoors as soon as the frost is over and the ground is not too wet. They germinate quickly and take anything from 40 to 90 days to mature depending on the variety chosen. Chose a sunny spot for spring and autumn planting, a shady spot for summer planting. Check your seed packet for more detailed information on that varieties prefered sowing time.

It is also possible to start growing lettuce off indoors or in the greenhouse and then transplant them once the frost is over and the ground has dried up and warmed up a bit. But lettuce don't usually like to be transplanted, and sowing them in situ tends to be more successful. You can always start them off under cloches in March, which they tend to prefer to being transplanted.

Before sowing the lettuce seeds, ensure the ground has been well dug over and is free of weeds and stones. Soil which has had plenty of organic matter added is good for growing lettuce: they like ground which has had manure added the previous winter, and really benefit from good compost in the top two inches. One reason for butterhead or crisphead lettuces not forming heads is a lack of organic matter.

sowing lettuce seeds

Prepare the ground as described above, and rake to a fine tilth.

With a bamboo stick or similar, make a couple of drills at the recommended distance for the variety. Here we are planting Iceberg, and the recommended distance between rows is 12 inches.

lettuce seeds in ground

Lettuce seeds are very small. Carefully sprinkle the seeds along the line, trying to drop one seed approximately every 1 1/2 to 2 inches.

Keep the soil moist until they germinate.

lettuce and radish seedlings

Very gently cover the seeds with a tiny bit of soil. The seeds barely need covering at all, but check your seed packet for specific recommendations.

The seedlings will usually germinate within a week to 10 days.

growing lettuce

Once the seedlings have developed their first lot of 'true' leaves, they can be thinned out.

Keep on thinning them out until they are at the right distance for the variety (see seed packet for instructions).

In this example, butterhead lettuce has been thinned down to about 10 inches apart and is being grown in the dappled shade of an apple tree for a summer crop.


Growing lettuce likes to be damp, but not wet. Water in the morning or noon, but not in the evening, as that is more likely to encourage disease.

Most lettuce varieties are at their best for eating for only a week once matured, after which they go to seed. To avoid a sudden glut, sow seeds succesionally.

One of the most common problems with growing lettuce (apart from slugs and snails!) is bolting. Bolting means the lettuce has gone to seed: a thick stem is formed from the heart to produce flowers and the plant grows up and up rather than forming a nice head. Bolting is usually caused by transplanting at the wrong time, the lettuce getting too dry at the roots, getting overcrowded or being in full sun and getting too hot during the summer.

salad bowl clipart



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