How to Grow Lettuce: Your Complete Guide


Written by Heather Hall

Published: March 15, 2023

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You’re missing out if you haven’t sampled lettuce that you grew yourself. It is much tastier and contains more vitamin A than grocery-store lettuce. Plus, it grows so quickly, you can easily plant a continuous harvest of lettuce from spring through fall. This guide has all the information you need regarding how to plant, cultivate, pick, and store lettuce.

About Lettuce

Field of green lettuce vegetables

Lettuces are an excellent vegetable to add to any home garden.

Lettuce is a cool-season crop that grows best in temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be planted as soon as the soil has thawed out from winter weather, and it will grow well in most regions during the spring and fall months. As an added bonus for beginner gardeners, lettuce is easily sown by seed directly into the soil without any extra preparation or steps. Because lettuce does not need much time to mature, it’s recommended that you plant small amounts of seeds at a time so that you can constantly have fresh lettuce throughout the growing season. This technique is called “staggering” your planting schedule, which will ensure an abundance of delicious leafy greens!

Lettuces are an excellent vegetable to add to any home garden. They grow quickly and produce for a good amount of time, making them a great choice if you want something that won’t take too long to harvest. Plus, they’re not particularly finicky when it comes to care requirements. As long as you keep them watered enough, they do just fine! Lettuce is perfect for raised beds or containers because it doesn’t need extensive soil depth in order to thrive. This makes it ideal for small gardens, patios, containers, and balconies.

Where to Plant

When choosing a location to plant your lettuce, you’ll want an area with approximately 5-6 hours of morning sun each day. However, if the temperatures become too hot, providing some afternoon shade for your plants is best.

The soil should also be loose and well-draining but still moist so that the roots can absorb water easily. To ensure the best fertility for your lettuce crop, add plenty of compost to the soil in the weeks before planting. Compost will help encourage healthy growth and strong root development – essential for growing delicious lettuce!

When to Plant

Farmer planting young seedlings of lettuce salad in the vegetable garden

Some cold-adapted varieties of lettuce can still thrive in lower temperatures.

When soil temperatures are between 45°F and 65°F, it is time to plant your lettuce seeds. This temperature range will provide the perfect environment for growth. However, some cold-adapted varieties of lettuce can still thrive in lower temperatures.

The best way to grow lettuce is through direct sowing – planting seeds directly into the ground 2-4 weeks before your last spring frost date or as soon as you can work the ground.

For an even earlier harvest, you may want to start planting indoors about a month before your last spring frost date. When transplanting seedlings outdoors, ensure they have been hardened off for three days up to a week first. This will help them adjust better and reduce shock from sudden changes in climate or environment.

It is important to pay attention to the frost dates in your area when planting lettuce. If you are purchasing pre-grown plants from a garden center or nursery, you should start planting two weeks before your last spring frost and continue planting two weeks after the last spring frost. Be sure to plan ahead so that you can plant during this optimal window of time for the best results!

For most regions, planting two crops of lettuce in a year is possible. Planting a fall crop requires the soil to be cooled before sowing seeds. To achieve this temperature, moisten the ground and cover it with a bale of straw. After about one week, the area underneath the straw bale will have dropped in temperature compared to other parts of your garden. You should sow a two-foot row of lettuce every couple of weeks for continued growth throughout the fall. Simply rotate around your garden as needed when planting more rows!

How to Plant

Creating a well-tilled seedbed is essential for lettuce seeds, as they are very small, and stones or large chunks of dirt will impede their growth. Plant the seeds 1/4 of an inch deep. This shallow depth ensures that the seeds get enough light during germination.

Depending on the variety you’re planting, lettuce can be sown in single rows or broadcast widely (loose-leaf varieties work best with broadcasting). If you’ve gone with the latter approach, then thin out any seedlings that reach heights between one and two inches apart so they have enough space to grow properly.

Different varieties of lettuce require different amounts of space for optimal growth. Loose-leaf lettuce should be planted or thinned out so that each plant is 4 inches apart from its neighbor. When planting butterhead, Bibb, Romaine, or Boston lettuce, ensure that each plant is 8 inches apart from its neighbor. For iceberg or crisphead lettuce, make sure there is 16 inches of space between each individual head of the crop. By ensuring proper spacing when planting your crop, you can help to maximize their potential yields and avoid overcrowding which could lead to stunted growth or disease spread in the garden bed.

If planting lettuce in rows, space them a foot apart. To ensure a continuous harvest of lettuce, sow additional seeds every two weeks.

How to Grow

Organic vegetables.Farmer hand picking fresh salad in the vegatale farm.Freshly harvested vegetables.

Overwatering could lead to disease and soft growth, which will stunt their development.

Once you’ve transplanted your lettuce, be ready to cover it up if cold weather approaches. Covering the lettuces with a temporary miniature greenhouse made of old milk jugs or bottles will help keep warmth in and chill off the seedlings, allowing them to adjust.

After three weeks, fertilize them with a slow-release fertilizer to give them a steady stream of nitrogen. When watering your plants remember that they should remain moist but not overly wet. Soil that drains well is ideal. Overwatering could lead to disease and soft growth, which will stunt their development.

When it comes to watering, lettuce will give you a sign that it needs hydration. If the leaves start to wilt, be sure to sprinkle them with water at any time of day – even during the hottest times – as this can cool them off and decrease the rate of transpiration.

To conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and keep soil temperatures low throughout warmer months, consider using an organic mulch like bark chips or straw around your plants. Keep in mind that weeds should ideally be removed by hand so as not to damage the shallow roots of your lettuce plants.

What About Bolting?

Bolted lettuce plant growing in a raised vegetable bed in a UK garden in summer

Lettuce is bolting if it produces a central seed stalk.

Bolting is an issue that can ruin your lettuce crop if you’re not careful. It’s caused by warm temperatures (over 70°F) or changes in the length of the day, and it results in the lettuce plant producing a central seed stalk and leaves that take on a bitter flavor.

To delay bolting, one of the most important things to do is cover plants with a shade material so that they get filtered light, which will help keep them cool enough to avoid bolting. Additionally, be sure to maintain watering throughout the warmest parts of the growing season. Cool water will also help prevent bolting from occurring due to a lack of water during hot weather. If possible, planning your garden so that lettuce grows in the shade of taller plants may also reduce bolting in the heat of summer – just make sure those taller plants don’t block out all sunlight entirely!

When to Harvest

When harvesting lettuce, it is best to pick leaves in the morning when they are young and tender. Inspect your garden daily, so you don’t miss the opportunity for a good harvest. If left on the plant too long, lettuce will become bitter, woody, and spoil quickly. Depending on which variety you choose, it may take anywhere from 30 to 70 days for a full-size head of lettuce to mature. If you want some fresh greens without waiting that long, simply pluck off individual leaves as needed.

How to Harvest

woman hands picking green lettuce in vegetable garden

Crisphead lettuce should be harvested when its center is firm for optimal crispness.

For leaf lettuce, harvesting is as simple as removing the outer leaves so that the center leaves can continue to grow.

For loose-leaf types of lettuce, romaine, and butterhead lettuces, it’s best to either remove the outer leaves or cut the plant off at the soil line. These methods often yield a second, smaller harvest.

Crisphead lettuce should be harvested when its center is firm for optimal crispness. In all cases, if hot weather is in the forecast, harvest before your lettuce has a chance to bolt in the heat.

How to Store

When storing lettuce, keep it in a loose plastic bag. This will allow for air circulation, which helps prevent spoilage and wilting. Store the lettuce in the refrigerator for up to 10 days, taking care not to pack too many leaves into one container or bag as this can cause them to become soggy or moldy more quickly.

When you are ready to use your lettuce, place it in cold water for a few minutes and then transfer it over to a salad spinner or towel and shake off any excess moisture.

If your lettuce has already begun wilting, submerge it in a bowl of ice water and let it sit for 10 minutes before spinning off the remaining liquid.

Companion Plants

Many plants grow alongside lettuce beautifully. Asparagus, beets, carrots, calendula, chives, garlic, mint, nasturtiums, and radishes all make good bedfellows. There are also a few plants to avoid. We will list them both in detail below.

Asparagus. If you choose to let some of your asparagus plants keep growing in your garden, they’ll reach a great height and spread out feathery leaves, which can provide natural shade for your lettuce if it’s receiving too much sun in the afternoon and starting to droop.

Beets and Carrots. Beets, carrots, and lettuce can all be planted in the same area because beets and carrots are root crops and use underground space for their produce, while lettuce has shallow roots and grows its crop above the soil. Planting them together is a great way to save garden space.

Calendula. Calendula is a beneficial companion plant when planted alongside lettuce, as it draws slugs away from the lettuce crop. To ensure the safety of your lettuce, plant calendula far away from the lettuce rows.

Chives and Garlic. Planting chives and garlic between the rows of your lettuce crop can create a protective barrier against aphids and keep them from getting to the lettuce leaves. Aphids get confused by the scent of garlic and chives and can’t find the lettuce.

Mints. The smell of various mint varieties will ward off slugs, which can be detrimental to lettuce plants. Since mint tends to spread quickly, growing it in a pot is advisable to prevent it from taking over the entire garden.’

Nasturtiums. Planting nasturtiums near your vegetable garden can be beneficial, even though they can attract aphids. Many gardeners plant these pretty flowers a small distance away from their crops to draw the aphids away.

Radishes. If you want to keep track of where you planted your lettuce, plant some radish seeds alongside the lettuce row. These will sprout quickly, giving you a visual cue of the lettuce’s location. Additionally, lettuce can help make radishes softer and tastier for longer periods of time during the summer.

Bad Companions

It’s important to be aware of the plants that should not be planted alongside lettuce, as these can inhibit its growth. Plants that do not thrive when planted near lettuce include:

Cabbage Family. It is best not to plant lettuce near cabbage, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, or broccoli. Brassicas secrete an underground substance that keeps lettuces from germinating.

Fennel. Fennel is not recommended for most human gardeners since it does not coexist well with other vegetable plants. Although it can draw in useful bugs, it can have an adverse effect on other plants, possibly halting or even ending their growth. If you love fennel, plant it well away from your main garden.

Summary of How to Grow Lettuce

Growing LettuceLettuce Recommendations
SunMorning sun 5-6 hours. Afternoon shade.
SoilLoose-well drained with plenty of compost mixed in.
When to PlantSeedlings – After the soil temperature reaches 45°F.
Seeds outside – Plant 2-4 weeks before the last frost date
Seeds inside – Plant 30 days before the last frost date.
Planting MeasurementsSeeds 1/4 inch deep and two inches apart. Rows 12 inches apart.
When to Harvest30-70 days, depending on the variety. Check the seed packet.
StorageWrapped in loose plastic, refrigerate for 10 daysGood Companion PlantsAsparagus, beets, carrots, calendula, chives, garlic, mint, nasturtiums, and radishesBad Companion PlantsFennel, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, or broccoli.

8 Types of Lettuce

  • Leaf Lettuce. This category includes red, oak, and green leaf lettuce. They grow from a single stalk and are very perishable.
  • Romaine Lettuce. Long leaves that are slightly bitter and grow in a sturdy upright fashion.
  • Iceberg Lettuce. Crispy with little flavor. Stores for up to 14 days in the refrigerator.
  • Butterhead Lettuce. This includes both Bibb and Boston lettuces. They are small heads that are round and soft.
  • Arugula. Arugula is also called Italian cress and rocket. It has a peppery taste and is easy to grow.
  • Spinach. Spinach is rich in nutrients and can be picked when young or when fully mature for two different flavors.
  • Radicchio. Also called chicory, it tastes bitter when raw and sweet when roasted or cooked on a grill.
  • Frisee. This belongs to radicchio’s family and has deeply scalloped edges and a unique texture. The curly leaves look beautiful in a salad.

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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