| Growing Lettuce in the Home Garden
HYG-1610-92 Marianne Riofrio
selection of greens for salads in the supermarket, as well as salad bars
popping up in nearly every restaurant, is a reflection of the new
health-conscious eating habits sweeping the United States. Several types of
lettuce can be grown in the home garden adding variety, texture and color to
the family diet.
Lettuce varieties can be loosely categorized into four
groups: crisphead, butterhead, leaf, and romaine or cos. Each group has its own
growth and taste characteristics. Types of Lettuce Crisphead lettuce is
probably the most familiar of the four. It is characterized by a tight, firm
head of crisp, light-green leaves.
In general, crisphead lettuce is
intolerant of hot weather, readily bolting or sending up a flower stalk under
hot summer conditions. For this reason, plus the long growing period required,
it is the most difficult of the lettuces to grow in the home garden.
The butterhead types have smaller, softer heads of loosely folded
leaves. The outer leaves may be green or brownish with cream or butter colored
inner leaves. There are several cultivars available that will do well in
Pacific Northwest gardens. Leaf lettuce has an open growth and does not form a
head. Leaf form and color varies considerably.
Some cultivars are
frilled and crinkled and others deeply lobed. Color ranges from light green to
red and bronze. Leaf lettuce matures quickly and is the easiest to grow.
Romaine or cos lettuces form upright, cylindrical heads of tightly folded
leaves. The plants may reach up to 10 inches in height. The outer leaves are
medium green with greenish white inner leaves. This is the sweeter of the four
Crisphead Mesa 659
(fall), Ithaca Butterhead Bibb Salad Bibb Summer Bibb Buttercrunch Tania Tom
Thumb (miniature) Leaf Salad Bowl Grand Rapids Black Seeded Simpson Slobolt
Oakleaf Green Ice Prizehead Red Sails Lollo Rosso Ruby Red Fire Romaine
Valmaine Parris Island Cos
Lettuce is a cool-season vegetable and develops best quality
when grown under cool, moist conditions. Lettuce seedlings will tolerate a
light frost. Temperatures between 45 F and 65 F are ideal. Such conditions
usually prevail in spring and fall. Seeds of leaf lettuce are usually planted
in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Butterhead and romaine can
be grown from either seeds or transplants.
Due to its long-growing
season, crisphead lettuce is grown from transplants. Transplants may be
purchased or started indoors about six weeks before the preferred planting
Lettuce can be grown
under a wide range of soils. Loose, fertile, sandy loam soils, well-supplied
with organic matter are best. The soil should be well-drained, moist, but not
soggy. Heavy soils can be modified with well-rotted manure, compost, or by
growing a cover crop. Like most other garden vegetables, lettuce prefers a
slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5.
Since lettuce seed is very small, a well-prepared seedbed is
essential. Large clods will not allow proper seed-to-soil contact, reducing
germination. Lettuce does not have an extensive root system so an adequate
supply of moisture and nutrients is also necessary for proper development.
Fertilizer and lime recommendations should be based on the results of a soil
As a general rule, however, apply and work into the soil three to
four pounds of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden area. Seed may
be sown in single rows or broadcast for wide row planting. Wide rows should be
12 to 15 inches across. Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil. Water
carefully but thoroughly.
Several successive plantings of leaf lettuce
will provide a more continuous harvest throughout the growing season. Leave 18
inches between the rows for leaf lettuce, and 24 inches for the other types. To
achieve proper spacing of plants, thinning of lettuce seedlings is usually
necessary. Thin plants of leaf lettuce four to six inches or more between
plants depending on plant size. Butterhead and romaine should be thinned six to
ten inches between plants. Finally, crisphead transplants should be spaced 10
to 12 inches apart in the row.
An organic mulch will help conserve
moisture, suppress weeds, and keep soil temperatures cool. If weeds do become a
problem, either pull by hand or cultivate very shallowly to avoid damage to
lettuce roots. Planning your garden so that lettuce will be in the shade of
taller plants, such as tomatoes or sweet corn, in the heat of the summer, may
Insect pests and diseases can occasionally cause
problems on lettuce.
types should be harvested when full size but young and tender. Over-mature
lettuce is bitter and woody. Leaf lettuce is harvested by removing individual
outer leaves so that the center leaves can continue to grow. Butterhead or
romaine types can be harvested by removing the outer leaves, digging up the
whole plant or cutting the plant about an inch above the soil surface. A second
harvest is often possible this way. Crisphead lettuce is picked when the center
The author gratefully acknowledges James D.
Utzinger, on whose original fact sheet this is based.
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