Ask anyone who’s grown their own lettuce and they’ll let you in on a little secret: it tastes WAY better than the kind you buy in the supermarket. Vitamin content and flavor are boosted when your lettuce comes from the garden. And because lettuce is so adaptable and hardy, in many parts of the country you can harvest it year-round.
If you get started now, you’ll have a fresh crop of lettuce to enjoy in spring and summer salads. The best way to start lettuce seeds is indoors, about 4-6 weeks before your last frost date. Lettuce does best in temperatures between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. A dusting of frost won’t do any real harm, and heat is no problem for many varieties as long as plants are receiving shade and regular hydration.
Before you plant your seeds, decide which kind(s) of lettuce is ideal for your garden:
Romaineis a favorite thanks to its high nutritional value and practicality– it’s heat resistant and requires little maintenance from gardeners. Romaine is excellent in sandwiches (nice and crunchy!) and red-leaved varieties provide a splash of color in salads.
Boston or Butterhead lettuce is better suited for cooler climates. It’s characterized by soft, vibrant green leaves and white-yellow hearts. If you want a successful harvest of Boston lettuce, make sure the soil where you plant your seedlings is of very high quality.
Icebergis lowest in nutritional value, but still provides plenty of fiber and adds unique texture to salads. If you live in a warmer climate, iceberg lettuce will probably fare well, as it is heat-tolerant
Leaf lettuce is always a popular choice. It grows fast, is packed with nutrients, and is also well-suited to warm temperatures. These plants produce leaves of varying textures that arrange themselves loosely around stalks.
Within these categories there are plenty of unique varieties, so you’re bound to find several types that are best for you and your garden! Once you have your seeds, get them growing in a few easy steps:
1. Start your lettuce seeds indoor 4-6 weeks before your last frost date. Consider planting a new batch once weekly for three weeks.
2. Once the ground is workable, till compost or organic matter into the plot of soil where you’ll be setting down your lettuce seedlings. Do this about one week before you begin planting.
3. Harden off seedlings for about a week. Then plant outdoors at two-week intervals, somewhere in the realm of two weeks before and 2 weeks after the last frost date.
4. Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep. Leaf lettuce should be spaced out four inches between plants, loose-headed varieties can be spread eight inches apart, and firm-headed types should have about 16 inches of space between them. You can sow in single rows or you can broadcast. Rows should be about 13-15 inches across. Cover with about 1/2 an inch of soil and water generously.
5. Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer about three weeks after transplanting lettuce. Keep plants cool and weed-free during the summer months by adding on an organic mulch.
6. If aphids and similar pests are a problem, consider planting garlic or chives between rows of lettuce to ward them off.
7. Enjoy freshly grown lettuce for months to come!