The secret to growing good lettuces often lies more in planting the right variety of lettuce at the right time for your growing conditions than any other factor.
Lettuce is versatile and fast growing with literally tens of varieties with different textures, flavors, and colors available to the home vegetable gardener. Making it possible for every gardener to find lettuce varieties that will thrive in their area under almost any conditions.
The most common lettuce varieties can be roughly grouped into 4 basic head and leaf types.
While some types and varieties of lettuce can withstand heat better than others, generally lettuce is a fairly hardy, cool season vegetable. Lettuce thrives when the average daily temperature is between 55-75 F (13-24 C). When temperature get consistently higher than this the leaves turn bitter and the plant will quickly go to seed.
The best times to plant lettuce are early spring and late summer for fall harvesting.
Lettuce is pretty typical to most vegetables, liking a soil rich in humus that retains moisture, well drained with moderate fertility and pH between 6.5 to 6.8.
When direct sowing lettuce be sure to prepare the bed properly.
Lettuce plants have a shallow, compact root system so it is important for the bed to be well cultivated to eliminate competition from weed seeds in the initial germination period.
Either sow lettuce seeds 1/2" deep in rows 1-1/2 feet apart or broadcast lettuce seeds over the bed and rake lightly so they are covered with a very thin layer of topsoil. Keep the soil moist at all times. Lettuce germinates best in cool soil 40-60 F.
Transplant lettuce to the garden when seedlings have at least 4 true leaves.
Make sure the soil is moist before planting.
The best way to ensure you have a continuous supply of fresh tasty lettuce throughout the growing season is by starting successive batches a week or two apart.
Lettuce is an excellent choice to use for inter-planting.
Tomatoes give them plenty of shade as the summer progresses.
The most important aspects of caring for lettuce are;
Spacing for lettuce will depends on a large degree on the type of lettuce being grown. If you are planning to harvest the entire head of lettuce then give the plants more room.
Head lettuce should be given 8-12 inches apart in all directions.
Leaf lettuce that will be harvested leaf by leaf can be planted much closer. Spacing can even be tighter if you intend to harvest the lettuce very young.
Lettuce needs to be keep continuously moist, it is important to make sure your lettuce bed does not dry out as this will cause the lettuce become bitter and hasten the plant to go to seed.
Growing lettuce in a semi-shaded location and using a thick mulch around the plants helps retain moisture and reduce weeds.
It is recommended to use misters when growing lettuce in summer.
When transplanting use liquid starter fertilizer. 2 to 3 weeks before transplanting or sowing seed spread 2-3 quarts per 100 sq feet (2.2-3.3 liters per 9.3 square meters) of All-Purpose 5-5-5 Organic Fertilizer. Use the same rate every 3-4 weeks as side dressing.
Cutworms, slugs, snails, flea beetle, aphids
Damping-Off, Downy Mildew, Mosaic Virus, Nematodes, Soft Rot
Lettuce grows quickly, if flowering stalks appears, the plant is past its prime.
Fancy Red Leaf Lettuce
Picking leaf lettuce can start as soon as the leaves are big enough to make it worth the effort.
Harvesting Leaf Lettuce
The younger the leaves the sweeter the taste.
If you are harvesting the whole lettuce head, wait until it is bigger than the size of your fist and harvest the lettuce before it becomes bitter.
Before storing clean the lettuce of dirt and cool quickly by spraying or immersing lettuce in chilled water.
Clean, dry lettuce will last Lettuce can be stored for 2-3 weeks at 32° and 98-100 percent relative humidity.
Lettuce is best eaten fresh and apart from short term storage in refrigerator can not be stored by freezing or canning.