Since the lettuce seed is so small, a well-tilled seedbed is essential. Large clods will reduce germination.
Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost date for earliest crop. One week before setting seeds or transplants in the ground, till in compost or organic matter.
Harden off seedlings for about one week, and transplant outside between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after last spring frost. Direct sowing is recommended as soon as the ground can be worked. Plant seeds ½ inch deep.
When to Water
Lettuce must be watered deeply at least once a week, and maybe twice when it's hot. Mulch with a layer of compost or clean straw to help the soil retain moisture. A drip-irrigation system is recommended. The key to lettuce production is supplying moderate but almost constant water, especially during hot weather.
This is a half-hardy vegetable that you can keep growing all season long by planting one small crop at a time. Lettuce seedlings will even tolerate a light frost.
The most common lettuce pests are aphids. They love the tender leaves and like to hide on the undersides and down in the crown of the plants.
Loose, fertile, sandy loam soils, well-supplied with organic matter are best. Soil should be well-drained, moist, but not soggy with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Since the seed is so small, a well-tilled seedbed is essential.
Lettuce plant can reach a height of 1 to 2 feet.Take that into consideration when planning your garden. Make sure there is enough distance between your tall vegetables and short vegetables. That way both will get enough sun light.
Try to harvest in the morning when the leaves are crisp, sweet, and full of moisture. Lettuce can be harvested any time after true leaves form. Pick leaves early since lettuce allowed to grow too long may be bitter and tough. For crisphead, Batavia, and romaine varieties, you can cut the whole head when mature. You can do the same with butterhead and looseleaf lettuce, but harvest the outer leaves from time to time might yield more.
Lettuce is a cool-season crop that grows well in the spring and fall in most areas. Temperatures between 45 and 65 degrees F are ideal. Since the crops will mature quickly under the hottest conditions, it is a good idea to plant types that will be able to stand up to the summer sun such as heat-resistant Oakleaf, Summerbib, Slobolt, and Matchless.
Lettuce plants thrive in nutrient-rich soil. Once the seedlings emerge, a dose of fertilizer can be applied to maximize lettuce leaf production. Choose a well-balanced fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, potassium and phosphate.
For a continuous harvest throughout the growing season, you should be able to sow additional seeds every two weeks. To make the most of limited garden space, plant lettuce around taller plants like brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants. The lettuce helps its neighbor by keeping the surrounding soil moist and cool and keeping weeds shaded out. As the taller plants grow, they provide needed shade for the lettuce as the days get warmer.
To plant a fall crop, create cool soil in August by moistening the ground and covering it with a bale of straw. A week later, the soil under the bale will be about 10 degrees F (6 degrees C) cooler than the rest of the garden. Sow a three foot row of lettuce seeds every couple of weeks—just rotate the straw bale around the garden.
To maximize lettuce production, plant seeds in raised beds. The raised beds warm up faster than the surrounding ground. You should be able to get an earlier start in the spring and a later crop in the fall. You can also start lettuce seedlings indoors for filling vacancies in the garden in late spring and again in early fall as other crops are harvested. Simply 'tuck' a seedling in the vacant spot to keep every inch of garden space in constant production.
Lettuce like full sun and do well when it gets about 8 hours of sunlight. During the hottest months, lettuce does best if given some shade.
Broccoli should not be planted next to lettuce.
The following vegetables will do well when planted next to lettuce: Asparagus, Beets, Brussels, Cabbage, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Strawberries, Sunflowers, Tomatoes. Consider also planting rows of chives or garlic between your lettuce to control aphids. They act as "barrier plants" for the lettuce.Planting certain vegetables next to each other can deter insects and encourage growth.
Next year, DO NOT plant lettuce, chicory/endive, Jerusalem artichoke, globe artichoke, dandelion, sunflower, safflower, tarragon, artemisia, salsify, and chamomile in the same location where you planted lettuce this year. Because they are all members of the Compositae family. Instead use that spot to plant other vegetables from a different family such as:
- Carrot (Umbelliferae): celery, carrots, parsley
- Legume (Leguminosae): peas, beans, lentils
- Mustard/Brassica (Cruciferae): broccoli, caulifower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, radishes.
- Allium (Amaryllidaceae) - onions, garlic, leeks, and chives.
- Cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae): pumpkins, melons, squash, gourds, cucumbers.
- Nightshade (Solanaceae): tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers.
- Goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae): spinach, Swiss chard, beets.
Growing Lettuce Overview
In General, lettuce is not hard to grow as long as it gets enough sun light and mild temperatures between 45 and 70 degrees F. For more planting information, please visit our Farming Tips homepage.