How to Grow Lettuce

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Lettuce is a fan favorite, whether you use it for salads or for your burgers. Lettuce used to be quite affordable at the grocery store, however, prices are increasing, and even lettuce is becoming a luxury.

Not only that, but you also don’t know if any pesticides or chemicals were used to grow it. For this reason, we recommend growing lettuce in your home garden.

It’s easily done and doesn’t take much effort. This article discusses what it takes to grow lettuce. We’re going to cover every aspect you need to know.

How to Grow Lettuce: Step by Step

1. Choose the Lettuce to Grow

There are many different types of lettuce you can grow, so you need to choose. Some of the most popular types recommended for home garden growth include crisphead (iceberg), romaine, red leaf, and loose-leaf lettuce.

However, red leaf lettuce does not fare well in very hot climates. They all vary slightly in their growing requirements, although fairly similar.

So, we provide a general guide that should work for most lettuce types. We recommend beginning with romaine or iceberg.

2. Choosing and Preparing the Planting Area

Before you can plant, you need to prepare the area. First, choose a location that receives a good deal of sunlight. Lettuce plants should get between five and six hours of sunlight a day. If your lettuce plants get a bit more than that, that’s fine. Although your plants won’t grow as big or strong, less than five hours will still suffice.

Planting from seed or starting your plants indoors are options we will cover. However, a week before transplanting lettuce plants or sowing seeds outdoors, you need to prepare the soil.

You should get fairly high-quality garden soil for green leafy vegetables. This will generally contain a relatively balanced ratio of the three major nutrients, NPK. Leafy plants like lettuce like a good deal of potassium and phosphorus, and you will want to limit nitrogen. Too much nitrogen in your leafy greens can result in an odd flavor.

In addition, lettuce prefers soil that is fairly loose and has good drainage. Lettuce can easily get waterlogged, so using coco coir and/or perlite will help with drainage.

Moreover, lettuce prefers soil that is very high in organic materials, mainly compost and humus. Therefore, about a week before you plant your seeds outdoors or transplant seedlings, we recommend mixing compost into the soil.

Lettuce seeds are tiny, so you should till the soil to be very smooth. Get rid of any rocks, roots, or clumps of dirt that could prevent lettuce seeds from germinating and growing through the soil’s surface. With the area prepared, you can now get ready to plant.

3. When to Plant Lettuce Seeds

Lettuce can easily survive cold conditions. The soil needs to be at least 40° Fahrenheit to allow lettuce seeds to germinate. However, somewhere closer to 55° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit is best.

It is recommended that you sow the seeds directly into your garden. Then, around two to four weeks before the last spring frost, you can do so. Lettuce can handle a bit of a frost as long as it’s not too bad.

However, if you want to start your crop early, you can do it indoors. You can start your lettuce plants four to six weeks before the last frost date. Ensure you provide the lettuce with plenty of light.

Moreover, if you are starting your lettuce plants indoors, you will first need to harden them off before you move them outdoors.

Hardening off is done by placing them outside for short periods. Then, gradually increase how long they spend outdoors over a few weeks. Once they are hardened off, you can plant them outdoors.

4. How to Plant Lettuce Seeds

If you want to start your lettuce plants early, you can plant them indoors. Use small pots that are a few inches in diameter and plant the lettuce seeds between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch deep. Remember that lettuce seeds need sunlight to germinate.

Therefore, they cannot be planted too deep. You will have to wait two to four weeks before the last frost date until you can transplant them outdoors. Also, lettuce plants need at least four mature leaves and a robust root system before you can transplant them.

In addition, lettuce plants can be fragile, especially the root system. This is why it is recommended that you sow lettuce seeds directly outdoors instead of starting them indoors and then transplanting them.

Lettuce seeds should not be planted deeper than 1/8 of an inch or 1/4 of an inch. Those seeds need light to germinate. You can plant them a few inches apart and then thin them out based on which ones grow best.

Spacing your lettuce plants depends on the type of lettuce. Loose-leaf lettuce should be spaced about four inches apart. Romaine and Boston lettuce should be spaced about 8 inches apart. Crisphead, also known as iceberg lettuce, should be planted around 16 inches apart. You should follow these recommendations.

Lettuce does not grow well when there are a lot of weeds in the soil. Therefore, planting the lettuce as close together as possible will help prevent weeds from growing. That said, too close is also not good. With the seeds sown, give the soil a bit of water. Do not overwater the soil, but it should be constantly moist.

Grow Lettuce

5. Lettuce Watering, Fertilizing, and General Care

You should water daily with small amounts in the first couple of weeks after planting. However, after that, lettuce should be watered twice a week.

Watering lettuce plants every four days will do. Lettuce can handle anywhere from one to two inches of water, depending on the soil type.

This is a trial-and-error process because the amount of water you provide depends on rainfall, temperature, and humidity.

However, lettuce will tell you when it needs water. For example, if the leaves are wilting or yellowing, it needs water. Moisture levels in the soil should not fluctuate greatly; it should just be moist.

Lettuce is one of these plants you can water directly; you don’t need to worry about getting water on the leaves. Instead, you can use a mister or spray bottle to spray the plant.

If you use high-quality potting soil with compost, you won’t need to fertilize for around a month after planting. However, three to four weeks after planting, you should supplement fertilizer.

Lettuce grows quickly if you provide it with lots of nitrogen. However, nitrogen can also alter or diminish the flavor. Therefore, a good balance is required.

We would recommend a balanced liquid fertilizer that contains a balanced level of NPK; phosphorus and potassium are essential. A slow-release fertilizer is perfect.

Lettuce is susceptible to weeds, so remove weeds by hand whenever possible. Just be careful to not damage the roots of your lettuce plants.

Moreover, you can add mulch to the surface of the soil. This will help keep the soil cool and will help prevent moisture from evaporating. Mulch is also great for stopping weed growth.

The other thing to know about is lettuce bolting. Lettuce will start to bolt when temperatures are too warm, generally over 70° Fahrenheit. This means that the lettuce will start producing a central seed stalk and stem.

At the same time, the leaves become very bitter and inedible. Cover the plants with a shade cloth to prevent this. This will prevent them from getting direct sunlight; they’ll get enough sunlight to grow, but not so much that they will overheat.

6. Harvesting Lettuce

Your lettuce should reach full harvest size within 6 to 8 weeks after planting, depending on the type of lettuce. When your lettuce is full size and crisp, it is ready to harvest; don’t neglect harvesting for too long.

Lettuce will get tough and bitter if you leave it for too long. To harvest lettuce, you can dig up the whole plant, cut the plant off an inch above the soil, or just remove the outer leaves.

If you cut off the outer leaves or cut the plant off an inch above the soil, you will likely be able to get a second harvest.

Final Thoughts

Growing lettuce at home is pretty straightforward. It takes some effort, but nothing is overly complicated. More or less, any type of lettuce can be grown in your garden.

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