How to Plant, Care & Harvest Lettuce
This is a half-hardy vegetable that you can keep growing all season long by planting one small crop at a time. Days to maturity tend to be short. Garden lettuce is far superior, in both taste and vitamin A content, to supermarket brands.
How to Plant:
- 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, especially if you have heavy soils.
- Seed may be sown in single rows or broadcast for wide row planting. When broadcasting, you’ll need to “thin” for the proper spacing.
Leaf lettuce: Plant 4 inches apart.
Cos and loose-headed types: Plant 8 inches apart.
Firm-headed types: Plant 16 inches apart.
- Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.
- Water thoroughly at time of transplant.
- Consider planting rows of chives or garlic between your lettuce to control aphids. They act as “barrier plants” for the lettuce.
How to care of lettuce:
- Fertilize 3 weeks after transplanting. Lettuce prefers soil that is high in humus, with plenty of compost and a steady supply of nitrogen to keep if growing fast. Use organic alfalfa meal or a slow-release fertilizer.
- Make sure soil remains moist but is well-drained.
- An organic mulch will help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and keep soil temperatures cool throughout the warmer months.
- Lettuce will tell you when it needs water. Just look at it. If the leaves are wilting, sprinkle them anytime even in the heat of the day to cool them off and slow down the transpiration rate.
- Weed by hand if necessary, but be careful of plant roots: They are shallow.
How to Harvest lettuce:
- Lettuce should be harvested when full size, but just before maturity. You want it young and tender.
- Before maturity, you can harvest leaf lettuce by simply removing 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 is firm.
- Mature lettuce gets bitter and woody and it will go bad quickly, so check your garden everyday.
- As time passes, you will want to cut the whole plant from the ground.