How to Grow Lettuce at Home: absurdly simple!

How to grow lettuce at home: the absurdly simple method I use to grow gorgeous lettuces.

big head of green leafy lettuce in hand

Gosh! Almost too pretty to eat!

I was once unabashedly casual in my lettuce planting method

Growing lettuces wasn’t, at that time in my life at least, something I’d thought much about. I confess: in my early gardening days, lettuce just wasn’t really that interesting to me.

(Now, heirloom tomatoes–on the other hand! I was into them in a very big way. Still am, I guess.)

The most trouble I ever went to to grow lettuce was to scatter the tiny seeds in a row in the early spring. Then (honestly) I’d summarily forget about them. If we got a little rain and a lot of sunshine (but not too much) and the bunnies stayed away, I’d discover lettuce a few weeks later.

Huzzah! Lettuce! I’d rejoice and think myself a superb lettuce-grower. An accidental lettuce grower. A superbly accidental lettuce grower.

But then came the springs when the lettuce seeds would not germinate, due to rainstorms, drought, bunny infestation, zombie influences, pure neglect, or whatever. No biggie. I’d just buy my lettuce at the store or the market in those years.

It was all a very random, careless practice, my lettuce planting. I hang my head at this, just a little.

rows of lettuces in red, purple, green

This photo was shot AFTER I learned how absurdly simple is is to grow gorgeous lettuces. Not before. Obs.

My exemplary mom, on the other hand, (who grew enormous gardens when I was a little girl) grew a thick, delicious row of Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce and made a fabulous spring leafy lettuce salad with it. Like clock work. She was not careless in her lettuce-growing.

Everything lettuce-related for me, however, changed a few years ago, when I started growing specialty veg for restaurants. In essence, I had to figure this out. Restaurant chefs like beautiful lettuces, after all. Nonchalantly-grown, bug-eaten leaves will not do. Happily, my mentor/colleague Gene is a lettuce-growing expert, and he showed me lettuces worth aspiring for.

I took the bait and learned how to grow them myself.

rows of colored lettuces

Salanova lettuces are very beautiful to grow, have tremendous loft (i.e. fluffiness) and you can snag seeds from Johnny’s Seeds. Don’t these look a bit like flowers?

Forthwith. I figured it out.

In a very short time indeed, I discovered–with delight, mind you!–that there are not only many, many scrumptious, beautiful types of lettuce to grow, but also that they are actually quite easy to grow if you know a few simple tips.

The journey from carelessness to earnestness in growing lettuce, I discovered, is not a long one.

I haven’t purchased grocery store lettuce since.

So can you (figure it out, that is)!

I’ve compiled my best tips for growing lettuces at home, just for you, gentle reader. If you are already a lettuce-growing expert (and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you were) you may want to share your tips with me. I do love to learn new things, and if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: I learn more from my gentle readers, I believe, than you all will ever learn from me. So don’t be shy with your comments!

So, finally. And to wit. Forthwith. And furthermore.

three big heads of leaf lettuce

1. Choose your lettuce seeds carefully!

Is it early spring? Then pick varieties that are suited for germinating in the cooler temps.

Here are a few:

  • Hyper Red Wave
  • Green Forest
  • Merlot
  • Midnight Ruffles
  • New Red Fire
  • Oscarde
  • Red Salad Bowl
  • Salad Bowl
  • Winter Marvel (a Bibb)
  • Winter Wonderland (a Romaine)

On the other hand, are you approaching the summer’s heat where you live? Then plant a variety that is adapted to heat, like one of these:

  • Black Seeded Simpson (the one my Mom always grew)
  • Ice Queen (or Reine des Glaces) (Summer Crisp)
  • Little Gem (small Romaine)
  • Marvel of Four Seasons (a Butterhead) (my current favorite!)
  • New Red Fire (Leaf Lettuce)
  • Parris Island Cos (Romaine)
  • Red Sails (Leaf Lettuce)

By the way, there are many excellent seed companies that carry lettuce seeds. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is my hands-down favorite, but I like so many others, too. (Maybe I’ll write a blog post soon about my favorite seed catalogs, and why I shop from each of them.) (Might that be helpful?)

2. Consider sowing your seeds in containers first

I hate to think of how many lettuce seeds I wasted in tossing them into those rows in my garden proper, years ago. I didn’t intend to waste them, but you must own that lettuce seeds are very small and weigh almost nothing, and anything can happen to them. Think: Robins. Bunnies. Wind. Thunderstorms. The occasional derecho.  Zombie confiscation. Anything.

If you take the minute or two it takes to sow your lettuce seeds in plug trays, or small pots, or even egg cartons first, instead of scattering them willy-nilly in your garden row, then your chances of not wasting any seeds are greatly compounded!

Take it from me. A lettuce seed waster from way back, now repentant and reformed.

plug tray with nasturtium seedlings

These are not lettuce seedlings. They are nasturtium seedlings, but please ignore them and just focus on that beautiful plug tray! That is what I now sow all my lettuce seeds into.

There are tons of options. TONS. You can re-use 6-packs from your annual flowers, or use disposable cups. Your lettuce seedlings will grow quickly and they won’t be in the small pots for long.

3. Sow your seeds in germinating mix, not potting soil.

Trust me on this. Potting soil just won’t work as well for germinating your seedlings, as it’s heavy, dense, and will not drain as well. Germinating mix is light, fluffy, and is made just for . . . . tra-la! . . . . germinating seeds! Moreover, a large bag like this one will germinate a lot of lettuce seeds, and other seeds, too.

4. Keep the seeds covered and moist until they germinate.

I have used a number of things to keep my plug trays covered. Stiff sheets of plastic work well, if you have them. In a pinch, I’ve used these, which work really well. If you buy plug trays with the transparent lids, even better!

5. When the lettuce seedlings have a few true leaves, carefully plant them into your garden.

Ta-da! The hard part is over. Now you can plant the little seedlings according to the spacing recommended on the back of the seed envelope. Lettuce likes sun, but will grow fine in partly-shady conditions, as well, and might even prefer the shade during the warmer months.

Water daily until your seedlings are well established and look snug and happy.

6. Got slugs? Treat the ground for slugs when you plant.

I spread this slug bait around the newly-planted lettuces at my place, because slugs and snails love to munch on the bottom leaves of lettuces. This product is not toxic and won’t hurt the beneficial bugs and other critters in the garden, not to mention your garden cat. Or dog.

If you don’t have snails or slugs, lucky you!

7. Harvest when the lettuces are ready.

But who says when the lettuces are ready? You do. Maybe you like them small and tender. Or possibly you like to wait and see just how big that impressive head of lettuce will get! Most lettuces, if you carefully shave off the leaves about a half-inch from the ground and leave the roots intact, will grow more and more lettuce leaves. This is a nifty parlor trick among us (cough) professional lettuce growers, and it’s called “Cut and come again.” Lettuce be friendly with our lettuce and heed its call.

Harhar. Just a little lettuce-grower joke.

In conclusion

When you find yourself in the grocery store, surveying the tired lettuce and feeling sadly shallow and cheap because you resent the high prices, know, gentle reader, that you have choices in the matter.

You can march right out the door, go home and grow your own. I’ve learned how. So can you!

Pin it for later!

photo of lettuces with "How to grow lettuce at home" text

Some terrific things to make with your garden lettuces

Enough reading for now. It’s time to go plant some lettuce. Right?


8 thoughts on “How to Grow Lettuce at Home: absurdly simple!

  1. Kay

    Thank you!! I thought it was too late to plant lettuce but I have lettuce seed tapes and I am going to plant them in pots and protect them from too much sun, heat, wind! and those waskily wabbits. My spinach and chard are up in the raised bed with the carrots and beets. Tomatoes (started by this amazing plant lady I know. *wink*) are looking fine. I’ll be mulching soon as I transplant some volunteers that found their way under my cabbage and broccoli hoops. Tomorrow we plant squash and cucumbers and pollinator flowers (zinnias and cosmos and more sunflowers.)
    Now how about a post on green beans. Mine are sporadically coming up.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Kay, girl, you are way ahead of me! I’ve still got tomatoes and peppers and beans to plant! Way to go!
      Hmmm I’ll have to think about that post about growing beans. I have no problems growing beans but I do have trouble keeping up with picking them. Any tips on that?

  2. cookinmom

    Invite a friend over to pick…I would!!! If I was near you, I’d be at your front door with basket in hand. The BEST bean picker around! lol!

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