How to Grow Lettuce: A Guide to Growing & Harvesting Lettuce

Lettuce Container Garden

If there’s any crop you need to grow at home this fall, it’s lettuce. Homegrown lettuce tastes significantly better and contains way more vitamins than store-bought head lettuce — in an extreme way. In this complete guide, we talk about how to grow lettuce.

Growing lettuce is actually quite easy and takes up little space, making it perfect for container gardening. It’s an exciting fall crop — perfect for gardeners of all experience types, homesteads, and climates — and will add immense flavor and nutritional value to your every day life. With our Grow Pro knowledge, we address planting, care, and harvesting tips as well as disease prevention and recommended lettuce varieties.

How to Grow Lettuce

Lettuce is a cool-season crop that thrives in early spring and fall — some even tolerating a light frost. Most varieties reach maturity in about 30 days, making it a quick turnaround crop. You’ll be chomping down on fresh lettuce in no time! Follow these tips to achieve lettuce garden success.

How to grow Lettuce

When to Grow

Lettuce plants love cool weather. Sow any time the soils are above 40° Fahrenheit. Really, you can plant as soon as the soil is workable in the spring or as soon as summer temperatures die a little — you want the lettuce to reach maturity in cool, fall weather. Seeds will germinate in up to 85° F weather. To prevent summer bolt (when plants grow quickly, stop flowering, and set seeds), stop planting one month before summer heat.

PRO TIP: If you plant in successive sessions about 10 days apart, you’ll have an extended harvest!

Growing from seedlings or transplants is a great idea for lettuce. You’ll get a head start on the growing season and bypass the most difficult part of growing (the beginning).

Where to Grow

When planting lettuce, choose an environment that facilitates good growth. Watch out for soil, sun, and temperature.

Vary your planting time based on your specific climate and current weather patterns — not a specific date anyone gives you. It may be late August, but if it’s still 95° F outside, wait to plant!

Then, find a spot that receives full sun. If you live in particularly warm environments, you’ll need partial shade to keep the soil cool enough for germination. You might even create artificial partial shade for the first part of the grow. Once the seeds have grown to adolescence, you can remove this shade.

Our growing environment of choice is a mobile container garden. Planting in container gardens means you can control the environment more fully. You’ll be able to roll your lettuce in and out of the shade and carefully curating the soil for your specific lettuce variety; if you’re growing from seed, you can even begin growing indoors.

Soil Needs

Wherever you plant, the most important part of setting up your plant’s environment is creating good soil. The soil is how your lettuce will get water and nutrients, so it’s incredibly important for growing success.

Lettuce prefers loose, cool soil with good drainage. Use plenty of organic matter and check the pH with a purchased kit. Aim for a pH of 6.0 – 6.8. Adding lime to your soil is an easy way to bring the pH up.

Additionally, lettuce seeds are quite small, so make sure that the seed is well-tilled. Clods of dirt will prevent germination.

If you’re growing in a container, use soilless potting mixes and organic matter. If you’re growing in your backyard plot, be sure to add plenty of fertilizer and materials to enrich your local soil.

PRO TIP: Avoid the hassle of trying to find the right soil for your garden. Our Gardenuity garden kit comes with a unique soil and nutrients customized to your specific crop.

How to Plant

lettuce container garden

Exact planting instructions depend on the variety of lettuce you choose. Follow the instructions on your seed packet carefully. For general planting information, keep reading.

If growing lettuce from seeds, you only need to plant a quarter to half an inch deep. Lettuce seeds are quite small! When sowing seeds into a garden plot, plant about 10 seeds per foot and space your rows about a foot apart.

When your plants have 3-4 full leaves, thin seedlings to 4 inches apart — or more, depending on the variety. Firmer types will need up to 16 inches to reach full size. In a container garden, you can opt to grow heads closer together and simply harvest leaves continuously (your heads will never reach full size). The seedlings you remove can be eaten as tender microgreens (they’re delicious!) or transplanted to a different area.

Water Needs

Lettuce needs moist soil. Light, consistent, and frequent watering will create tender leaves. Be careful not to overwater. Too much moisture can lead to root rot and disease. We like to water in the mornings or evenings to prepare your plant for the day heat.

Check out our watering tips for more watering information.

Pest & Disease Prevention

Aphids are a common lettuce pest. They attach to the underside of your lettuce leaves and suck away all water and nutrients, leading to wilted leaves. Often, aphids will also spread diseases and create mold issues. To avoid aphids, blast your lettuce with the hose, encourage natural predators like the ladybug to make their home nearby, and/or apply a natural pesticide. Additionally, planting chives among your lettuce easily deters aphids.

Snails, slugs, and cutworms may also try and make your garden their food. Avoid them by crushing up eggshells and making a border in the soil around your plants. Simply keeping an eye out and handpicking these creatures off your leaves is equally effective — especially if you’re growing in a container garden.

Tip burn is a phenomenon when your leaves begin to curl and brown. This occurs because of inconsistent moisture. Simply cut the browning edges off your plant and begin a consistent watering schedule. Tip burn could also be a result of improper pH balance in your soil.

Other Care Tips

  • You might also want to plant lettuce around taller plants, like peppers, brussels sprouts, or eggplants. Lettuce will keep the soil cool and weedless for its neighbors, while the neighbors will provide much-needed shade as the summer begins.
  • Some seed companies sell mixtures of seed varieties. These are a fun and exciting way to discover which salad greens you prefer and discover some unusual leafy greens, like mesclun or arugula.

How to Harvest Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the simplest vegetables to harvest. You can harvest anytime 30-70 days. In fact, your lettuce is ready to harvest when you are! With lettuce, maturity is partially about the preference of taste and size. Younger leaves are more tender, while more mature leaves are milder. Try it out and discover your preference.

Check daily to see if your leaves are ready — lettuce that is too mature becomes woody and bitter quickly.

To harvest your lettuce, you can use one of two methods. Either cut off the entire bundle at the base or remove a few leaves at a time. Choose a method based on your culinary needs that day!

PRO TIP: Harvest in the morning for the best flavor!

Store your lettuce in a loose plastic bag for up to 10 days and wash thoroughly before consuming it.

Recommended Varieties

When learning how to grow lettuce, our favorite varieties to use are the classics: iceberg, romaine, butterhead, etc. with a few exciting additions like arugula and mesclun. You simply can’t go wrong. Every harvest is a full salad.

For some different options, here’s a list of types of lettuce, sorted by their weather preference.

Cold Weather Lettuce: Winter Marvel (green, semi heading), Arctic King (green, semi heading), Rouge d’Hiver (red, romaine-type), Brune d’Hiver (green, semi heading)

Cool Weather Lettuce: Four Seasons (red and green), Lolla Rossa (red, leaf lettuce), Tom Thumb (green, semi heading), Royal Oakleaf (green, leaf lettuce), Buttercrunch (green, semi heading), Parris Island Cos (Green, loose-leaf), Red Sails (red tip, loose-leaf), Bistro Mix (red & green mix, loose-leaf)

Heat Tolerant Lettuce: Craquerelle du Midi (green, romaine-type), Two Star (green, leaf lettuce), Red Riding Hood (red, semi heading), Simpson Elite (green, loose-leaf), Buttercrunch (green, loose-leaf),

Lettuce Varieties Featured in our Lettuce Plants Collection:

  • Buttercrunch
  • Red Sails
  • Parris Island Cos
  • Bistro Mix
  • Simpson Elite