Creating a salad at home just got a lot easier. Growing lettuce is a great way to have quick access to nutritional salad greens.
Starting lettuce seeds is easy, and it’ll add lots of color to your early spring or fall garden.
In this post, I’ll go over how to plant lettuce both indoors and outdoors. Keep reading for more!
Why Plant Lettuce
There’s a reason you probably imagine salad lettuce when you think of healthy food.
Lettuce is packed with many of the nutritional benefits your body needs. It’s a good source of iron, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. And it’s low in calorie content.
But there’s no need to always grab that pre-mixed bag at the grocery store. Growing your own lettuce will give access to the freshest greens.
Lettuce is quick to germinate and easy to grow. You only need a little over a month to see it mature.
Popular Varieties to Grow
There are many different types of lettuce. Each variety has its own appearance and taste profile. I recommend choosing several different varieties to give yourself a true spring mix.
You may see lettuce varieties grouped by how they grow.
The five main types are:
- Butterhead – produces soft, round leaves
- Romaine – grows tall, upright leaves
- Looseleaf – grows from a stem rather than a head
- Crisphead – includes iceberg lettuce and looks similar to a head of cabbage
- Celtuce – a cross between lettuce and celery; mostly eaten for its stem
Here are some popular lettuce varieties to try in your garden:
- ‘Braveheart Romaine‘ – This variety produces crisp green leaves. It carries good resistance to downy mildew, which is great for humid environments.
- ‘Salad Bowl Red‘ – This looseleaf variety creates beautiful red leaves. It matures early, but it’s slow to bolt in warmer weather. To intensify the color, grow this variety in cooler temperatures.
- ‘Harmony Butterhead‘ – This variety is a must-have if you love lettuce wraps. The glossy green leaves are resistant to burning and pack great flavor. It’s also a good mildew-resistant variety.
When to Plant Lettuce
Just like many other leafy greens, lettuce is a cool-season vegetable. It should be grown in either early spring or fall.
Soil temperatures must be between 45 and 65 degrees for lettuce seeds to germinate.
For a spring crop, sow lettuce seeds two to four weeks before your last anticipated frost. The ground should be workable by this point.
Starting lettuce seeds indoors can give you a head start. Sow seeds indoors about four weeks before the last frost date.
For a fall crop, start seeds about two months before your first anticipated frost. If you have a late-maturing variety, you may have to start the seeds indoors first.
How to Start Lettuce Seeds Indoors
First, I’ll go over how to start lettuce indoors.
I recommend this route for any gardener with a short growing season. It’s also helpful to get a jump on those varieties that take longer to mature.
What You’ll Need
You’ll need some seed starting equipment to start lettuce seeds properly.
Here are the main products I recommend:
To stock up on the best lettuce varieties, check out the lettuce seed selection at Hoss Tools. I personally use their seeds and have had great success with germination.
Starting Lettuce Seeds
Lettuce grows quickly once it germinates. You’ll be potting up seedlings in a couple of weeks.
So, you can save some trouble by skipping the small seed starting trays altogether. Four-inch seed starting pots are the perfect size to allow lettuce to grow before transplanting.
Fill several seed starting pots with moistened seed starting mix.
Lettuce seeds should be planted at a depth of 1/4 inch. Make two small indentions in the seed starting mix accordingly.
Put a seed in each hole and lightly cover it with soil. After sowing seeds in each pot, create a label for that variety.
The pots should be placed on a heat germination mat under a full spectrum grow light.
You’ll see germination within two to 15 days, depending on the soil’s temperature.
Once the seedlings have begun to produce more than one set of leaves, thin them to one per pot.
After starting lettuce seeds, you’ll need to take the proper steps to harden off the seedlings. This will get the lettuce accustomed to outdoor weather conditions.
You don’t have to harden off lettuce over a large span of time. Just take three to seven days to increase the seedlings’ time outside gradually.
After that, you will be ready to move the lettuce to your outdoor garden spot.
How to Plant Lettuce Outdoors
Starting lettuce seeds outdoors will give you great success. If you have an extended growing season, direct sowing is the best way to go.
Choosing the Best Location
Once soil temperatures have reached 45 to 65 degrees, you can prepare to plant lettuce.
You will want to choose an area that receives six to eight hours of sun per day. Your full-sun garden space will do the trick.
Ideal soil conditions for lettuce are workable and well-draining. Soil pH should be neutral, between 6.0 and 7.0.
If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, incorporate composted organic matter into the soil. This will improve soil pH and texture.
Compost also introduces many beneficial nutrients into the soil.
Starting Lettuce Seeds
To direct sow lettuce seeds, place a seed every two inches at a depth of 1/4 inch. If planting multiple rows of lettuce, space rows every 12 to 24 inches.
Once the lettuce sprouts and begins to grow, thin your lettuce to every 12 inches. This will give the lettuce heads enough room to spread without crowding one another.
Lettuce that is planted too close together may be at higher risk for downy mildew.
Caring for Lettuce
An important part of how to plant lettuce is knowing how to care for it, including watering and fertilizing.
Lettuce needs approximately one to inches of water per week. You should check your lettuce at least twice per week for dryness.
Since lettuce has shallow roots, you should be able to determine dryness easily. Just feel the top few inches of soil.
Watering may increase as spring temperatures warm up.
Water the soil around the lettuce to avoid getting water on the foliage. This could invite mold. Water drops can also cause burns on the foliage in bright sun.
Does lettuce need to be fertilized?
Lettuce can benefit from added nutrients, especially nitrogen. To give your lettuce a healthy boost, apply a well-balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. Granular and liquid fertilizers both work great.
Fish fertilizer is another great nutrient boost for lettuce plants.
For the best results, follow the specific fertilizer’s application instructions.
When and How to Harvest Lettuce
After starting lettuce seeds, you may be wondering when you can harvest them.
Depending on the variety, lettuce typically matures within 30 to 70 days.
That’s a large span, which is why it’s a great idea to plant multiple varieties of lettuce. You can enjoy your looseleaf lettuce while waiting on the romaine to mature.
The seed packet will suggest waiting a certain number of days. But you can begin to harvest lettuce earlier than the maturity date. If you prefer smaller leaves for your salad, you can begin to harvest your lettuce once they reach the desired size.
To harvest lettuce, you can either remove the number of leaves you want (preferable for looseleaf). Or, you can remove the entire head of lettuce (good for romaine, butterhead, and crisphead).
You can remove individual leaves by hand. To remove the whole head, use a sharp knife to cut the lettuce head at the soil level.
Lettuce is best eaten straight after harvesting. But you can also store it for later.
After harvesting the lettuce, you’ll want to wrap it in a paper towel. If you wash the lettuce before storing it, be sure to dry the lettuce completely.
Place the wrapped lettuce in a Ziplock bag. Store the plastic bag in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Healthy lettuce will keep fresh for seven to 10 days.
Keeping your lettuce away from fruit will also help it stay fresh for longer.
Wrapping Up How to Plant Lettuce
Learning how to plant lettuce is easy and fun. There are so many different varieties to try in your garden. Whether you want a crisp salad or lettuce wrap, starting lettuce seeds will give you constant access to fresh greens.
Don’t stop at lettuce. Did you know that there are many cool-season vegetables to try? Visit the Seed Starting page on our website to learn how to plant these leafy greens.