Lettuce: Growing Tips and Strain Guide – Stuff | Directory Mayhem

Lettuce is a must-have crop for any garden – easy and quick to grow and perfect for pots or small spaces. Plus, there’s a huge selection of varieties worth planting, so pack up your lot and fill your salad bowl with ruffled, oakleaf, sweetheart and loose-leaf lettuces in all shades of green and red!

Sow and grow

  • Sowing time: August to April in warmer areas; September to March in cooler areas
  • When to transplant: In warmer areas, all year round; August to May in cooler areas
  • Location: full sun
  • Harvest: 10-12 weeks
  • Good for pots
  • Good for beginners

Lettuce seedlings are easy to transplant.  Tuck in a basket every few weeks to ensure a steady supply of fresh leaves.

PIXABAY/Stuff

Lettuce seedlings are easy to transplant. Tuck in a basket every few weeks to ensure a steady supply of fresh leaves.

Getting started

While we think of lettuce in terms of refreshing summer salads, this foliage plant generally prefers cooler temperatures and tends to go into seed when it gets hot or dries out. Grow them in your vegetable beds in spring and fall as an off-season crop, then confine them to containers during summer and winter as you can keep them in the shade in the heat and move to the most sheltered spot or even under cover when it is getting cold.

Lettuce seeds germinate at relatively low temperatures (from around 10°C), so you can sow direct or in trays from late winter to mid-autumn in temperate regions and from early spring to early autumn in cooler regions. In mild, temperate regions and further south from early spring to late fall, you can plant lettuce seedlings almost year-round.

CONTINUE READING:
* Gardening to save money: These leafy greens and herbs can boost your grocery budget
* Spinach: growing tips and variety guide
* How to grow potatoes if you don’t have a garden
* Spring Onions: Growing Tips and Variety Guide

Plant lettuce closely together for maximum production.  Picking the outer leaves regularly for your salad bowl allows them to grow.

LYNDA HALLINAN/stuff

Plant lettuce closely together for maximum production. Picking the outer leaves regularly for your salad bowl allows them to grow.

Step by step

  • Lettuce seeds are small and photodormant which means they need light to germinate so sow thinly on the surface of the soil or on seed growing mix if growing in trays, just covering them.
  • You can sow lettuce directly, but it’s easier to protect it from snails and snails if you start it in trays or jiffy pots for later transplanting.
  • Just keep the seed tray or newly planted seeds moist and you should see signs of germination after 7 days.
  • If your seedlings look crowded, it means you were a bit sluggish when you seeded them. Don’t worry – only thin once 2-3 true leaves have formed. Or leave them for another week and then eat the thinnings as microgreens.
  • If you start in trays, seedlings can be planted in the garden in about 3-4 weeks.
Red leaf lettuce can handle cooler temperatures and lower elevations, making it a good option for winter salads.

SALLY TAGG/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Red leaf lettuce can handle cooler temperatures and lower elevations, making it a good option for winter salads.

growing tips

Give lettuces a spot in full sun from fall through spring, but shade in the afternoon during the hottest time of year. You can grow them on the shady side of a row of beans or a block of corn to keep them cool.

Prepare the site with plenty of compost and sheep pellets and dust with lime.

Salads are shallow-rooted, so they can dry quickly even in the ground. They will perform best when the soil remains consistently moist – mulch around this crop to keep available water in the soil. A short period of drought stress will cause the leaves to start tasting bitter, even if they don’t cause the plant to germinate.

However, you shouldn’t overwater them either, as they also don’t like wet feet and soil.

And overhead watering (where you water the leaves instead of the soil) makes them susceptible to various fungal infections. If your soil is heavy and prone to getting wet, grow lettuces in pots to give them the drainage they need. Liquid feeding weekly with worm tea or half strength liquid fertilizer.

'Little Gem' lettuce grown on a sunny windowsill.

SALLY TAGG/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

‘Little Gem’ lettuce grown on a sunny windowsill.

Lettuce in pots

Lettuces are great for growing in pots, and if you opt for cut-and-come-back varieties, a few large pots will be enough to provide you with several months of lettuce greens – just harvest leaf by leaf and plant a few new seedlings every three weeks.

Choose a large enough pot (the smaller the pot, the faster it will dry out). Use a good potting mix that contains a balanced slow release fertilizer and a humectant that helps retain water in the soil.

Place your pot in a warm, sunny, north-facing spot that is sheltered from the wind, and somewhere in the afternoon shade in hot summer locations.

Watering is the key to success in salads. So if you tend to be quick with your watering, invest in a self-watering pot with a built-in reservoir so the soil is less likely to dry out right away.

Growing lettuces in pots means that with a little planning, you can grow lettuces all winter long, although you’ll need to put the pot in a southern conservatory or tunnel home, as lettuces can’t take more than a tickling frost.

'Tennis Ball' Lettuce is a compact butterhead style lettuce.  Her loose rosette of light green leaves is easy to pluck and is ideal for small gardens or growing in containers.  Ripens 60 days from no-till.  From King's Seeds.

King’s seeds/stuff

‘Tennis Ball’ Lettuce is a compact butterhead style lettuce. Her loose rosette of light green leaves is easy to pluck and is ideal for small gardens or growing in containers. Ripens 60 days from no-till. From King’s Seeds.

Outstanding Varieties

Salads can be roughly divided into four groups.

Crisphead Batavia cultivars such as ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Great Lakes’ and ‘Winter Triumph’ (a good choice in colder regions) have crisp leaves that curl over each other to form a heart. Cultivated under the right conditions and at the right time of year, the leaves are super crisp and sweet. But they need more space than upright, cut and recurring varieties, mature more slowly, and are more demanding on their cultivation requirements – they tend to rot from the center in cold, wet conditions; Sprout when it’s hot and dry (although plant breeders have worked to develop strains that will reliably open in summer); and turns to pulp immediately when it freezes.

Lettuce or romaine lettuce like ‘Rouge d’Hiver’ and ‘Little Gem’ have upright, oblong leaves that form a loose heart in the middle. A staple in Caesar salads, the ribbed leaves are sturdy enough to fill with Thai or Mexican-style ground beef mixes, and you can harvest these varieties leaf by leaf.

For something different, “Silvia” is a glamorous little red cos with a sweet taste and buttery texture. As with most lettuce plants, the red color is deeper in cooler weather, although it can handle a range of growing conditions. Combine with ‘Paris White Cos’ for a gorgeous color combination both in the garden and on your plate.

'Lollo Rosso' is a loose lettuce with attractive ruffled edges.

123RF/stuff

‘Lollo Rosso’ is a loose lettuce with attractive ruffled edges.

Loose leaf lettuces such as ‘Lolla Rossa’, ‘Lollo Bionda’ and ‘Drunken Woman Fringed Head’ also make excellent cut-and-come back plants, with the soft leaves growing as rosettes rather than forming hearts. They grow very quickly, mature in under two months (and you can start picking the baby leaves after just a month), and they come in a wide range of varieties, textures and colors to keep your salad bowl looking chic. ‘Green Salad Bowl’ produces a large rosette of beautifully delicate, light green leaves; If you like playing with colors, combine it with ‘Red Salad Bowl’, an organic variety.

Finally, lettuces such as ‘Buttercrunch’ and ‘Summer Queen’ form an open but clustered rosette in the center surrounded by a fan of soft loose leaves. Lettuce probably does best in warm weather, but still does best as an off-season crop and needs some shade during the hottest part of the day in summer. ‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’ is an old variety in this group. She has great flavor and lives up to her name (which translates to “Wonder of the Four Seasons”) by performing well throughout the growing season.

Another attractive heirloom is ‘Perella Rougette Montpellier’, which is green at the base and shades to cranberry red on the outer edges of the leaves.

If you can’t decide, sow a packet of Mixed Lettuce Seeds or a Gourmet Lettuce Mix.

Net lettuce to protect against birds.

RACHEL CLARE / NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Net lettuce to protect against birds.

Troubleshooting

If your lettuce seeds aren’t germinating, the most likely cause is lack of light. Lettuce seeds also won’t slam if conditions get too hot (below 70F is preferable).

When they’re done, remember that just about anything finds lettuce delicious! Snails, snails and birds make short work of this plant, especially when newly planted.

A cloche is a great way to keep them safe from pest infestations while also providing protection from unexpected cold snaps. (You’ll often see that beer traps are good controls for these gastropods, or that snails and snails don’t crawl over coffee grounds or broken eggshells.

NZ Gardener Trials didn’t find any of these pest control methods effective, but they didn’t seem to hurt us either, so if they work for you, go ahead!)

Salads can also succumb to the attention of the lettuce aphid (Nasonovia ribisnigri). Native to Europe, these pests are a nightmare for crisphead lettuce because once they reach the heart of the lettuce, they can wreak havoc unnoticed. If this is a problem, sow the aphid-resistant Iceberg hybrid ‘Bug Off’.

Leave a Comment