There is nothing like fresh, homegrown lettuce to make a great salad. If you pick leaf by leaf instead of a head at a time, you may even be able to enjoy a salad a day when the weather is right! Top the salad with a new dressing each time for variety. Throw in some of the other vegetables growing in your garden—tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, radishes, even uncooked peas straight out of the pod. Add some hard-boiled eggs or chopped ham and serve your salad with toast to make a light lunch. The possibilities are endless!
- Cool weather.
- Full sun in cool weather, but afternoon shade in warm weather.
- Moist (but not soggy) soil.
- Soil pH around 6.0 to 6.7.
- Plant lettuce outdoors as soon as the soil is workable and has started to warm up, about four weeks before the last spring frost. In Kansas, this could be between mid-March and mid-April.
- Don’t worry about precise spacing. Scatter seeds across your designated lettuce patch, or sprinkle seeds in rows, one row for each variety that you want to try.
- Cover the seeds very lightly (about 1/4 inch deep).
- Scatter a very thin mulch across the surface of the soil to help hold both seeds and moisture in the ground.
- Water the seeds every day until they sprout and are well established.
- For a continuous harvest, plant more lettuce every other week until the weather is too hot for good germination. In Kansas, this will probably occur between mid-April and mid-May.
- For a fall crop, plant some more lettuce after the summer heat has moderated somewhat, but about a month before the first fall frost. In Kansas, try between mid-August and mid-September.
Water is the primary need of lettuce. This plant is not only sensitive to heat, but it is shallow-rooted and can’t really fend for itself. In warm, dry weather, you will probably have to water it every day, and you should definitely mulch it well. On the other hand, don’t overdo the water, either. Lettuce leaves that have been sitting on soggy ground are not particularly appealing.
Lettuce needs special care in the summer. If you want to extend its life a little longer, you may have luck protecting it with shade cloth; or try raising it under a dense canopy of asparagus fronds. If the lettuce bolts (puts up a flower stalk) in spite of all your efforts, you may be able to get a few more salads out of it by cutting it back to the bottom inch or so of the lower leaves.
Pests and Diseases
- Sow bug.
- Wire worm.
- Bacterial leaf spot.
If you only take a leaf at a time, you can start harvesting your lettuce any time after it has become established and looks like it can stand the loss. Pinch the leaves gently, taking care not to uproot the whole plant, and try to take from the outside, leaving the tender inner leaves to develop and feed the plant until a later date.
You can also cut a whole head of lettuce when it looks about the right size, but the plant will not keep producing throughout the season. Use a knife to do this job cleanly.
Like most things, lettuce is really best when used fresh. If you must store it for a little while, soak the leaves in a sink full of cold water to clean them. Then rinse the leaves off and spin. Store the lettuce in the refrigerator in a lettuce keeper.
- Lettuce varieties rarely cross, but if you’re concerned about it separate them by 12 to 25 feet.
- Watch the lettuce closely when it bolts. The first seeds will probably be ready 12 to 24 days after flowering.
- Shake dried seeds into a paper bag every two or three days.
- Store the bag in a dry place until you are ready to clean the seeds.
- Use a screen to remove the debris from the seeds. You may find that it works best to use a screen with a mesh slightly smaller than the seeds and rub the debris through with the palm of your hand.
- Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. They should last for about three years.
Leafy Vegetable Diseases
These factsheets include diseases of lettuce, as well as endive, spinach, and celery.