There’s just something so satisfying about growing your own lettuce. For starters, it’s very pretty in the garden. Homegrown lettuce is delicious and tender, it’s easy to grow, and you can pick it at any time during the growing stage. What’s not to love? Better yet, you can cut the outer leaves and the leaves will actually grow back so it’s incredibly thrifty.
Lettuce is one of the few vegetables I prefer not to grow from seed. Instead I pick up Burpee transplants from my local nursery in the early spring and late summer/early fall. I live in north Texas, growing zone 8a. I can get away with growing lettuce through December, covering the garden with a planket (plant blanket) before any freezes. Lettuce does not like warm weather. Check your local zone’s recommendations for timing but know that lettuce won’t germinate or grow if the soil is warmer than 80 degrees.
There are so many varieties of lettuce to enjoy. Even a hobby gardener or beginning gardener could easily have a whole bed just of lettuce. This fall I grew romaine, red romaine, red leaf lettuce, and butterhead lettuce and the results were scrumptious. Different varieties take different amounts of time to mature, though many, like leaf and butterhead varieties, can be enjoyed when they’re still young. For instance, I harvested a head of butterhead lettuce at a time and plucked a few red leaf and red romaine leaves for color before they were mature.
I’ve never understood why tomatoes are considered the “gateway” vegetable that beginners grow. Successfully growing tomatoes is actually quite involved (read my article about how to grow tomatoes here) whereas lettuce is very simple. Few pests plague lettuce, making it a great choice for beginner gardeners. Lettuce does very well in raised bed gardens, which is how I grow mine.
Regular watering is important. Don’t let the soil dry out and take care to keep it well watered during droughts. Frequent, light waterings work well over deep waterings because you want to encourage leaf growth rather than root growth. This year I also used MiracleGro’s shake ‘n’ feed fertilizer between the rows just once about a week after transplanting and this was hands down the best crop I’ve ever had.
It’s better to harvest lettuce sooner rather than later. If you wait too long, the lettuce will bolt and the leaves will taste bitter. Lettuce should be harvested in the morning for optimum sweetness and moisture. Try to eat it up within a day, as lettuce does not keep long. I like to rinse leaves in a colander, squeeze excess water out with a paper towel, then wrap the bunch in a fresh paper towel to keep in the fridge until later that day. Remember: you don’t have to wait for lettuce to reach a certain size before harvesting it. I love cutting some tender baby red romaine for color along with butterhead!
See this gorgeous head? I cut it about two inches from the soil leaving some leaves still attached and the entire head of lettuce grew back:
I hope this inspires you to try your hand at lettuce this spring! If you love salads like me, I highly recommend this thrifty, beautiful vegetable for your raised bed garden.
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