Category: Blog, Librarian Mom|April 22, 2012 12:00 pm

How to Grow Leaf Lettuce in a Home Garden

Lettuce, whose scientific name is Lactuca sativa, is a family of nutritious leafy green vegetables. Just like other leafy greens, most varieties of lettuce (leaf, Cos or romaine, crisphead, butterhead, and stem) are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, folic acid, and potassium; are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories; and are a good source of dietary fiber. Lettuce is classified as a frost hardy plant, which means that this vegetable can be planted up to five weeks before the last frost of the year. Although it is possible to grow lettuce in most climates provided to have the right equipment, lettuce tends to prefer cooler climates such as that of the central to northern United States or Great Britain. Gardening lettuce to add this healthy vegetable to your diet is therefore a possibility for most gardeners with these simple instructions and tips.

Planting Lettuce

LettuceThe first steps to gardening lettuce are to select the types of lettuce you want to grow and to establish a section of your garden for growing lettuce. Most varieties of lettuce mature quickly and often, so you will want to plant your lettuce in an area that is easily accessible. Lettuce needs a maximum of five hours of full sun a day; you can take advantage of this fact by planting this vegetable in a garden that is located on the east side of a structure such as a house or shed. The soil, which should remain moist but not flood, must be alkaline and high in nutrients. Lettuce will not grow in acidic soil so add lime or cotton burr compost to neutralize acid. Depending on the quality of the soil, you may also need to add fertilizer or compost before planting.

After preparing the soil, sprinkle seeds in rows that are half an inch deep and spaced at least a foot apart. Because lettuce seeds are so small, you may want to mix the seeds with a small amount of fine sand to help evenly distribute the seeds while planting. Then sprinkle a half inch of loose soil on top of the seeds. Once seedlings emerge, thin the rows out to one plant every two to three inches. (Lettuce seedlings can be eaten.) Lettuce can be planted as early as late winter and as late as mid summer. Instead of planting a large crop all at once, plan on planting early and often. One of the mistakes that novice gardeners make when gardening lettuce is to plant all of their lettuce in the spring. Because this leafy vegetable matures quickly, gardeners are often stuck with a large amount of lettuce at the beginning of summer but end up with none through the rest of the season.

Protecting Lettuce

The two biggest threats to the lettuce in your garden are pests and high temperatures. Rabbits, squirrels, and other little critters love to nibble on lettuce just as much as humans like to eat this leafy vegetable. To protect your gardening lettuce from animals, you have three basic options. You can surround your garden with fencing or wire although small animals can still slip through incredibly small spaces. Another option is to sprinkle red pepper flakes on the surrounding soil to deter rabbits because rabbits hate the smell of red pepper. Or, you can tie an aluminum pie pan to a stick with some twine because most animals are scared of the banging noise the pan makes. If you have a serious pest problem, you should combine all three methods for the best protection.

As a cool weather vegetable, lettuce does not tolerate high temperatures well. Because lettuce consists of almost ninety percent water, heat without water is especially damaging or deadly. Lettuce therefore grows best in areas north of the mid-central United States. However, no matter where you live, you must water your lettuce regularly. The soil should remain moist but not soaked especially when the weather turns extremely hot. Lettuce that is not watered sufficiently can develop tip burn in which the tips of the leaves turn black as if burnt. High temperatures can also lead to the opposite but related problem of overwatering. Lettuce can begin to rot if watered too much or if water remains standing around the roots and base of the plant. Make sure to plant this vegetable in an area of your garden with good drainage.

Harvesting Lettuce

Depending on the specific variety, lettuce matures in as little as three weeks and after as long as three months. Leaf lettuce may be harvested as soon as individual leaves grow large enough to the taste of the gardener. Smaller leaves tend to be less bitter and taste better in salads than larger ones left to grow larger. To harvest gardening lettuce, cut or pluck the leaves from the base of the plant with scissors or your fingers. Heads of lettuce can be harvested once the plant research maturity; check the maturation time on your package of lettuce seeds for a more exact harvest date. Just as with spinach, the entire lettuce plant should be picked before seeds form. Note that persistent periods of hot weather causes lettuce to bolt, or to form a flower stalk that produces seed. Lettuce develops a bitter flavor after bolting. At the end of the growing season, remove the entire lettuce plant from the soil. Add the remaining stem and leaves to your compost pile.

Like other leafy greens, lettuce is a cool weather vegetable that can be grown in an outside garden from late winter through the fall. Gardening lettuce is an easy and nutritious addition to any garden. These gardening tips for lettuce make growing this plant in your garden simple.

References

Growing Lettuce – Quick Tips on How to Grow Lettuce: http://howtogardenguide.com/2009/03/19/growing-lettuce/
How to Grow Lettuce: http://www.vegetable-garden-guide.com/how-to-grow-lettuce.html
Lettuce Growing and Harvesting Information: http://www.veggieharvest.com/Vegetable-Growing-Information/lettuce-growing-and-harvesting-information/
Lettuce – Watch Your Garden Grow: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/lettuce1.html

Image Credits

Lettuce: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lactuca_sativa_gush_katif_2005_B.jpg


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