Like kale, leaf lettuce is an especially easy vegetable to grow 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. And nothing tastes better than a cool, crisp salad on a hot summer day.
Growing Leaf Lettuce
To grow leaf lettuce in a home garden, start by preparing your soil. Lettuce needs alkaline soil high in nutrients, so consider using a fertilizer to improve the quality of your soil. I prefer to grow my leaf lettuce in containers to keep the leafy greens out of reach of pesky rabbits, but you can also plant lettuce directly in your garden. Lettuce is a hardy plant, meaning that the leafy green can tolerate cooler temperatures. Lettuce is also a shade plant, needing a maximum of five hours of sunlight a day. I also like planting lettuce in my container garden because I move the containers around to prevent my lettuce from burning in too much sunlight.
After preparing the soil, sprinkle your tiny lettuce seeds evening on top of your soil. Then sprinkle a half inch of loose soil on top of the seeds. Water the seeds immediately and keep your lettuce thoroughly watered. Once the seedlings emerge, you can thin the plants out to one plant every two to three inches. However, I never thin out my lettuce and always end up with quite the plentiful lettuce harvest.
The soil in which you grow your leaf lettuce should remain moist but not soaked, especially when the weather turns extremely hot. Because lettuce consists of almost ninety percent water, heat without water is especially damaging or deadly. Plan to water your leaf lettuce every day, or even multiple times a day, during the hottest days of the summer. Again, because lettuce is a shade plant, be sure to move your plants to a shadier location during the longest days of the summer.
One mistake that many novice gardeners make when growing leaf lettuce is to over plant during the spring. Because leaf lettuce grows and matures quickly, plan on planting many small plantings of leaf lettuce over the entire growing season. Planting smaller batches from spring to fall ensures that you harvest fresh leaf lettuce all season. The biggest threats to your lettuce are pests likes insects and animals, hot temperatures, and lack of water. However, by planting my lettuce in containers and keeping the plants thoroughly watered, I have never had any problems growing leaf lettuce.
Depending on the specific variety, leaf lettuce matures in as little as three weeks and after as long as three months. Harvest your lettuce as soon as the leaf grow large enough to your specific taste. To harvest leaf lettuce, cut or pluck the leaves from the base of the plant with scissors or your fingers. I personally just tear my lettuce off with my fingers. Do make sure to pick your lettuce before flowers and seeds form. At the end of the growing season, toss the remaining lettuce plant in your compost pile.
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.
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.
What tips do you have for growing leaf lettuce in a home garden?
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
How to Grow Leaf Lettuce in a Home Garden: An Illustrated Guide © 2013 Heather Johnson
Soil in Containers © 2013 Heather Johnson
Popsicle Stick Garden Markers © 2013 Heather Johnson
Leafy Greens Growing in Containers © 2013 Heather Johnson
Small Leaf Lettuce Plants © 2013 Heather Johnson
Medium Leaf Lettuce Plants © 2013 Heather Johnson
Large Leaf Lettuce Plants © 2013 Heather Johnson