Lettuce is one of the vegetables home gardeners can grow self-sufficiently. The cut-and-come-again harvesting method expands the crop’s life, providing full bowls of salad for a good while. But, first, here are some helpful tips to grow lettuce successfully from seed.
#1 Chose a suitable variety
It is best to choose heat-tolerant or slow-bolting varieties in regions with mild winters or where temperatures fluctuate considerably. Such selection has better resistance to warm temperatures.
Check out the shop section for all the heat-tolerant lettuce varieties and greens.
In the colder regions, most lettuce varieties should do well as long as it is protected from a deep freeze.
#2 Use fresh seeds
Unfortunately, lettuce seeds do not have a long shelf life. Their germination rate drops drastically in the second year.
Generous sowing is recommended when using more than a year-old lettuce seeds. This will increase the germination rate.
#3 Start at the right time
Lettuce is a cool-season crop, so you must consider the ambient temperature when starting them indoors or directly sowing outdoors.
The ideal temperature to germinate a lettuce seed is below 75F (25C). If the temperature is higher, the seed will remain dormant.
The recommendation for warm regions, like central Texas, is to start seeds indoors in a climate-controlled space.
In the mild climate, we may start seed in late August or early September. So, by the time the transplant is ready, the weather has usually cooled down in late October or early November.
#4 Use the suitable soil
Lettuce seeds are small and delicate, so it is crucial to use lightweight soil such as a seed-starting mix. Doing so ensures good soil drainage, preventing rot, and seed germ will be able to push through to come out.
#5 Provide light
Some seeds need light to germinate, and lettuce is one of them. When sowing the seeds, try your best not to cover them with soil. If you must, it should be a thin layer of light soil or vermiculite. Again, blocking the light from the seed will keep it dormant and won’t germinate.
If starting seeds indoors, provide a good light source like a South-facing window sill or grow light.
The lettuce seed germinates in about three to four days, given all the right conditions. Once the first pair of true leaves appear, it is possible to transplant the seedlings to bigger pots.
Fortunately, lettuce roots are strong and can handle transplanting very well.
#7 Hardening off
In the South, hardening off fall cool-season plants is sometimes difficult due to the high temperatures.
The trick is placing the baby plants outside in the evening and keeping them through the night. After a few days expand the outside time through the morning. However, it is crucial to bring them in when temperatures exceed 89F (31C).
Plant your fall lettuce once the daily temperatures have cooled off to at least mid-80sF (28C). Provide shade if the sun is still intense and water regularly to prevent transplant shock.
For home gardeners, spacing is critical to make the most of the garden. Since we are using the cut-and-come-again method, we can space the plants as close as six inches apart. That will make four plants per square foot.
The root ball should be at the soil level to prevent the stem from rotting.
Although lettuce is a heavy feeder, there is no need to supplement it with fertilizer. However, it is essential to amend the soil with good compost before planting to provide enough food for the plants.
Too much nitrogen makes plants more susceptible to aphids, which is not good.
#10 Pest control
The most common pests on lettuce are slugs and snails, which you can control using a fermented sweet drink trap or by sprinkling SluggoPlus.
The second pests are rabbits, which you may use a mesh cover to block them from getting into your crop.
Aphids are another nuisance, but preventing them is better than treating them. Avoid over-fertilization to prevent their appearance.
To learn more about aphids, head to my other post, How To Deal With Aphids in The Kitchen Garden?
# 11 How to harvest lettuce
To extend your lettuce harvest through the season, use the cut-and-come-again method. It is simply picking the outer leaves of the lettuce plant instead of uprooting it.
The plant will continue shooting new leaves throughout the season until it gives up and starts bolting or going to flower. Thankfully, that takes a few months, giving you enough time to have new plants ready for the second round.
#12 Succession planting
Succession planting is planting crops in time intervals to ensure a continuous harvest. In lettuce’s example, the first seed starting round is in late August or early September. The second round should be in late December.
#13 How many lettuce plants per person?
There is no definite answer to how many lettuce plants you grow for each person. It all depends on how much one loves to eat lettuce.
On average, the recommendation is to have four lettuce plants for each person in the household. Then add a few for insurance if you have space. For example, we are a family of six. When my kids were little, I grew 16 plants. Now that they are young adults and actively growing, I am planting 48 plants.