I love growing leaf lettuce. My family farm is well known for growing leaf lettuce that is incredibly nutrient dense and full of flavor. Lettuce is a common leafy green enjoyed everywhere. Thankfully in the past decade eating leaf lettuce has really taken off. There is not enough nutritional value in iceberg lettuce to make it worthwhile. That’s why I stick to growing leaf lettuce in my gardens. In the Leafy Greens Container Garden Course I dedicate entire container gardens to growing my leaf lettuce salad mix!
I grow lettuce year round. In the spring, I plant it in the full sun. Once summer comes along I plant a unit under the shade tree. In the fall, I plant a unit in the main garden again and in the winter I have a personal solar pit greenhouse to grow my greens. In zones 5-8 you can grow lettuce in a cold frame year round. In zones 9-10 you can grow lettuce year round in your regular garden. In most of the country you can grow leaf lettuce year round. With the help of the cold frame in the winter and the shade tree in the summer, there are very few climates that are not able to grow lettuce.
My favorite varieties of leaf lettuce to grow are Tropicana, Firecracker, Bronze Arrowhead and Winter Density. It is important to know which leaf lettuce varieties do better with heat and cooler temperatures. In my growing zone I grow the Tropicana in the summer as it holds up well. The Firecracker adds a deep red color to the salad mix and the Bronze Arrowhead is an oak leaf type of leaf lettuce. The Winter Density is my go to for winter gardening. It will take more frost than the other lettuces I grow. I would recommend experimenting with your lettuce varieties each year. I like to plant 4 different types at a time so that I can enjoy salads that have a lot of color as well as lots of different minerals. My favorite places to buy my seeds are on Johnny’s Selected Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange.
You can easily plant leaf lettuce directly into the garden or you can start plants in the house and transplant them out. You can start lettuce seeds 8 weeks before your last frost date and transplant them in to the garden 4 weeks before your last frost date. Lettuce succession planting is one of the real tricks to having lettuce to harvest all year round. I started growing in succession when I had to supply the local grocery store with salad mixes twice a week all year round. What I discovered was that if I kept planting every week without fail I would have enough lettuce to sell consistently. For your home garden you will need to plan out how much lettuce you will want during your growing season to know how often you should do a lettuce succession planting.
Lettuce requires a lot of water in the summer. Keep the soil moist and water every day. Mulch will help keep in the moisture and so will shade cloth. In the winter you will want the soil surface to dry out between watering. If you over water in the winter then the plants may rot off. I will mulch the lettuce seed to help keep the soil moist to get it to germinate. Also you can mulch the lettuce plants once they are up. Start with a thin layer and be sure not to cover up the plants. As the lettuce gets bigger you can mulch more.
A common problem you can run into with your lettuce is a deficiency in calcium. If the lettuce is lacking in calcium, the tips of the leaves will burn (turn brown). To remedy this I spray my lettuce plants once a week with Calcium 25. If your plant looks stunted and small, that is probably lack of water or too much sun or both and not a sign of calcium deficiency. Common pests you will come across when you are growing leaf lettuce are aphids and cabbage worms. Watch for aphids in the spring. If you just see a few, squish them. If you are vigilant you can keep ahead of them. If they get ahead of you can use an organic spray to kill them. For the cabbage moth worms, use an organic spray once a week during the summer.
When harvesting leaf lettuce I like to harvest all of the leaves that are over 4 inches long every week. Simply break the leaves off from the outside of the plant while harvesting. Keep leaf lettuce in the refrigerator for up to 10 days in a plastic bag.
One of the unique ways I’ve preserved lettuce by dehydrating it for smoothies and making crackers out of it. This is a great way to use up any extra lettuce you may grow! Two years ago I made a video about dehydrating lettuce that you might want to give a try!
Have any questions about growing leaf lettuce or any other gardening question? Email me at lynn(at)paleogardening.com and tell me all about it. I would love to hear from you! Stay tuned for next week’s Paleo Garden Expert Interview!
Until next time may your garden be easy, fun, productive and always organic!
The weekly leafy green is just a taste of what you can find in our latest online high performance gardening course- the Leafy Greens Container Course. In this online course I will show you how to grow the most variety and nutrient dense greens you have ever had. Learn more about how you can enjoy these leafy greens today!