• You can begin growing lettuce in the early spring when the soil temperature reaches a minimum of 35°F
  • Although the optimal temperature for germinating the lettuce seed is 75°F (which you can achieve by starting your seeds indoors), the seeds will still germinate in colder temperatures; it will just take a little longer for germination to occur
  • When growing lettuce in the early spring it can tolerate light frost but if a hard frost is predicted (below 26°F), cover plants with a row cover to prevent freezing
  • When temperatures reach over 80°F, the heat will cause lettuce seeds to become temporarily dormant and germination will not occur
  • To have a steady supply of lettuce available throughout the season, plant seeds every ten days to two weeks
  • You can continue planting and growing lettuce until heavy frosts begin in the fall, though if you have a cold frame, you can stretch your lettuce season a little further, depending on your climate

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  • In the spring, lettuce does best in full sun, but once the summer heat hits, it performs better if it is in partial shade
  • When planting consecutively, begin planting your seeds in partial shade starting late spring
  • Giving the plant some relief from the hot sun will slow the “bolting” process (when a plant begins to flower and produce seed); bolting also causes the lettuce leaves to become bitter
  • To slow down the bolting process, once it starts go grow upward, break off the top center of the plant before it goes to seed

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  • Lettuce has a short, dense root system. Because the roots don’t go down very deep, it is important that you plant it in humus-rich (dark organic matter such as compost or aged manure), well-drained soil
  • Test the pH level in your soil; lettuce requires a pH between 6.0 – 6.8
  • Lettuce likes high levels and steady doses of nitrogen, so apply a natural quick release form of nitrogen such as blood meal or compost tea and a slower release form such as composted manure (see How to Make Compost) or alfalfa meal to keep the nitrogen supply steady throughout the growing season

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  • To keep your lettuce seeds pure, plant lettuce varieties a minimum of 12 feet apart to prevent cross-pollination

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GETTING STARTED INDOORS (and transplanting)

  • For an earlier lettuce crop, lettuce seeds can be started indoors up to 4-6 weeks before your area’s last frost date
  • With lettuce seeds, light is the most important element for germination, so keep trays in a sunlit area or under grow lights

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SOWING AND GROWING (Planting seeds directly into the garden)

  • When planting lettuce seed in your garden, you can either broadcast seed and lightly rake to cover them, or plant seeds in rows, ¼ inch deep 1″ apart
  • Lettuce seeds are very small and it is somewhat difficult to control the quantity of seeds you drop when planting. Rolling them between your index finger and thumb gives you a little better control
  • Once your lettuce has grown four leaves, thin your plants to remove excess seedlings to allow room for growth
  • Allow 12-14 inches between plants when growing head lettuce (such as Iceberg and Summer Crisp types)
  • If you are harvesting leaves for salads on a regular basis, only 4″ spacing is needed

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  • Lettuce needs a steady supply of water, but not a heavy amount
  • If the soil becomes dry, your lettuce will not only stop growing, the leaves will also become bitter-flavored

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  • The best companions for lettuce are carrots, garlic, onions, and radishes
  • Lettuce doesn’t seem to have any enemies and can be planted next to any vegetable or flower
  • Jenny’s Tip: A row of alternating red and green leaf lettuce varieties can make an eye-catching and nutritious border in your flower bed or a nice accent in your containers
  • Lettuce grows best when it is not planted where radicchio, artichokes, or endive grew the previous year
  • To prevent disease, plant your lettuce in locations where lettuce has not been grown in three years

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  • If you like your lettuce leaves more crisp, harvest them in the morning; the cool night air will make your lettuce leaves more crisp than those harvested later in the day
  • You can begin to harvest outer lettuce leaves (except for head lettuces) when they are large enough for a salad – about 6″ tall – or when the stability of the plant is not weakened by the removal of a few outer leaves
  • Continue to harvest until a center stock forms
  • If harvesting full lettuce heads, cut the head at the base 1 inch above the soil level and a new head will begin to develop
  • Depending on the growing season, you may also be able to harvest a third head of lettuce
  • Once a center stock begins to form, the plant is beginning to bolt; when lettuce bolts, the leaves become bitter and are no longer edible

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  • Eating lettuce fresh from the garden provides the best flavor and quality
  • If you keep lettuce in a plastic bag, free from moisture, most lettuces will last 1 to 2 weeks
  • Lettuce cannot be stored long-term

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  • Save seeds from the last plant to bolt as early bolting is a negative trait that will carry through to the seeds
  • Lettuce seeds are ready for harvest 12-24 days after flowering
  • Seeds will not all ripen all at once, so to get the highest quantity of seeds from your plant, shake the seed heads into a large paper bag once a day during the ripening process and keep the bag stored in a dry location at night

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You can leave a question or comment.

3 Responses to “How To Grow Organic Lettuce”

  1. Sjef Says:

    Hello. My name is Sjef. I am a Dutchman, 59 years old.
    I started 2 identical web logs with “simple tips” about growing vegetables (many photos): http://sjeftuintips.web-log.nl/ (in Dutch, finished) and http://sjefgardentips.wordpress.com/ (in English, just started). Tip 14 is about sowing lettuce. Each week I sow 2 groups and cover the sowing place with a black flower pot. After about 10 days I remove the pots. When lettuce plants are bigger I pull out plants until there is 1 plant left per group. Those 2 plants grow to a big heads.

  2. j. Canale Says:

    I have been watering my lettuce with water from the bay water on which I live. Today my husband said the water smells like sewage and not to use it any more on the vegetables. I think it smells like algae. Nevertheless, is there a danger or do lettuce and/or other veggies assimilate the water and “sieve out” any ecoli, etc.?

  3. Jenny Says:

    If in doubt, have the water tested or talk with your county extension. They may already have testing results. I don’t know if you are on a spring-fed lake in an unpopulated area or in San Francisco but I personally wouldn’t take the chances of adding something harmful to my garden. When in doubt, test! You’ll have more peace about it.

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