How to Grow lettuce

A quick and easy crop, lettuce is ideal for growing both in containers and in the veg plot. Home grown is so much fresher than the supermarket bags of lettuce, which have a short shelf life. By growing your own lettuce, you can pick and eat lettuce fresh when you want. 

Lettuce is one of the few vegetables which grows well, arguably better, in partial shade. When planting out lettuce, if your veg plot can accommodate, plant lettuces so that they are growing in partial shade. Lettuce grows better if it is a little cooler and out of the sun. Hot dry conditions cause bolting. There are only a few vegetables which are shade tolerant, lettuces are one of the few.

Plant in rows spacing according to variety but lettuces can be planted quite close together and used to in fill spaces in the veg plot. Mixing the colours as in the image top right looks effective.

Lettuce can be grown late into the season into September  & October, especially if protected by a cloche. Lettuce is not hardy but will take a fair degree of cold, so all early and late plants need frost protection. Check out growing Lettuces in Autumn and Winter.

When growing lettuce there is a great choice: all the favourites, loose leaves, cut and come again, Lollorosso, Iceberg and rocket along with various more exotic mixes available and all grown in the same way. There are so many varieties on the market it's hard to choose, which is why picking an AGM variety (Award of Garden Merit) is always a good starting point.  There are literally dozens of different type of seeds and plants to buy. 

Growing Lettuce from seed

Lettuce is easy to germinate, although the seed is small to handle it will germinate in temperatures from 10 to 20 degrees. Early spring in March or April is a good time to start lettuce, in a warm area either under glass or with some gentle heat in a propagator. Once germinated, the seedlings, if bunched together, will need thinning, which means reducing by pulling out extra seedlings so that only a few well-spaced seedlings remain and remove the other seedlings which are over crowding the main plants. The seedlings can be planted outside in late April, early May and Lettuce sown direct throughout June and July.

  A tip when growing lettuce to sow/plant out regularly; fortnightly is a good rule of thumb and easy to remember. By sowing at intervals, you can avoid gluts. Sow the lettuce seed just under the soil surface and always water after sowing. When growing Lettuce, it is important to keep a watch on the small seedings after germination because, if there is a dry spell, the seedlings are prone to drying out and will die.

lettuce is a shallow rooted vegetable, which makes it ideal for containers. If you are short of space you can plant in a shallow container provided there is at least 6inches/15 cms soil depth. 


Growing lettuce is easy, so tagged green wheelbarrow   


Problems when growing lettuce

There are two potential problems when growing lettuce. Slugs and too much heat, causing lettuce to bolt. 

Tender lettuce shoots are caviar to the slugs, so protect. Tips on how to beat the slugs- in the veg garden I prefer either organic slug pellets, beer traps and often a combination of the two can be most effective. 

The other problem when growing lettuce is that it can bolt, especially in hot weather. Bolting is caused by the long days of light and heat, so it occurs mid summer and during a hot sunny spell. Bolting is hard to avoid, especially if we have a heatwave.

Lettuce prefers partial shade and cooler conditions, so bolting can be reduced by planting in shade or providing shade cover when in hot weather. You can also improve the soil so that it retains moisture and mulch once the small seedlings or plants are established to retain moisture and help to reduce the chance of bolting . Also, regular sowing or planting every fortnight should mean there is another crop to come along soon.  

Illustrated below left is a lettuce which has bolted. The lettuce is growing upwards and in a conical tower shape instead of a rounded shape. Below also are some makeshift shade structures put up during a heatwave, a large golf umbrella (watch out for windy weather,) and safer, hessian sacks. It was too little and some of the lettuce crop bolted. This was an exceptionally hot spell of weather 29 C plus no rain and its inevitable there will be casualties. 

Usually I grow lettuces with little or no slug attention, because of two factors. An abundance of frogs in the garden and the use of raised wood beds made from railway sleepers, which are quite rough. Slugs dislike sliding over rough surfaces.

Best Lettuce to grow

The RHS has released the results of their recent 2017 trial of coloured lettuces, which information is always handy to know when selecting which varieties to grow. They planted numerous varieties and trialled at RHS Wisley in Surrey and there was quite a change around with only one cultivar 'Amaze' keeping its AGM. Having grown 'Amaze' many times, it is really good and is illustrated top left. Those lettuces which did well and were awarded the AGM are: 'Edox' which is said to be slow to bolt; 'Feska'is a frilly lollo rossa type; 'Pigale' compact with centre heart; ' Rosdale' is more upright and similar to a cos style of lettuce; 'Sahim'is greener in the heart turning red at the outer leaves, 'Saxo' is all red  and 'Navara' is similar both oak leaved types. 

One of the plus points about growing red lettuces is not only are they great to eat, but they look really attractive, especially planted alongside green lettuce as illustrated in the above centre image. 
Last updated 17.06.2023