How To grow Winter Lettuce

Lettuce in Autumn growing outside without winter protection

Late sowings of Lettuce

Although we eat fewer salads in winter,  it is nice to pick fresh leaves, and perfectly possible to grow lettuce throughout the autumn and winter with little effort. 

Lettuce grown during autumn and winter falls into two types. Late summer sown lettuce and rocket planted out late in the veg plot,  which will withstand light frosts which may occur during October and November. Lettuce is hardier than it appears, and late sown summer lettuces will survive cold and light frosts without protection, which means it will crop throughout autumn. This is not strictly  "winter lettuce" but lettuce sown late in the growing season.

In the image on the left, taken in October,  there is rocket and lettuce outside the cloche, and inside.  This was seeded in late summer. The lettuces outside the cloche will be picked first, leaving those under the cloche for consumption in late autumn and early winter.

You can also grow in the autumn and overwinter,  the 'cut and crop' again type rocket, into a container which means it can be covered or moved into shelter if poor weather threatens. In common with Lettuce, Rocket will also tolerate light frosts and spells of cold down to around -5degrees.

The cold on a winter night can be off-putting when to comes to a trip to the veg plot to pick lettuce. Lettuce can be planted into a container near the kitchen door to save the dash out into the cold and wet.

When to Germinate and plant Winter Lettuce

Those varieties of lettuce sold as "winter" lettuce are particularly cold hardy and able to grow in low light conditions.

Sow Winter lettuce or plant out small plants directly into the veg plot in Autumn from August until around November, depending on the conditions. Alternatively, raise in seed trays and transplant in late autumn. When planting out, the small plants have to be sufficiently mature to withstand the cold weather, which is why they need to be germinated in late summer/early autumn.

Plant should be around 20-25cms apart depending on the variety(size) of lettuce.

Plant Winter lettuce into a sheltered sunny area with good drainage, so the plants are not waterlogged. Winter lettuce can be sown from August to November, in shallow rows, and it is good so sow/or plant out fortnightly for a continuous crop. If cold weather is forecast, cloche the small plants. Winter lettuces can be grown on throughout the winter and further sowing can start again in February, under cover. 

If you have a poly tunnel, or greenhouse and are in a sheltered spot, you can sow winter lettuces continuously taking advantage of mild spells over the winter.

When planting a late crop of lettuce, or winter lettuce, whether from seed or as small plug plants, covering with a cloche will help raise the temperature as autumn sets in and produce stronger plants. 

Growing Winter Lettuces

As the more serious cold kicks in, it is better to grow only varieties of lettuce suitable for winter, and even so they will need some winter protection. Looking at the images above, there are two types of lettuce. In the background, the tall lettuce at the far end of the cloche is the summer sown lettuce and in the foreground is the newer varieties of winter lettuce. 

Even seed/small plus sold as winter lettuce, if there is a spell of low temperatures, frost and snow, winter lettuce requires cloche protection. Winter lettuces are tough, but not indestructible. Varieties sold as winter lettuce illustrated here are Winter Purslane, Corn Salad, Land Cress and Winter lettuces ' Density' and ' Winter King'

Once established, take the cloche off in milder days to allow air circulation, to prevent the soil from getting mould, and to allow modest watering.

At the back of the image is a light red leaved lettuce, which is the same lettuce as illustrated above centre pictured in late summer as a large seedling. I planted it out in the veg plot in the late summer and cropped for several months, with protection, providing a continuous supply of lettuce. 

From this it is clear that the demarkation line between winter and summer lettuce is a bit blurred.  The scope to prolong the growing period for summer lettuces may well depend on the aspect of your garden and how much protection is afforded to the crop.

Given that lettuce is expensive in the shops, especially over winter, this makes it an easy to grow economical crop. We are also being asked more and more to consider the potential greenhouse effect when selecting food, and no air miles is always good.

Suggested varieties of Winter Lettuce to Grow

Illustrated above are Winter Purslane, Lambs lettuce, Corn Salad, Land Cress and Winter lettuces ' Density' and ' Winter King' which are traditional varieties of winter lettuce. Also suitable for growing over winter are Oriental greens such as  Mizuna, Mustard Greens, together with  Endive, and Salad Burnet. 

last updated 05.01.2021