How To Grow An Endless Supply Of Lettuce

I've been growing lettuce all wrong until this year. Chances are, you have too. Over the winter I watched countless videos and read even more articles on gardening. It was in this research that I realized I needed to throw away everything I know about store-bought lettuce, and make room for the way I needed to start growing my lettuce.

When we had grown various lettuces in years before, I remember waiting for it to form into a ball. If you've ever gardened you know that this doesn't come very quickly. And really... before my lettuce became a full head, it got eaten to piece by bugs. So I figured I'd share a few things we've learned and how we are having an endless supply of lettuce.

1. Pick your garden spot wisely. This may seem obvious, but it's really important. When you are starting your seeds in the end of winter (or even during winter) you'll want your lettuce to be in a sunny location because it's cooler out. But come summer time, you'll want your lettuce in a partly shady spot so it can cool off and be slower to bolt. We even have tucked lettuce into little places where we think other things just may not grow, like in the shade under our bird bath. It only gets an hour or so of direct sunlight, but it's still growing leaves that we can eat. You can grow lettuce among your flowers, in a pot, wherever there is dirt. Just pay attention to the time of year, the sun, and the temperature.

2. Succession sow & grow many plants. Start a new round of lettuce every week or so. When our first lettuce started coming up, we transplanted new lettuce seedlings outside about every two weeks. This has allowed us to harvest lettuce every few days. We also have about 40 lettuce plants right now. That may sound like a lot, but they really don't take up much space. You could fit that many plants in about 16 sq. ft.

3. Plant seeds early. I planted some seeds last Fall, and they popped up as soon as they would be able to grow- at the end of winter. You don't have to plant seeds this early, but you don't have to wait, nor should you, until the weather warms up. Get your first lettuce plants out in very early Spring so you can start harvesting ASAP. Better yet, start those seeds inside so you have actual plants to move outside.

4. Choose varieties that are good for your location. Since we are in Nashville and in the summers is gets very hot and humid, we have a couple varieties of lettuce that are "slow to bolt". These would be the best varieties to grow as the weather warms up. But we also have varities that are  "frost tolerant" or "frost hardy". Those are the ones you should be starting in the cooler months. Make sure you are reading the packets and planting the variety you have at the right time.

5. Don't harvest all at once. Now this is the MOST important tip! Here are the problems with waiting to harvest until your lettuce looks like a head you'd buy at the store. First of all, it will take a lot longer for you to start eating fresh salads from the garden. Second, when you cut down that head, no more lettuce will grow from that plant as you have removed the entire thing from the garden. Third, you will harvest all of your lettuce at the same time and have way too much at once. I once read that lettuce starts losing its nutrients hours after it is picked. To get the maximum benefits of fresh lettuce, you'll want to pick it right before you eat it. So if you have to store a bunch of lettuce at once, you won't be getting the freshest salad experience you could be getting.

Anyway, the way to keep the plant growing is to only take some leaves. Take the outside leaves off first making sure to leave a few leaves. In a few days time, your lettuce will have grown more leaves to harvest. When you harvest lettuce this way, you also get to pick it way earlier than you would if you were waiting to for it to become a head of lettuce.

For example, this Red Romaine plant only has about 4 leaves, but I will take that big one off for our salad. If I waited until this became a full lettuce head, that leaf will have turned bitter. No one likes bitter lettuce. So this is why it's important to have many plants- so you can pick a full salad's worth of leaves every few days. If you have a bigger family (we only use the lettuce for 2 people) you may want to grow more lettuce plants than we do. Or if you think you are only going to be able to eat a salad once a week, plant a little less.

Lettuce Varieties We Are Growing
Rouge d'Hiver Romaine
Little Gem Romaine
Red Sails
Parris Island
Black Seeded Simpson
Hanson Improved Crisphead

Lettuce Varieties We Are Soon Sowing
Oak Leaf
Ice Queen
Salad Bowl Blend

We are trying to get more into the mindset of eating what we have, when we have it. So as long as our lettuce will grow without bolting, we will be incorporating salads into our meals. If you use all of our tips, you'll be on your way to eating the freshest salads every few days. AND you'll never need bitter and stale store-bought lettuce again. Hallelujah!


back to top