The taste of home grown lettuce is so much better than store bought salad leaves. Like many other salad vegetables, it is at its very best when picked and eaten fresh.
Although it appears rather flimsy, lettuce is quite a hardy plant, enabling it to be cropped throughout most of the year, if sown in succession.
Soil Type: Humus rich, moist but well drained soil.
Conditions: Sunny (shade from very hot sun).
Ease of Cultivation: Easy
Type: Salad Vegetable.
Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.
When to Sow: Spring to early Autumn.
Harvest Season: Spring to end Autumn.
Lettuce is prone to bolting so it is best to sow
little and often for a succession crop. Bolting is
mainly caused by irregular watering or exceptionally
hot weather. Therefore shade from hot mid-day sun.
They are short rooted and will grow in a several inches of compost, making them an ideal crop for containers.
If your soil is poor, try Butterhead varieties, which are more tolerant of difficult conditions.
Lettuce can be direct sown in any well tilled good garden soil and will grow in most soils so long as they are moisture retentive (but not waterlogged). Dig over and break down to a good fine tilth and rake in a general purpose fertilizer before sowing.
Direct sowings can be made as soon as the soil warms up in the spring. Sow in short shallow drills at a depth of 1/2in (1cm). Thin to suit the variety. Small and medium lettuces will required about 6-10in (15-25cm) between plants. Large plants around 1ft (30cm). It is best to make sowings in the afternoon, once the heat of the day has faded.
Early sowings (February/March) can be made under-glass in modules, trays or small pots of seed compost. Thin to one seedling per module/pot and plant out after around three weeks. Sow like this every few weeks or so to provide a regular crop.
Germination can be tricky, so follow the instructions on the seed packet carefully.
Over-wintering varieties, from an autumn sowing, should be protected by cloches or planted in a cool greenhouse.
Lettuce is an ideal inter-crop vegetable, that can be quickly grown between other, longer maturing crops such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
Although fairly easy to grow they can be quickly overrun by pests, so keep a regular check on them. Keep weed free and well watered at all times. Avoid disturbing the soil around the plants when weeding as lettuce is shallow rooted.
Downy mildew can be a problem, mainly in the cooler months of early spring and late autumn. In prolonged periods of cold wet weather, you could protected the crop with ventilated cloches to help keep the leaves dry. Watering in the early morning or only watering around the base, and not over the leaves, can also help. Resistant varieties are available if downy mildew is a problem in your region.
Keep a particular watch for slugs, snails and aphids. Simply wash them off as soon as they appear. If slugs are a problem, lay a line of sharp sand/grit around the plants to deter them.
Cutworms, leatherjackets, wireworms and root aphids can attack the roots. If the plants wilt suddenly, dig one up and check the roots for signs. If these pests are a problem, use an appropriate insecticide that is safe for use on vegetables or grow resistant varieties in future. Growing lettuce in raised containers of fresh compost can also alleviate the problems of root pests.
Cut 'heading' or 'butterhead' varieties as soon they have hearted up - approximately eight to ten weeks after sowing. Do not leave these longer or they will spoil.
Cut loose leaf varieties as soon as there is enough leaves available. Harvest the whole plant or remove a few of the outer leaves, as and when you need them.
Lettuces are very low in calories. 100 g fresh leaves provide about 15 calories. Nevertheless, they do contain many healthy phytonutrients. They also contain Folate, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Vitamin A, C, E, K and electrolytes.
Lettuce is available in many different varieties and colours. Four main types include:
Lettuce 'All The Year Round' (Butterhead) is a medium size lettuce with solid, crisp hearts. Hardy, reliable and dry weather tolerant. Ideal for successional spring/summer sowings and autumn sowing. Hearts are ready to harvest from 10 weeks after sowing. Height 6in (15cm), spread 12in (30cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Antartica' (Iceberg/Crisphead) Long season variety. Crunchy and tasty dense hearts, ideal for summer salads. Resistance to bolting and downy mildew. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Arctic King' (Butterhead) is a fine, large, light green lettuce with tasty, crinkled leaves. Good cold resistance, ideal for autumn sowings. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Bionda Lenta a Montare' (Romaine) is a firm crisp, dark green form with solid hearts that stand well in hot weather. Ideal for Caesar salads. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Claremont' (Romaine/Cos) a neat mini-cos producing large, dark green, upright hearts. Vigorous but bolt resistant with good downy mildew resistance. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Frisco' (Cos) is a popular variety for salads. Good resistance to bolting. Height and spread to 8in (20cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Great Lakes' (Iceberg/Crisphead) is a bright green, crisp 'Iceberg' with good bolt resistance. Ideal for spring or summer sowing. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Intred' (Romaine/Cos) is an upright and compact cos form with reddish-purple outer leaves and a red heart. Good resistance to bolting. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Kyrio' (Loose leaf) quick and easy to grow. Direct sow in beds or containers. Long cropping season. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Lakeland' (Iceberg/Crisphead) good quality crisp head with small compact heads. Fast maturing and slow to bolt. Succession sow from spring to July. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Little Gem' (Cos) very popular cos form with a sweet, crispy heart and tasty outer leaves. Height and spread to 8in (20cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Lollo Rossa' (Loose Leaf) easy-to-grow in beds or containers. The loose heads of finely frilled crimson edged leaves are an attractive addition to salads. Height 6in (15cm), spread to 10in (25cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Maureen' (Cos) is a dark green smooth uniform lettuce with a compact habit and a prolonged season. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Rossa a Foglia Riccia da Tavolo' (Loose-Leaf) is a fine loose leaf form that provides abundant bronzed leaves, ideals for salads and garnishes. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Salad Bowl' (Loose Leaf) is a large, medium-green, slow bolting tender form that is reliable and easy-to-grow. The tender curvy leaves are ideal for salads. Height 6in (15cm), spread to 10in (25cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Tom Thumb' (Butterhead) a fast maturing, compact lettuce, ideal for smaller gardens and patio containers. Sow successively for an ongoing supply throughout summer. Heads store well in a refrigerator. Height and spread 6in (15cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Valmaine' (Romaine/Cut And Come Again) a reliable and highly productive sweet tasting lettuce. Early sowings should mature in about 60 days and mid-season sowings in about 40 days. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Warpath' small compact form with good heat tolerance and little risk of bolting. A cross between iceberg and cos, proving dense crunchy hearts, wrapped in looser leaves. Grow as baby leaves or leave to mature in around 75 days. Available from Thompson & Morgan.
Lettuce 'Webbs Wonderful' (Iceberg/Crisphead) popular variety with a fresh crisp taste. The large, crinkly leaves form a big tight-centre. Ideal for salads and sandwiches. Slow to run to seed. Height 8in (20cm), spread to 12in (30cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Winter Density' (Cos) ideal for over winter growing with exceptionally cold resistance. Produces large heads of light green leaves, with a tasty flavour. Height 8in (20cm), spread to 10in (25cm). Available at Van Muewen.
Lettuce 'Winter Gem' (Cos) ideal for growing from September to January in a unheated greenhouse or cold frame (not suitable for growing outdoors). The delicious small, crunchy, sweet hearts should be ready to harvest from January onwards. Available from Thompson & Morgan.