If you have ever wanted to know how to plant and grow lettuce, there are many tips available to help you get started. Lettuce is a cool weather plant that grows best in spring and fall. Fresh, home grown lettuce is easy to grow and provides more nutrition and flavor than store bought, making it a wonderful addition to your garden.
Expert Tips to Plant and Grow Lettuce for Beginners
Growing lettuce is easy. However, there are always a few factors to consider before planting. With some preparation and planning, you can grow lettuce for most of the gardening season.
Soil Conditions and Weather Requirements
Lettuce is a cool weather crop and grows best in both spring and fall. In the spring, lettuce seeds can be planted as soon as the soil becomes workable, the seedlings are even able to handle a frost or two.
If you are planning to plant for fall, start planting in late summer, usually around the end of August. Sow seeds in a partially shaded area to protect the seedlings from heat.
This vegetable loves moist, fertile, well-drained soil. Adding compost before planting seeds, and heavily tilling, can provide the best environment for lettuce. Lettuce enjoys soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0.
Seeds can be sown directly into the soil, or can be started indoors. Because lettuce grows quickly, I usually sow directly into the soil. If you are growing your lettuce indoors, start 4 weeks before transplanting.
Be sure to plant seeds 1/4 inch deep. Lettuce seeds are small so planting too many is common. You may need to thin them out as they begin to grow. Once seedlings have at least 4 leaves, it's safe to thin out your lettuce.
Germination takes anywhere from 2-10 days if soil is warm (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit). However, if soil is cold, it may take close to two weeks.
The best location for lettuce is a partially shaded location that has afternoon shade. This vegetable wilts with too much sun and will have a hard time thriving if it's too hot.
Caring for Your Lettuce Crop
During the spring, lettuce requires frequent watering, and usually does best when watered in the morning. You will know when your lettuce needs water as the leaves will begin to wilt. Do not allow the soil to get too dry in between watering. However, too much water will cause root rot.
During the later summer and into fall, lettuce will need some coddling while it's still hot outside. A mostly shaded location and frequent watering will help ensure it makes it into the colder part of the fall. Misting the plant when it's in the shade can also help it remain cool.
Lettuce can benefit from composted soil. Although this is best to be added before planting. Be sure that you keep the area free of weeds as lettuce has a hard time competing against them.
Companion Plants for Lettuce
When planting plants next to lettuce, think of similar soil requirements and temperature needs. Cool weather plants that are shade tolerant do well growing with lettuce.
Some companion plants for lettuce include: peas, other leafy greens (kale, arugula, etc.), carrots, beets, parsnips, onions, radishes, cucumbers and asparagus.
The best companions for lettuce are those that help your lettuce stay healthy. Chives, garlic and marigolds are your best options for lettuce because they keep aphids and other pests away.
What Not To Plant with Lettuce
There are many plants that can be grown with lettuce, however, some do not do well planted with this leafy green. Anything from the Brassica family should be planted in another area. This includes: cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower.
These plants have a particular root secretion that permeates the soil, hindering growth of lettuce, and preventing the germination of lettuce seeds.
When and How to Harvest Lettuce
Harvesting lettuce should be done first thing in the morning, before the heat of the sun causes the leafs to wilt. Once harvested, rinse with cold water. Lettuce can be stored in the refrigerator in a ziploc bag, to ensure freshness. Most harvested lettuce can last for about 10 days.
Lettuce heads should be harvesting when the lettuce first reaches maturity and the head of the lettuce is firm. This will ensure that your lettuce has the best flavor. Waiting too long can result in bitter and woody flavors in the lettuce.
If you are growing loose leaf lettuce, harvesting can be continuous throughout the season. Simply remove the outer leaves and allow additional inner leaves to grow. This is a great option for small families, as lettuce can be harvested on an "as needed" basis.
Common Pests and Diseases of Lettuce
Lettuce is prone to a few pests. These include: aphids, earwigs and cutworms. Planting near beneficial plants (as mentioned above) can cut down on this. Also, making sure that plants aren't too crowded can also help keep pests at bay.
Disease can wreak havoc on lettuce as well. Be on the lookout for white mold. White mold can infect many plants in your garden. Be sure to destroy and plants or leaves immediately if you find it. White mold can be in the soil, or it can be caused by soil that is too moist and overcrowding.
Add Lettuce to Your Garden
Lettuce is a great option for beginner gardeners as it's easy to plant, grow, harvest and can be grown with almost any other vegetable. Plant your seeds every two weeks in the spring to have continual lettuce harvests throughout the season.
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