How to Grow Lettuce

Updated on January 21, 2020
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


I wanted to expand the growing season in my garden by adding cool season vegetables in the spring and the fall. Lettuce was the first thing that came to mind but which kind? There are so many to choose from.

What is Lettuce?

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is an annual plant that is grown mainly for its leaves but in some parts of the world, for its stems and seeds. It is thought that the Egyptians were the first to cultivate lettuce, developing it from a local weed that was used for its oily seeds. From Egypt, it spread to Greece and then to Rome. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Europeans began to hybridize it and create the many varieties that are known today. The exception to this is stem lettuce (L. sativa var. angustana) which was developed in China. It used in Asian cooking.

Stem Lettuce
Stem Lettuce | Source

There are four main types of lettuce:

  • Leaf or bunching lettuce has loosely grouped leaves and does not form a head. It is used in salads.
  • Romaine or Cos lettuce grows upright forming tightly packed narrow heads. You will often find it in Caesar salads.
  • Iceberg or Cripshead lettuce is the classic head forming lettuce and is the most popular lettuce in the US.
  • Butterhead, also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce. It has a looser head than iceberg. The flavor is sweeter and the leaves are tender rather than crisp.

Romaine Lettuce
Romaine Lettuce | Source

Three lesser known lettuces, at least here in the US are:

  • Summercrisp, also known as Batavian or French crisp. It’s appearance is midway between iceberg and leaf lettuce. The heads are larger and the plants are more bolt-resistant.
  • Stem lettuce is grown for its seedstalk rather than its leaves. As noted above, it’s used in Asian cooking.
  • Oilseed lettuce is grown for its large seed from which an oil that is used in cooking is produced. It has fewer leaves and bolts more quickly than the other kinds of lettuce.

Batavia Lettuce
Batavia Lettuce | Source

How to Grow Lettuce

Lettuce requires cool weather to grow. Temperatures above 80⁰F cause it to bolt which means that it flowers then produces seeds then dies. The leaves become bitter when the plants bolt. The plants will freeze below 32⁰F. Their ideal temperature range is 45⁰F to 65⁰F. You can extend their growing season by growing them where taller plants will shade them. Lettuce also grows well in containers if you have limited space or no yard to garden in.

Prepare your garden by raking the soil to loosen it. Large clods of soil will prevent the seedlings from growing. Sow the seeds 4 weeks before your last frost in the spring or 4 to 8 weeks before your first frost in the fall. Seeds should be sown ¼ inch apart and ½ inch deep in rows 12 to 15 inches apart. The soil temperature in the spring should be at least 35⁰F. Germination will occur within 6 to 12 days. When your plants have 4 leaves, you can thin them. Proper spacing for leaf lettuce is 4 inches apart, for Romaine, 8 inches apart and for head lettuce, 16 inches apart.

While they are growing, make sure your lettuce gets at least 1 inch of water each week. A thick layer of mulch will keep your plants from drying out in between waterings. Lettuce needs lots of nitrogen. You can side dress your plantings with compost and fish emulsion once or twice during the growing season. A slow release fertilizer can be used instead if you prefer.

Boston Lettuce
Boston Lettuce | Source

How to Harvest Lettuce

No matter which kind you grow, harvest your lettuce in the morning when it is most crisp. You can store in your refrigerator if you aren’t going to use it right away.

Leaf lettuce is usually harvested by cutting off the leaves from the outsides of the plants, leaving the growth tip or bud in the middle to produce more leaves. You can also cut off the plant at the base to harvest all of the leaves at once. This is usually done at the end of the season to prevent the plant from bolting in the hot summer weather or freezing in the cold of late autumn or early winter.

Romaine lettuce is harvested after its characteristic rib forms and the plants have formed their upright clump.

Green Oak Leaf Lettuce
Green Oak Leaf Lettuce | Source

Bibb lettuce can be harvested either by picking the outer leaves like leaf lettuce or you can wait until the heads have formed and harvest the entire plant by cutting it off at the soil line. The heads should be 6 to 8 inches across when they are ready for harvest.

Iceberg lettuce can also be harvested either by using only the outer leaves or by waiting until the heads have formed. The heads are ready for harvest when they feel firm when lightly pressed.

Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg Lettuce | Source

How to Store Lettuce

Lettuce can be stored in a loose plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to ten days. Avoid storing it with fruits that give off ethylene gas such as apples, pears and bananas. Ethylene gas is a ripening agent. Exposed to it, your lettuce will wilt and then rot.

© 2018 Caren White


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      2 years ago

      You're welcome Dianna! Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years ago

      When I had a garden years ago lettuce was such a main stay for our diets. After reading your post, a garden would be such a blessing right now. I am glad to know that I am storing them properly, thank you!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)