How to grow: Lettuce

Close up shot of a lettuce head.

Lettuce has to be one of the most popular vegetables to grow. It is fast maturing, the ultimate salad ingredient and can be grown in a relatively small area.

Sown successionally crops can be produced nearly all year round. The choice of varieties is endless and it is best to try several to see which ones you prefer.

There are all kinds including frilly leaved, red leaved, spotted and crunchy. Grow a selection plus a few different salad leaves and you can create some amazing mixed salads full of flavour and goodness for summer eating.

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Varieties

There are different forms of lettuce. Butterhead types have soft leaves and quite an open head. Crisphead types such as Icebergare very crunchy with tightly wrapped heads.

Looseleaf on the other hand have more open heads and the leaves can easily be removed singly so the plant can remain in the ground and you harvest just afew leaves when you want them.

Finally there is Cos lettuce, this forms narrow dense heads of crunchy leaves. Within these types are many different varieties and most are suitable for sowing in succession from March to about August.

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Thereare afew that arequite hardy and can be sown in autumn or early spring. Examples include ‘Arctic King’ or ‘All The Year Round’ (butterhead types).

Row of lettuce heads.

Growing Tips

Sowing/planting

Lettuce can be sown direct or in cell trays first. The latter method does mean you have more control over the early stages of the crop and have less losses due to poor weather or slug attack.

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If you are planning an extra early crop and wish to sow in February or early March it is better to start these off in containers and plant out when they reach about 5cm (2in) high.

Growing on

If sowing direct thin the seedlings as soon as they emerge to give 2.5cm (1in) between seedlings. Then thin as they grow giving them more space. Cos lettuce are quite narrow so leave about 15cm (6in) apart.

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Larger butterhead or crisphead types will require about 30cm (12in) between. The spacings are not critical and you will find that if grown closer together the lettuce will form smaller heads which may be preferable.

Keep the crop well watered at all times. If lettuce is ‘stressed’ at any time, such as caused by lack of water, it can induce premature flowering and the centre of the lettuce will grow upwards.

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