The pros say lettuce is one of the easier crops to grow for newby gardeners.
And specialty lettuces generally aren’t any more difficult to grow than more common varieties.
“To me all lettuce is created equal, if you take care of it right,” said Kathy Gratzer of Oak Ridge Farm in Roy.
Here are a few tips:
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• Lettuce likes cool weather. Planting most varieties in spring is best, though gardeners can get away with planting some types now, especially if you buy lettuce starts. Check the seed packet or grower recommendations for varieties that tolerate heat. Once the hot weather starts, many varieties become bitter and start to “bolt,” which means go to flower.
• Josh Kirschenbaum, with Territorial Seed Company, advises beginners try a loose leaf lettuce or romaine before tackling a head lettuce such as iceberg or butterhead. It can be tricky to get head lettuces to form a head unless they’re planted at the right time of spring. He also suggests trying a mix of varieties sold in one packet to see which ones you prefer.
• Lettuce can be sown directly in the garden. The tiny seeds need just a 1/8-inch cover of soil. Depending on the variety, space 8 to 15 inches apart in a sunny spot in the garden. Planting starts allow you to harvest two to three weeks earlier than those from seed.
• Gratzer spreads organic-matter compost over hers.
• Water thoroughly, don’t let them dry out.
• Specialty lettuces are for more than just eating. Browse seed packet photos in the garden store or online and consider planting specialty lettuces as ornamentals.
• Slugs are the worst enemy of lettuce. Planting in raised beds helps deter the slimers. Depending on your philosophy on pesticides, you could use slug bait around the perimeter of the lettuce bed or handpick the munchers off leaves.
• Growing lettuce in pots is a good alternative for urban gardeners with little space. Shop at farmers markets to find a mix of lettuce types already growing in pots. If you plant your own, buy a pot or patio blend that typically has varieties with a compact growth habit, Kirschenbaum says.
Even the live lettuce bowls, however, should be left outside to get at least six hours of sunshine a day. If kept inside, plants can become leggy from the lack of sun, he says.
• Whether in the garden or a pot, once the plants have a few leaves, start harvesting the outer leaves to use as tender, baby greens.
• Lettuce is a relatively quick-growing crop. Depending on the weather, from sowing to harvest can take just six to 10 weeks. “They grow slower when it’s cool even though they like the cool weather,” Gratzer said. “The sun comes out, and you can see the growth start on them.”
• For more information, go to:
www.mastergardeners.org and search for “growing lettuce year round.”
www.ehow.com and search for “how to grow lettuce”