Homegrown salads are healthy, tasty and packed full of vitamins when freshly picked. What’s more, it’s also much cheaper to grow your own salad!
Lettuce is simple to grow, and you can go for traditional favourites such as cos, iceberg and little gem, or why not try a loose-leaf, oak leaf type, or a peppery rocket? Whichever you choose, here’s our growing guide for how to grow lettuce.
When to plant lettuce
Growing lettuce from seed is incredibly easy, and you can sow them any time between spring and summer – or keep on sowing every month for a continuous supply. An autumn sowing will give you lettuce through the winter.
How to plant lettuce
It is important to know how to grow lettuce in a spot where they will thrive; lightly shaded locations are best. Alternatively, you can grow lettuce in window boxes or containers filled with potting compost.
Sow your seeds straight out into location – lettuce plants don’t respond well to being moved. Firstly, dig over the soil and remove any stones you turn up. The next step is to mix in well-rotted manure or garden compost, then rake over.
Create a drill using the tip of a cane – around 1 to 2 cm deep. Take a pinch of seed and spread this thinly along with the drill. Short rows around 30 cm apart will give the plants plenty of space. Cover over the trenches with soil, and water in.
To maximise your vegetable garden, you can pop in a row of lettuces between other crops. Lettuce is an ideal crop for growing in the UK as the plants thrive in a cooler, wetter climate! If you find the lettuce leaves are being produced with a leathery quality, put more organic matter into the soil, as the plants are not growing quickly enough.
You may want to use netting to keep away any birds that consider the seed as food. Thin out the row of seedlings once they reach 2 cm or so in height, leaving each plant enough space according to individual variety (between 15cm and 30cm).
Traditional lettuce such as Cos, Little Gem or Webb’s Wonderful is harvested either by cutting off the head at the base with a sharp knife or uprooting the whole plant. Remove any stumps as these will attract pests such as aphids.
After the lettuce heart has formed, you have around 5 to 7 days to harvest before the plant ‘bolts’, producing a thick flowering stem. With loose-leaf and ‘cut and come again’ varieties, the more you harvest leaves, the more the plant will remain productive. The latter can also be severed just below the head, leaving a stump where a new plant will quickly sprout. Begin to harvest ‘cut and come again’ varieties when they reach around 5 cm high.
Through the year
Hoe around your plants regularly to keep weeds down, and ensure that you protect your plants from slugs.
It is an absolute key to always keep the soil moist. If the plants dry out in the weeks before harvest, they will divert energy into flowers. Hardier winter-growing varieties of lettuce (such as ‘Winter Density’) can provide a full salad bowl all year round. If you notice any signs of greenfly (aphids) – e.g. a sticky honeydew on the plants – then protect against them either with a spray or by using fleece as a barrier.
Ready to plant your own vegetables now you know how to grow lettuce? Take a look at our vegetable seed collection.