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How To Grow Lettuce

Home grown salads are healthy, tasty and packed full of vitamins when freshly picked. 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 or Little Gem, try a loose-leaf and oak leaf type, choose the peppery Rocket, or choose a variety which will keep on leafing all summer. Here’s our growing advice for achieving the best crop in your garden.

When and Where to Plant
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.

Grow your lettuces in a spot which is lightly shaded, or in part shade. Alternatively grow them in window boxes or containers filled with potting compost.

How to Plant
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 with the tip of a cane – around 1 to 2 cm deep. Take a pinch of seed and spread this thinly along the drill. Short rows around 30 cm apart will give the plants plenty of space. Cover over the trenches with soil, and water in.

You may want to use netting to keep away any birds which 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 15 cm and 30 cm).

A 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 regularly, the more the plants 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.

Handy Tips
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 quick enough.

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