A salad made of fresh, crisp lettuce is one of the easiest ways to add variety, texture, nutrition and flavor to your table. If you are considering adding lettuce to the crops in your garden, there are four major types from which to choose. Your choice will depend not only on your taste preferences, but on the length of your growing season. Although all types of lettuce are cool weather crops, some types are more heat tolerant than others. Depending on the type, the time from seed to table can range from 45 to 80 days.
Crisphead lettuce includes the familiar crispy iceberg lettuce, as well as other head lettuce such as Great Lakes or Ithaca. Crisphead lettuce is the most difficult type to grow in the home garden. Although crisphead lettuce requires a fairly long growing period (70 to 85 days), it is intolerant of hot weather and bolts quickly, resulting in unusable, bitter lettuce.
Butterhead lettuce is another head-type lettuce, but unlike tight crisphead varieties, butterhead consists of large leaves that fold, one leaf over another, forming a loose head. Butterhead lettuce, which includes Summer Bib and Buttercrunch, are slightly more heat-tolerant and slower to bolt than crisphead varieties. Butterhead varieties require about 75 days to mature.
Leaf lettuce, also known as "bunching" lettuce, forms a loose bunch rather than a head. Leaf lettuce varieties such as Bronze Leaf, Black Seeded Simpson and Salad Bowl are the easiest types of seeds to grow in the home garden. Leaf lettuce matures quickly (45 days), making it a good candidate for planting a few seeds every week, resulting in fresh leaf lettuce all summer and into autumn.
Romaine lettuce, also known as "Cos," forms tightly folded, upright leaves that are pale green in the center and darker green on the outside. Romaine is the sweetest of the lettuce varieties, is fairly heat-tolerant and matures from seed to table in 70 days. Varieties include Paris Island, Cimmaron and Valmaine.