An easy way to enjoy fresh salad right from your own garden is to plant leaf lettuce. Unlike Bibb or iceberg lettuce, which you harvest all at once, leaf lettuce can be harvested as needed, a few leaves at a time, and will continue to produce new leaves over most of the growing season. To make sure there’s always enough lettuce for fresh salad, plant six to 10 plants per family member.
Dig the bed area for your lettuce 8 to 10 inches deep with a shovel in a full-sun location that doesn’t stay too wet or too dry. Add 4 inches of compost over the top of the bed and turn the soil to mix the compost in.
Plant seeds ¼ inch deep, spaced 2 inches apart down each row, making sure your rows have 1 to 2 feet between them. Plant leaf lettuce seeds when outdoor temperatures fall between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit in early spring. Because lettuce will bolt when hot weather comes, you can plant again in late summer once temperatures lower again.
Thin the seedlings to 4 to 8 inches apart once they germinate and have reached 3 inches tall, leaving the strongest, hardiest seedlings in the ground.
Water the seeds well to moisten the bed and keep the bed moist throughout the growing season. For the best results, water in the mornings without wetting the leaves of the lettuce to avoid leaf blemish from occurring.
Pull weeds weekly as the lettuce grows, or use a cultivator to dig up unwanted weeds. Work the cultivator at least 3 inches away from the lettuce to keep from damaging the root systems.
Harvest leaves from the outside of your lettuce, without cutting into the central growth, after about 40 to 50 days have passed. Continuously harvest from each plant, as needed, by simply bending an outer leaf downward and cutting the leaf off 1 to 2 inches above the soil.
Things You Will Need
- Hand trowel
- Leaf lettuce seeds or seedlings
- Testing your soil each spring before planting can give you a better idea of how well your plants will grow. Leaf lettuce prefers a pH of 6.0 to 6.8, and adequate levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
- If you want to use a fertilizer with your leaf lettuce, be sure to fertilize just before planting with a light application. Too much fertilizer can make the lettuce bitter.
- Look for signs of insect damage (chewed leaves, small holes in leaves, brown or yellow spots) as well as that of hungry mammals (large bites or rips in the leaves). If you notice damage, take the necessary measures to control the area using a pesticide suitable for edible plants, or put up fencing.