Growing lettuce: how, when & where to plant lettuce

Lea
Lea
Lea
Lea

Having studied organic farming, I enjoy trying out new cultivation methods and other gardening experiments with friends in our community garden. I care deeply about exploring sustainable and mindful approaches to working with nature. This is my biggest passion, but I am also a real ornamental plant enthusiast!

Favourite fruit: strawberry, mango, guava
Favourite vegetables: artichoke, tomato, rocket

Growing lettuce is both easy and rewarding. Read on to find out where, when and how to plant lettuce at home.

Young lettuce plants in cardboard pots
Growing lettuce is easy and rewarding [Photo: sanddebeautheil/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is easy. So if you are a beginner, this bright green annual might just be for you! Here is everything you need to know about planting and caring for lettuce.

When to grow lettuce?

Every lettuce variety likes to be sown at a different time. And lettuce sown outdoors should not be sown at the same time as lettuce that is pre-sown in a warm greenhouse or windowsill.

Pre-sowing your lettuce indoors will give your plant a head start, and saves seeds. However, it is much more work. Direct sowing is much less time-consuming, but will leave young seedlings susceptible to hungry slugs. As such, if you are sowing lettuce directly outside, it is a good idea to use a plant pot or raised bed.

Sow classic, butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitata) indoors from mid-February, planting it out in March, or directly outdoors from March-April. The same applies to batavia lettuce (Lactuca sativa), iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitata nidus tenerimma) and what is known as loose leaf or cut and come again lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa). Each of these varieties can be sown indoors from mid-April, and outdoors from May-August.

Romaine lettuces growing in veg patch
You can sow romaine lettuce indoors or in a greenhouse as early as mid-April [Photo: Geo-grafika/ Shutterstock.com]

Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia) should be sown outdoors from May-June, or indoors from mid-April, while the variety endives (Cichorium endivia) should be sown later in the year, from June-July, directly into a garden bed.

Lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta) is particularly flexible. It can be sown in autumn or spring. For a harvest before winter, you will need to sow lamb’s lettuce in August. Otherwise you can wait until September, for an early spring harvest, or wait until spring, and sow the seeds from early to late April.

Quick overview: When to sow lettuce?

  • Iceberg lettuce, loose leaf or cut and come again lettuce: sow mid-April indoors; outdoors from May to August
  • Romaine lettuce: sow around mid-April indoors; outdoors from May to June
  • Butterhead lettuce, batavia lettuce: sow indoors around mid-February; outdoors from March to May
  • Endives: June to July
  • Lamb’s lettuce: August to September or early to late April

Where to grow lettuce?

Lettuce feels at home in both sunny and semi-shady spots. The only thing it does not like is full shade. The soil should be moist, loose and well aerated, and preferably, humus-rich. But do avoid over-watering, and be sure to move your lettuce if you have been planting it in the same location for over three years.

Quick overview: the right location and soil for lettuce

  • Sunny to semi-shady location
  • Loose and airy soil
  • Rich in humus
  • Moist, but not wet
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Tip: Lettuce makes a great companion plant. Strawberries (Fragaria) and radishes (Raphanus sativus var. sativus), as well as kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) and dill (Anethum graveolens) grow well together. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum ssp. crispum), on the other hand, does not get on well with lettuce.

Lettuce growing next to lettuce plants
Kohlrabi is a good companion plant for lettuce [Photo: Wellnhofer Designs/ Shutterstock.com]

Instructions for planting lettuce

There are two ways to plant lettuce. You can either sow your lettuce seeds indoors, and move the plants outside later, or directly sow the seeds outdoors. Here is our guide to both.

Pre-seeding lettuce

To pre-sow lettuce, prepare some seed trays with seedling compost. Scatter the lettuce seeds over the trays, and cover with half a centimetre to one centimetre of compost. Lettuce seeds are light germinators so cover them very lightly with compost. Moisten the seeds with a spray bottle, and move them to a bright place that is not too warm – ideally between 10 and 16°C. Your lettuce should germinate within 10 to 14 days. Once sprouted, you can prick out the little seedlings and move them into individual pots.

Quick overview: pre-sowing lettuce

  • Prepare seed trays with seed compost
  • Germination temperature: 10-16°C
  • Sowing depth: 0.5-1 cm
  • Cover seeds only very lightly with soil
  • Moisten with a spray bottle
  • Germination period: 10-14 days
  • Prick out after seedlings emerge

Roughly four weeks after pre-sowing, it is time to transplant your lettuce outdoors.

Planting out lettuce

Whether you are planting pre-sown seedlings outdoors, or planting lettuce seeds directly into your garden, it is important to prepare your bed well. Loosen the soil and remove any weeds and stones, before enriching the earth with compost or a slow-release fertiliser. Our Plantura Tomato Food is ideal for this. It provides lettuce with a fantastic start, and facilitates healthy and productive growth.

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Plantura Tomato Food

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Next, make furrows in the earth. Generally, it is a good idea to leave around 25 centimetres between each furrow, however the distance between rows, as well as between plants, can vary depending on the lettuce variety.

For lettuce seeds sown directly outside, these furrows should be just half a centimetre to one centimetre deep. For pre-sown, young lettuce plants, the furrows should be deep enough for the stems of the plants to protrude from the soil. In either case, once they are outside, water your lettuces well, and if you have sown your seedlings too densely, thin them out once they emerge.

Lettuce seedlings sown in rows
Planting and row spacing depends on the type of lettuce [Photo: OKondratiuk/ Shutterstock.com]

Quick overview: planting out lettuce

  • Loosen the bed well
  • Add compost or slow-release fertiliser
  • Make planting furrows
  • Row spacing: 25 cm
  • Planting distance: 25 cm
  • Cover seed just lightly with soil
  • Make holes for planting
  • Stem should be just above ground level
  • Water well
  • If sowing, thin out after seeds emerge

Lettuce care after planting

Lettuce is more than 95% water. Little wonder, then, that the plants need plenty of hydration to grow, especially in mid-summer. If it is too dry, lettuce becomes firm, and its head will shoot and go to seed.

Most lettuce varieties do not need fertilisation after the initial application. However, to increase nutrient uptake, and to ensure water absorbs into the soil, do hoe around the lettuce regularly. This also has the helpful side effect of removing weeds.

Read more about the best nutrients for lettuce in our article on fertilising lettuce.

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