How to harvest lettuce: expert tips on harvesting & keeping lettuce fresh


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

Learn how to harvest butterhead lettuce and cut and come again lettuce varieties correctly. With expert advice on how and when to pick lettuce, as well as how to keep lettuce fresh longer.

Lettuce being harvest from garden.
Lettuce has few demands and can thrive even for people whose fingers aren’t as green [Photo:]

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) cannot get any fresher than straight from your own garden. Fortunately, lettuce is extremely easy to grow and can even be grown successfully by people without green fingers. If you cleverly plan your cultivation and grow several types of lettuce, you can harvest lettuce almost all year round and enjoy it straight from your own garden. Read on to find out when lettuce is ready to harvest, how best to go about it and how to keep your lettuce fresh for longer.

When to harvest lettuce

The best time of day to pick lettuce is in the afternoon or evening. The reason for this is that the nitrate content in the leaves varies throughout the day. In the morning, the nitrate content is higher than in the afternoon and evening.

Apart from that, the harvest time also varies for the different types of lettuce. If grown throughout the winter, lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta) can be harvested as early as the end of February. The same is true for curly endives (Cichorium endivia var. crispum). Early loose leaf lettuce varieties (Lactuca sativa var. crispa), sometimes known as cut and come again lettuce, can be harvested from the end of April or beginning of May.

In the summer months, butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitata) and oak leaf lettuce (Lactus sativa var. crispa) can be harvested between May and September and between June and July, respectively, and iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitata nidus tenerimma) between July and September. Romaine or cos lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. longifolia) can be harvested between July and September. Batavia lettuce (Lactuca sativa Crisphead group) is ready for harvesting between June and October. You can also harvest curly endives and lamb’s lettuce in autumn, and luckily, you can continue to harvest lamb’s lettuce all winter long.

Harvesting romaine lettuce with knife
Romaine lettuce is harvested between July and September [Photo: PeJo/]

Quick summary: harvest times for various types of lettuce

  • Lamb’s lettuce: November – February
  • Curly endives: end of February
  • Cut and come again or loose leaf lettuce: from the end of April
  • Butterhead lettuce: May – September
  • Oak leaf lettuce: May – September
  • Batavia lettuce: June – October
  • Iceberg lettuce: July – September
  • Romaine lettuce: July – September

Tip: do not harvest lettuce when it is raining. If the leaves are wet when you harvest them, they will spoil faster.

How to harvest lettuce

Depending on the type of lettuce, either only individual leaves or the whole head of lettuce is harvested. To harvest the head, cut off the stem directly above the soil with a sharp knife. Alternatively, you can also twist the lettuce with its roots out of the ground. Varieties such as loose leaf lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, and rocket are harvested leaf by leaf. Pick or cut off the largest leaves from the outside in as needed; always leave the lettuce crown intact. This is how to harvest lettuce so that it keeps growing and you can continue harvesting for a long time.

Quick summary: how to harvest butterhead lettuce

  • Use a sharp knife
  • Cut off just above the ground
  • Alternatively, twist the roots out of the ground

Quick summary: how to harvest loose leaf lettuce

  • Cut or pick leaves as needed
  • Harvest from the outside in
  • Always leave the lettuce crown intact
Picking loose leaf lettuce
When harvesting loose leaf lettuce, always leave the lettuce crown intact [Photo: rodimov/]

How long does lettuce last after harvesting?

Nothing beats a crisp, fresh salad. Unfortunately, however, this popular green does not last long and withers quickly after harvesting. In general, eat your lettuce as soon as possible, preferably on the day it is harvested. Also, the rule of thumb is that the harder the leaves are, the longer the lettuce will last. Iceberg lettuce is one of the types of lettuce that can be stored longer; it can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days. Romaine lettuce also has a slightly longer shelf life, lasting one to two weeks in the refrigerator. The least durable is lamb’s lettuce; it cannot actually be stored in the refrigerator without damage. All other types of lettuce should be consumed within one to two days of being harvested.

Shelf life of various types of lettuce: at a glance

  • Romaine lettuce: 1 week
  • Iceberg lettuce: 4 days
  • Butterhead lettuce, Batavia lettuce, oak leaf lettuce, loose leaf lettuce: 1 – 2 days
  • Lamb’s lettuce: eat immediately

How to keep lettuce fresh longer

There are a few tricks to make your lettuce last longer after harvesting. First, remove any wilted or rotten leaves. Lettuce keeps best in the vegetable compartment of the fridge. However, it should not be stored together with fruit or tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). These produce the ripening gas ethylene, which only makes the leaves wilt faster. Lettuce keeps best when wrapped in a damp tea towel. You can also sprinkle lemon juice or vinegar on the tea towel to give the lettuce an even longer life in the fridge. Lettuce that has been harvested with its roots will generally keep longer than lettuce that has been cut. While many people wonder whether you can freeze lettuce, the answer is that lettuce, unlike other vegetables, cannot be frozen because it becomes mushy when thawed.

Lettuce being harvested with root
Lettuce that has been harvested with its roots will generally keep better [Photo: DUSAN ZIDAR/]

Tips and tricks to make lettuce last longer:

  • Remove wilted leaves
  • Store in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator
  • Do not store with other fruit or tomatoes
  • Wrap in damp tea towel
  • Sprinkle with vinegar or lemon juice
  • Lettuce with roots will keep longer
  • Do not freeze lettuce

Before harvesting comes planting. Everything you need to know about planting lettuce can be found right here.

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