Growing Lettuce:
How to Grow Lettuce Organically

Growing lettuce will open up literally hundreds of edible leaf options. Most lettuce thrives in cooler weather, so this is one of the crops you can plant early in the year. And many types of lettuce will continue to produce for months, as long as you keep harvesting.

Growing Lettuce: Plant Snapshot (Lactuca sativa)

Growing Lettuce
  • Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower family)
  • Annual or Perennial? Annual – 55-95 days to maturity
  • Recommended varieties: Tom Thumb, Little Gem, Sierra, Oakleaf
  • Cold tolerance: Half Hardy – Will survive light frosts. Seeds germinate at low soil temperatures and can be planted 2 weeks before the average date of the last 32 degree F (0 degree C) temperature in spring.
  • Required Sun: Full sun (at least 6 hours each day)
  • When planning vegetable crop rotation, group with crops from this family: Plants that do not belong to the Asteraceae family. Do not rotate with sunflowers, Jerusalem Artichokes or between different forms of lettuce.
  • Companion plants (see Companion Planting Charts for more info):
    • Companions: Beans, Carrots, Collards, Cucumber, Onion, Radish, Strawberry
    • Avoid: Broccoli, Fava Beans, Grains
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Growing Lettuce: Planting the Seed

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In fertile soil, lettuce is easy to grow from seed. It tolerates cooler temperatures (and even light frost), so it can be planted early in the season. There are so many different types of lettuce that the biggest problem is often deciding which to plant! This plant transplants well, so in colder climates you may want to start indoors and transplant as the average temperature indicates early spring.

To ensure that the top layer of your soil is fertile enough for this hungry plant’s shallow roots, churn a healthy amount of compost into the lettuce beds before planting.

Leaf lettuces are best grown in the early season because they like cool weather, while head lettuce can tolerate more heat. Be sure to give the plants plenty of room - “head” varieties of lettuce require more room than “leaf” varieties (see spacing guidelines in snapshot box below).

Regardless of whether you start them indoors or out and what variety you choose, make sure the seeds receive a lot of light until they germinate. Only cover them with a small amount of soil (about 0.2 inches/0.5 cm), then keep the well-drained bed moist at all times.

Snapshot: Planting Lettuce

  • Planting depth: about 0.2 inches deep for seed( 0.5cm)
  • Spacing in rows: about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm)
  • Germination soil temperature: 40 to 60 degrees F (4 to 16 degrees C)
  • Days to germination: 6 to 12 days
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Growing Lettuce: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

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Lettuce likes full sun and will grow in a wide variety of soil types as long as you have good drainage. However, if the temperature gets too warm (soil climbs above 75 F/24 C), your plants may become temporarily dormant. Therefore, in warmer climates try to give your lettuce plants partial shade during the day.

Because lettuce has shallow roots, it needs to be watered regularly.

It also needs plenty of aeration to prevent disease, so - as mentioned above - don't plant them too close together and be sure to thin seedlings. Watering in the morning is also a good way to help prevent disease.

Snapshot: Growing Lettuce

  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 6.0 to 7.0
  • Growing soil temperature: 40 to 75 degrees F (4 to 24 degrees C)
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Growing Lettuce: Harvesting Time

Looseleaf lettuce varieties can be harvested at virtually any phase, and removing only the outer leaves (instead of pulling up the entire plant or cutting off the plant just above the soil, which are also options) will encourage the plant to continue to grow. Harvesting leaves regularly will also encourage production.

Head varieties should be harvested when the central leaves are fairly firm.

Snapshot: Harvesting Lettuce

  • Time to harvest: 55 to 95 days, depending upon variety
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Storing Lettuce and Freezing Lettuce

Lettuce can be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator in perforated plastic bags for about two weeks. Since it does not freeze well, we recommend successive plantings every two weeks so that you can have fresh lettuce throughout the growing season.

Snapshot: Storing Lettuce & Freezing Lettuce

  • Storage temperature: 32 to 40 degrees F (0 to 4.4 degrees C)
  • Humidity: 90 to 95% relative humidity
  • Storage life (in above conditions): 2 weeks
  • Storage life (frozen): Do not freeze
  • Seed longevity: About 1 year
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Growing Lettuce: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Lettuce. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Aphids
  • Armyworm
  • Bean Weevils
  • Corn Earworms
  • Crickets
  • Cutworms
  • Darkling Beetles
  • Earwigs
  • Flea Beetles
  • Garden Symphylans
  • Grasshoppers
  • Leafminers
  • Loopers
  • Nematodes
  • Snails/slugs
  • Vegetable Weevils
  • Whiteflies

Diseases

  • Damping off
  • Downy Mildew
  • Powdery Mildew
  • Sclerotinia Lettuce Drop (Watery soft rot)
  • Virus Diseases
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YOUR Experience & Advice About Growing Lettuce

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