Vegetable Overview: Lettuce


Discover how to grow Lettuce with instructions on starting seed, transplanting, site selection, care and maintenance, water and fertilization requirements, pests and disease, and harvesting and storage.

Lettuce Stats at a Glance

Soil Type: Well-drained
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil pH: 6.0-6.5

Planting Instructions

Can I Start Lettuce from Seed?

Deciding whether or not to start seeds indoors will depend on the type of lettuce you are planning to grow.  Crisp head varieties require a very long growing season and generally need to be set out as transplants.  Butterhead and romaine varieties can be started early or sown directly into the garden.  Leaf varieties are generally sown directly into the garden.


To start indoors, fill individual peat pots with a fertile commercial soil starter and moisten.  Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil. Press them lightly into the soil to ensure contact with growing medium. Place in a room with a constant temperature of 70-75°F.  Cover with clear plastic wrap to maintain the soil moisture and temperature.  Keep the soil moist.  When seedlings appear, remove the plastic wrap and move to a sunny location.



When Do I Plant Lettuce?

All lettuce varieties perform best in cool, moist conditions.  Leaf lettuce can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring and the soil temperature is at least 45°F.  Head lettuce can be transplanted in the early spring.


Soil Temperature: 45-75°F


Where Do I Plant Lettuce?

Lettuce plants perform best in loamy, well-drained soil high in organic matter but will grow in nearly any good garden soil that receives full sun and is well-drained. Incorporating several inches of organic matter into the soil when preparing the bed will improve growth and development.

Soil Type: Well-drained
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil pH: 6.0-6.5


How Far Apart Do I Plant Lettuce?

Sow leaf varieties 20 seeds per foot in rows that are 18” apart.  Thin seedlings to 6”.

Head varieties require more room and should be transplanted at 12” intervals in rows that are 3 feet apart.

Lettuce Plant Care and Maintenance

How Often Should I Water Lettuce?

The key to watering Lettuce is to maintain a consistent moisture level.  The seeds are very small and the root system is shallow so adequate moisture levels are important. The soil should be moist to a depth of 6”.

Water the soil around the plant. Overhead watering will encourage disease.  Drip irrigation is best.

Mulch around the plant will help to lock in moisture.


Should I Fertilize Lettuce?

Fertilizing decisions should be based on a soil test.  If a soil test cannot be obtained, Lettuce generally perform well with a 5-10-10 fertilizer worked into the soil prior to planting.

Fertilize the soil around the plant at least 6” from the plant base. Irrigate into the soil.


Additional Care Instructions

Hand pull weeds that development in the garden as more aggressive cultivation could harm the plant roots.

At the end of the season, remove all spent plants from the garden to discourage mildew.

Lettuce Diseases

The most common diseases associated with this plant include big vein, bottom rot, leaf drop, downy mildew, and powdery mildew.

Lettuce Pests

The most common pests associated with this plant include aphids, beet armyworm, beetles, caterpillars, crickets, cabbage looper, corn earworm, leafminers, Tobacco budworm, thrips, and whiteflies.

Harvesting and Storing Lettuce

When Do I Harvest Lettuce?

Lettuce takes 40-80 days to mature depending on the type. Head lettuce is ready to harvest when the center is firm.  Leaf varieties should be picked when the leaves are still young and tender-5-6” tall.  Bibb lettuce leaves will curl inward when ready to harvest.  Romaine leaves begin to overlap and become compact.


How Do I Harvest Lettuce?

Leaf lettuce can be picked as needed by removing the outside leaves of the plants.

Butter head and romaine can be harvested by removing the outer leaves, or by cutting the bunch near the base of the plant.


How Do I Store Lettuce?

Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to one week.

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