Growing Lettuce From Seed is Easy With These Tips

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Growing lettuce from seed is easy with these tips!  Not only does lettuce make a great early spring or fall crop, but some types will tolerate summer’s hot weather too. Here’s how easy it is to master this easy to grow crop!

From smooth and buttery loose leaf lettuces to more heat tolerant romaine lettuces and head lettuce – you will find lots of delicious lettuce varieties that you never knew existed when you decide to grow lettuce in your own garden instead of buying it at the store!

green and red lettuce growing in garden bed

How to Grow Lettuce From Seed

Lettuce is a great plant for beginning gardeners! Not only is garden fresh lettuce really delicious, growing lettuce is also quite easy, depending on the variety.

Lettuce likes a cool growing season, so plant it early in the spring or late in the fall when the weather is cool. I recommend using the winter sowing method to get a head start on your lettuce seedlings with little effort. 

Follow the directions on the seed packet for planting, but in general, lettuce seeds need to be planted ⅛” inches deep. Lettuce seeds need light to germinate, so don’t plant them too deeply or they won’t germinate.

Plant lettuce seeds in full sun. Most varieties need 6-8 hours of sun a day. When the weather turns hot, they will begin to bolt and go to seed.

They can be sown quite closely together if you want to cut lettuce leaves. But space them about 12” apart if you intend to grow crisphead lettuce.

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planting lettuce

When to Plant Lettuce Seeds

Most lettuces are perfect cool weather plants and one of the first you can plant in your garden along with other early spring crops like snap peas and potatoes. Seeds can be planted as soon as the soil reaches 40F. They germinate best in slightly warmer conditions, once the temperature is reliably between 60 and 65F.

Because there is such a wide variety of lettuce plants, make sure to take a look at the seed packet to note your lettuce type’s preferred growing conditions. Cooler season varieties like Rouge de Hiver need only 28 days for baby greens or 60 for a full sized head, while Oak Leaf and Black Seeded Simpson do well in mid summer with some shade. 

Pay attention to what kind of lettuce you have as summer heat will cause it to bolt. Here are some of my favorite cool season greens to consider growing!

How to Plant Lettuce Seeds

Lettuce can be grown by direct sowing seeds in raised garden beds with well tilled soil. Clods of dirt and rocks in the soil are not good for the tiny lettuce seeds and will impede your lettuce success.

Using row covers means you can grow lettuce earlier or later in the year. Using row covers is a great way to enjoy those homegrown salad greens for most of the year.

On the average you’ll want to start seeds indoors seven weeks before your last spring frost date. Our last spring frost date in my zone 5b garden in Eastern Iowa is typically between April 29 and May 15. Calculate your last spring frost date

That means I should start my seedlings indoors around March 11 in my zone 5b Iowa garden.

Lettuce seedlings can be directly sown around four weeks before your last spring frost date in a raised bed, so starting around April 1 in my zone 5b garden. 

Be sure to sow more seeds every week or two so you have a continual harvest thanks to successive plantings.  
Water daily and top dress with organic matter or compost weekly. Use mulch to help maintain moisture in your lettuce bed and to keep the soil cooler.

slug hiding between lettuce leaves

Plant Pests and How to Protect Lettuce Against Them

Slugs, rabbits, deer and cutworms are all after your lettuce so be sure to fence the four legged critters out. You can also use copper tape around your bed edges. For some reason the slugs can’t cross it!

Beer traps are also helpful for trapping slugs. If you have a slug problem, pour some cheap beer in a shallow dish and watch the slugs drown. It’s very satisfying. 

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around lettuce seedlings after watering and any rains to prevent cutworms from cutting your lettuce off at the base.  You can also put collars around your plants – but that requires putting them in when you plant. Sprinkling eggshells around lettuce is also helpful.  

flowering chives

Companion Plants for Growing Lettuce

Companion plants are great because they enhance the growth and help deter pests. Flowers and herbs make great companion plants, and some vegetable combinations work better for certain vegetables than others.

Corn and lettuce grow well together. The lettuce doesn’t need as many garden nutrients as corn and the corn shades the lettuce from hot summer heat. Chives and garlic also make great companion plants as their pungent aromas keep aphids away. 

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harvesting lettuce

When to Harvest Lettuce

Depending on the type of lettuce you grow, you can begin harvesting lettuce pretty quickly. You can clip the outer leaves starting around three weeks. Or if you’d like a full head you can cut it at the base around seven weeks.   
Your lettuce will be cripsest if you harvest it first thing in the morning before the sun hits it.

How to Harvest Lettuce so It Keeps Growing

It is possible to harvest lettuce in a way that promotes regrowth of the same plant. Instead of pulling the entire lettuce plant out by the roots, cut it at the base. You’ll notice new lettuce growing really quickly and in a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to harvest more leaves!

You can also grow lettuce from scraps in water in your kitchen! This is great fun for kids and a nice way to get them interested in gardening.

washing lettuce

How to Make Lettuce Last Longer 

To make lettuce last longer, make sure to cut early in the morning. Then, rinse it in cold water, spin it dry, and store in the fridge. Add a damp tea towel gently folded around it or the bag to keep it fresh. 

The OXO Salad Spinner is one of my favorite kitchen tools for lettuce! It helps make lettuce last longer, and clean it too!

If your lettuce looks a little wilty, just soak it in a bowl of ice water for about 15 minutes!

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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