How to Grow Lettuce: Care Tips
Lettuce is easy and quick to grow, giving you tasty, freshly picked leaves whenever you need them. By growing your own, you can try lots of different varieties without worrying about the shelf life - cut them and they’ll grow more. Here’s how.
Most common Lettuce plant questions
When can I plant Lettuce?
You can plant out lettuce from April all the way through to September. Plant out a new batch of lettuce every two weeks to give yourself a continuous, fresh supply of lettuce throughout the summer.
How much sun does Lettuce need?
Plant Lettuce in full sun. Your plants will need to be positioned where they’ll receive 6-8 hours of sunlight every day. Lettuce can also grow in partial shade, somewhere such as under thin foliage of other veg plants like climbing tomatoes or peas. They will, however, take slightly longer to grow but it is one way you can maximise the space in your veg patch.
How far apart should I space Lettuce?
Lettuce should be planted 20cm apart in rows which are 30cm apart. If you are growing lettuce in pots then plant them around 15-20cm apart and make sure the pot you are using has drainage holes.
How to plant Lettuce
Dig a small hole just large enough for the roots to fit into. Pop the plant in and fill in with soil, firming in gently with your fingers. Give the plant a watering to help the soil settle around the roots. Be careful not to submerge any of the leaves in soil when planting. This can lead to rot and cause a significant part of the plant to die.
How much water does Lettuce need?
Lettuce needs to be regularly watered so that the soil stays moist. During a hot summer period this may require watering the plants every day. You should try and water the plants during the morning when it is cool so they can drink and then have the surface moisture evaporated off. This will help prevent slug damage during the night.
How to care for Lettuce plants
Keeping the space around your Lettuce plants free of weeds will prevent disease and pest damage. This will also improve vitality as the plants won't be competing for nutrients. Hoe in between rows and handpick individual weeds. You can plant lettuce in a polytunnel or under a horticultural fleece to extend your growing season from March through to the winter.
How to harvest Lettuce
Harvest Lettuces by cutting them off at the base of the plant. Lettuce grown from a plug takes around 6-8 weeks to grow. For loose-leaf varieties, you can simply harvest the leaves once they have grown to the desired size. You can harvest entire lettuce heads by simply cutting them off at the base of the plant leaving only the roots left in the soil. With loose-leaf varieties you can also simply cut off the individual leaves when you want them with some sharp scissors and the plant will continue to produce new leaves extending the cropping period. Just leave the central leaves so the plant can keep growing.
Common Lettuce plant problems
The most common lettuce problem is slug damage.
Lettuce plants are especially vulnerable when they are seedlings, so buying them as plugs gives them a bit of a head start but they will need protection if slugs are a known threat in your garden. Read below for more information onto how to protect your plants from slugs and snails.
Slugs and Snails
The first step in defending your plants against slugs is to keep the area around them clean of weeds, debris, and generally any little thing that they could hide under during the day.
The second step to deter slugs is to water in the morning so that the ground can dry up by the evening when they come out to feed. Slugs and Snails hate drying out, preferring to travel over moist surfaces.
The third thing you can do is try to create a barrier around the lettuce. You can do this by using copper tape, which reacts with the mucus produced by snails and slugs, or crushed egg shells which causes little cuts which will then dry them out. When forming a barrier, be sure the plant is touching any other surface, such as a wall, which they can use to climb up and form a bridge.
The fourth thing you can do is set traps around your plants to draw them away and perhaps kill them. A typical slug trap involves digging a hole and placing a cup, or water bottle cut in half and putting it in the hole so the rim is level with the ground. Then pour in a little bit of beer or ale. The slugs and snails will be drawn to this and hopefully when they go to drink the beer they’ll fall in and be unable to climb back out. The trap will then need to be replaced every two nights.
Finally, you can try to implement some biocontrol, which basically means trying to bring in more slug predators into your garden. It is quite difficult to create perfect conditions of hedgehogs, slowworms and other predators but if you can then that is fantastic. If not, you can use nematodes. Nematodes are parasitic worms that will go into the soil, find the slugs underground and cause them to die. Nematodes are harmless for other wildlife, the plants or you when you eat the plant so they are a fantastic organic solution to combating against slugs and snails. Just make sure you carefully read and follow the instructions on the packaging.