Growing Lettuce

Michelle RobertsGardening, Planting Tips


The name lettuce comes from the latin word “lactis” which means milk. It was named for the milky white substance that comes from the stem when it is broken in half. Wild lettuce, also known as prickly lettuce is believed to be the same lettuce that grew anciently as far back as 4500 BC.  Most of us are familiar with this plant and refer to it as a weed. Although bitter, it is edible.

Prickly Lettuce

Lettuce And The Egyptians

Lettuce had a special place in the hearts and minds of the Egyptians.  It is depicted on hieroglyphics with their Gods. The lettuce seed was ground to make oil, which they considered a fertility medicine. Today there are three main lettuce types.  Leaf lettuce, head lettuce, and romaine lettuce.  Within those groups there are many, many varieties.  In 2010 over 23 million metric tons were grown, half coming from China.   At Roberts Ranch we grow over 5 different varieties of Leaf and Romaine lettuce, enjoying them all in mixed salads, wraps, or sandwiches.

Calories in lettuce are 8 – 10 per cup making lettuce one of those foods you can eat a ton of without any weight watcher worries.

Growing Lettuce Is Fairly Easy

It does best in full sun and nitrogen rich soil.  If using compost, it is best to use compost that is not manure based, but high in nitrogen. Sometimes that may require a nitrogen supplement.  The idea is to encourage plant growth and not reproductive growth.  We don’t want the lettuce to go to flower, manured compost can cause that to happen much sooner than normal. Using green waste compost would be best.Lettuce  can be direct seeded or it can be started inside and set out when the 3rd true leaf has emerged.

Helpful Tips:

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  • harvest lettuce in the morning hours
  • wash or rinse in warm water
  • spin dry and let sit on a dry towel for 15 minutes
  • place in closed plastic bag
  • plant in 10 – 14 day successions so the whole crop of lettuce doesn’t come on all at once

Though it is not a heavy feeder, it is still important to add calcium and minerals to the soil.  At Roberts Ranch we use Azomite, mined just south of us and rich with over 70 trace elements as well as calcium.  We find it to be an excellent soil amendment and also an excellent supplement for ALL the farm animals.  Click on our products tab to purchase Azomite for your plants and soils and animals as well.

Rows can be as close as 10″ or as wide as is necessary to walk between.  Seedlings should be spaced 8 – 14″ apart.  It is important to space the plants that far apart. Healthy lettuce heads can grow quite large.  If seeding directly into the soil, thin to the same distances.  Lettuce grown too close will not form nice heads.


Growing lettuce in containers on decks and patios is a great way to have fresh lettuce while living in an apartment or if you just don’t have land to plant in.  Follow the same procedures, water regularly, reseed often and enjoy lettuce much longer because you can keep it a little cooler. We love growing lettuce in the summer so we can eat it with our cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. This can be problematic because most varieties of lettuce bolt and go bitter in the hot summer temperatures.

Sadly, just when the cucumbers and tomatoes are coming on – the lettuce is inedible. Heat causes lettuce to go to flower and most varieties do just that as soon as the temperatures reach the upper 80’s and 90’s.  That is always so discouraging to the new gardener who thinks they can grow a salad garden with all ingredients ready to harvest at the same time.

Fortunately, there is a variety that stays sweet and crunchy through the heat of the summer and it is called “Jericho” lettuce.  It was developed in Israel to withstand the heat and has been a wonderful treat to eat.  I’m sure there are more varieties that do the same, but I don’t have experience with or know about any other.  Jericho is a romaine that I highly recommend.  We have harvested it all through the summer without any bolting or bitterness.

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