Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Online Course Icon


Lactuca sativa

Wonderful, colourful lettuce on 1st May – Little Gem, Saragossa, Valmaine, Lollo Rossa and Bijou, sown in mid-February and transplanted on 27th March
Summer 2011 – lettuce in clay soil, after being sown in early June; we have picked these plants three times already
2nd August – lettuce plant longevity in a wet and cooler summer; these were sown in March, transplanted in early April, and we have picked them for 11 weeks consecutively!

Lettuce is of the sunflower and daisy family, called Asteraceae. It was grown firstly for oil-rich seeds, then bred in ancient Egypt to become the plant we know, mostly eaten for salad leaves. This lesson is all about growing lettuce for leaves.

Since I am a professional salad grower and lettuce is one of my passions, even above other vegetables, I have a huge range of photos to share with you. This lesson has many of its words in photo captions, and many of the photo sequences tell you a story. Enjoy!

It took two of us just one hour to pick these leaves from a 30 m/98 ft bed at Lower Farm – this is one week since the previous harvest in early June
Homegrown salad in early March, including Grenoble Red winter lettuce, with homegrown white runner beans and dehydrated tomatoes
Summer lettuce leaves in a salad mix in August, including nasturtium flowers

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 40–70, or 30 for cut baby leaves
  • Best climate is temperate, without excessive heat or intense sunlight, not too dry.

Why grow them

Lettuce grows quickly and easily, and can give harvest regularly for long periods, from just one sowing of only a few plants. This is a salient feature of my methods of growing and harvesting lettuce, all explained here.

Homegrown lettuce is way more than a watery garnish. It has noticeable flavour and beautiful appearance, both in the garden and on the table.

25 plants here in the Small Garden, giving plenty of harvests from 25th April to mid-autumn, a good amount for an average size family
By 29th May, this lettuce in the Small Garden has given four picks so far, for a total of 3.2 kg/7 lb of leaves

Pattern of growth

Lettuce is an annual plant but, if you sow it late enough, it can overwinter as a small plant to grow more in the spring before its flowering season of early summer.

  • The period of maximum leaf growth is spring to midsummer.
  • Throughout this time leaves are of high quality, with less mildew and a wonderful gloss appearance.
  • Late summer through autumn is lettuce’s time for flowering and seeding, so leaf growth is less strong and healthy.
  • Lettuce has hardiness to some frost, varying between types.
12th April – this lettuce bed was transplanted 29 days earlier and has been covered by fleece throughout, no hoops
28th August – these lettuce are three weeks since being transplanted and are now growing fast, ready for first harvest
Salads for winter include Grenoble Red lettuce, transplanted 25 days earlier; also lambs lettuce on the left, spring onion in the middle and endive on the right

Suitable for containers/shade?

A strong yes for lettuce: you can grow it well, both in containers and in the shade. One proviso for growing in shade is to water less often, because slugs love to eat lettuce and thrive in damp conditions, such as when surfaces are always moist.

The plants are not great feeders or demanding of deep beds; in fact, lettuce grows extremely well in quite shallow trays or baskets. Plus, when they are filled with decent quality compost, you often do not need to feed them, just harvest regularly.

Removing the outer leaves of Mottistone lettuce in a pot
Freckles and tall Cocarde in the greenhouse on 9th February – these have already returned four small picks
Container-grown Rubane, sown on 2nd May; now 28th July, after many harvests already

12th April – these plants have been picked all winter in the greenhouse; I sowed them in September, in two different compost types – Moorland Gold multipurpose organic performed best
2nd April, after I had transplanted these lettuce, sown a month earlier under cover; the container has organic multipurpose compost
The same lettuce in mid-July, picked weekly for ten weeks with no feeding; we have Grenoble Red bottom left, Bijou, Freckles and Appleby

Lettuce types

Sow and grow all of these in the same way. The classification is so you know what to expect in appearance and harvest.

1. Cos or romaine, from the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea – mostly large and long green leaves; many varieties grow dense hearts, and they are less hardy to frost than other types.

I love this photo and can’t resist slotting it in here – a toad hiding under lettuce leaves in the greenhouse in November
Maureen cos lettuce for leaves and heads, on 29th May – one head weighed 650 g/1.4 lb

2. Batavian or summer crisp – firm-textured tasty leaves; plants crop for long periods and make heads too.

38-week-old Grenoble Red Batavian lettuce in the polytunnel in late May; this has already given so many leaves
14th September – an interplant of spinach with Saragossa Batavian lettuce, three and a half months old and has been picked for 11 weeks

3. Iceberg/Crisp or cabbage head – great to eat in hot weather, with more water in the leaves and less flavour.

4. Butterhead or round – grow soft leaves and slightly waxy, sweet and tender heads.

5. Looseleaf or leaf – non-heading varieties of many colours and shapes, such as oakleaf and the Lollo’s (named after the frilly knickers of Gina Lollobridgida!)

6. Celtuce or stem – grown for a long tender stem, appreciated in Asian cooking. The harvest is one cut when plants are tall, after about three months.

Lettuce bed on 8th April, three weeks since transplanted and eight weeks since sown
Just nine days later, the lettuce have grown dramatically; no dig results in stronger growth of early plantings
27th April, the no dig bed in front gave 1.26 kg/2.8 lb on the first pick of lettuce, whilst the dig bed behind gave 0.91 kg/2 lb


There are so many, both new and old. Here are some I recommend.

Maravilla de Verano Canasta and Saragossa are amazing Batavians of excellent flavour, with firm but tender leaves and lovely bronze hues. They give leaf harvests for a long period.

Lollo Rossa comes in many sub-varieties, of which I like Tuska for its exceptionally long period of harvest – up to 12 weeks; the flavour is a little bitter.

My favourite summer lettuce is Maravilla Di Verano, a long-lived Bavarian type
Lettuce resists frost happily – there was no harm caused to this Lollo Rossa in springtime; this was just before we picked the outer leaves
4th July – three lettuce rows of different varieties, all sown in mid-February and transplanted in mid-March; the Maureen plants have sped ahead


Lollo Bionda are bright green Lollo Rossa, less common and with cheerful vibrance, though variable performance. Little Gem is a small cos with a sweet head; it also has sub-varieties. Maureen is growing well for us and works as a leaf lettuce. Mottistone has round, medium-sized leaves with pretty blotches of pink and red, and is of average flavour. Appleby is just one of many green oakleaf varieties, with large and tender leaves.

Marvilla on the left and Mottistone on the right; the dark-coloured leaves are from moisture shortage
Morton’s Secret Mix of lettuce, from Real Seeds
Appleby is a green oak leaf, pictured here in July when we had picked the outer leaves twice so far

Grenoble Red, or Rouge Grenobloise, is hardy to frost, resists aphid and slugs, and has pretty bronzed leaves of good flavour; it can be grown either for heads or leaves, and is exceptionally long-lived when picked for leaves.

Marvel of Four Seasons is a common and pretty butterhead. It makes lovely sweet heads but is hard to pick for leaves, which lie close to the soil.

Mixed variety packs, if well-chosen by a seed company, give you a pleasing range of leaf types and colour. They may include Green Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl, two varieties I avoid because they rise to flower so quickly.

Mid-May – a mixed planting of dill, coriander, salad, onions, lettuce and salad onions
sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


It’s quick to remove plants: rotate rather than pull the main stem, causing roots to snap so that most of them remain in the soil to feed microbes. Use a rake to level the surface and you are ready to replant.

No new mulch is needed, except after clearing lettuce in late autumn, but you may already be growing other vegetables between these lettuce. If so, apply new compost whenever these interplants finish.

13th June – some lettuce plants have been removed to make space for intersowing carrots
Mid-June – a summer harvest with interplanted lettuce which have been picked for seven weeks now, and carrot seedlings between the rows
7th October – an interplant of spinach between lettuce, from 58 days earlier in August; the lettuce has almost finished!

Follow with and interplants

Lettuce plants can finish cropping at almost any time of year, so your follow options depend on those timings.

Starting new plants between leaf lettuce is a great way to make more use of space. Glean ideas for interplanting from the photo sequences below.

8th September – an interplant of month-old chervil between three-month-old Maravilla lettuce
Mid-September – Mottistone lettuce, three and a half months old, with recent interplants of winter purslane
The same planting in mid-October – all the winter salads are now taking over from the lettuce
By late October the lettuce has almost finished; in front is land cress, and then spinach, endive, and a bed of corn salad to the right