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Article by: Nadia Hassani  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
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Lettuce is easy to grow from seed all season long. It likes full sun in spring and fall, and some shade in the summer. This article tells you how to seed and reseed lettuce all season long and how to care, harvest and store lettuce.
Growing lettuce at a glance
You can grow lettuce from spring to early autumn. In the spring and autumn, lettuce needs a sunny location but can tolerate some shade. During the heat of summer, lettuce needs shade, which can be provided by planting it next to tall crops, such as tomatoes, or covering it with a mesh shade cloth. Lettuce needs soil that is well-drained and moderately rich in compost.

Lettuce is available in a wide variety of shapes, colours, textures and, of course, tastes. Depending on the variety, the maturity ranges between 40 to 80 days. To provide a continuous supply of lettuce from spring to fall, reseed lettuce every two weeks. A row of 1.5 metres at a time provides enough lettuce for a family of four.

As a member of the sunflower family, lettuce should not be grown where artichoke, chicory, dandelion, endive, escarole, Jerusalem artichoke, radicchio and tarragon were grown the year before. You may replant or reseed lettuce the same year in the same location.

Plants or seeds?
Lettuce step picture 2
You can begin to seed lettuce as soon as the soil is no longer frozen and can be worked in the spring. This may be weeks before your last frost date, which is not a problem, as lettuce can withstand a light frost. In case of a strong frost you can cover your crop with a sheet or other light fabric.

Because you will want a lettuce supply throughout the season, seeding your own lettuce is the most economical, and is very easy to do even for beginning gardeners. You can also buy lettuce seedlings from a nursery once in the spring to give yourself a head start and afterwards seed your own lettuce. Because lettuce seedlings are tiny, starting your own lettuce seedlings indoors to transplant the seedlings to the garden later is not recommended.
Avoiding a lettuce glut
It is better to reseed a short row of lettuce every two weeks, than to seed a larger row, as lettuce cannot be preserved.
Seeding and thinning out lettuce
Sow the seeds 2cm apart in a trench of a maximum depth of 0.5cm. Cover with light soil free of any stones or rocks. If seeded any deeper, the tiny seeds will not emerge. Space the rows at least 35cm apart from each other and other crops.

Keep the seeded row evenly moist at all times. Use a fine spray nozzle for watering, taking care not to wash away the seeds.

Thin out the emerging seedlings by pulling every other plant (as they grow, the thinnings can be eaten). At the mature stage, the individual lettuce plants should be spaced at least 8cm apart depending on their size.
Caring for lettuce
In dry weather, water lettuce several times a week. A steady supply of moisture produces the best-tasting and most tender leaves. Frequent, light watering is better than deep watering. Aim at the roots and not at the leaves when watering. Make sure not to overwater, otherwise the roots will rot.

Lettuce has shallow roots so make sure not to disturb them when weeding around the plants.

Add a balanced fertiliser (equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) when the seedlings are small, and fertilise once more about 3 weeks later.
Growing lettuce in containers
Lettuce can be easily grown in containers, both from plants and seeds. As lettuce roots are rather small, you can also grow a 'row' of lettuce in a long window box (see also container gardening).
Harvesting and storing lettuce
Depending on the type, the lettuce is ready to be harvested when leaf lettuce reaches the size indicated on the seed package, or when the leaves of head lettuce begin to cup inward to form a head. Gently remove the entire plant with its roots from the soil with a trowel. Be careful not to disturb the roots of neighbouring lettuce plants.

Store your lettuce in the refrigerator. To prevent it from drying out, wrap in a damp tea towel or kitchen paper. Leaf lettuce stays crisp for 2 to 3 days – the smaller the leaves, the quicker they perish. If left whole, firm head lettuces keep for up to 2 weeks.
Bitter lettuce?
Too much sunlight and high temperatures in the summer can cause bitterness in lettuce, as well as turning the plants into seed stalks when the lettuce leaves shrivel and seeds form (called 'bolting'). To prevent this, grow lettuce in a shaded place during the summer months, or select special slow-bolting or heat-resistant varieties.
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