experienced gardeners have questions from time to time. Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of
questions and we like to give our readers the information they need. Some
questions seem to be asked more than others. Here are the 10 most commonly
about lettuce plants. If your lettuce
question is here, so is an answer to your question, as well as links to give
you even more information.
The most likely cause of this problem is bolting. Has your
lettuce been in the ground awhile and started to grow up rather than out? It
may be bolting, that is, producing seeds. At this time lettuce
leaves start taking on a bitter taste and it’s time to replant. If this is
not the case, take a look at what type of lettuce is growing in your garden.
Some types of lettuce are sweet naturally, but some can be bitter. If you have
the sweet type, be sure you are giving it adequate irrigation – lettuce does
not like to do without when it’s growing. Too much hot sun can also cause
lettuce to taste bitter.
If you start listing off all the individual varieties
of lettuce available in commerce, you’ll get well into the hundreds. But
all of them fall into five or six main categories: butterhead, Chinese lettuce
(stem lettuce), crisphead (which includes iceberg), looseleaf, romaine, and
summer crisp. The summer crisp group is not always named, but we consider it a
category of its own.
plants upside down (also called inverted) allows you to grow in smaller
spaces and keeps plants out of the reach of soil pests, like cutworms. But it’s
even more important to provide inverted gardens with proper nutrition and
irrigation. If you want to include lettuce in your upside-down garden, place it
in the topmost portion of the hanging plant.
It is easy to forget that your garden
veggies are plants, just like geraniums and poppies. Left to their own devices,
they flower and produce seeds to propagate the species. This is called “bolting”
and is often triggered by abundant sunshine. Unfortunately for the gardener, when
lettuce bolts, it turns its energy to seed
production and the taste of the leaves gets bitter. While it won’t kill you,
they just don’t taste good and many gardeners choose to pull them out and
You can purchase lettuce seeds in any garden store and in
many hardware and grocery stores too. If you love the type of lettuce currently
growing in the garden, allow one head to bolt and collect the seeds. Lettuce
is a cool-season crop, so you can direct seed into the garden as soon as the
soil can be worked in the spring or in early autumn.
When you start lettuce seeds indoors, they may not get the kind of light they
need to grow strong. You’ll see results if you move the seedlings to a window
that gets more light, like a south-facing window. Another trick to get spindly
seedlings to grow thicker is to lightly brush your fingers over them a few
times a day. Alternatively, place an oscillating fan nearby to blow gently on
them for a few hours every day.
The best way to help lettuce heads form is to plant them at the correct time.
Remember, lettuce is a cool-weather crop which means that lettuce heads form
best when the weather is cooler. Any unusually warm weather delays head
formation, and if it lasts too long, it may prevent it entirely. If this
appears to be happening, cool off the lettuce roots with mulch and regular
irrigation, or shade the area with an opaque piece of cloth.
Eating dirty lettuce
can make you sick, but so can eating lettuce that has been improperly stored in
a way that allows bacteria to develop. Your best bet is to wash lettuce before placing it in the refrigerator. Clean
off all of the visible dirt by rinsing the leaves under running water and
rubbing them clean with your hands. Alternatively, you can put the lettuce in a
bowl of water to soak, swishing the leaves around to release the sand and dirt.
Dry the lettuce completely before storing it in an air-proof container.
Lots of different pests like to munch on lettuce as much as
you do. A few common
lettuce pests are aphids, flea beetles, garden symphylans, grasshoppers,
leaf miners, nematodes, snails and slugs, thrips, weevils and whiteflies. While
there are specific ways that work best or getting rid of some of these pests,
nontoxic neem oil insecticide works well as a systemic when applied as a soil
drench. The oil is absorbed by the plant and distributed throughout the tissue
where insects consume it when they are feeding. It can manage over 200 other
species of chewing or sucking insects.
Timing is important when it comes to harvesting lettuce, but
when to pick depends on what type of lettuce you are growing. Head
lettuce is ready to pick when the head becomes firm, and the entire head is
harvested at the same time. Leaf
lettuce can be harvested leaf by leaf, so it is ready whenever the external
leaves are large enough to use. Varieties will differ on how long they take to
mature, but since lettuce is a cool season crop, you’ll want to harvest all
lettuce before the heat of summer hits.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time
gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a
gardening answer. We’re always here to help.