How to Grow Lettuce from Seed to Harvest
You want to grow lettuce at home? Good news! It’s pretty simple and also quite a lot of fun as long as you follow the tips in this article.
In fact, I give you all the information you need to grow lettuce from seed to harvest in a step-by-step approach.
Moreover, I also added some videos from other passionate gardeners so that you get a comprehensive picture of how to grow lettuce in your garden or on your balcony in an optimal manner.
Enough talk, let’s get started! 😉
Table of Contents
Lettuce Plant Profile
|Size||6 to 10 inches tall and 4 to 8 inches wide.|
|Climate||Lettuce prefers cool climatic conditions and grows best with temperatures between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.|
|Sun Exposure||Lettuce grows best in full sun, even though you can also grow it in half-shady environments.|
|Soil Requirements||Lettuce prefers slightly acidic soil with an optimal pH between 6.0 and 6.5.|
|Country of Origin||Southwest Asia.|
|Growing Difficulty||Easy. You don’t need any prior expertise for growing lettuce if you follow all the steps in this article.|
|Perennial?||No, lettuce is grown as an annual and harvested in the first year.|
|When should you start?||You should start growing lettuce in the mid of spring.|
|Expected Yield & Harvest||You can harvest one lettuce head per plant between 60 and 100 days after you planted the seeds.|
|What to do with it?||You can make many delicious salads out of your lettuce.|
What Types and Varieties of Lettuce can you grow?
Before we get into the actual planning process for growing lettuce, you first have to decide what lettuce varieties you want to grow. I listed the most popular ones for growing purposes below:
- Iceberg lettuce
- Butterhead lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Looseleaf lettuce varieties
- Summer Crisp lettuce
I personally love to grow Iceberg lettuce since it delivers quite decent yields and also tastes quite well in salads.
However, you might have a different taste and especially if you have never grown lettuce before, I advise you to grow many different lettuce varieties so you can figure out which ones you prefer most and want to continue to grow in future years.
Moreover, growing more than one lettuce variety is also more interesting since you will get plants and crops in many different shapes and colors.
You can also get a lettuce seed mix if you want to be even more adventurous and don’t want to exactly know what you are growing.
When should you start to grow Lettuce?
The best time to start growing lettuce is Between March and April. However, this also depends on if you want to plant your lettuce directly into your garden or if you want to grow seedlings indoors and transplant them outdoors later on.
In fact, if you start indoors, you can start out as early as mid of March while I recommend you to wait until the end of April if you want to grow your lettuce outdoors from seed to harvest.
Of course, this also depends on the region you want to grow your lettuce.
In general, if you want to start growing lettuce outdoors, make sure that the temperatures do no longer drop below the freezing mark before you do so.
If you want to start indoors and transplant your lettuce later on outdoors, you can start around 4-6 weeks before the last day of freeze.
I personally like to start growing my lettuce indoors since I have better control over when to transplant them outdoors and can adjust my decision in line with outside temperatures.
How long does it take to grow Lettuce from Seed to Harvest?
Depending on the variety you choose to grow, it will take between 60 and 100 days to grow your lettuce from seed to harvest.
Please note that this also depends on many factors like your skill level, soil conditions and also the climatic region you live in.
For instance, if you provide optimal conditions for your lettuce and are also an experienced gardener, chances are that you will be able to grow lettuce in a relatively short period of time.
However, if you don’t provide those optimal conditions and have never grown lettuce before, chances are that it will take you much longer.
Of course, we all started out as beginners and you should not be discouraged if it takes you a little bit longer to grow your lettuce.
In fact, if you start out early in the year, you will not face any problems and your lettuce will ripen in time.
Hence, just enjoy the process and don’t bother too much with how long it will take you.
I personally love growing my own plants and the longer it takes, the longer I can enjoy the process.
For me, gardening is not about the end result, it’s about enjoying the ride instead of the harvest.
Consequently, just stay patient, even if it may take you a little bit longer if you are still a beginner.
What is the best Climate to grow Lettuce?
Lettuce grows best in cool to moderate climatic zones. This is the reason why you should start with your lettuce growing project early on in the year.
Lettuce doesn’t like the heat and if you start too late with your growth project, chances are that your lettuce will not develop in an optimal manner since outside conditions will simply be too hot.
However, as long as you start out early and live in a moderate climatic zone, you will be just fine and can grow lettuce at home without any problems.
What Temperatures do Lettuce like?
While you can start growing lettuce outdoors when temperatures no longer fall below the 40 degrees Fahrenheit mark, the optimal temperature range for growing lettuce is between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
If it gets too hot outside, lettuce will no longer grow properly. Hence, make sure to start early on with your lettuce growing project so that you will be able to harvest your lettuce before the hot summer days arrive.
What do you need to grow Lettuce?
While growing lettuce is not difficult, you will still need some equipment for it that I listed for you below:
- Growing bed (to grow your seedlings, only necessary if you don’t plant lettuce directly outside)
- Flower pots (only necessary if you don’t have a garden to grow your lettuce)
- Lettuce seeds
- Fertilizer (you can make your own organic fertilizer for which I give you the instructions below)
- Potting soil
- Slug fence
- Watering can
- Garden shovel
- Compost (optional)
- Motivation for growing lettuce 😉
What Yield can you expect when you grow Lettuce?
Since you will harvest the actual plant material of your lettuce, every lettuce plant will just produce one main lettuce crop.
However, once you harvested the main lettuce head, there is a chance that you will be able to harvest a smaller one later on in the year since sometimes, smaller lettuce heads develop after you harvested the first main head.
However, this also depends on the climatic conditions you live in and I would expect just one head per plant, especially if you are still a beginner in growing lettuce.
What Plants should you grow with Lettuce?
If you want to learn more about what plants you should grow next to lettuce, make sure to check out my article that shows you the best and worst lettuce companion plants.
Why should you grow your own Lettuce?
I hear this question many times. People often don’t understand why they should bother with growing their own lettuce at home.
In fact, it would just be much easier to go to your local store and buy lettuce instead of taking all the growing efforts.
It would probably even cheaper to just buy your lettuce from the store instead of growing it by yourself.
Then, why should you actually grow your own lettuce in your garden or on your balcony?
First of all, growing lettuce is not only about the harvest, it’s about enjoying the growing experience. In fact, I personally love growing my plants more than the actual yield I get from them.
For me, growing plants gives me a feeling of inner peace and also gives me the opportunity to unplug from our stressful world.
Second, by growing your own lettuce, you can also get back to the roots. Many people in our current state of the world don’t even know how their food is produced anymore.
They just go into the store without even knowing how much work is involved in the food production process.
Therefore, many people also don’t value their food too much and produce significant amounts of food waste.
By growing your own lettuce at home, you can get more aware of how food is produced and will also value your food much more since you know that you had to take plenty of effort to produce it.
Moreover, our ancestors produced their own food for many thousands of years and growing your own vegetables can also help to preserve this tradition and the knowledge related to it.
Third, growing your own food at home can also benefit your overall health.
Most vegetables and crops that you can buy in the store had been produced with the help of chemical pesticides and herbicides and components of those substances will often end up in the end products.
Hence, if you consume lettuce from the store, chances are that you also eat some pretty unhealthy stuff with it.
In contrast, if you just produce your own lettuce in your garden or on your balcony, you will have full control over the substances you want to use in the growth process and can produce your lettuce in a fully organic manner, which can greatly benefit your health in the long run.
Growing Lettuce: Step-by-Step
1. Select a Site for your Lettuce
Now that you know why it can make quite a lot of sense to grow your own lettuce at home, it is time to get into the actual planning process related to your lettuce growing project.
First of all, you have to find the optimal site for your lettuce plants.
Does Lettuce like Sun or Shade?
While lettuce grows best in the sun, it also tolerates some level of shade.
Hence, if you have a garden where your lettuce plants don’t get sun all day long but only get a few hours of sunlight each day, you will be perfectly fine. Just make sure that you provide your lettuce plants with as much sun as possible and you are good to go.
What are the Soil Requirements of Lettuce?
The optimal soil pH for growing lettuce is between 6.0 and 6.5. This means that lettuce prefers a slightly acidic environment to grow in an optimal manner.
However, this may sound more complicated than it actually is. Just get some potting soil from the store, mix it with your soil from your garden and the soil mix will meet those requirements most of the time.
If you want, you can also add some compost from your garden to the soil mix and you will be just fine. Always remember that we are talking about optimal conditions here.
Nothing in life is perfect and as long as you don’t deviate from those optimal conditions too much, you will be able to grow your lettuce in a decent manner.
Also make sure that the soil will be loose enough so that excess water can run off and the roots of your lettuce will not rot.
How much Space do Lettuce Plants need?
I would suggest you plan around 5 square feet of space for each lettuce plant so that you can be sure that every plant gets sufficient sunlight and also that your lettuce plants don’t have to compete for nutrients with each other.
If you have a big garden and space is not a problem for you at all, you can also give your lettuce plants even more space.
The more space, the better your lettuce will grow and the bigger your yields tend to be.
Should you plant Lettuce in a Pot or in your Garden?
You can grow your lettuce in your garden and also in a pot, depending on your individual preferences.
While you will be more flexible if you grow lettuce in a pot since you can move your pot if you want to change the location of it, I would still recommend you to grow your lettuce in your garden since your garden will provide more natural growing conditions.
Of course, if you don’t have a garden but live in a flat where you only have a balcony, you will have no other choice than to grow your lettuce in a pot.
Thus, depending on your individual circumstances, both options can make quite a lot of sense.
However, if you have enough space and a big garden, I would recommend you to grow your lettuce in your garden instead of a pot since it will make your life just a lot easier.
2. Plant Lettuce Seeds
Now that you selected the optimal site for your lettuce plants, it is time to get into the actual lettuce seedling process.
Should you buy Lettuce Seeds or Seedlings?
Before you can actually start the planting process, you first have to decide whether you want to grow lettuce seedlings or if you just want to start out from scratch and start from seed.
While it might be easier to just get lettuce seedlings from the store, I suggest you start from seed since only then will you get the full growing experience.
In fact, raising your own seedlings is the first important step in the overall lettuce growing process and if you miss this step, your growing experience will just not be complete.
Hence, instead of just buying lettuce seedlings from your garden center, make sure that you grow them by yourself.
It is not difficult at all and I show you everything you need to know to grow your lettuce seedlings step-by-step in the following chapters.
Should you buy Lettuce Seeds or produce Seeds by yourself?
If you haven’t grown lettuce before, you will simply have no other choice than to get your lettuce seedlings from an internet shop or from your local garden center.
Sure, once you have grown your own lettuce and took the effort to harvest your own lettuce seedlings, you can use them for many subsequent years.
However, if you just start out and have never grown lettuce before, just get seedlings from a seed company and you are good to go.
How to plant Lettuce Seeds
After you got lettuce seeds of your favorite lettuce varieties, it is now time to start the actual planting process.
If you want to start growing lettuce inside your home and transplant your lettuce seedlings later on outdoors as I would recommend you to do, you just need to fill your growing bed with potting soil from the store.
After that, just place your lettuce seeds onto the soil. Make sure that each seed has at least 4 inches of space into each direction so that your lettuce seedlings can grow in an optimal manner.
After you placed all of your lettuce seeds, just cover them with an additional potting soil layer of one inch in height and water your growing bed.
Make sure to place your growing bed at a nice bright spot inside your home and just wait.
Please note that not all lettuce seeds will germinate and that you should plant more seeds than you want to get seedlings.
For instance, if you want to get 10 lettuce seedlings, you should plant around 20 lettuce seeds.
In general, a ratio of 2:1 between lettuce seeds and seedlings is a good estimate to make sure that you indeed produce sufficient seedlings.
How long does it take to see the first Lettuce Seedlings?
After one to two weeks, you should see the first lettuce seedlings in your growing bed. Yet, make sure that you wait around one month until all of your seedlings will become visible to you.
After the one-month mark passed, you should not expect any new seedlings reaching the soil surface anymore.
Hence, if you haven’t produced enough seedlings at this point in time and want to produce more seedlings, you will have to place additional seeds in your growing bed at the spots that are still empty and wait a few more weeks until those seeds germinate.
How to protect your Lettuce Seedlings indoors
There is no need to protect your lettuce seedlings indoors as long as they stay in your growing bed since slugs and other animals will simply not have any access to your lettuce seedlings.
Of course, this will change once you transplant your seedlings outdoors.
However, for now, your seedlings are pretty safe and you don’t have to take any additional protective measures, at least if you don’t have pets.
If you have pets, make sure that your pets will not be able to get access to your lettuce growing bed to protect your lettuce seedlings.
When should you transplant your Lettuce Seedlings?
You should not leave your lettuce seedlings in your growing bed for too long. In fact, after a few weeks after germination, you should consider transplanting your lettuce seedlings outdoors.
However, before you do so, make sure that the following criteria are met.
First, make sure that the outside temperatures are suitable to transplant your seedlings outdoors.
Temperatures are suitable when there will be no freeze anymore, not even at nighttime.
If the temperature criterion is met, you should also make sure that your lettuce seedlings have a certain minimum height before you transplant them outdoors.
In fact, I would recommend you to wait with transplanting your lettuce outdoors until your seedlings reached a minimum height of at least 4 inches.
Only then will they be resistant enough to deal with the harsh outside conditions in a proper manner.
If both the temperature as well as the size criteria are met, I advise you to transplant your lettuce seedlings outdoors.
Before you actually transplant your seedlings, you first have to prepare your lettuce growing site.
For that, just dig one hole for each lettuce plant in your garden. Those holes should be around 5 square feet in size and around one foot deep. After digging those holes, prepare your soil mix.
Just mix the soil from your garden with potting soil from the store. You can also add some compost from your garden if you want to further optimize the growth conditions for your lettuce plants.
After preparing the soil mix, fill your holes with the soil mix and place one lettuce seedlings in each spot.
After you transplanted all lettuce seedlings into your garden, water your plants and you are done.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to grow your lettuce in your garden but want to grow lettuce in pots instead, just fill your pots with potting soil and transplant your lettuce seedlings into your pots.
However, as mentioned before, if you have enough space in your garden to grow lettuce, I would recommend you to grow lettuce in your garden instead of using a pot since it will just lead to a better growing experience in general.
What kind of Protection do Lettuce Seedlings need outdoor?
Now that you transplanted your lettuce seedlings outdoors, they will no longer be protected by your four walls and will be quite vulnerable to snails and other animals that will try to feed on your lettuce seedlings.
Hence, after you transplanted your lettuce to the outside world, it is time to add some additional protection to them.
One simple but yet quite efficient way to protect your lettuce plants is to just use a slug fence.
Slug fences are great since they do not imply the use of any chemical substances while they still protect your lettuce plants from snails and many other smaller animals.
Hence, I would just recommend you use those slug fences to protect your lettuce.
You can also reuse them for future years, which makes slug fences one of the most eco-friendly plant protection measures.
3. The Lettuce Growth Process
After transplanting your lettuce seedlings outdoors and protecting them in a proper manner, most of the manual work is already done.
From now on, you need to be patient and give your lettuce plants time to grow and to develop in an optimal manner.
However, there are still some things to consider which I want to discuss in the following.
Should you prune your Lettuce Plants?
No, there is absolutely no need to prune your lettuce plants. In fact, since you will harvest the actual plant, you would lower your own yield by pruning your lettuce plants.
Hence, just let them grow and let nature do its work.
Do you have to pollinate your Lettuce Plants by Hand?
There is also no need to pollinate your lettuce plants by hand. In fact, no pollination is needed at all to produce lettuce heads and therefore, no manual action is required from you in this regard.
You can just let your lettuce grow in a natural manner without worrying about pollination.
Should you stake your Lettuce Plants?
There is absolutely no need to stake your lettuce plants. Lettuce plants stay rather small and compact and will be able to stabilize themselves.
Hence, there is no need to add additional protection or to stake them at all.
Just give your lettuce plants sufficient space so that they develop in an optimal manner and they will be resistant enough to deal with the outside conditions themselves without any intervention from your side.
4. The Lettuce Harvest
After a few months of growing, your lettuce plants will be ready to harvest if you followed all the steps from this article.
When should you harvest your Lettuce?
It is pretty easy to determine the optimal harvesting time for your lettuce. You just need to wait until your lettuce heads are big enough before you finally pick them.
While your lettuce heads may not get as big as you know them from the store, they will still grow to a decent size if you gave them sufficient space and time to develop.
Just cut your lettuce heads off at the soil level when they reached a decent size and you are good to go.
If you are lucky, you may even be able to harvest a second smaller lettuce head a few weeks after you harvested the first one since lettuce sometimes grow second heads if conditions are right.
How to store your Lettuce?
The best location to store your lettuce is in a dark, dry and cool spot inside your home. This could be your basement or any other room that provides those conditions.
However, please note that your lettuce will contain the most precious vitamins right after you harvested it and it will also taste best at this point in time.
Hence, make sure that you eat your lettuce in time so that you can get the best out of it.
What should you do with your Lettuce?
Lettuce is mostly used to make delicious salads. However, you can also use it for sandwiches or burgers.
You can even make a lettuce soup or create your own lettuce dishes. Just choose what you like to do most with your lettuce.
After all, you did all the work and it is on you to decide how you want to use your lettuce in the best possible manner 😉.
Lettuce Plant Care Tips
You got most of the instructions you need to grow lettuce at home step-by-step up to this point.
However, some general information to make your lettuce growing project even more successful is still missing.
I provide you with this information in the following chapters.
How often should you irrigate Lettuce?
Lettuce needs plenty of water to grow in a healthy manner. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no “too much”. In fact, you need to find a healthy balance for watering your lettuce plants.
If you water them too much, the roots of your lettuce plants may rot and your lettuce may even die off sooner or later.
While your lettuce plants will not need much water at the beginning when plants are rather small, they will need much more water once they get bigger and also when outside temperatures start to increase.
If you are not sure whether your lettuce plants need water or not, just use the following simple trick.
Dig a small hole with your finger in the soil and put your finger out again. If soil sticks to your finger, the soil is still wet enough and there is no need to water your lettuce plants yet.
If no soil sticks to your finger, it is time to irrigate your lettuce. Of course, you don’t need to use this trick once you get more experienced.
In fact, experienced gardeners have a pretty good intuition regarding when it is time to water lettuce.
Hence, once you have grown lettuce for a few years, your intuition will tell you when the optimal time to water your lettuce plants has come.
At what Time of the Day should you water your Lettuce Plants?
The best time to water your lettuce is arguably in the early morning. However, I personally haven’t seen any difference between watering my lettuce in the morning or in the evening.
I think that it is far more important to provide water for your lettuce whenever your plants need it instead of relying on a certain fixed schedule that doesn’t account for changes in outside conditions.
How often should you fertilize your Lettuce Plants?
If you followed the soil mix strategy mentioned above, there will just be no need to add additional fertilizer.
In fact, beginners often make the mistake to fertilize their lettuce too much, which can do much more harm than good since it can burn the roots of your lettuce plants.
What kind of Fertilizer should you use for your Lettuce Plants?
If you really want to add some additional fertilizer, make sure that you use organic fertilizer and that you refrain from using chemical fertilizer at all since it can be quite harmful to our environment.
You can either buy organic fertilizer from a store or you can just make your own organic fertilizer.
If you want to make your own organic fertilizer, just collect some stinging nettles (make sure to wear gloves 😉) and put them in a bucket full of cold water.
After three days, remove the stinging nettles and you have a quite decent natural fertilizer which you can add to your watering can and fertilize your lettuce on a regular basis whenever you irrigate it.
Should you use Pesticides or Herbicides for Growing Lettuce?
You should also not use any chemical herbicides or pesticides for your gardening projects. Instead, you can use the stinging nettle liquid and just spray it onto your lettuce.
By doing so, you can deter most pests since they usually don’t like the taste at all.
Hence, stinging nettle liquid can not only be a decent fertilizer, it can also act as effective pesticide.
To deal with weeds, just remove them by hand and you are good to go.
If you want to get more information on pest control, also have a look at how to control lettuce plant diseases and pests.
What’s left to say?
Thanks for reading this extensive lettuce grower’s guide. I know it was a quite long article, but to give you all the information your need to grow lettuce from seed to harvest, I was just not able to make this grower’s guide any shorter.
I hope this article was helpful to you. If so, you can do me a favor and share it with your family and friends.
Also make sure to check out my growing lettuce FAQ section if you still have some open questions about growing lettuce at home.
And now it’s your turn. Just let it grow! 😉
About the author
My name is Andreas and I’m really passionate about our environment and also about growing plants. In fact, I have grown several different plants over many years. I love to see my own plants grow and always try new things.
In my blog posts, I want to share my experiences with you so that you can become successful in growing various different plants, even if you are still a beginner right now.