If you live in a temperate climate, it’s possible to enjoy a variety of fresh lettuces all year long…from early spring straight on until the end of winter. From an organic gardening standpoint, the best features of lettuce include the facts that it’s relatively easy to grow, requires nothing but good compost for fertilizer, and can be planted wherever there’s a little extra space in the garden, whenever in the season that space might appear.
It doesn’t need its own specially-prepared beds to thrive. Lettuces are also particularly well-suited for mixed plantings, in which other plants are interspersed among the heads (or vice versa).
Growing Lettuce in Cooler Temperatures
To create your own year-round lettuce garden, begin by planting early spring varieties of head lettuce in a sunny place in March. Ideally, they should be planted in rows, about nine inches apart. You can harvest the first buttery, tender heads for salads within a month or so. Summer varieties of head lettuce can follow in April or May, but don’t expect them to mature quite as fast in the hotter weather. However, they should be ready by the end of summer.
Unlike most lettuces, leaf lettuces don’t form heads, and this makes them ideal for planting in any open space and along borders. This long-term lettuce will last for most of the growing season if you carefully harvest the leaves a few at a time. They’ll grow back, so a plant can continue producing for months. To ensure a continuous harvest, you should sow new leaf lettuce plants wherever there’s a gap in your garden. These varieties will help you bridge the harvest gaps between other kinds of lettuce, to ensure you’ve always got something leafy for the salad.
Growing Lettuce in Warm Temperatures
A good lettuce for deep summer is Iceberg, which is heat-tolerant, produces crispy, thick heads, and preserves very well in the refrigerator. Endives can also be planted throughout the summer for fall and early winter harvesting, but be sure you pick them before it gets too cold. And speaking of cold, an effective and vitamin-rich member of the lettuce family is lamb’s lettuce, which grows in the winter and comes in both small- and broad-leaf varieties. It should be planted in August or September, for ripening in early spring just before your first head lettuces.
If you like tart, aromatic additions to your winter salads, consider radicchio and French endive (witloof), both of which should be planted in June. French endive is frost tolerant to a certain degree, and can be harvested in late fall. You can pick your radicchio from December on, throughout the winter months. Just be sure that, with the radicchio, you remove the long green leaves in the fall, so that the tasty red-brown rosette matures properly.
Whatever lettuces you choose to plant, keep an eye out for slugs. If you’d like to experiment with mixed plantings, try kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, tomatoes, and beans. Leaf lettuce also goes well with comfrey, red beets, asparagus, and fennel.
Want to learn more about growing lettuce year round?
Here are some helpful resources:
Producing Lettuce Year Round from Penn State Extension
And, don’t miss this YouTube video on row covers and calcium to extend the growing season: