How to Grow Loose Leaf Lettuce in Your Backyard Garden

Looseleaf lettuce are easy to grow and can be harvested in about four weeks. Why grow just one variety? Create a signature blend of your favorites!  |  from Oak Hill Homestead

Lettuce doesn't like me.

I like growing it, but I don't eat it much, for understandable reasons. Fortunately hubby likes salad, so I have an excuse to grow it. It's so pretty in the garden and it grows quickly, and I enjoy making him happy.

Since he's the only one eating salad, I don't want him to get tired of eating the same kind of lettuce day after day after day. After all, variety is the spice of life, and that certainly applies to the dinner table. So I enjoy planting a mix of lettuce varieties.

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I also don't need a large amount of lettuce at one time. Since loose leaf lettuce is a "cut and come again" kind of plant - in other words, the outer leaves can be cut off and the rest of the plant continues to grow - I can pick a few leaves from this plant and a few more from that plant, just enough for one salad.

By growing several different varieties, I can give hubby a different mixed salad every day.

(By the way, "looseleaf lettuce" is lettuce that doesn't form a head. Some seed catalogs will classify them further as butterhead, batavian, Bibb and many more.)

Several seed companies offer a pre-packaged mix of lettuce seeds. Their mixtures are often referred to as mesclun, although according to Wikipedia a true mesclun blend is "a salad mix of assorted small, young salad green leaves, which originated in Provence, France."

The original French mix included chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces, endive and chive, but the modern-day usage of the term seems to refer simply to a mix of early leaf lettuces and greens.

Looseleaf lettuce are easy to grow and can be harvested in about four weeks. Why grow just one variety? Create a signature blend of your favorites!  |  from Oak Hill Homestead

For example, Burpee's packet of mesclun seeds includes "a tender, mild flavored blend of leaf veggies for early spring salads. Mouth watering, time-tested heirloom varieties in red (Ruby lettuce, Bull's Blood beet) and bright green (Bloomsdale spinach, Simpson lettuce, Tendergreen mustard)."

Baker's Creek Seeds describes their mesclun mix as "flavors [ranging] from sweet-mild to sour-hot-tangy, and colors [of] red, purple, yellow, and green. Colorful lettuce, radicchio, arugula, endive, orach, mizuna, kale, mustard, corn salad and more."

I've grown several of these mixes in the past but I enjoy mixing it up every year. So if I can't find pre-mixed seeds, I buy a couple packets of different varieties and plant some seeds from each one.

Last year I was low on lettuce seed and some of the packets were a couple of years old, so I emptied all my saved lettuce seeds into one bowl and planted them all, along with part of a new packet of single-variety seeds from Baker Creek.

Related: Here's how to save your leftover seeds
so you can plant them next year. 

When and how to plant lettuce seeds

Lettuce grows well in cool weather so it's one of the first things we can plant in the spring. It needs an average, well-drained soil that is kept moist and a soil temperature between 55° and 75°. Lettuce won't germinate when the soil is over 80°F.

It can be easy to plant small lettuce seeds too thickly. My grandmother taught me to mix the seeds with some sand and sow this mixture. This trick works for any small seeds. Leaf lettuces can be planted closer together than head lettuces though.

The seeds should be planted about 1/8" deep, or sprinkled on the garden bed and covered lightly with soil. They should sprout in about 5-8 days.

Looseleaf lettuce are easy to grow and can be harvested in about four weeks. Why grow just one variety? Create a signature blend of your favorites!  |  from Oak Hill Homestead

Plant about two weeks before your area's last frost. Lettuce likes cool soil and may bolt or become bitter if the temperature is too hot.

You can stretch your season by planting them next to plants that will grow taller than the lettuce as the season progresses - tomatoes, for instance - so the lettuce will be in their shade when the weather gets hot. You can also use shade cloth to keep the summer soil cool. Lettuce is a good crop for the shady corner of your garden once the temperature warms up.

A salad garden is also a good choice for a large container; you can move it into a shadier spot as the season progresses to keep the soil shaded and cool. You can even grow a small salad garden in a large bowl indoors.

By buying and planting pre-packaged varieties, occasionally buying a single-variety packet or two to add to my mix, and saving the leftover seeds to plant next year, I have an ever-changing variety of seeds from year to year.

Grow your own signature blend of looseleaf lettuce

Can't find a lettuce mixture that appeals to you? You can create your own signature blend by purchasing seeds of several varieties.

Add spinach or chard seeds if you like, a lettuce variety with frilly leaves such as Black-Seeded Simpson, a stunning red variety such as this Flame Lettuce, and a lettuce with smooth leaves like Bibb lettuce, all from Mary's Heirloom Seeds.

Choose different flavors, textures and colors to create variety for both your eyes and your palate.

You can begin harvesting the outer leaves from your plants when they are about three inches tall, which will take about four weeks from planting date.

Variety is good! Grow a mixture of loose leaf lettuce seeds in your backyard garden this year.

If you need a larger harvest than my one-salad-a-day, you can cut the entire plant about an inch above the soil; the plants will continue to grow back and you'll get two, three or maybe even four harvests from each plant this way. By planting several rows of seeds about 2-3 weeks apart, you can have a pretty steady supply of salads until the weather gets too hot.

After harvesting a bowl-full of your lettuce leaves, rinse them well to remove the dirt and debris. I put a layer of damp lettuce on top of a clean kitchen towel and top with another towel, then roll them loosely to dry the leaves. After a few minutes I can pop the clean, dry lettuce in the refrigerator so it will make a crisp salad at dinner time.

For a delicious dressing that will really change up your salad, try my friend Michelle's maple vinaigrette salad dressing.

Last summer I let a few plants that were left in my lettuce patch go to seed. I harvested some of the seeds, but I'm also hoping that this spring there will be a variety of self-seeded plants popping up in that garden bed, which can be gently transplanted if I wish.

How to develop your very own signature looseleaf lettuce mix to grow in your backyard garden.

Loose leaf lettuce are easy to grow and can be harvested in about four weeks. Why grow just one variety? Create a signature blend of your favorites!  |  from Oak Hill Homestead

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