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Home & garden.

Updated: 29 Apr 2022

How to grow lettuce and best varieties

Find out how easy it is to grow crunchy and crispy lettuce for salads. Discover our best lettuce varieties and tips for how to grow them.
Ceri Thomas
Picking lettuce

Lettuce is quick and easy to grow. It will do well in a container on your balcony or patio if you don't have a garden.


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How to grow lettuce: month by month

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune

SOWSOW/HARVESTSOW/HARVEST
HARVEST
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
HARVESTSOWHARVESTHARVEST

Best lettuce varieties

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Full testing results for lettuce

Crunchy lettuce

Variety Overall ratingAverage weight per head (kg) Growth Ease of growing Leaf colour Head quality Taste Texture Weight rating 
3.1
3.9
2.4
4.2
3.8
4.1
3.6

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING The more stars the better. Rating ignores price and is based on: taste 25%; head quality 20%; weight 20%; texture 15%; growth 10%; leaf colour 5%; rating 5% a Growth is a measure of how many seeds germinated and the quality of the seedlings and young plants b Ease of growing is a measurement of how well those young plants developed into mature, edible lettuces.

Lettuce for autumn sowing

Variety Overall ratingYield (g) - no protection Yield (g) - insect-proof mesh cover Yield (g) - fleece cover Yield (g) - cold greenhouse Number of pickings (average) Sweetness Depth of flavour 
2572222914887
1262212164996.5
1212971914066.5
561702064765.5
791922136796.8

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING The more stars the better. Rating ignores price and is based on: number of pickings 20%; number of leaves 20%; weight 20%; sweetness 20%; taste 20%

Cos and romaine type lettuce

Variety Overall ratingYield - average trimmed head weight (g) Yield Resistance to bolting Head density Flavour Crispness Quality
255
310
166
172
174
143
234

USING THE TABLE The more stars the better. Yields are average head weight from five lettuces. OVERALL RATING Ignores price and is based on: yield 30%; bolting 30%; head density 10%; flavour 10%; crispness 10% and quality 10%.

How we test lettuce

We sowed seeds of a number of lettuce varieties indoors in May and the lettuces were planted outside in beds in the first week of June. We protected them with an insect-proof mesh to prevent any attack on the leaves and roots, and, as there was no rainfall during the trial, watered them as needed, to stop the soil drying out. All varieties were harvested when mature in early July, and then assessed, tasted and weighed, but some heads were left in the ground to see how long they would last before problems set in. The weather was very hot during the trial, and the high temperatures led to many varieties bolting (producing flowers) sooner than we would normally expect.

When to sow

Sow seed indoors from mid-February in modules or seed trays filled with a Best Buy compost for sowing seeds. Grow seedlings on in modules or small pots in a cool, well-lit place until they’re large enough to plant outside.

Alternatively, sow seeds outdoors from late March in well-prepared, loose soil in shallow, straight drills. Keep the soil moist after sowing until the seeds are growing strongly. Thin the seedlings to around 30cm apart.

If you're planning to cut the whole lettuce heads at harvest, sow at intervals of three to four weeks to keep a regular supply of lettuce going. If you're planning to just harvest the outer leaves, you don't need to sow as often - a March sowing will provide leaves from spring to summer, and an August or September sowing will provide leaves from autumn through winter.

Caring for your plants

Planting

Plant in well-drained soil in sun or semi-shade, or into pots of a Best Buy compost for containers. Plant early sowings under a cloche or cover them with fleece to protect them to trap the sun's warmth and protect from cold winds.

Weeding

Weed regularly, especially when the plants are small.

Watering 

In dry weather, water the soil around the roots of the plants in the ground at regular intervals so the soil doesn’t dry out completely. Try to avoid wetting the leaves. Plants growing in pots will need watering more frequently; more than once a day in hot, dry weather. Touch the compost to check if it feels dry before watering.

Lettuce in hot weather

High temperatures don’t suit lettuce, so when it gets above 25°C problems start to emerge. Bolting, when the plant starts to produce a flower spike in the centre, is the most obvious one, but the leaves will start to develop a more bitter flavour even before you spot the flower spike.

Tipburn is another common problem. It’s caused by a lack of calcium, often when the uptake of water is reduced in dry soil, and the symptoms are brown, wilting leaf edges. Leaves also blister as the skin fails to keep up with the speed of growth caused by hot weather, and heads can split if watering is irregular. 

Early sowing in March and April allows lettuce to mature before the weather gets hot, but for summer lettuce, chose varieties that grow better in warmer weather, such as ‘Thimble’, and plant them in a partly shady spot or provide them with some shade if it gets very hot. Water the soil around the roots at regular intervals to stop it getting too dry.

Growing lettuce over winter

For lettuce to harvest over winter and into the following spring, sow in August or early September. For the best crops with the sweetest flavour, grow outdoors under fleece or insect-proof mesh, such as enviromesh. We found that plants grown in a cold greenhouse produced slightly heavier crops but the flavour wasn't as good.

How and when to harvest

Harvest in: June to October from a spring sowing, and winter and spring from an August to September sowing

Head-forming lettuces should be picked when the head feels firm. Cut the lettuce away from the roots at the base of the head.

Loose varieties can be picked as single leaves when they reach an edible size. Pick leaves from the outside and the plants will continue to grow and produce further harvests. Don't be alarmed if they start to look like palm trees with a trunk below the leaves.

Common growing problems

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails will eat leaves, particularly when plants are small. Pick off any that you find. Protect with organic slug pellets made from ferric phosphate, which isn’t thought to be harmful to wildlife, or water biological-control nematodes on to the soil at six-week intervals (these only kill slugs).

Read more about slugs and snails.

Aphids

Aphids can attack roots and leaves. Cover plants with insect-proof mesh to prevent infestation.

Read more about aphids.

Grey mould

Grey mould (botrytis) infects leaves in damp, humid weather. This fungal infection begins as discoloured patches on leaves and grows into fuzzy, grey patches. Remove infected parts of the plants if spotted early, or pull up the whole plant if it’s badly infected.

Read more about grey mould.

Tipburn

Tipburn is caused by a lack of calcium, often when the uptake of water is reduced in dry soil, and the symptoms are brown, wilting leaf edges. Leaves also blister as the skin fails to keep up with the speed of growth caused by hot weather, and heads can split if watering is irregular.   

Read more about tipburn.

Bolting

High temperatures don’t suit lettuce, so when it gets above 25°C, problems start to emerge. Bolting, when the plant starts to produce a flower spike in the centre, is the most obvious one, but the leaves will start to develop a more bitter flavour even before you spot the flower spike.  

Read more about bolting.