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Home & garden.

Updated: 17 Jan 2022

How to grow lettuce

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.
CT
Ceri Thomas

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

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JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
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Best lettuce varieties

Which? members can log in now and see our Best Buy varieties. If you're not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Best Buy crunchy lettuce
What it looks likeVariety nameYield per plant
3.1kg
This mini cos lettuce was easy to grow. Virtually all the seeds germinated and developed into good-quality plants. When fully grown, the heads had a neat shape and an appetising deep-green colour. This was matched by their pleasant crunch and good flavour, which had no trace of bitterness. They lasted well in the ground, beginning to bolt around the middle of July when most varieties were affected by the heat.
What it looks likeVariety nameYield per plant
3.9kg
A tall romaine type of lettuce, ‘Stryker’ was easy to grow from seed and gave us plenty of strong-growing, healthy plants. They developed into large, well-shaped heads with plenty of good-quality leaves. They had an appealing, deep-green colour and a lovely sweet flavour that didn’t disappoint, as well as a firm, crunchy texture. They began to bolt in mid-July, but by that time, most varieties had started to succumb to the heat.
What it looks likeVariety nameYield per plant
Best Buy lettuce for autumn sowing
What it looks likeVariety nameYield per eight plants
488g
This butterhead lettuce was bred to be sown in early autumn, so it’s hardly surprising that it did well in our trial. It formed a good heart and produced the most leaves in an unheated greenhouse, with 488g compared with just 291g from the plants grown under a fleece tunnel. However, if you’re after good-tasting lettuce, you’re better off growing under fleece as these were sweeter.
What it looks likeVariety nameYield per eight plants
499g
This variety is a cos type that holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit. It was one of the best both for taste and for the number of leaves we picked. All the plants produced a reasonable crop, even those without protection, and it didn’t run to seed later in spring. The lettuces grown under insect-proof mesh produced a marginally larger crop, were a tiny bit sweeter than those grown under fleece and significantly tastier than the greenhouse-grown leaves.
Best Buy cos and romaine lettuce
What it looks likeVariety nameAverage trimmed head weight
255g
This RHS AGM cos-type lettuce gave us tall and wide heads that were the second heaviest on test. The bright-green leaves were crisp and sweet with an attractively bubbled-looking, textured surface that would hold salad dressing well. It showed excellent resistance to bolting, with the majority of the plants remaining harvestable for almost three weeks after we picked our first lettuces
What it looks likeVariety nameAverage trimmed head weight
310g
Described as a mini romaine lettuce, this variety produced very dense, heavy heads of wide, rounded leaves. The flavour was lovely and sweet with a good crunch from the central rib and tightly packed hearts. It was slow to bolt and kept its sweet taste even when the plants began to form flower spikes.

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.

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.