Lettuce Looms Large in Winter Gardens
No gardener can easily resist planting crispy, tasty and attractive
lettuce in the garden or hotbox.
Consider the prolific and ancient lettuce, cultivated since colonial America
and over thousands of years in Europe and Asia. It's contemporary, it grows
with a minimum of fuss, and it adds a visually pleasing element to any flower
or vegetable garden. With over 800 cultivars to choose from, no gardener can
easily resist planting some in the garden or hotbox for fresh salad in cool
spring and winter months.
The keys to success are grow it fast, crop it regularly, and keep it well
watered, mulched and fertilized. Prepare your beds with a healthy dose of
organic compost or seasoned manure, turned into the top two inches of soil.
Seeds will need light to germinate, so just gently press them into the soil,
or rake them in. Keep the plants thinned to about 10 inches apart. In the
deep south, try cultivating your lettuce crop in the cooler months because
high summer temperatures will wither it. It can be planted from September
through March and harvested in May. Further north, lettuce can generally
grow year round but remember that high temperatures can cause bitterness.
You can purchase transplants at the nursery or germinate your own plants. If
temperatures drop below freezing, you can save your leafy crop from frost
burn by covering with plastic, straw, or cloth. During the growing season,
apply a water soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer about every two weeks or so.
Lettuces come in basic varieties defined by their growth and appearance.
These include leaf or loose-leaf types, semi-heading types such as butterhead
and romaine, and heading or crisphead types such as iceberg. Try any type
and experiment to your heart's desire. Check out the local nursery and you'll
find an astonishing array of shapes, sizes and colors. Leaf and loose-leaf
lettuces are attractive and easy to grow and their tolerance for higher
temperatures makes them a versatile choice for different growing zones and
seasons. Their leaves spread apart during growth and form bunches of color
ranging from dark red to deep green to pale yellow. Textures vary just as
widely. You can have smooth, wrinkled, curled, crinkled, pointed or lobed
leaves-something for any palate and presentation on the salad plate. When
cropping, remove only the largest leaves. You won't have to wait too long to
enjoy the fruits of your labor. Most are ready for harvesting within 40 days
Other types require different tastes and techniques. Butterhead lettuces are
softer and tender. Home-grown butterhead has a distinct advantage over
store-bought. Because the leaves can be easily damaged during shipment, the
quality can suffer and the cost is higher than other varieties. Fortunately
for gardeners, they're easy to grow. Crop butterhead or pick the whole plant
when mature. The best lettuce is any lettuce when served just minutes after
Sources used to create this article include Dan Gill and the New Orleans