Locally sourced salads have become trendy these days and for good reason! Nothing beats freshly picked lettuce to add to your dishes. Luckily, it’s not a difficult thing to grow yourself—and the results are well worth it. Here are some tips on lettuce propagation methods.
Choose Your Favorite Type of Lettuce
Many of us eat only a few kinds of lettuce because of what’s normally at the grocery store (iceberg, romaine, leaf), but there are hundreds to choose from: radicchio, purslane, arugula, oak leaf, butter lettuce, etc. Don’t feel you have to limit yourself, but at the same time keeping it simple (especially if you are just getting into it) is okay, too.
Preparing Lettuce Seeds
Lettuce grows best in spring or fall when the weather is cool, but their seeds will only germinate in warm conditions around 70 F with lots of light. Cover seeds lightly with soil and keep them moist (not drowning) until a few leaves develop. Once they’ve sprouted, take them out of the heat, otherwise the plants will bolt to flower and the leaves will taste bitter.
Preparing the Ground
Soil should be kept moist with good drainage whether in planters, pots, or in the garden. Choose a cool spot in either sun or shade and give each variety enough space to grow. Companion planting is a great idea: choose tall veggies like tomatoes or herbs that will shade lettuce and keep them cooler over the season. Create your own ready-to-go “salad pots” by placing your lettuce with another veggie and herb all in one planter and let them grow together for easy picking throughout the season.
Picking Lettuce Leaves
For the majority of lettuce varieties except head lettuce, picking full grown leaves is the best way to help the plant to continue to propagate, as energy is re-directed to new center growth. Use garden sheers, scissors, or simply rip carefully with your hands so that the leaf is picked leaving a half inch of the stalk left. Do not pick more than half the plant at one time to promote healthy regrowth.
For “loose-leaf” varieties, you can also trim your lettuce completely once it has established full growth to help it reproduce. Cut off all leaves with scissors or a knife keeping around 2 inches of the bottom of the plant intact. This is especially good to do if you noticed the plant has gone to seed or has started to bolt. Cutting it back resets its internal clock, and while leaves won’t be as large as the original harvest you can get an extra round by doing this.
Similar to trimming methods in the dirt, romaine lettuce will grow new leaves from the main cut you usually throw into the garbage (or compost) in your house. Place the nub into a bowl filled with a few inches of water and put it on a windowsill or table. New leaves will culminate in about 10 days—enough to top sandwiches or make a small salad. Some may not produce anything but it’s a neat indoor method to propagate this variety—and there's nothing to lose!
For hefty harvests, plant succession crops so that these methods of picking, trimming, and cutting will continually provide fresh lettuce all season. Small crops of one or two plants can be just as fun to grow—and eat! Either way, with these tips, there’s no reason you can’t get your greens.