Interested in growing your own looseleaf lettuce? Read this growing guide for requirements, and tips on how to get the most out of your lettuce crop.
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Looseleaf lettuce (lactuca sativa, or loose-leaf lettuce) is one of the three basic modern types of lettuce, along with romaine lettuce and head lettuce. The loose-leaf name originates from its leaves that grow from a central stalk but do not form a compact head.
There are many different varieties of loose-leaf lettuce. Below are several of the most common:
- Black Seeded Simpson
- Bijou (has dark red leaves)
- Deer tongue
- Bronze Arrowhead
- Red Sails
This type of lettuce is very popular in the western regions of the United States but is also cultivated in other regions of the world.
As with lettuce in general, the looseleaf lettuce types are easy to grow because they do not require too much care. They are mainly raised for the leaves which are most frequently consumed raw in salads.
When To Plant?
Most varieties of loose-leaf lettuce have good resistance to cold. Thus, they can be cultivated either in early spring or late fall.
Cool temperatures are good for any lettuce varieties as warm temperatures will rush the plant to produce seeds. When that happens, the leaves usually become slightly bitter and lose some of their nutritional benefits.
How To Plant?
This lettuce type can be grown in open fields, but also in greenhouses and protected areas to produce early spring crops.
There are two primary methods for cultivating lettuce:
- Direct sowing
In general, gardeners and those who grow lettuce for their own consumption will grow it by direct sowing. This is the simplest method but the downside is that it will take longer to reach harvest time. The plants should begin to sprout about 6-10 days after sowing.
The second lettuce cultivation method is by seedlings.
For a quick harvest, it is important to use vigorous seedlings of about 25-30 days. Seedlings can be obtained by early sowing in heated greenhouses.
When planted in fields, looseleaf lettuce seedlings are usually planted in rows. This lettuce type also grows very well in containers or raised beds.
When planted in fields, the lettuce seedlings grow best when planted in two or four rows. The distance between rows should be about 12 inches (30 cm) and the space between plants should be around 5-7 inches (13-18 cm).
In case of direct sowing, the seed should be planted between 0.4 and 1.2 inches (1-3 cm) deep, depending on the moisture of the soil. Later on, it will also be necessary to thin the plants. The purpose of this is to give plants enough space to develop. You should aim to keep a distance between plants of about 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm) apart.
As already mentioned, lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your garden. Looseleaf lettuce does not make an exception. Still, there are several things you need to take into account to achieve the best results and maximize the potential of your crop.
Lettuce is a plant that needs plenty of light. Yet, it can also tolerate and grow in partial shade.
When planted in full sun, you can expect plants to reach their maturity sooner than when planted in semi-shade. The advantage of lettuce that grows in a little shade is that you can harvest its leaves for an extended period.
Looseleaf lettuce can also be planted between other crops, as long as the other plants don’t grow too tall and don’t make too much shade.
As mentioned earlier, most types of loose-leaf lettuce are resistant to cold. They can normally even withstand temperatures of about 21 ° F (-6 ° C) or lower. However, this can fluctuate from one variety to another.
In general, the lettuce seeds need between 41-50 ° F (5-10 ° C) to germinate. The optimum temperature for the leaves to grow is around 60 ° F (16 ° C), and about 68-71 ° F (20-22 ° C) for the stalks and flowers to develop.
At temperatures above 77 ° F (25 ° C), the seeds are less likely to sprout and the leaves become pale and weak.
Looseleaf lettuce varieties need humus-rich soils with an optimal pH level between 6 and 7.2. Acidic, light, or heavy soils, but also the ones poor in organic matter should be avoided or enhanced with the help of compost.
If you are interested in learning how to make your own compost at home from the food scraps you are already throwing away, make sure you see this guide.
The watering frequency required for the development of the looseleaf lettuce depends mainly on factors such as the type of soil, season, and the climate in the area where it is planted.
In general, lettuce requires about two waterings per week. Yet, it can require more frequent irrigations throughout periods of high temperatures and drought.
If the soil is already rich in organic matter and nutrients, the looseleaf lettuce can grow very well without any added fertilizer.
In the case of lower quality soils, you can use a general vegetable fertilizer to boost the development of the plants. Be careful though not to overfertilize your lettuce.
When To Harvest?
Most looseleaf lettuce types, just as all lettuce species, have a short vegetation period. The crop is usually ready to be harvested approximately 45-55 days after sowing. However, you can consume the leaves as soon as they form.
It is not necessary to remove the whole plant from the ground to make a salad. You can just pull a few leaves from it and let the plant grow further.
It is ideally to collect the lettuce early in the morning, before the sun gets up, to avoid wilting.
At the end of its vegetation period, the lettuce plants will form seeds. These are usually ready to be harvested after about 120 days.
Pests And Diseases
The pests and diseases that usually strike any lettuce variety also affect the loose-leaf lettuce.
Below are some of the most common pests and diseases:
- Leopard slug (limax maximus)
- Garden snail (cornu aspersum)
- Wireworms (agriotes spp.)
- Cabbage flea beetle (phyllotreta atra)
- Greenfly (Aphis gossypii)
- Cabbage whitefly (aleyrodes proletella)
- Downy mildew of lettuce (bremia lactucae)
- Anthracnose of lettuce (microdochium panattonianum)
- Powdery mildew (golovinomyces cichoracearum)
- Gray mold (botrytis cinerea)
- White mold (sclerotinia sclerotiorum)
- Fusarium wilt (fusarium oxysporum)
- Leaf spot (cercospora longissima)
Anyone can grow looseleaf lettuce in his or her garden. This variety, as well as lettuce in general, is a plant easy-to-care-for, has no extraordinary requirements, it is healthy, and will give you a source of fresh leaves for your salads throughout spring or fall.