Lettuce has come a long way since crisp iceberg was the only variety available in the grocery store. Now there are so many types of lettuce, it’s hard to choose just one – and you don’t have to if you grow your own! Generally considered a cool-season crop, lettuce and other salad greens can be grown in the ground in your own back yard or in a container, where you can harvest them as cuttings.

Lettuce

Why go to the grocery store for lettuce when you can grow beautiful greens in your own back yard?

Photo Credit: James H. Schutte

Row of lettuce seedlings

Lettuce prefers 5-6 hours of direct sun per day and moist, well-drained soil.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Lettuce seedling

Let’s hope you enjoy your lettuce before the bunnies do!

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

Salad

Grow your own mesclun mix and create interesting salads with lovely taste and variety.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Before you grow, there’s just a bit you need to know about these tasty plants. Some varieties are more delicate and must be grown in cool – but not cold – weather, while others are heartier and can continue to grow and produce in a cold frame in milder climates or in the shade in slightly warmer weather. No matter which you choose, you can sow the seed directly into your garden in early spring (or try starter plants later in the season) and plant again in late summer to enjoy deep into fall. If you relish a good salad, give at least a few of these varieties a try in your garden:

Butterhead Lettuce: This type is a real treat, with soft leaves that have a mild taste and a beautiful light green or slightly red color. The leaves form a small, loose head that resembles a rosette. Butterhead reaches maturity in 60-75 days. Some of the better-known varieties include Bibb and .

Loose-leaf Lettuces: These are excellent for growing in containers, and some (like mesclun mixes) take as little as 45 days to harvest. The leaves are generally light and ruffled, and they mix well with spicy-tasting salad green varieties. The plants can be harvested by trimming the top 2/3 or by harvesting the older leaves for salad. Then just let them grow new leaves and harvest again!

Some delicious loose-leaf lettuces to try are Black Seeded Simpson, which is a green-leafed heirloom variety; Lollo Rosso, which is green with red-ruffled edges; and Oakleaf, a green variety with long leaves that almost look as if they’ve grown on an oak tree.

Romaine Lettuce: A hearty, upright lettuce, romaine can be grown into crisp heads or harvested as individual leaves and mixed with other lettuces. Romaine is slightly more bitter than other varieties, but it is tasty – in fact, it’s the key ingredient in Caesar salad!

In mild climates, romaine can be grown throughout winter if kept under glass or frost-protection fabric. It takes 75 days or longer to mature. Little Gem is an excellent variety for the home garden, growing smaller heads with tender leaves. Silvia is another interesting type, with scrumptious dark red leaves.

Tasty Salad Additions: You can dress up your salads by adding other greens with distinctly different tastes and textures. Arugula (also known as roquette or rocket) is a wonderful type with a nutty, slightly peppery taste – and it develops even more flavor when grown in a cold frame over winter. Another favorite is endive, which has a tangy flavor that adds a bit of bite to your salad. Radicchio grows into a beautiful purple head of crunchy leaves. And don’t forget all the others out there, including cress, mizuna, cilantro, corn salad (mâche), spinach and mustard. They’re all too tasty to limit yourself to just one type!

If you don’t know where to start, consider diving into salad growing with a mesclun mix, which is a blend of different varieties of lettuce and salad greens. Some mixes will be spicier, while others will be milder, so experiment to see which you like best (and don’t forget to write down your favorites so you can grow them again in fall!)

To plant seeds or starter plants, just select a site with good drainage and around 5-6 hours of sun. Sprinkle the seeds on prepared soil and lightly cover with a sprinkling of soil and water. (If it’s warming up quickly, be sure your lettuce has some shade.) Continue to water and watch your bounty grow. Then harvest your lettuce leaves gradually so you can enjoy weeks and weeks of delicious salads!