Leaf lettuce isn’t a difficult vegetable to grow, by any means. However, for the best results, there are some tricks that can be used to plant the lettuce. These aren’t particularly difficult, but they do seem to be almost counter-intuitive, so many people don’t know about them.
The biggest tip is probably that for lettuce seeds to germinate, they need sunlight as well as water. With most vegetables, the seeds are planted a quarter of an inch to a half an inch deep and sometimes deeper. However, this doesn’t work very well with leaf lettuce. The method that yields great results is to prepare the row for the lettuce, then moisten the row well. Lay down the lettuce seeds, press them firmly into the dampened soil, then water them well, using a fine mist so the seeds don’t get washed away. Clear plastic, such as the plastic wrap used in the kitchen, can be laid down over the top of the seeds to retain moisture while also letting the sunlight through. This isn’t necessary though, as long as the seeds are kept quite moist until they germinate. If the conditions and temperatures are right, germination usually takes place within two days, provided that the seeds are reasonably fresh. (Lettuce seed starts losing its viability in a year or so.)
Lettuce is a cool-weather crop and grows best when the temperatures are 55 F to 65 F. Despite this, the best germination of the seed occurs when the temperatures are 70 F to 80 F. At this temperature, viable lettuce seeds usually germinate within a couple of days if they have plenty of light. It is for this reason that they can be kept very damp. Other vegetable seeds that are kept very moist can rot in the one to two weeks that they take to germinate. The large amount of moisture is great for lettuce seeds, but only if they are kept at 70-80 degrees until germination occurs. If the temperatures are much below this, germination can be delayed and the seeds can rot with the high amount of moisture.
Once the seedlings are about a week old, the dirt can be allowed to dry out a little between waterings. In fact, letting the soil dry out a little is a good idea at this stage, because it encourages the roots to grow deeper. Lettuce is normally a shallow rooted crop as it is, so by encouraging deeper roots, the plants have a better chance of surviving higher temperatures.
Once the lettuce seedlings are a couple of weeks old, they should be thinned out so the plants are no closer than a couple of inches apart. If they are too close together, they can compete for nutrients and the growth can be stunted. If they have room to grow, though, you can harvest the outer leaves without uprooting the plants. This can give you a sustained harvest. Remember too that when lettuce begins to produce flowers, which is called bolting, the lettuce will become bitter. It is a good idea to deadhead any flowers as they form, even if you are harvesting in a sustained fashion. Using proper thinning techniques to begin with, after encouraging deep root growth, we’ve been able to still be harvesting lettuce well into July, when temperatures have been around 100 degrees F.
Planting leaf lettuce isn’t hard and this is certainly among the easiest to grow vegetables. However, there are tricks to growing lettuce successfully and one of the most important is to know that the seeds do need sunlight in order to germinate. Many people, particularly those who have difficulties with growing lettuce from seeds, are often not aware of this trait.
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Posted in food and plants and tagged garden, growing vegetables, leaf lettuce, lettuce care, planting by rextrulove with 16 comments.