You can grow lettuces from seed or take the shortcut and purchase punnets of ready-to-plant seedlings from the garden centre. Wait until frosty weather has passed before planting seedlings out in the garden.
- Choose a sunny sheltered spot. Dig in lots of compost to improve soil structure and warmth. Alternatively plant lettuces in raised beds or containers filled with potting mix. This is a good way to bypass cold soggy soil, which is the main obstacle to growth in early spring. In colder areas, early lettuce can be grown under a cloche.
- You may need to protect lettuce seedlings from birds. A simple tunnel frame can be covered either with plastic (as a cloche to protect seedlings from the cold), with frost cloth, or with bird netting.
- Protect seedlings from slugs and snails. The easiest way is to apply slug bait.
- The faster your lettuces grow, the better they'll taste. Slow or erratic growth results in tough, bitter tasting leaves. To avoid this, the soil must be kept moist. The other ingredients for rapid growth are nutrients and soil warmth. Soils containing plenty of organic matter will warm up more quickly.
- Tip: Avoid cold wet soil overnight by watering in the early morning rather than the afternoon or evening.
- Lettuces thrive with lots of nitrogen but they need other nutrients too.
- For lettuces in garden soil: Apply general garden fertiliser two weeks after planting (sprinkle a tablespoonful onto the soil beside each plant), or feed once a week with liquid fertiliser. Garden lime, mixed into the soil before planting, is also beneficial at this time of year.
- For lettuces in pots: Mix in slow release fertiliser at planting time and supplement with liquid fertiliser as the plants grow.
- For the best nutrition and flavour, pick fresh leaves for each meal. Regular harvesting of young leaves promotes continuous growth of loose-leaf lettuces.
- Lettuces do not thrive in hot dry weather. In summer they will benefit from some afternoon shade.
Lettuces from Seed
Spring is the ideal time to sow. Seeds sown directly onto the garden will be reluctant to germinate until the soil warms up a little. But you can start early by sowing in pots, or in trays of seed raising mix for transplanting out into the garden later. Water gently after planting and don't forget the slug bait.
- Sow seeds directly into warm crumbly garden soil, or in trays of seed raising mix.
- Cover with fine soil or seed raising mix and scatter snail bait.
- Keep the soil just moist until seeds have germinated (7 to 10 days).
- Remove overcrowded seedlings to leave the strongest with room to grow or transplant carefully into the garden or large containers.
- For a continuous supply of salad greens, make successive sowings every 3 to 4 weeks. If you sow all your seed at once the plants will be ready all at the same time and you may not have time to eat them all before they go to seed.