Someone once told me the reasons for planting four rows of lettuce:
1. Lettuce be faithful.
2. Lettuce be kind.
3. Lettuce be patient.
4. Lettuce love one another.
How cute --- or kitsch, depending on your tolerance for such sayings. Cutisms aside, growing frilly, flavorful lettuce is fun. Most lettuces are as beautiful as any foliage plant and wouldn't be out of place tucked into the front of a perennial flower border.
You don't need a veggie patch to grow this salad bowl favorite. Lettuce also is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in containers. It's a cool-weather crop that should be planted no less than two weeks before the last frost date in May and receive 5 or 6 hours of morning sunlight.
You can grow single varieties in big pots or grow them in a row in long window boxes. You can also select lettuce mixes suited to containers and grow them in pots of all sizes. Whatever your choose, make sure the container has excellent drainage (drill a few new holes, if necessary).
A trio of new SimplySalad mixes has been introduced this year, "Alfresco Mix," "City Garden Mix" and "Global Gourmet Mix." The series offers a mix of loose-leaf lettuces and greens in multi-pellets that are easy to plant and respond well to pot culture. They're supposed to look great in the pot and in the salad bowl.
Plants reach 10 to 24 inches tall, depending on variety, and spread about 12 inches. Plants are ready to harvest in four to seven weeks, and you can harvest multiple times before the heat turns them bitter.
Two new little gem-types have been introduced, available through Johnny's Selected Seeds.
"Rhazes" offers dark red leaves and a bright green heart. A compact grower, this little gem needs full sun and has good bolt tolerance, as well as disease resistance. If sown as seeds, harvest is 42 days. By transplant, it's about 35 days.
"Bambi" is described as a warm weather little gem and features dark green, smooth leaves that form true mini heads. Flavor and texture "set a new standard" with a sweet flavor that doesn't turn bitter, according to press materials. This one performs well in early, mid and late plantings and has some disease resistance. Harvest from seed in 50 days; 10 days earlier if planted as transplants.
In the garden, lettuce can be planted as early as the soil can be worked. Direct-seed at soil temperatures of 40 F to 68 F, although pelleted seeds can broaden the temperature range for germination. Cover seeds lightly with soil and firm gently to ensure good soil-to-seed contact.
Lettuce grows best between 60 and 65 F and should be sown every three weeks to keep the supply coming.
To start indoors, sow into flats, pots or containers. Barley cover seeds with vermiculite and start three to four weeks before planting outdoors. Harden off by reducing water and temperatures for two to three days before transplanting outdoors.
Growing lettuce in containers is a lot less work. You don't need deep pots because plants are shallowly rooted.
Direct-sow seeds into pots. Use a potting soil that is rich in organic matter, adding perlite and vermiculite into the mix to lighten it up. Moisten the soil before sprinkling seeds onto the soil and barely cover seeds with more moistened soil.
Mist regularly to keep soil moist and place the pots where they will get morning sun. Seeds should sprout within a week.
Stagger planting for a longer harvest and pluck outer leaves first. Save extra seeds to plant as a fall crop.