How to Plant Lettuce

Three Methods:Starting the SeedsPlanting the LettuceHarvesting the Lettuce

Are you a romaine lover, or more of an iceberg person? Regardless of the variety you choose, lettuce is a hardy crop that grows well in most regions. The seeds are started indoors and planted just after the first frost. With luck, you'll be able to make a salad with delicious home-grown lettuce by early summer. Read on to learn how to plant lettuce.

Method 1
Starting the Seeds

  1. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 1
    Choose a lettuce variety to plant. What kind of lettuce do you most like to eat? Most varieties require the same type of care, so you can grow more than one type at once if you want your salad to have a mix of different types of greens. Buy lettuce seeds in your favorite varieties in preparation for planting. Here are some of the most popular types of lettuce to grow:
    • Iceberg lettuce. You can use this on burgers and other sandwiches or make a cool, crunchy, refreshing salad.
    • Romaine lettuce. The leaves are flavorful and crunchy.[1]
    • Butterhead or Boston lettuce. The leaves are soft and green, and highly nutritious.
    • Loose leaf cultivars. These are the bright green, healthy lettuces often sold in a "spring mix." They tolerate warmer temperatures than other types of lettuce.[2]
  2. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 2
    Decide whether to start the lettuce from seed indoors or plant it outdoors. Lettuce does well either way, but starting it indoors will give you the chance to plant more than one crop in a season. If you want to have fresh lettuce on the table all summer long and into the fall, start seeds indoors and plant more outside later in the season.
  3. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 3
    Prepare seed trays. You can start your lettuce seeds in store-bought seed trays or make your own out of an old egg carton, box or newspaper. Fill the seed trays to within 12 inch (1.3 cm) of the top with a soilless growing medium. Moisten the medium in preparation for sowing the seeds.
    • Seeds already contain the nutrients they need to germinate, so don't plant them directly in soil. You can buy a growing medium or make it out of vermiculite, perlite, and milled sphagnum moss. Mix them together at a ratio of 1:1:1.
    • Since the seeds will be moved to the ground once they sprout, the aesthetics of your seed trays aren't as important as their functionality.
  4. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 4
    Sow the seeds 4-6 weeks before the ground warms up. This will give them time to germinate and sprout before the ground gets soft enough to plant them outside. Scatter seeds evenly into the compartments in the seed tray. Use your fingers to gently press them into the growing medium.
  5. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 5
    Give the seeds plenty of sunlight and water. Place the tray in a sunny window and keep the growing medium moist at all times. If you let it dry out, the seeds may not be able to grow.
    • You can cover the seed trays with a few layers of newspaper for the first week or so, until the seeds sprout. Keep the newspaper moist with water at all times, and remove the newspaper when you see green shoots coming up.
    • Don't overwater the seeds. If they get waterlogged they may not be able to grow.

Method 2
Planting the Lettuce

  1. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 6
    Prepare the planting bed. You should plan to plant the lettuce a week after the last spring frost. Choose an area with soil that drains well and gets plenty of sun. Use a soil tiller or a spade to break up the soil and remove rocks, sticks and roots from the area. Till in compost or fertilizer about a week before you plan to plant the seedlings.
    • Lettuce is hardy, but there are certain conditions that won't allow it to grow properly. Make sure the soil isn't too soggy, and that it has plenty of nitrogen.
    • Make sure the soil is humus rich as well. Talk to someone at your local nursery to discuss ways to enrich the soil in your particular region to make it excellent for growing lettuce.
  2. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 7
    Plant the seedlings. For romaine and iceberg lettuce, dig holes in rows 16 inches (40.6 cm) apart; for loose leaf lettuce varieties, dig holes 8 inches (20.3 cm) apart. The holes should be just deep enough to plant the root balls underground. Lift the lettuce seedlings from the seed tray and place them into the holes. Gently pat soil around the roots so that the seedlings stay upright. Water the seedlings thoroughly.[3]
    • Use a watering can or a hose with a diffuser spray nozzle to water the lettuce garden.
    • Don't completely drown the seedlings in water; just make sure the soil is completely damp.
  3. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 8
    Plant more seeds. In a separate area of the garden, you can plant another batch of seeds that will come up later than the seedlings so you'll have a longer lettuce growing season. Broadcast the seeds over tilled soil, then scatter about 12 inch (1.3 cm) of soil on top of them. One seed packet will cover about 100 feet (30.5 m).
    • It's best to plant loose leaf varieties from seed. They'll be coming up later in the season, and since they're more heat-resistant than iceberg and romaine, they'll be less likely to wilt in the summer heat.
    • Water the seed bed thoroughly after planting.
  4. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 9
    Fertilize the lettuce 3 weeks after planting. Use alfalfa meal or slow release fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen. This will keep the lettuce growing fast and strong.[4]
  5. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 10
    Keep the lettuce watered. If the leaves look wilted, they need to be watered. Give the lettuce a light sprinkling every day, and any time the leaves look a little limp.

Method 3
Harvesting the Lettuce

  1. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 11
    Harvest mature leaves. When the leaves look mature enough to eat - they should resemble lettuce leaves you'd buy in the grocery store - you can break them off directly from the plants. After a few weeks, when the plant is mature, you'll want to cut the whole plant from the ground. If you leave it in it will eventually go bad.
    • Harvest leaves in the morning. They acquire a crispness overnight, and they'll retain it if you harvest early.
    • Lettuce starts to "bolt" in hot conditions toward the end of the growing season. It begins producing seeds and acquires a bitter taste. You can keep this from happening by pinching off the center of the plant. If a lettuce plant does end up bolting, go ahead and pull it up.
  2. Image titled Plant Lettuce Step 12
    Store harvested lettuce in the refrigerator. If you don't eat your lettuce right away, you can store it. If you put it in a plastic bag with some paper towels, it should keep for up to ten days.


  • To enjoy a continuous supply of lettuce, plant a new set of rows each week.
  • Always step around the planting area, especially if you have a raised bed. Lettuce needs loose, aerated soil. Stepping on the planting area will compact the soil and make germination and growth less likely.
  • You may wish to also label where you planted the lettuce, marking when it was planted as well.
  • For an interesting variation, mix several types and colors of lettuce seeds in a single package and sow in a continuous row. This will result in a homemade mix that can be cut as early as 4 weeks after planting for a tender and beautiful salad.
  • Lettuce likes to grow in cool weather and so will generally produce better if planted early. Lettuce can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked and any time after that until concern for fall frost becomes an issue. A lettuce that matures in 60 days can be planted 60 days before the first killing frost of the fall is anticipated. When it gets too hot, lettuce tends to "bolt", channeling all of its energy into producing new seeds, and turning the flavor bitter. If you're planting in a particularly warm area, look for heat-resistant varieties, such as Jericho lettuce. Because it does so well in the cold, if you like growing lettuce you may want to build a cold frame and grow it in the snowy months.
  • Try transplanting lettuce after starting it in flats.
  • If you are planting over a hundred linear feet of lettuce at once, this method can be inefficient and hard on the back. On a larger scale, it may be worth investing in a commercial seeder that can accomplish all of these steps with less time and physical strain.
  • Buy pelleted lettuce seed as it is easier to handle and plant.


  • Always wash lettuce before eating it, especially if any chemical insecticides or fertilizers were used. It is better to avoid use of such products and instead to use diligence in weeding and removing insects by hand, and to use compost and manure as fertilizers. The soil will benefit from it, as will your health.
  • Don't fall behind on weeding, or else you may get some unexpected greens in your salad.

Things You'll Need

  • Seeds
  • A draw hoe
  • A cane or something similar
  • A plank of wood
  • A frame and horticultural fleece
  • A garden fork
  • A metal rake
  • Stakes and string
  • A landscape rake
  • Water
  • Plant labels (optional)

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Growing Lettuce