Now is the best time to grow lettuce. Lettuce prefers cool temperatures and can tolerate a frosty evening. This green is easy to start from seed or you can purchase small plants at the nursery. In the spring, lettuce should be given as much light as possible. Growing lettuce can be done in containers or in garden beds. Look for places that are full sun, especially where trees have not leafed out yet. Containers do not have to be large or deep. You can grow lettuce in containers with a depth as shallow as 6 to 8 inches.
In my Virginia garden, I sow seeds in containers and the garden bed at the end of March and again every 2 weeks thereafter until the end of May. Lettuce seeds are very small so just press them into wet soil. Afterwards, make sure the soil does not dry out, which may mean watering often, depending on the weather. The squirrels like to dig in my containers on the deck so I apply a dust of blood meal. In the garden bed, the slugs like to dine at night so I throw down broken eggshells or Sluggo.
I tend to be heavy handed when I sow seeds. As the seedlings emerge, I have to remove some to create more space for the remaining plants. But these thinnings can be used in a salad or transplanted to other areas of the garden that are waiting for the warm weather veggies. The nice thing about lettuce is that you can grow them before the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants so you don’t need more land; you just double up on your existing land. This year, I sowed lettuce seed in March in a very large Smart Pot called the Big Bag Bed–it is the size of a kiddie pool! In April, I will be able to transplant quite a few in a garden bed.
My family prefers the loose-leaf and romaine varieties. Loose-leaf, or cut and come again, has leaves that are loosely splayed outwards from the crown. They are the easiest to grow, quickest to harvest, and come in a variety of colors. The entire plant can be cut at the base but most people cut the outer leaves as needed so the younger, inner leaves can take their place. Within this group are some of the best heat tolerant varieties. Romaine, also called cos, is not as sweet to me but I find that homegrown romaine is much tastier than store bought. Its stiff, vertical leaves are great for sandwiches and wraps. Romaine has the highest nutritional value of all the lettuces.
There are two other types that I have not grown: butterhead and crisphead. Butterhead, such as Bibb and Boston, has small heads of dark green leaves. These plants are so tight they have to be cut at the base and harvested whole. Crisphead is the familiar Iceberg, a tight ball of light colored leaves that requires a longer cool season than what we have in Virginia.
Try growing lettuce, you would be amazed at how it is easy and tasty! For a wider selection, try growing from seed as nurseries tend to have a limited selection. Here is a list of seed sources.