Planting Fall Lettuce

I must admit, often all my gardening efforts go towards seed growing with eating just a happy side benefit. By the end of the summer all my lettuce has long since gone to seed and I start to crave that succulent crunch on my dinner plate.

As I sat down to write to you all I got curious and did a little lettuce research. Instead of paraphrasing the entire history of lettuce here I'll direct you to this Mother Earth News article all about lettuce. A few facts stuck out though. Did you know early versions of lettuce were cultivated as long ago as 2700 BC by the Egyptians? These were tall plants with single leaves, not the heading types we are familiar with. Lettuce is later described by both the Greeks and Romans and the latter named it Lactuca for its white sap. By the 1400s it had spread through Europe and more heading varieties were being developed. If you want to go further down the lettuce rabbit hole follow the link above.

This brings us to fall lettuce! If you are in zone 9 like us, or higher you can grow great lettuce all fall and really even all winter. Folks in colder climates can also grow a lot of lettuce in the fall and with the help of season extenders like row cover and high tunnels well into the winter months.

With September truly here it really is time to get onto your fall garden if you haven't already. There is still time to plant your lettuce. This is what I do for large heads:

  1. Sprinkle 2-3 seeds per cell. I like to sow lettuce in small 1 inch cells but you could use old six packs or other small cups, even egg cartons will work.
  2. Sift potting soil over the seeds to cover by only about 1/8 inch and water in.
  3. If it is still very hot where you live, place trays in the shade and cover with row cover to keep moisture in. You could also place these in your home and then put them outside as soon as germination occurs.
  4. Give them direct light, but not too intense. At this time of year I have a lot of success starting my plants under 30% shade cloth.
  5. When lettuce seedlings are about 1-2 inches tall, transplant them to the garden and mulch around them.

I usually start my lettuce in pots in this manner vs direct sowing in the garden because I prefer large heads. However it is also great to direct sow in your garden right now wherever you have a bit of space. Here is how I direct sow lettuce:

  1. Use the blade of my hand to draw a shallow trough through the soil.
  2. Sprinkle the seed into the trough about 2-4 seeds per inch.
  3. Cover the seeds very lightly with soil. Often I can still see the trough which helps me remember where I planted. I also like to do this along a drip tape so they are easily watered.
  4. Cover with row cover to keep moisture in and the birds off!

I've linked some of our lettuce varieties below. Each year we grow 3-10 varieties for seed and it continues to be one of my favorites to grow. I love that it can virtually be grown year round in our climate and all the beautiful variations.

Good luck with your fall gardens and let's hope some cooler temps are coming soon for the west!


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