Gardener's Supply Company

Lettuce – Bitter? Secrets to Keeping it Tasty.

There’s nothing like the sweet taste of early spring lettuce.  It’s always a disappointment when hot dry weather comes and causes bolting and bitterness.

But don’t be in such a hurry to pull up your lettuce when that happens.  There are some secrets to getting lettuce that’s tasty through mid July or longer.


Batavia, Reine des Glaces, Red Sails, and Forellenschuss Lettuces harvest July 2nd.

Batavia, Reine des Glaces, Red Sails, and Forellenschuss Lettuces harvested July 2nd.

Several Immediate Things To Do

  • If lettuce is stressed by hot weather, pick early in the morning. It’s had the night to recover from the sun, so its life force will be the strongest.
  • To get that freshly harvested quality in any season, you should always have an ample size bowl of cool water with you in the garden.  Immerse the lettuce in the water immediately after picking it.

Note: The possible exception to this would be if you are harvesting heads of lettuce.  I get the most out of my lettuce by grazing continually, never allowing it to head.

  • Pick new leaves.  Old leaves tend to be stronger tasting.

Water and cold can work miracles in restoring some of the sweetness to your lettuce in these two tips:

  • Let your lettuce soak in the water for about an hour after harvest. (Be sure you use water that is pure and not loaded with chlorine and chemicals.)
  • After gently washing and drying place in a plastic bag. Keep refrigerated for 24 to 48 hours before eating.

Things to Do Before the Season

  • Make sure your soil has lots of organic matter.  It feeds your lettuce and also retains moisture. (Good nutrients and water go a long way towards sweet lettuce)
  • Plant different varieties. Some lettuces take the heat better than others.

Batavia lettuce at the end of a row with beans coming up next to it.

A little spot of Forellenschuss lettuce at the end of a row.

Try a few new varieties each year and find out what works best for you.

Keep in mind lettuces that have a characteristically sharp, bitter flavor won’t be changed by anything you can do.  Endive lettuce is an example.

  • Plant a little lettuce every week in the early spring.  Some plantings will do better than others. But you won’t know which ones until the time arrives. (I call it backup.)
  • Mulch your lettuce.  It keeps the soil temperatures cooler and helps retain moisture vital to sweetness.
  • Plant in various spots and include some spots of partial shade.  (You’re gonna be amazed at how some of these will outshine the others.)

Echinacia and a variety of lettuces at the end of a row in the garden.

  • Plant in the shade of your other vegetables. I plant lettuce between my tomatoes. If you trellis your cukes, plant lettuce where it will be shaded by the big cuke leaves.

Deer Tongue lettuce planted between tomatoes.

Assume Nothing

And by the way, just because it’s bitter today — don’t assume that it will be bitter tomorrow.  Here’s an example of what I mean:

The rains stopped in late spring this year.  To make matters worse, the temperatures were above 90 degrees.  The lettuce didn’t like it!  It was only the first of June and almost every variety I had was bitter.

We waited 4 weeks before the rain came again.  Only 1/2 inch, but it was amazing the difference it made in the lettuce.  Two days later we had another 7/8 inch and the lettuce was as sweet as early spring. Here it is July and it’s still delicious.

You can’t predict the weather.  If you pull up things too quickly, you miss the opportunity to take advantage of good fortune.

If It’s Too Far Gone to Eat in a Salad

Use it as a cooked green. It’s delicious! I’ll give you an easy recipe in my next post.


Other Posts on Lettuce:

Lettuce – Eating Fresh Even After it Stalks?

Lettuce – Favorites, Tips and Several Sources

Lettuce – Spinning Like a Great Chef

Lettuce – Plant in the Fall/Harvest for 3 Seasons

Lettuce – A Teaser and Reminder

Lettuce – Time to Plant

Lettuce – Cold Frames and Voles


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9 comments to Lettuce – Bitter? Secrets to Keeping it Tasty.

  • Theresa,
    Thank you for all the wonderful tips. I hadn’t heard of some of these ideas before. You really know your stuff!

  • Here’s another reason to plant lettuce at different times: The slugs are more active some weeks. We had a very rainy spring, and one entire bed (out of four) was eaten by slugs as soon as the seedlings appeared. Luckily, I plant my lettuce in several different spots in the garden, so the other patches were less damaged.

    Any tips for getting rid of slugs? The beer traps didn’t work for us.

  • Theresa

    Hi Diane,

    Yes, you sure are right! I like you have found that slugs are definitely another reason to plant lettuce at different times.

    You might want to read my post on slugs entitled Slug Damage – Solution – Review.

    Sure glad you found the lettuce tips useful! Nice to have lettuce as long as possible.

    Thanks for taking time to comment.


  • Toni Brock

    Theresa ~ I am so glad your site came up when I googled what to do about my bitter garden lettuce. I was just about to pull it up and compost it. I was so discouraged. Thank you for helping me find some solutions and not feel quite so defeated.


  • Theresa

    I’m glad I could be of help to you Toni. How to get lettuce in the hot days of summer is a well-kept secret — which I was happy to share.

  • Janine

    I’ve had very good luck preventing greens from being eradicated by slugs etc, by spreading coffee grinds around base of plant.

  • Theresa

    A lot of folks seems to have had excellent luck with this Janine. Also in spraying the slugs with liquid coffee.
    I don’t drink coffee, but if I had coffee grounds I’d definitely use this idea. Also coffee grounds are great organic matter. Sure appreciate your posting this. Many thanks.

  • beth

    Lately the romaine lettuce I have been buying is unusually & unpleasantly bitter (particularly the spines). How can I sweeten it? Do I use the same cold water method as suggested for head lettuce?

  • Theresa

    Beth, I raise all my own lettuce. I have in past years used store bought and always found that most of it tastes bitter. I don’t know what you can do about the bitterness in store-bought lettuce. However, why not go ahead and try the cold water method and see if it works.

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