Lettuce seed starting

Lettuce – Making Sure You Have Enough for Fall, Winter & Next Spring

This year is the first time I remember not having all the lettuce I could eat well into August. And even in the early spring I had less than the amount I like.

I’m going all out in September and October to make sure lettuce is plentiful in the garden for fall, winter and next spring.

Starting Seed – Staggered Plantings – When to Transplant

I started seed in flats the first week in September and will continue doing that through October. (I have 3 plantings started already. Each week I sow seed of several varieties in containers.)

The first planting is up about one inch. The second planting is only about 1/4 inch tall. The third planting has just germinated except for Winter Density which takes a few days longer.

Two varieties from my first planting.

Two varieties from my first planting.

Seed in this flat was planted a few days ago and germinated outside. Winter Density was planted to the right, but has not germinated yet.

Seed in this flat was planted a few days ago and germinated outside. Winter Density was planted to the right, but has not germinated yet.

One brief shower is all the rain we’ve had for weeks. Even that tropical storm that went through several weeks ago didn’t bring rain. Just wind; and that wasn’t too bad.

Needless to say, my garden is pretty dry. I won’t put the seedlings out until some rain arrives to soak the soil. Then I’ll transplant anything that is two inches or more.

I use to transplant even the tiniest of seedlings and have them grow fine. For the past several years, any tiny seedlings transplanted disappear over night. I’m thinking crickets may be the culprits, but I’m not sure. Letting the seedlings get bigger seemed to solve the problem.

Germination Soil Temperatures

To germinate, lettuce likes soil temperatures that are below 80º F. Temperatures outside were too hot the first of September, so I brought it inside to germinate and moved it outside after germination.

How Temperatures Can Impact Your Lettuce

I had wanted to get started in August to give the lettuce more time to grow before cold weather, but was hesitant because of the heat.

It would have germinated inside. But many times when lettuce is started and then placed outside in extremely hot temperatures it’ll bolt before cold weather arrives. So, I waited until the first week in September.

Reasons Staggered Plantings Make a Difference

You never know from one week to the next here in zone 7 what the late summer temperatures will be and how it’ll impact your lettuces. Staggered plantings ensure that I’ll have enough plants to do well and take me through the fall, winter and spring of next year.

A Couple of Favorites and Why I Plant Them

I’ve started various lettuces that I love, like Sierra Batavia. I should have time to enjoy about 6 weeks of bountiful picking and maybe more if the weather holds.

Young Sierra Batavia lettuce

Young Sierra Batavia lettuce

But when real cold sets in Sierra Batavia usually shrinks and fades even with the protection of cover. I’ve seen a few pieces make it through the winter, but not many.

That’s when the more hardy lettuces like Winter Density and Endive will be on the menu.

With the onset of cold and lessening of daylight hours growth will be slow even with the hardier lettuces. I have to ration, but I’ll have lettuce.


When there’s nothing else to pick in the winter because of slow growth, I can usually count on Endive. I wouldn’t be without it, at least not on purpose.

Not sure what variety mine is but I let it go to seed each year. I already have some decent size plants (volunteers) that I’ve picked leaves from 3 times. It’s particular good this time of year because the leaves are still new and tender.

As it grows larger it’s not as tender and delicious as regular lettuces, but in a pinch it gives me the greens I crave in the winter. I find that cutting it in thin strips and coating with olive oil and vinegar makes the mature leaves much more tasty.

It’s said to have more Vitamin A than any green.

Winter Density

Hopefully my Siera Batavia will be bountiful and I can resist picking my Winter Density this fall. Letting it get as large as possible before winter sets in (and growth slows) will ensure that I’ll get more during the winter under the cover of my makeshift cold frames. (See pictures here.)

In the spring when daylight lengthens and temperatures stay just above freezing this lettuce really shines. And delicious — well, it’s just about the best I ever tasted when it starts major growth in the early spring.

Young Winter Density lettuce

Young Winter Density lettuce

It’s a beautiful Romaine and the heads are robust and gorgeous.

I seldom pick heads of lettuce, but rather continually harvest the leaves. When they start stalking, taste is still sweet and delicious as long as temperatures don’t get too hot. Even with the heat, I had Winter Density way into June and a few pieces into July last year.

One More  Tip that May Save You from Disappointment

Seedlings in Containers

One of the most disappointing things I’ve experienced is to have all those gorgeous seedlings in flats and have them all ruined by a hard rain.  It’s heartbreaking!  At least to me it was.

To prevent that, be aware of the weather and when you expect rain cover your seedlings (or bring them inside) so the rain won’t beat them down.

You can put them under a portable cold frame or cover with a tunnel like piece of screen.  I use a flat that has small mesh and turn it upside down over the flats or containers of lettuce.  It allows rain to get through, but not beat down the lettuce.  The container takes the impact and the lettuce will be fine.

A flat with the small opening mesh turned upside down over seedlings. If it's windy, place a stone or 1/2 brick on the flat so it won't blow off.

A flat with the small opening mesh turned upside down over seedlings. If it’s windy, place a stone or 1/2 brick on the flat so it won’t blow off.

Seedlings in the Garden

And if you’re wondering about what you should do to prevent this from happening to seedlings you’ve just transplanted in the garden the answer is a simple one.

After you transplant your lettuce seedlings, always sprinkle them with a layer of straw that covers the soil. If you get down close, you should be able to still see the seedlings under the criss-crossing pieces of straw.  It will be just enough to protect the seedlings from rain and also from the heat of the sun.  They’ll grow and come through just fine.  Add more straw as they grow.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t started your lettuce yet, you still have time.  You won’t get as much growth as if you had started earlier, but you’ll still have lettuce.  Even late plantings protected from severe cold in the winter can insure that you have a bounty of great lettuce in the early spring when many other gardeners are just starting to plant.

Enjoy the lettuce your efforts will produce!

Related Posts

Lettuce _ Sierra Batavia – A New Favorite

Lettuce – A Reminder – Ways to Have a Continual Supply from Fall Through Spring

Still Eating Lettuces from Your Garden In January or Not?


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  • Loved all the detail you provided! Thank you. I will track down some of the seed you mentioned to plant with my class. So after germination should the flats be in full sun or partial sun? Thanks so much.

  • I was wondering why my lettuce looked so bad. I let it self-sow from the spring planting, but it’s been too hot and dry for it to get a good start. Must have got lucky last year when I shook the seed heads off. I will plant some indoors and transplant out and try to protect them later. What a timely post!

  • I would love to try the Winter Density. I will order some the next time I get seeds. I have never planted lettuces for the winter and I’m excited to do so. I have some buttercrunch, vanity, and something called “spinach mustard” which came free from another order. I’m thankful for the rain we’re getting in central VA today! It’s been dry here as well.

  • I planted my seedlings in the garden this weekend and was thinking of you. Do you cover your fall garden once the temps start to drop?

  • Amy, as long as temperatures are normal fall temperatures in the 80s, your lettuce should be fine in the sun. As you know, lettuce seedlings tend to bake in extreme intense heat (sun).

    My seedlings get full sun part of the day and some welcomed shade the rest of the day.

    Betty, you’ve definitely got time to start more. Also, what you have in the ground might perk up after temperatures decrease and you get some rain.

    Pat, in regard to your statement in your email to me about having plenty of lettuce seed so you might plant for winter lettuce:
    Be aware that not all lettuce will make it through the winter. Winter Density is one of the best for wintering over under cover.

    And by the way, High Mowing Seeds has free shipping with no minimum. So if you want to order just one package of Winter Density you can do so without a shipping charge by ordering from them. They carry all orgnic seed by the way.

    Kate, I cover my lettuces when temperatures are expected to be below freezing even though most of the hardier lettuces do fine down to 28 degrees.
    If we have severe cold for an ongoing period in winter, I leave everything covered. But when the winter weather get really mild and nice, I uncover the lettuce to get that great air circulation that every thing needs. Sometimes, if the good weather is not expected to last, I’ll just open the ends to let air through.


  • Theresa, I planted Buckwheat in newly double-dug beds on August 1st & cut it on September 3rd. After cutting I used it as a mulch on the beds & covered it with leaves as a thicker mulch. Do you think the buckwheat roots have gotten to the point that I could safely plant lettuce seedlings in the new beds? I would be starting the lettuce seed today in flats, so it would be a while longer before I would plant them in the garden beds.

    Thanks for all of the pictures. What an inspiration you’ve been to me!
    Betty D

    P.S. What starting medium did you use in the pictures? It looks great!

  • I’m in Florida where temps are still in the low to mid 90s so my lettuce can’t be planted for about another month. I usually direct seed in the garden. Is it too early to start it in the house, then move to the covered patio?


  • That idea is a winner Bonnie, and will set you ahead when you transplant in 4 to 6 weeks from now. Just make sure they get enough light.
    If you don’t have grow lights, you’ll have to set them outside in the shade to get adequate sunlight and keep them robust.

    I would strongly suggest succession planting (even each week), because as temps change it can affect the lettuce. For example, sometimes even lettuce started in flats when temps are too hot will stalk up quickly after you transplant to the garden.

    And by the way, I got your great email giving me the details of what you have accomplished. I will answer it as soon as I can.

  • Great! I loved the website for High Moving, just placed an order yesterday and will have another order with them shortly for my Spring garden. I was on it over an hour just looking at and reading about the different varieties of lettuce. As soon as the seeds get in I will start them in the house, I have 1 grow light and my favorite 13X12 tray. Lol
    Our temps are still a bit hot at 88 to 90 this week but I can feel the change coming by evening. Once the seeds sprout I usually take the tray outside and put it on the porch that gets lots of indirect sunlight.

    Regarding that email. I was thinking of you while putting in my tomato plants the other night. You would have been laughing at me trying to pull out the straw from the bale! It was too funny………that stuff is in there tight! Anyway, it was 7:55 when I got in the house that night and already pretty dark outside. The next morning I could not wait to get out there. My tomatoes were already standing straight up (I plant them sideways, read that somewhere) and I cleaned up some of the straw and planted my cucumber seeds. I had to plant late that evening because we had a great rainfall and my garden had been dug and just waiting for the rain.

    Thank you!

  • Bonnie, the reason for planting tomatoes on their side is so that roots will develop all along the stem. More roots faster is the idea.

    I think you might have a lot of company working until or after dark. I’m always outside until at least 1/2 hour past nightfall. Bill use to call me an owl. He would say, “How do you see out there after dark?” And another friend and reader, Amy, is almost always outside after dark. She’ll work by flashlight if that’s what it takes. 🙂

    You’re gonna get down right excited when you see your first cover crop coming up. Wish I could be right with you on that occasion to give you a big hug!!

  • Oh Theresa, you will be there for my cover crop. You will have to walk me through, it. Depending on the weather, planting will happen in June or July and cutting in early September, not much time. Do I turn it under, leave it on top, will it compete with the new plants I put in……….lots of questions. LOL Just got an email that my seeds are on the way with a product book……….so excited to see all they have.

    Thank you,


  • If I’m still “kicking” I’ll be here to walk you through it Bonnie. 🙂
    If short for time you can turn it under when only a few inches high.Then wait several weeks to plant.
    If you let it go to flower (buckwheat) you can cut it and lay it on the soil to decay. You can leave the roots in the soil. Or if they tend to keep growing (they don’t for me) you can just pull them out (buckwheat is easy) and lay them on top of the soil to decay. (I’d cover with more straw.)
    It won’t compete.

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