Lettuce – Secrets to Getting Eatable Lettuce well into Summer

If you were able to follow my suggestions in previous posts and

  • Planted far more lettuce than you thought you’d need
  • Planted it continuously through the spring
  • Planted it in every shady spot in the garden

— you should still be eating delicious lettuce.

What’s Happened So Far with My Lettuce

In June we had a few hot spells, but my lettuce is still going strong.  Most of it has stalked and some of it’s bitter, but much of it’s delicious. Yesterday and again this morning I picked an enormous amount in anticipation of the “over 100 degrees” temperatures that are being forecast for the weekend.

Lettuce picked this morning after temperatures in the high 90s yesterday and over 100 forecast for today. It was already 85 degrees when I harvested this morning.

After the extreme heat it might be a while before I’ll be able to find some that is eatable. It’ll take a bit of doing —- but it CAN be done.  It just takes practice in knowing what to look for and when to do the looking.

Warning – This is NOT Conventional Information

This is the kind of information you’re not going to see elsewhere on the internet.  If you did — I’d be very surprised.

But I think I know the reason. If a gardener has not had hunger (or maybe a strong desire to experiment) force them to find out first hand how to get eatable lettuce from their garden in hot weather — they won’t even know it can be done — because they’ll give up too quickly and stop trying.  In all probability they’ll have the belief that “once it’s bitter you’ll never get any good lettuce from the plant — so why not pull it up.” And it’s very unlikely that my experience – as set forth in this post — would have any credibility with them at all.

Sometimes (or most of time) it’s the “dire necessity” element in a situation that brings to light what really is possible.  That’s what happened to me with lettuce.

Here’s How to Get Good Lettuce Well into the Heat of the Summer

#1 – When to Harvest (in other words: When to Do the Looking)

Your best chance (although not your only chance) at getting eatable lettuce will be after temperatures cool and preferably after a rain. (And by the way, after 100 degree temperatures – anything in the 80s will be cool. Maybe even the low 90s.  Your body will be able to tell.)

Unless it’s a cool and/or overcast day,  harvest early AM (maybe about 9AM)  after the lettuce has had the night to refresh its life force and to cool even more.  If that’s not possible —- harvest in the afternoon after the sun has left the lettuce.

Important: Always carry a bowl of water with you to place the lettuce in immediately after its picked.

#2 – What to Look for — With lettuce Looks are Everything

I also hope you took my suggestion in the Lettuce – How to Have More in the Off Season and have really paid attention to how good lettuce looks; its color and its shine. Basically this same look of good lettuce at its prime is what you are going to look for after lettuce is past it’s peak.

And if you have lettuce that has not yet flowered, you’ll have even greater success in finding more that’s eatable.

Green Deer Tongue on the right with dull blue/green leaves that are bitter. Bronze Arrow on the left just starting to stalk, but leaves are still delicious. Note the color of its leaves. That is the color I will look for on this plant as we go forward into more hot weather.


Green or speckled Lettuce

When green lettuce stalks and blooms it tends to have a blue cast to it.  The blue means bitter.  Even now I have lettuce in the garden that has started to flower and the leaves have a blue cast.  In spite of that I am still picking it — but I look for leaves that have the same green and same shine that the lettuce had when it was at its best. Sometimes it’ll be big leaves at the bottom.  At other times it can be small leaves at the top that have just come out on lettuce that has not yet flowered.

Romaine on the left (next to the tomato plant) starting to stalk but still good.  Black Seeded Simpson-like lettuce starting to stalk – still good.  Green Deer Tongue stalking – some good leaves.  Red romaine — leaves at the top dull purple and bitter; leaves at the bottom are good color and still sweet.


Forellenschluss lettuce toward front on left is seeding.  Some of the leaves at the bottom are still good. You’ll see green deer tongue stalking in the middle.

Red Lettuce or red/green lettuce

Most of the time the leaves of bitter lettuce will be dull rather than shiny. This includes lettuce of almost any color.

My red lettuce that is stalking and blooming is about 3 feet tall.  It has a dull purple cast to most of the leaves. I look for leaves with the same dark shiny red that the lettuce had in its prime.

The upper leaves are dull and purple/red and bitter.  The leaves on the left that are shiny and green/red are the ones that are good. That’s the color that designates a good leaf and a good taste for this variety of lettuce.


It doesn’t show well here, but the upper leaves are dull and purple/red and bitter.  The leaves that are shiny and green/red are the ones that are good. You might see a little white sap when you pick the leaves, but after you soak in water in the frig — you’ll have something wonderful for a salad.

Still Stronger than Young Lettuce

Keep in mind that if you taste the lettuce in the garden it is not going to be the “new” sweetness of young lettuce.  It’ll be stronger.  It might show some white sap where you pick the leaf, but if the color is right  and you soak it in cold water for an hour or so (in the refrigerator if possible) you’ll more than likely be delighted with the taste. (With the dull leaves that have turned the wrong color — you could soak them forever and they would still be bitter.)

Final Thought

With a little practice and attention to detail,  you’ll get delicious lettuce for salads well into the heat of summer.

Other Posts on Lettuce:

Lettuce in 100 Degree Heat

Lettuce – Harvesting for Dinner on July 16th

 Lettuce – How to Have More in the Off Season

Lettuce – There’s No Right or Wrong Way

Greens – Now is the Time to Plan for the Heat of Summer

Lettuce – Eating Fresh Even After it Stalks

Lettuce – Delicious as a Cooked Green

Lettuce Bitter? Secrets to Keeping it Tasty

Lettuce – Spinning Like a Great Chef

Spinach Talk

Lettuce – Favorites, Tips, and Several Sources

Lettuce – Plant in the Fall – Harvest for 3 Seasons

Lettuce – A Teaser and Reminder

Lettuce – Time to Plant


Organic Gardening it easy, efficient, effective and it’s a lot easier.


All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.


  • Thank you Theresa. I was having my lunch and then I was going out to my garden and pull those stalks of lettuce that have gone to seed. Your email was timely in that I will look for the shiny green leaves and beware of the bluish ones. I do have fresher lettuce, but I wanted to try this. Your article was very good in explaining what to look for. Thank you.

    I’m the one who asked about the white milk cartons versus the clear or opaque. I have not had a chance to give the winter planting a try, but still plan to give it a try.


    My garden has been a bit neglected this year. (Family in the hospital.)

  • Hi Sharon,
    I was sorry to hear that you have family in the hospital and hope they will quickly return to good health.

    Glad the article was timely. You may want to wait before pulling your lettuce until after this heat wave. Once your weather returns to decent temperatures and you get a rain — you can better experience what I am talking about. Then you’ll understand even more what I mean.

    Thanks for taking time to comment.

  • This will be my first year growing a decent amount of lettuce & I love that I can go to your archives & get such detailed information with perfect pictures to show EXACTLY what you are explaining.

    I had a salad for dinner & got excited just thinking about the idea of a big salad from my garden soon. I’ve spent a lot of money trying to eat organically this winter to build my immune system back up. Lots of fruits, veggies & greens in my shakes, but I just can’t get the vitamins & minerals that I need from store-bought produce, even if it was grown ‘organically’. I remember well your post discussing staying as far from ‘the line’ as possible.

    God Bless,

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