Lettuce seed starting

Lettuce – There’s No Right or Wrong Way

There’s no right or wrong way to grow or plant lettuce.  It’s a matter of what works best with your set of variables — which are many in any garden.

If you don’t have enough lettuce to suite you after mid March — or if you’re having trouble getting it to grow — you need to try another approach. The only way you’re going to know what works best for you is to try them all.

Two things you should also consider before you begin.

#1. How you want to harvest.  If you graze continually like I do, not much space is required between plants.  If you want to have big heads of lettuce allow about 6 inches between plants.

#2. Watering.
I use a watering can filled with my rain water reserve to water in my seedlings after planting in the garden. After that, I depend on rain.

Even if I were set up to water, I wouldn’t — unless I could save more rain water.  Although I’ve hauled a bucket or two to select spots in my garden in times of drought, I always fear that the water from the tap will cause more harm than good.  It’s filled with chemicals and chlorine.  I read years ago in Organic Gardening Magazine (back in the days when it was really great) that water like our tap water causes plants to be unable to take up the nutrients they need.

Four Ways to Grow Lettuce

You can adjust any of the methods to better suit your situation.  Or you can come up with you own method.

#1  Direct Seeding can be the quickest most hassle free method of getting lettuce.  I say can be — because some people don’t have as much success with it as others. With me — sometimes it’s a big success; sometimes it’s not.

Scatter your seed or plant in rows — whichever you prefer.  Cover lightly with a sprinkling of straw.   Water or wait for rain.  When it get’s about an inch high – thin if you want.  Since I graze all my lettuce everyday, I don’t bother with thinning if one spot or two is a bit thick.  (I have MANY lettuce spots in my garden.)

I spilled some Outredgeous Red lettuce seed here and this little patch came up. If you haven’t tried this lettuce you really should. It’s gorgeous and delicious.

#2  Start in Flats and Transplant into the Garden

This was my most successful approach for almost 30 years. I scattered my seed in a flat in my seed starting area outside and waited for it to germinate.  If the temperatures were right, it germinated in a couple of days.

Lettuce seedlings coming up in the flat.

Lettuce seedlings in flat. Some of the seedlings have already been transplanted to the garden.

When the lettuce was about an inch or so high, I scooped out a handful each day and took it to the garden to plant.  I make a furrow with my finger and placed each seedling about an inch or two apart.  Pulled the soil over the roots in the furrow.  Watered between furrows. Sprinkled with straw. And waited.

A friend picking lettuce in June that was planted as described in the previous paragraph.

If you have a slug problem you can use Escargo around the lettuce to keep it from being damaged. (You want the EscarGo Slug and Snail Control rather than the EscarGo Supreme which has additions that may be harmful to the beneficials.)

#3 Start in Flats; Transplant to Pots; Plant in Garden

Here’s one reason for the extra step of transplanting to pots before planting in the Garden:

For the last month we’ve had no more than a drizzle of rain.  Drought in the summer is bad enough, but I really hate drought in the spring.  Because that’s when there’s so much planting taking place.  I use a watering can to water in the lettuce right after it’s planted, and then I depend on the spring rains.

Some of the beds that I allocated for lettuce this spring have gotten a bit drier than usual because my straw was not as deep on those beds.  (Hind sight is good but never solves the immediate problem.)

So in early April — rather than transplant the inch high seedlings to the garden, I’ve transplanted them to small pots.  (2 or 3 seedling per pot)

Green Deer Tongue transplanted to pots.

As of today – about 10 days after potting — I’m planting them in the garden.  The roots are much more developed and after watering them in I think they’ll do ok if we get some kind of break in the drought by the end of the month.

Larissa Lettuce ready for the garden.


Bronze arrow lettuce seedling transplanted to pot.

#4  in Gallon Plastic Jugs using the Wintersown Method

This is one of my favorite methods.  You start out with your growing medium being moist and you can pretty much forget having to worry about keeping the soil moist because the jug acts like a terrarium or little green house.

Sow the seed (not too thickly) into the soil in the bottom of the jug. Tape the top to the bottom so there is no air gap.  Remove the jug’s cap for ventilation .  Wait for it to germinate and grow.  Transplant to the garden or to small pots as described in the methods above.

Final Thought – Plant Consistently

The only other thing you need to do to have lettuce most of the year is plant consistently. Do succession planting in September through October.  Keep under row covers or cold-frames for the cold of winter.  Start planting again the first part of the year through May. Even if you loose some like I did this year you should still be harvesting a bowl full of baby lettuce and greens at least once a day by mid March.

Picking of April 10th for lunch. Bowl of baby lettuces with an occasional leaf of beet and spinach.

Related Posts:
Lettuce – Time to Plant

Looking at Winter-sown Seedlings and the Garden

You Can Plant in December

Seed Not Germinating? Seedlings Disappearing?

Lettuce Favorites, Tips and Sources

Lettuce – Plant in the Fall; Harvest for 3 Seasons


Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.


All content including photos are copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.


  • I loved the winter sown method too. All my seedlings seemed so robust and healthy. I’ve taken your suggestion to tuck lettuce in behind other larger plants. These days, I have multiple patches of lettuce going in odd places that get just a little more shade.
    For summer greens, have you tried malabar spinach? I’m trying it this year for the first time. Also perpetual spinach – swiss chard. I love greens and salads also!

  • Theresa, your lettuce looks fantastic! Thanks for the encouragement to keep planting in August and September. I have a question: where do you get your straw? I’d like to emulate you and use it for mulch. Do you get it from a farm store, a farmer, or where?

    Thanks for all your wonderful advice!

  • Yes, Sue — to keep planting is definitely the key to having lettuce. So many things can happen and by continuing to plant — you always have backup — AND you can always eat. 🙂

    I get my straw from a farmer. I’ve been getting it from the same family for 30 years! He brings those huge bales to me and puts it right beside my garden. I realize not everyone can have this situation — but just keep your eyes open, Sue —– because opportunity will come.

  • Sandra, I’m so glad that you too have loved the winter sown method. It’s adaptable to so many situations and I’ve been thrilled with it as well.

    I started malabar spinach using the wintersown method. It’s up and I’ve put it in pots. It’s so dry here and I really don’t want to put out the plants without having some moisture they can get started with. This is my first year and I’m looking forward to seeing how it does. It will be nice to have something that resembles spinach during the hot months.

    Also, I have several varieties of swiss chard. I’m already picking baby greens from it as part of my greens for lunch.

    You’ll be so glad this summer that you tucked in lettuce in odd places. You never know what’s going to do and what’s not. The main thing is —– no matter how bad it looks in the heat of summer — don’t pull it up. You will be amazed at how it can change before your eyes in certain conditions and will become edible. I’m going to try to describe it better, when it happens again in my garden. Usually — when it happens — Bill is not around to take pictures and then the lettuce gets picked for lunch and it’s hard to explain without pictures.

    Keep up the good work Sandra!

  • Great, I’m so glad we can compare notes about Malabar Spinach – a totally new thing to me this year. I just wanted to let you know that my big success so far is this lettuce from Seed Savers Exchange FORELLENSCHUSS (aka Speckled Trout Back) the slugs are totally ignoring it, and it’s delicious. So far, I’m really smmitten with it.

  • Forellenschuss is the most wonderful lettuce! There is another called freckles that many say is the same, but I don’t think it is. I noticed mine in the garden today and it seems a bit “more substantial” to the touch than freckles lettuce.

    When I first planted mine in the garden this year it was doing fabulous. All of sudden I lost 3/4 of it! Slugs I think, but not sure. The rest is looking fine.

    So glad you have this excellent lettuce!

  • Oh yes, exactly! I also have freckles, but I much prefer the tender buttery Forellenshuss. I’m really interested in saving seeds from it this year as I’ve used up the whole packet from SSE.

Leave a Comment