3 ways to grow lettuce (7 different varieties from seed)

When you grow lettuce (Lactuca sativa) at home you soon realize that the taste of home grown lettuce is far superior to store bought produce. There is really no comparison.

And even better, it is easy to grow your own lettuce. The harvest is plentiful compared to the space the plant requires and you can pretty much grow it anywhere.

Lettuce plants – so many beautiful and tasty varieties

There are so many different varieties of lettuce. When you hear the word lettuce you are forgiven to immediately think of Iceberg lettuce.

The good news is that there is so much more to explore. 

Why not try planting arugula, cress, endive, frisee, mache, radicchi or romaine lettuce to just name a few.

These varieties all offer different colors, textures and taste profiles to make your garden look great while giving you garden greens on tap when you are preparing food.

And it is an extremely gratifying experience where the harvest is plentiful for the amount of space and work that is required.

Growing 7 different varieties from lettuce seeds

I have picked 7 of my favorite lettuce varieties to grow in a soil bag. That’s right – no need for special potting soil mixes, standard garden soil will do nicely.

7 varieties of lettuce in a garden soil bag
7 varieties of lettuce planted in a soil bag for kitchen greens on tap

My hope is that you will see that you do not need a lot of space to grow lettuce.

These are my 7 varieties of lettuce to plant early spring in a container or soil bag.

1. “Intred” – Romaine or cos lettuce, compact, upright, tasty and cripy

2. “New Red Fire” -large loose leaf lettuce forming loosely bound heads

3. “Lolloo Rossa” – delicate flavorful curly leaves, not the most crispy variety 

4. “Green Salad Bowl‘ – loose leaf green and red lettuce, heat resistant

5. “Red Salad Bowl” – loose leaf green and red lettuce, heat resistant 

6. “Australische Gele’‘ – tender loose leaf yellow-green lettuce, cut or pick leaves

7. “Rouge Grenobloise” – loosely formed crisphead lettuce with tender red and green leaves

The mix gives me different colors, flavors and textures. The plants also grow differently creating a varied and living growing environment.

The best way to grow lettuce indoors

We also grow lettuce indoors for year-round access to fresh greens. Because even if you can grow lettuce year-round outdoors, you will have better harvests indoors during the hotter summer months as well as wintertime.

Growing lettuce indoors we prefer to grow loose leaf lettuce and other greens like arugula using Deep Water Culture (DWC) and Ebb and Flow hydroponic grow beds. Avoid head lettuces as they are more difficult to grow indoors.

Harvesting lettuce grown indoors
Harvesting lettuce grown indoors

Plants are started indoors and seed starting and pre-germination can be done using rockwool grow cubes or a simple DIY paper towel grow bed.

When growing lettuce indoors during the darker months of the year you need to use extra lighting for best results.

3 different ways to grow lettuce outdoors

Lettuce is a very tolerant vegetable to grow from seed. And growing lettuce outdoors basically comes down to remembering that lettuce grows best in cool weather as long as you provide water, full sun and a moist soil that is light and drains well.

You can of course start lettuce indoors by planting seeds in starter pots and later transplant your lettuce seedlings to your outdoor garden. I do however not find this to be necessary.

Here are our 3 best ways of growing lettuce outdoors in your garden.

1. Lettuce thrives in pots and containers

Lettuce does not need a lot of space to grow.

But your harvest will of course be dependent on the growing space you allocate.

Growing lettuce in mulched container bed
Top watering (at night) lettuce in mulched container bed

And remember, it makes more sense to choose a container that is wide and shallow. 

Narrow and deep will not generate more harvest as the lettuce plants root systems are quite shallow compared to for example root vegetables like carrots or horseradish.

Think planting space rather than deep 20 liter / 5 gallon pots or containers filled with soil. Find a good balance as too shallow will make it hard to maintain soil moisture and lettuce plants do not like dry soil.

And no, you do not need to buy a fancy container from a garden store. Pretty much any container will do. Just make sure to make drain holes in the bottom of the container to allow excess water to run off.

Tips: Try growing lettuce in grow bags following the instruction in our video tutorial posted in the article "Grow lettuce in grow bags (and other leafy greens)"

Why not ask if your local garden center has containers to spare. I do it all the time and I often get odd sizes. Garden centers and nurseries need many same size containers to grow plants in bulk.

This also means that you need to put a protector under your container to avoid the surface being damaged or stained by excess water.

2. Planting leaf lettuce in soil bags

Growing vegetables in soil bags has to be one of my favorite “garden hacks”. 

Lettuce grown in soil bag
Lettuce planted directly in soil bag

It is really simple and produces great results. Avoid planting head lettuce as it is more difficult to grow and the soil bag method works better for lettuce varieties where you harvest lettuce by the leaf or leaves.

Again make sure you make drain holes in the bottom of the soil bag. And protect the surface under the bag if necessary. 

Also, ideally place the soil bags raised off the ground on for example a table to protect against soil dwelling bugs and insects.

Use a garden knife or a pair of scissors to make parallel cuts in the soil bag.

Tip: I often run out of raised beds or table space and instead place pieces of wood under the bag to raise it off the ground.

3. Growing lettuce in garden beds or a vegetable garden

If you are lucky to have a vegetable garden or raised garden beds you can of course plant seeds in situ, or directly where the lettuce will grow.

When I plant in situ in our vegetable garden I always cover the planted seeds with mulch. I often use grass clippings as they are available and free. Pine needles, hey and straw are other great alternatives.

Mulch helps keep the soil moist and will also provide nutrients as it decomposes. The mulch also creates a protective layer between the lettuce plant and any soil based pests and insects. The mulch layer also prevents soil from splashing onto the lettuce leaves when you water your plants.

How to grow lettuce from seed

Growing lettuce from seed is rather straightforward. 

There are however a few things that will make your experience growing lettuce more successful. Follow the step below to get rich harvests throughout the year.

I use the steps below for all the varieties I have listed above.

1. Choose your location

When I use containers or soil bags I always secure a place with good light and preferably full sun. But half shade also works. 

I also make sure that the spot does not get too hot. 

Lettuce seeds will germinate in cooler temperatures (from 5 degrees  Celsius /40 Fahrenheit). The seeds will however not germinate well in hot weather. 

2. Prepare the soil

Lettuce prefers a loosely structured, compost-rich and well drained soil with plenty of organic matter. There is no need to add nutrients or fertilizers beyond compost when we plant the seeds.

Later on when the seedlings are growing, add layers of grass clippings or another organic mulch to improve your soil by adding slow release nutrients to the soil.

Mix in composted cow manure if you are starting with a lean soil that has already produced harvests (succession planting).

3. Plant lettuce seeds

Use your finger or a stick to draw lines in the soil. Aim for a depth of about 1 centimeter (⅓ inch).

Water the soil and allow time for the soil to absorb the water.

Remove the seeds from the seed packet and plant them about 5 centimeters (2 inches) apart. Cover the planted seeds with a loose layer of soil. 

Finish by covering the area with a thin layer of grass clippings or another slow release mulch. 

Seed packets will tell you to allow for a distance of about 20 centimeters (8 inches) between rows. I rarely allow for this much distance as I tend to thin out the plants naturally by harvesting outer leaves of crowded plants early.

When planting rows of lettuce in our vegetable garden I prefer to plant the rows in pairs. I plant two rows close together and then leave space (10 centimeters/4 inches) before planting another pair of rows.

Planting like this will allow the rows to grow together minimizing the growth of weeds between the plants.

3. Water soil surface gently

Water the soil gently using a water can with a rose or shower head as needed. If you water too much you risk displacing the seeds.

And as we watered thoroughly before planting and added grass clippings to the area you can even skip this step if you feel unsure.

Now you need to keep the soil moist and avoid dry outs. Lettuce can survive occasional light dry outs but it can leave the taste of the harvested leaves bitter.

Like most other vegetables, lettuce can get attacked by snails, aphids and other types of lettuce pests and diseases.

We rarely have a problem, but covering your young plants with a protective cloth can help steer off problems.

Snails can be fought off naturally using ash. Simply strew the ash between the rows but do not cover the leaves.

Companion planting chervil can help avoid problems with aphids. You can also try removing them by hand though I know it is a tedious process. 

Harvest your lettuce

Harvesting lettuce is as simple as it sounds. Pick individual outer leaves or simply cut the entire plant.

Harvested lettuce
Homegrown lettuce harvested

I like to succession plant lettuce every 2-4 weeks for continuous harvest. I often use a combination of different varieties like the 7 varieties listed above. 

I find that using different varieties gives us a nice mixture of leaf types, colors and textures.

I use some leaves for salads greens and others like romaine lettuces for wraps. Some lettuces are harvested early as baby greens while others are left to grow to maturity. Still, if you want tender lettuce it is better to harvest early than late.

You can also cut and regrow many types of lettuce. Cut off the plant leaving approximately 3 centimeters (1 inch). 

The plant will regrow but you will experience diminishing returns. Expect the plant to yield about a third or even a fourth of the initial harvest. If you cut and regrow you should expect no more than 3 harvest cycles per plant and growing season.

After harvesting you should water your lettuce immediately and serve or place in the crisper in your refrigerator. Lettuce will keep for a couple of days in your refrigerator but is by far better eaten fresh.

Frequently asked questions:

How to grow 7 easy varieties of lettuce
Lettuce grown in soil bag

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.