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Planting, sowing & propagating lettuce

22.03.2021  /  Reading time: 6 minutes

Lettuce is a great vegetable for beginners - an easy-care crop with a quick harvest. There are numerous varieties of lettuce and you can sow lettuce all year round. Here you can find out what you need to bear in mind and whether direct sowing or pre-cultivation is more suitable. We also give tips on pricking out lettuce.

This article contains:

  1. Sowing lettuce - what you need to know
  2. When to sow lettuce?
  3. Lettuce - preplanting or direct sowing?
  4. Preplanting lettuce - what you need to consider
  5. Planting and caring for lettuce
  6. Pickling a salad

Quick Overview

Sowing lettuce: germination period, temperature and sowing depth

  • Sowing depth: Light germinator, therefore only 0.5 - 1 cm deep sowing
  • Germination temperature: 10 to 15 degrees
  • Germination time: 1 to 2 weeks

When to preplant lettuce or sow directly?

  • Lettuce: Pre-breeding from February; direct sowing from March to April
  • Batavia lettuce, pickerel lettuce, iceberg lettuce: pre-breeding from April, direct sowing from May to August
  • Romaine lettuce: cultivation from April, direct sowing in the bed from May to June
  • Endive: no pre-breeding, direct sowing from June to July
  • Lamb's lettuce: no pre-breeding, direct sowing outdoors from July to October

When to plant lettuce?

  • Most varieties that are grown in advance are planted out after the Ice Saints in mid-May

Sowing lettuce - what you need to know

Lettuce is a light germinator, which you can recognize by the relatively small and delicate seeds. The seed size gives you an idea of how deep a seed is sown. It is obvious that the seedlings of these small seeds are unlikely to make it through a two to three centimeter layer of soil. Therefore, the sowing depth for lettuce seeds is about 0.5 - 1 cm. Place the seeds on the potting compost and sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top. Press the soil down gently and water carefully. It is best to use a spray bottle for watering to prevent the small seeds from being washed away.

The optimum germination temperature for lettuce seeds is between 10 and 15 degrees. The seedlings will sprout after 1 to 2 weeks. When the seedlings are about 3 cm tall and you can see the beginnings of the first leaves, you should prick out the lettuce seedlings. When direct sowing, the seeds are usually sown in large cubes and pricked out after emergence.

When to sow lettuce?

May queen as a young lettuce plant
Some lettuce varieties can be sown and grown early in the year. This gives them a head start in growth and you can harvest earlier.

Lettuce comes in a wide range of varieties. Depending on the lettuce variety and sowing method, there are different sowing periods. Here is a list of some types of lettuce and their sowing dates. To harvest fresh lettuce all year round, you can combine and sow different types of lettuce.

Salat Anzucht Auspflanzen Direktsaat
Bataviasalat ab April ab Mai von Mai bis August
Eisbergsalat ab April ab Mai von Mai bis August
Endiviensalat - - von Juni bis Juli
Feldsalat - - Mitte Juli bis Oktober (Winterernte)/ März bis April (Frühjahrsernte)
Kopfsalat ab Februar ab März von März bis April
Pflücksalat ab April ab Mai von Mai bis August
Romanasalat ab April ab Mai von Mai bis Juni

Lettuce - preplanting or direct sowing?

Lettuce plants can usually be sown directly. When direct sown, the plants usually grow more stably and robustly. In addition, a direct-sown lettuce plant does not bolt as quickly. This means that the lettuce plant goes into flower, making its leaves inedible. If you grow lettuce in advance, the difference in temperature when planting out can encourage a rapid transition to flowering. Pre-planting lettuce also has advantages, however, as it gives the tender young lettuce plants a head start in growth. As young seedlings in the bed, they are otherwise helplessly exposed to birds and snails. When direct sowing, you should protect the lettuce seedlings at the beginning. You can read more about the advantages and disadvantages of pre-cultivation and direct sowing here.

Lettuce in a mixed crop with head lettuce and lettuce picks
If you grow some young plants, you can use the large lettuce plants to protect the freshly sown pickerel seed from slugs.

Preplanting lettuce - what you need to consider

  • Always keep the seeds well moist and spray once or twice a day. As light germinators, there is only a thin layer of soil over the lettuce seeds, which tends to dry out quickly.
  • When growing on a windowsill, the ratio between heat and light must be right, otherwise the lettuce plants will go to seed. The seedlings should be kept at a maximum temperature of 15 degrees. This is very low compared to other crops that are often grown in advance. Therefore, look for a suitable place to grow lettuce, e.g. a heated or well-insulated greenhouse.
  • Make sure there is enough light. It is best to use an additional plant lamp so that the young plants grow robust and stable straight away. Some lettuce varieties are grown relatively early in the year when the days are still dark and short.

Planting and caring for lettuce

When planting out lettuce, you should find a suitable location. Lettuce thrives best in loose, deep and humus-rich soil. It also doesn't need a lot of sun, which is why you can also grow lettuce in partial shade. There is not much you need to consider when planting out. Lettuce likes to be planted slightly elevated to protect its heart from rotting.

Lettuce is fairly uncomplicated to care for. As a weak grower, it does not need to be fertilized. This weak grower does not tolerate too much fertilization well anyway and too much nitrogen in lettuce can also be a problem for us gardeners, as harmful nitrates can accumulate in the leaves. You should also water sufficiently, otherwise the leaves will become hard. A layer of mulch prevents additional water loss through evaporation.

Lettuce with a layer of mulch
Lettuce plants are not demanding in terms of care, but are happy with a layer of mulch in the bed.

Pickling a salad

Pricking out means that the young plants are separated. To do this, all the lettuce plants that are too close together are carefully grabbed by the head and gently pulled out of the soil. In the open field, plant 25 cm apart within the row and 40 cm apart between the rows. When pre-growing, you can separate each lettuce plant into its own small pot. The pre-breeding pots should not be too wide or too deep, otherwise mold can form quickly. A height of 8 cm is perfectly adequate.

You can read more about pricking out lettuce and the peculiarities of lettuce and picking lettuce in this article.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for growing your own lettuce. If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at [email protected].

Want to get helpful gardening tips all year round and plan your own beds in the best possible way? Then register here or download the Fryd app for Android or iOS.

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Marie studied agricultural science at the University of Hohenheim. Her main focus is on ecological agriculture and permaculture. She writes articles for Fryd to educate people about ecological interrelationships and alternatives to current land use. Our current economic systems, especially in agriculture, have numerous negative effects on nature and destabilize our ecosystems. We need a great diversity in our gardens and beds again to counteract the extinction of species. Every gardener can contribute to creating and maintaining habitats and food for a wide variety of creatures. With her articles, she would like to pass on her experience in dealing with natural systems and give people the opportunity to contribute to a stable ecosystem and thus also to securing our livelihood.

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