Caring for Your Lettuce Plants
Lettuce is a leafy vegetable that is cultivated in different parts of the world. Its mild flavor and crisp texture make it a perfect addition to salads and sandwiches. This plant has several different varieties, including Romaine lettuce, Iceberg lettuce, Butterhead lettuce, and the common leaf lettuce. Easy to grow and maintain, you can enjoy homegrown lettuce with some basic care.
When you plant lettuce, consider carefully the amount of shade in the planting spot, as well as the condition of the soil. Lettuce plants thrive in partial shade and cooler temperatures. Most varieties of lettuce are not heat-tolerant, so you must select a spot where the plant will be protected from the heat of the mid-day sun. The ideal temperature for growth is between 15ºC -20ºC. This plant requires rich, moist, well-drained soil. Before sowing the seeds or planting the seedlings, incorporate generous amounts of mature compost in the soil.
You can start lettuce seedlings indoors a few weeks before the last frost of the season, or you can sow the seeds directly in the backyard in the spring. Sow lettuce seeds a quarter inch deep. When the seedlings develop, thin them out to leave a space of 8 inches between Butterhead lettuce plants, 5 inches for leaf lettuce, and a foot apart for head lettuce varieties. Mulching is beneficial in keeping the soil moist and cool, and also in preventing weeds.
Lettuce requires frequent, light watering for optimum growth. Ensure that the soil is kept moist, but not soggy. Dry conditions cause wilting of the leaves, and can also make the plant go to seed fast, making the leaves bitter and inedible. Over watering can harm the plant and contribute to disease. One of the common side effects of excessive water is a burnt texture developing on the leaf margins.
In addition to incorporating organic matter in the soil before planting, you must also provide regular fertilization, either by incorporating it in the soil or feeding mild amounts of a general purpose liquid fertilizer at regular intervals.
Lettuce plants are generally resistant to most pests and diseases. Some of the pests that may attack lettuce are slugs and aphids. These can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Watering the plant lightly at regular intervals will prevent rotting, as well as burning of the leaf tips. Also make sure the plant has adequate ventilation at all times.
You can harvest most varieties of lettuce a couple a few months after planting. Watch for any signs of seeding, which indicate that it the plant is over-ripe. Always harvest the plant when it is young, tender, and mild in flavor. As the plant grows older and begins to flower, the leaves turn bitter. By cutting the leaves slightly above ground level, you can have repeated harvests, as the leaves will develop again, throughout the growing season. You can store unwashed lettuce in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days. Avoid storing near ethylene-producing fruits such as apples, pineapples, and bananas.