Plant Lettuce Now for Winter Greens (cont)
By: Shepherd Ogden
Region 1 (North)
Sow twice a week from August through mid-September. In our mountainside garden, just a hundred miles south of the Quebec border, we have a very small planting window. The best time to start sowing fall lettuce here is the first week in August. But weather then is often too hot for lettuce to germinate well, so we start seeds in flats in our cool garage, and set the young plants out a few at a time every three to four days over a period of weeks starting around Labor Day.
Fortunately, gardeners in the rest of Region 1 have more time. In zone 4, you can sow lettuce until Labor Day; in zone 5, you can plant until mid-September.
When sown the first week of August, early varieties such as 'Black Seeded Simpson' (45 to 55 days) mature by mid-October, but early September sowings won't mature until Thanksgiving. 'Rouge d'Hiver', 'North Pole', and 'Arctic King' are also well suited to fall plantings in Region 1. For overwintering crops, though, only the hardiest kinds, like 'Winter Marvel' or 'Brune d'Hiver', are reliable. Many of the common American lettuces grow in the warmer parts of our Region 1; in general, the loose-leaf kinds recover more quickly from freezing than heading types.
Region 2 (Central)
Sow weekly from September through mid-October. The principles of fall growing are similar in this region, but the schedule is more forgiving. For the maximum length of harvest, sow seed beginning around Labor Day, in flats if the weather is still hot, and then directly in the garden once soil temperatures hold below 80° F. Keep planting every few days, or at least weekly, until about the middle of October or the onset of regular frosts. The last plantings may be only a few inches across by the time the ground begins to freeze and thaw, so protect young plants with a row cover or cold frame.
The specialized winter lettuces mentioned above will work well in Region 2, but so will almost any lettuce, with some protection.
Region 3 (South)
Sow twice a month from October through March. This region offers the best conditions to grow fall and winter lettuce. The cool but not frigid weather from October through March is nearly ideal, and the daylength varies less than at higher latitudes. For the longest possible harvest, sow in flats in a cool location, and time your sowings so that seedlings are ready to plant out as soon as the weather begins to cool down. Start new crops every week or two, and keep a floating row cover handy in case temperatures drop into the 20° Fs for a spell.
Choosing special varieties isn't necessary in the South. Any lettuce will do, so plant according to your own preferences. We like crisp-leaf varieties such as 'Diamond Gem' (also called 'Sucrine') and 'Green Ice' for sandwiches; for salads we favor Bibbs, the heat-tolerant 'Esmeralda', the red 'Four Seasons' (often sold as 'Merveille des Quatre Saisons'), 'Valeria', and an 'Oakleaf' or 'Salad Bowl' type.
A former contributing editor at National Gardening, Shepherd Ogden is the founder and past president of The Cooks Garden seed company.