Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques

Growing Head Lettuce (page 2 of 2)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Mulching

A thick, organic mulch (straw, leaves, grass clippings, hay, etc.) is almost a must if you're growing head lettuce down South in the spring. It will help retain moisture and keep the soil cool as warm spring weather arrives. It's good in Northern gardens, too, where spring heat or quick-draining soils could hurt the crop.

Cultivation

Cultivation is simply stirring up the soil lightly to kill young weeds and aerate the soil. Be sure not to kill or hoe around your head lettuce plants deeper than one inch - their roots are shallow.

Booster Shot of Fertilizer

Head lettuce, like other kinds of lettuce, has a limited root system that can't go deep in the soil for nutrients. Sometimes an application of extra fertilizer along the way - known as sidedressing - can help. Make a light application of 5-10-10 fertilizer every three to four weeks. You can also use an organic fertilizer such as manure tea, fish emulsion, bloodmeal or cottonseed meal.

Heading into Fall

Not enough people realize how easy it is to have nice fall heads of lettuce.

In the Northeast, head lettuce started in mid-July

and set out in the garden in early August will mature in September when it's cool. In warmer parts of the country, plant in early fall for a late fall or winter harvest.

If you're planting a crop for fall or winter harvest when the soil is still warm, lettuce seeds may not germinate well. To overcome this problem (called thermodormancy), start the seeds indoors and transplant them when they have at least four leaves, or soak the seeds in cool water for a day, then dry them for two hours before planting.

To ease the shock of being set out in the garden in mid- or late-summer heat, shade transplants for a few days and keep them well watered. Spacing is more important for head lettuce than with other types. Set transplants or thin seedlings 10 to 12 inches apart. Watch the young transplants for signs of insect damage - insects are in full swing by midsummer and your young lettuces are an inviting meal.

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