I have tried for a few seasons to grow lettuces and failed several times and this year was the first year I managed to make it happen. SO I wanted to share some tips that made the difference in case anyone here has struggled with it or is interested in adding it. I’m by no means an expert, so that means 1. If I can do it, you can do it too 2. Feel encouraged to add more advice if you have had your own success with it 3. This is definitely a hacking together and not an expensive professional set up so don’t be intimidated or think it takes a lot of complicated gear.
So first, these are things that killed my lettuces before: slugs eating the seedlings, heat scorching the leaves, clay soil rotting the roots, inconsistent watering, heat causing the lettuces to immediately go to flower (aka bolting, meaning hardly any leaves formed), weeds taking over.
So here’re things I have figured out so far to address these issues:
- If your spot is sunny, get a shade cover, at least 50% blockage. They are very inexpensive. Or you can use many things as shade cloth too, burlap works great (also as a weed barrier cloth), layer up some netting, thin blankets, linen shades. They have to take the heat but if you’re in a pinch to protect your plants on hot days, get creative. Throw in some sticks and lay your shade cloth across. I use twist ties to attach the cover to bamboo sticks but lots of things will work. You just don’t want that sun to heat your soil too much or burn your plants.
- Ideally you want morning sunlight not afternoon sun. If your spot for lettuces gets harsh evening sunlight it will likely burn your lettuces. So with your shade cloth, block any angles that would let in any direct sunlight or at least the afternoon/evening sunlight. Lettuces go to flower when the soil gets hot so keep your soil cool with some loose mulching too, not black plastic that will heat the soil up.
- Water with a mister or sprinkler system that will get the leaves lightly wet and keep the soil cool. I’ve found that greenhouse misters are perfect under a shade cloth. Drip systems have been inadequate for me to keep the leaves happy but maybe others have had luck with them. You can also just use a hose nozzle with a mist setting and get your lettuces wet a couple times a day to help them stay cool. In order to remember to do this I got a $30 timer on my mister so that it goes off every morning, but if you do it yourself, setting a reminder on your phone would definitely help.
- Use Sluggo to deter lots of the most common offenders. It will keep away slugs, caterpillars, etc. and it’s organic and poison free so it’s safe around kids and pets. I sprinkle it around the outside of the bed so slugs hit it before they reach the plants. It lasts for a while so you only need to reapply once and a while.
- Amend your soil with a simple compost to get it nice and light. When you scatter your lettuce seeds, press them into the surface of the soil with the back of a hoe or shovel, no need to create holes to put them in. I go lazy with it and just scatter seeds all around but you can plant in rows if you like more order. Start with seeds in just a part of your bed then a few weeks later scatter seeds in the next part, then a few weeks later scatter a few more. This will help you get lettuces coming in batches versus all at once and then having nothing for a month.
- Herbs are also happy in the lettuce beds, so planting basil, cilantro, parsley, Thai basil, etc. under the shade cover will give you some good herbs too. Don’t do mint though, it will quickly take over your whole bed. I also have some beets in there and some leeks that finally germinated from last season lol. Anything you grow for greens would be happy in these conditions.
Some of my lettuces in the back have gone to flower because my shade cover didn’t block the afternoon sun so I’ve moved it now and replanted. The front here are buttercrunch lettuce, kale, and beets all coming in.
So there you go- shade cloth, sluggo, compost, mulch, mister spray nozzle or greenhouse mister, lettuce seeds, optional timer.
I hope that makes sense and that you all have other tips to share or are up for giving it a try too! It’s been my favorite part of the garden this year by far!
Below photo by Alan Pryor, please see his comment below