Choosing the Right Lettuce Varieties for Your Garden

Updated: May 9

Different Types of Lettuce

Different lettuces do best when grown under certain growing conditions and temperatures. Choosing the right varieties for different times of the year will give you the most success and enjoyment.



There are 4 main lettuce types you should know about. Within each type there are dozens of wonderful varieties to choose from. The sky is the limit here. Reading seed packets or catalogs will give you a good idea about the flavor, color, and leaf type.

Butterhead

  • Also known as Bibb and Boston types

  • Very tender, buttery leaves in a salad

  • Great for Paleo dishes. We use them as lettuce wraps all the time to replace burger buns or taco shells.

  • Prefer cooler season temperatures of Spring, Fall, and sometimes winter if your winters are mild enough.


Crisphead

  • Also known as iceberg.

  • Tight cabbage-like heads that can have 10% RDA of the Vitamin B nutrient folate

  • Leaves are a little more sturdy are great for chop or wedge salads.

  • Cool Season variety


Looseleaf

  • Do not create true lettuce heads like the other 3 varieties

  • Great for cut-and-come-again harvesting style, which is my favorite way to go

  • Beautiful textures and colors available

  • This is what you see at the store for mixed salad greens usually

  • Cool or warm season variety.


Romaine

  • Sturdiest of all lettuces

  • Known as "cos" in the UK

  • Tolerates warmer temperatures better than most lettuce types

  • If you love Caesar salads, this is your pick


Within each group there are so many color and texture choices! From bright chartreuse green to deep burgundy, the possibilities are endless to make a gorgeous salad. Some of my favorites have red speckles on a green background or beautiful frilly edges. I want to encourage you to give them a try.

Fun fact: red varieties are often more sun and heat tolerant than the green varieties. So keep that in mind when choosing locations in your garden for your lettuce plants.


Planting Calendar Basics

Knowing your seasonal planting calendar details can be helpful because seed packets will often describe whether a lettuce has "excellent heat tolerance" or "best for early plantings". But simply knowing the variety will also clue you in on what season they prefer best. If you are buying transplants, a fancy term for baby plants, from a garden center you can usually be assured that they have chosen varieties that are best suited for you climate. Asking you garden center which varieties they prefer is a great way to start as well.


  • Early Season, also known as the Cool Season - AKA Spring

  • Mid Season, also known as the Warm Season - AKA Early Summer

  • Late Season, also known as the Hot Season - AKA Late Summer

The length of these seasons can look pretty different depending on where you live. For example, my Early Season can run from February to mid May. My Mid Season is from mid May thru Mid June. And my Late Season is from July thru September sometimes October.


Once I know which season I'm planting for, I look for diversity of color, texture, and type. I picture the lettuce leaves in a salad bowl together and choose what I'd like to see from there.


If you get overwhelmed by all the choices like I do. Sometimes I just opt for a 'Mesclun' mix. Mesclun means "mixture" in French. Tre fancy, no?

Usually Mesclun mixes are a mixed seed packet with favorite varieties. This way, you can try out several different varieties and lettuce types by purchasing one seed packet instead of five or six.

My personal Mesclun Mix stash. I haven't found certain varieties that I am very attached to yet, so these mixes help me try out a lot of varieties at one time.

The great thing about a kitchen garden is that you have opportunities to create the right growing conditions for those lettuces like the butterheads that prefer cooler weather. Since those butterhead lettuces are one of my favorite varieties, I try to grow these in my garden almost year round. So what I do is tuck them into shadier parts of my garden beds. I might hide them under the canopy of a tomato so they get dappled sun instead of the full strength of the summer sunlight or I might plant up a beautiful container with 2-3 varieties to keep in the shade of my shady porch. Then I place my romaine lettuces out in the sunnier patches of the raised beds.



Where to Buy Lettuce Starts and Seeds

For starts (baby plants)

  • Your local garden center As I write this, we are in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and some locations may be closed. Thankfully, most local garden centers are providing curbside pick-up opportunities for food products like lettuce starts. They will know the best plants to start with. Usually a 6-pack will cost anywhere between $1.99 - $3.50 USD and will provide plenty of lettuce to get you started.

  • A local farmer If you live in a rural or semi rural area like I do, there are a lot of farms who produce extra seed starts every spring. Farmers markets are usually a good place to find starts from local farmers who can always use our extra support. Our local farms also sell starts to grocery stores, which is incredibly helpful right now too.



For seeds

  • All garden centers and some grocery stores will have seed packets available for purchase. Botanical Interests is a great seed company that sells online and is stocked at most hardware and garden centers.

  • Online seed producers Here are my favorite seed producers who are still trying their best to help customers right now.* They will be able to ship your seeds right to your door during this unprecedented time, but shipping times may be slower and selection is probably low. - Baker Creek Organic Seeds Well known for their extensive catalog of rare and heirloom seed varieties - High Mowing Organic Seed An amazing company that procuces organic and non-GMO vegetable and flowers seeds - Peaceful Valley Farm Supply Organic vegetable and flower seeds sold online. Also my local farm


*There are so many wonderful seed companies that I love and personally frequent. Many of them are smaller seed companies that have sold out of most or all of their seeds due to the increased interest in gardening during the Coronavirus stay-at-home order. I will be sharing more of my favorite seed companies in the future, don't worry!

How are you feeling about all this so far? Have I convinced you to get started growing your own lettuce? Tomorrow I'll be back here to talk about planting lettuce in containers and what exactly makes a good container for lettuce.


In the meantime, happy gardening!

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