By Larry Hodgson
Most home gardeners know that head lettuce (Lactuca sativa capitata) is hard to grow well (true enough!), so they usually grow leaf lettuce (L. sativa crispa), also called loose leaf lettuce, instead, as it is deemed easier (which is also true).
But the leaf lettuce grows and matures so quickly that it’s almost dizzying. You have to harvest it only a few weeks after you sow it; otherwise it soon bolts (goes to seed). And when it even starts to produce a flower stalk, its foliage becomes bitter and inedible. So, you have to sow again and again … and hope the heat doesn’t get it!
Worse, leaf lettuce attracts slugs like a magnet, to the point that it is often difficult to find a single intact leaf.
The Laidback Lettuce
The laidback gardener prefers a lettuce that is a little slower growing, but also less needy: romaine lettuce, also called cos lettuce (L. sativa longifolia). It’s quite heat resistant—certainly more so than leaf lettuce or head lettuce!—and will usually grow right through the summer and into the fall, especially if you plant it where it gets some shade from the hottest summer sun. Careful watering and good mulching will also help keep it cool and productive.
The trick to a prolonged harvest is to not harvest the entire plant, but only the outer leaves, a few at a time, as you would with Swiss chard. In many climates, you only have to sow have to sow romaine lettuce once, in the spring, for a harvest that will last all season, often into October!
Romaine lettuce has other advantages too. It is the most nutritious lettuce, to start with, and, even better, is the only slug-resistant lettuce. Try it and you’ll see: slugs simply don’t like it!
Sow romaine lettuce in May or June at a depth of about 1/4 inch (5 mm), in full sun in cooler climates, but in partial shade where summers are very hot. Thin the plants to about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) apart. Regularly harvest the outer leaves to stimulate continuous growth … and enjoy your abundant and nutritious salads!
Try it and see: romaine really is the lettuce of choice for the laidback gardener!
Text based on an article originally published in this blog on June 1, 2015.