Gardening Mollusks Vegetables

Which Lettuce is the Best Choice for Laidback Gardeners?

Woman looking doubtful, examining 3 types of lettuce: head, leaf and romaine.

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! 

Slug Problem

Leaf lettuce invaded by slugs.
Leaf lettuce is often severely damaged by slugs. Photo: natasa81, meinforum24.online

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

'Parris Island' romaine lettuce.
‘Parris Island’ romaine lettuce. Photo: westcoastseeds.com

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.

Romaine lettuce where the lower leaves have been harvested.
Harvesting the lower leaves rather than the whole plant allows romaine lettuce to keep producing. HeirloomSupply Success, amazon.com

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.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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