Thanks for taking the time to read our article on how to grow lettuce for beginners in the UK. Growing lettuce is regularly the first choice for beginners to vegetable gardening in the United Kingdom. Generally speaking these are easy to grow but gardeners can often be unhappy with their initial results.
If you read gardening books or magazines, you will see time after time sentences that state lettuces are very easy to grow. That is rather misleading in our opinion. They are easy to grow if you follow some basic rules. You need to pick the right varieties suitable for growing in the UK, follow the instructions we have outlined below and it is highly advisable to invest in a few cloches that will extend the growing season.
Varieties in the UK
There are fours main varieties of lettuce that will grow well in the UK:
- Cos varieties - The Cos varieties are also known as romaine lettuce. They are quite distinctive as they grow upright, have an oblong shaped head with nice crisp leaves. They do take a little longer to grow and are slightly harder to grown that the cabbage varieties of lettuce. Popular choices are the Paris White, Little Gem, Lobjoit's Green, Barcarolle and the Winter Density.
- Cabbage Butterhead varieties - These varieties are by far the most popular grown in the UK. They grow and mature really quickly and also perform well in poor soil types. There are lot of varieties available and these include; The All The Year Round, Tom Thumb, Avondefeiance, Dolly, Continuity, Buttercrunch, Hilde, Suzan, Valdor, Kloek to name but a few.
- Cabbage Crisphead varieties- These are ideal if you prefer large hearts of curled crisp leaves. They are now gaining popularity in the UK. Popular varieties include the Webb's Wonderful, Avoncrisp, Iceberg, Windermere, Marmer and Lakeland.
- Loose Leaf Lettuce - This variety of lettuce doesn't produce a heart and the leaves are curled and picked the same way as spinach. You can pick a few leaves at a time as and when you need them. Popular varieties include Salad Bowl and Red Salad Bowl.
Lettuce is grown from seed. We recommend buying a pack of mixed seed that has varieties that mature at different times as this helps avoid getting a glut of lettuces at the same time. Early lettuce is particularly difficult to grow.
Germination time of seeds
Life expectancy of seed
No of seeds per ounce
Expected yield from a 10 feet row
Ease of Growing
Not difficult if you sow properly and water regularly.
- For a Spring crop - If you live in a mild weather part of the UK, you can sow a Winter variety such as Winter Density or Valdor outdoors in late August through to early September. Thin out to 3" apart in October and then thin to 12" in early Spring. The crop will be ready in May. For poor weather areas sow in mid-October under cloches and they can then be harvested in April.
- For a Summer/Autumn crop - Sow outdoors in late March through to late July and they will be available for cutting from June through to October. If you want an earlier crop sow under glass in early February and plant out in March under cloches.
- For an Early Winter crop - Sow a variety such as Avoncrisp which is mildew resistant in early August. Cover with cloches in late September and the crop will be ready for cutting in November and December.
- For a Mid-Winter crop - You will ideally need some type of heated greenhouse to grow these. Sow under glass in September or October and plant out when the seedlings are large enough to handle. The lettuce will be ready for cutting in January through to early March. Dandie or Kloek varieties are best.
Best Soil & Planting Tips
All types of lettuce need three basic requirements for lettuce to grow properly. The soil needs to have organic matter, not be acidic and it needs to be kep moist throughout the lifetime of the lettuce crop.
For summer lettuce pick a sunny or lightly shaded site. Dig the soil well and add compost in the Autumn time or in early Winter. Just before sowing time rake the surface to get a fine tilth and apply a good quality general fertilizer.
Spring lettuce can be grown in a sunny spot outdoors without glass protection but that won't work in poorly drained or exposed sites.
To grow lettuce from seed sow 2 seeds in a small peat pot. Remove the weaker seedling after germination and harden off before transplanting. Pleant 1/2" deep with rows 12" apart.
Thin the seedlings as soon as the first true leaves appear and never overcrowd. Wat the day before thinning. Lettuces don't like to be moved so once transplanted leave them where they are.
You will also need to put down slug pellets and also offer some type of net protection from hungry birds. Keep the plants watered and ideally water in the morning or around noon time.
Lettuce is ready for cutting as soon as the firm heart had formed. Test the lettuce by pressing down on the top of the plant with the back of your hand. Avoid squeezing the heart as it damaged the tissues.
Once the heart is firm you should cut and use otherwise the lettuce will bolt. You should always cut in the morning time when the heads have morning dew on them. Pull up the whole plant, and cut off the root and the lower leaves. Dispose of any unwanted parts in the compost or recycling bin.
Pests and Problems
Generally speaking lettuce are easy to grow if the soil is good. There are however some garden pests and known problems that you should be aware of.
This is where large yellow coloured patches appear between the veins of the older leaves. You will also notice white coloured moulded areas develop on the underside of the leaves. If left the plants will turn brown and die. The best way to treat this is to remove any affected leaves as soon as they are seen and spray the plant with Dithane. To prevent this from happening use crop rotation each year. If growing under glass make sure the plants have lots of ventilation and are not being over watered.
No Hearts Develop
There are a number of factors that can prevent a lettuce from forming a heart. In almost all cases though it it the lack of organic matter in the soil. When preparing the soil it is so important to add a compost or manure to ensure a good heart grows. Tow other things to look out for is overcrowding of the plants or growing them in a shaded area.
This is probably the most common problem for beginners to growing lettuce. Lettuces will produce a thick flowering stem if left in the soil once the heart had been formed and is firm.
Sometimes the plants run to seed before they are ready for harvesting and this is known as bolting. Delayed transplanting is the most popular cause of this. It can also happen if the roots are dry or the plants are too close together. Once they bolt they can no longer be used and should be disposed off.
These are essentially greenfly attacks which can get bad on hot summer days. The leaves will become distorted, change colour or just have a stunted growth. Use a crop saver spray at the first sign of any of the above.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails are the most popular pests to deal with when growing lettuce. Seedlings are really susceptible to these and the best way to stop them is slug pellets. They tend to come out at night and leave a silvery slimy trail. Watch out for those and treat as soon as you see any signs. Use slug pellets and keep the surrounding area clear of any garden rubbish.
You normally only see these in the Winter varieties of lettuce. Tiny brown spots appear on the outer leaves that look like rust spots. This is caused by poor ventilation and any plants affected by ring spot should be removed and destroyed.
Hopefully we have given you enough information to be able to grow lettuce in the UK. As a beginner we would recommend trying these as long as you have good enough soil.