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Best expert advice on growing lettuce and salad leaves 

We’ve searched the internet to bring you the best independent advice for sowing, growing and harvesting lettuce and salad leaf seeds. These expert blogs, YouTube videos and Instagram posts are jam-packed with tips to transform a tired garnish into a spectacular salad bowl. 

Lettuce and leaves can be sown and harvested all year round, and deserve a special place in every garden or allotment. Even if you don’t have time to raise your own seeds, you can easily pop a few salad plants into pots, window boxes and even flower beds for a shortcut to a healthy crop. Attractive and nutritious, you can pick from whatever delicious flavours, colours, shapes and textures take your fancy. Homegrown salad is super simple to grow! Check out these pearls of wisdom to get your lovely leaves off to a fantastic start.


Best advice on where to grow lettuce and salad leaves

Lettuce seeds 'Cos Lettuce Mix' from Suttons
Lettuce can be grown anywhere – pots, window boxes, hanging baskets or the ground
Image: Lettuce seeds ‘Cos Lettuce Mix’ from Suttons

Lettuce and salad leaves prefer a cooler spot rather than being sun-drenched and scorched all day long, so they’re perfect for areas of the garden where other plants don’t thrive. Katrina of Katrina’s Homegrown Garden grows her salad in a special raised bed she built at the bottom of her allotment garden. It’s under a tree, shadowed by her shed, and only gets a couple of hours of direct sun a day, but the lettuce loves it.

Showing off a lovely basket full of freshly picked lettuce leaves, no-dig gardener Becky, aka Sow Much More, is delighted with her success after planting her salad in a bed enriched with cow compost, which helps the soil to retain water. She was less enthused about her previous attempts at growing lettuce in a wooden trough – the soil dried out too quickly and the slugs had a feast.

If your growing space is limited, lettuce and salad leaves work really well in containers and make a great gardening project for children, according to Catherine at Growing Family. Her children love sowing seeds in small-scale grow-your-own containers and she says salad is ideal because it’s not too needy and grows really fast, so they get good payback for their efforts.

Standalone raised beds are the way to go for Gigi at All About Lottie, who likes to grow lettuce in a Vegtrug, with a mesh cover to protect them from bugs, slugs and birds. Making life easier for her mum, who has mobility issues, Gigi supplies her with home-raised lettuce plants to grow in a raised bed by the back door, great for easy access without bending.

An endless supply of summer salad isn’t just a dream for Huw Richards who tells us how to do it in his great salad growing video guide. His super harvest is centred on a 6ft by 6ft square bed which he says will provide a varied daily crop for a family of four. He positioned his salad bed close to the entrance to his allotment so it’s easy to pop in and harvest a few leaves for dinner.

In addition to growing lettuce in his regular beds, Allotment Chef Daniel dots the plants around in other areas of his plot alongside other crops. His pretty Lolla Rossa is planted as a slight windbreak at the base of a row of peas.

Large plant pots on an old garden table make the perfect ‘salad bar’ for Hayley at Hayley’s Lottie Haven. After sowing and transplanting ‘Little Gem’ and mixed mustard leaf seeds, her lovely photo shows how well her salad crop developed in just one month.

Allotment lettuce and leaf growers might like to follow a tip from Sam, The Hairy Horticulturist. Not a fan of hearting lettuces that need to be harvested whole and refrigerated quickly, he sows a salad multi-mix in hanging baskets or tubs in his garden at home and picks them leaf by leaf as needed.

Best advice on how to sow lettuce and salad leaves

Lettuce 'Webbs Wonderful' from Suttons
The ever popular Webbs Wonderful has large crisp hearts and is slow to run to seed
Image: Lettuce seeds ‘Webbs Wonderful’ from Suttons

Claire at Claire’s Allotment likes to sow her lettuce seeds in seed trays rather than straight into the ground. She chooses a selection of colours and shapes for variety and sows them in succession – a few every month – to be sure of a good supply all summer long. Her very clear video shows exactly how to sow lettuce seeds for the best results.

It pays to be organised and precise when you sow lettuce and salad leaf seeds directly into your veg patch, cautions Elaine at The 3 Growbags in her excellent beginner’s guide to growing salad crops. She advises sowing your seeds in tiny shallow rows made with a trowel or dibber so that you can distinguish baby salad leaves from any baby weeds that raise their heads in the same vicinity and need to be pulled out.

In his step-by-step guide to sowing lettuce outdoors, Simon at Garden of Eaden says it’s wise to wait until the worst of the frosts are over, although earlier sowings should be fine if protected by a small polytunnel. The best soil for sowing lettuce in his opinion is free-draining and rich in leaf humus, so it holds plenty of moisture.

David Domoney’s no-nonsense guide to sowing and growing lettuce advises to sow little and often, direct into the ground or the container where you want the lettuce or salad leaves to grow. To harvest whole heads of lettuce, he sows the seeds very thinly, 1cm deep, in rows 30cm apart or, for cultivating cut and come again varieties, he makes drills 10cm apart and sows the seeds in those.

Best advice on planting out lettuce and salad leaves

Bistro Salad Leaves from Suttons
Grow supermarket bistro salad at home with this quick and easy selection of plug plants 
Image: Bistro Salad Mix Plants from Suttons (20 value plug plants)

No-dig advocate Stephanie Hafferty prefers to prick out tray-sown lettuce seedlings to grow on in a module tray. She explains how she transplants healthy young plants into the ground when they’ve grown sturdy enough to interplant between other already established crops. This way they’re also less likely to be munched by slugs.

Gently does it over at Life on Pig Row, where Andrew shares his tried and tested plan for planting out lettuce, urging us to firm the plant down so it isn’t floppy, but beware of crushing the delicate leaves with too much pressure. He also recommends choosing a day that isn’t too hot and watching out for hungry slugs and snails in the vicinity.

If you don’t have time to sow and thin out lettuce seedlings, you can always pick up some plug plants, recommends Carol, The Sunday Gardener, in her concise and informative guide to growing your own lettuce. If you’ve sown your own seeds, be sure to keep the seedlings well watered or they could dry out and wither in hot weather. 

Charles Dowding’s step-by-step lettuce growing video details the whole process, from what compost is best to sow your seeds in, right through to harvesting your lettuces. He grows on his seedlings in deep individual modules so they form a good, strong root system, then plants them out 9in or 10in apart so they have enough room to develop a decent heart.

When Steve at Steve’s Seaside Allotment is pricking out lettuce seedlings he has raised in the greenhouse, he’s always very careful not to damage the roots and suggests teasing them out with a little screwdriver or similar instrument. Transferring them carefully into modules, he waters gently around the edge of each seedling and keeps them in a cool and bright place until they’re well established.

Best advice on harvesting lettuce and salad leaves

Lettuce seeds ‘F1 Cosberg Sweet Success’ from Suttons
Heart lettuces like ‘Cosberg Sweet Success‘ are harvested whole 
Image: Floramedia

There’s a lot of talk about cut and come again lettuce, but what’s the best way to take individual leaves? Allotment Chef Daniel’s video demonstrates exactly how to harvest lettuce for a continuous crop, snapping off leaves one by one, tight to the base of the lettuce, to give a regular harvest from the same plant for several weeks.

Just take a look at the tempting image of a big bowl full of lush green salad leaves, freshly picked by Richard of Sharpen Your Spades, who grows them all year round in the polytunnel, the greenhouse and outdoors. He likes to pick and mix the outer leaves from a variety of salad plants for an interesting mix on the plate.

In a concise video, Claire at Claire’s Allotment shows us how she harvests a lettuce leaf by nicking it off at the base using her fingernail. Doing it that way causes minimal damage and means more leaves will grow on the inside of the plant which prevents it from going to seed and tasting bitter.

Best lettuce and salad leaf varieties to grow

Lettuce seeds ‘OutREDgeous’ from Suttons
Grown from seed on the International Space Station, these striking leaves need little light
Image: Lettuce seeds ‘OutREDgeous’ from Suttons

There’s a huge range of lettuces and salad leaves to choose from. John at Allotment and Gardens helpfully runs through the main types in his comprehensive guide to growing lettuce. He itemises cos, crisphead, butterhead and loose leaf varieties and selects some of his favourite salad ingredients, including ‘Webbs Wonderful’, ‘All Year Round’ and ‘Tom Thumb’, as well as mixed leaves like basil, rocket and radicchio.

Katy in the Garden likes to grow lettuce and leaves right through the year, especially in winter when the plants develop more slowly. Her tempting salad leaf harvest includes cultivated ‘Winter Gem’ lettuce, mizuna and some mustard ‘Red Giant’, pea shoots grown on the windowsill, plus some wild rocket and hairy bittercress. 

For a real star turn in the salad bed and bowl, Adrienne at Wild About Gardening can’t recommend the ‘OutREDgeous’ red romaine lettuce variety highly enough. It comes with the extraordinary credentials of being the first plant to be sown, harvested and eaten in space. In addition, she says, its thick, vivid red leaves taste really sweet and will grow in low light conditions.

Oriental salad leaves bring different flavours and textures into the garden and the kitchen. Hayley at Hayley’s Lottie Haven enjoys growing pak choi which can be eaten raw in salads or stir fried.

Salad is not just lettuce, insists Sally at Living on One Acre or Less, who opens the doors to a huge choice of salad leaves. She lists the contents of her eclectic and colourful salad bowl and runs through her favourite choices of leaves to grow through the year, from the familiar staples to more unusual choices like dill, tree spinach, purslane, mustard, orache, caraway and oysterleaf, not forgetting a few rocket flowers and rose petals.

Now you’re armed with all this terrific advice from the experts, it’s time to take your pick from the wealth of choice available and start growing your own lettuce and salad leaves. Whether you grow on the allotment or in a hanging basket, it won’t be long before these quick maturing crops show you why fresh homegrown salad is so much better than shop bought.

Feature image: Lettuce seeds ‘Mixed varieties’ from Suttons/Copyright: Floramedia

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