Let’s talk lettuce

'Forellenschluss' lettuce in my veggie garden

Perhaps the wind is still howling round your house, but . . . hallelujah, seed catalogs are also stuffing the mailbox. So, let’s talk lettuce. If this is your first season gardening, or your twenty-millionth, lettuce is one of those plants you should definitely try. Whether it’s going to be in a container on your patio or deck, or in-ground, lettuce is super easy to sow. It’s also music to a tired gardener’s soul. Along with radishes, I don’t think there is anything easier.

As you know, it gets really hot here quickly, so if you want, you can start your lettuce indoors. I usually just sow mine outside and thin it after it comes up when it’s about the stage in this picture. Lettuce, sown this way, must be thinned, or this is all you’ll get.

Lettuce seeds are tiny, and there are tools you can use to make the seeds hit the ground one or two at a time. Or, you can mix them with sand if you want. The sand will show where you’ve planted. Honestly, I don’t go to this much trouble. Seeds aren’t that expensive, and most lettuce seeds are light in color and easy to see. ‘Black-Seeded Simpson,’ a favorite of mine, does actually have black seeds, but I just wing it.

There are five, distinct types of lettuce: cos or romaine, butterhead, crisphead, looseleaf and stem. The ones I plant here in my Oklahoma garden usually are looseleaf, butterhead–which never has time to head up–and romaine. So far, I’m planting ‘Red Sails,’ ‘Garnet Rose,’ ‘Speckles’ and ‘Jericho.’ I’ll probably add more. I chose ‘Jericho’ because it was selected in Israel. Oklahoma is at least as hot as Israel. I buy a lot of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange because they choose hot-weather cultivars. The other three lettuces were given to garden bloggers who attended the Garden Bloggers Seattle Fling. Will you be going to the Garden Bloggers Asheville Fling? I probably will.

When choosing which seeds to buy, stick with those labeled slow-bolt, meaning they won’t try to set seed on the first hot day. You’ll know when the weather is too hot for these lettuces because they will taste bitter.

'Black-seeded Simpson' lettuce with tatsoi blooming behind it.

Don’t restrict yourself to green. We now know brightly-colored vegetables are higher in nutrients. The average, American diet is very low in some nutrients and phyto-nutrients so get them where you can. Choose lettuces which are speckled or intense red to go with your bright greens. A year or so ago, I wrote about one of my favorite lettuces for Organic Gardening, ‘Forellenschluss.’ It is also known here as ‘Speckled Troutback’ because of its purple speckles. Colorful vegetables also bring beauty to the garden. Rosalind Creasy’s newest book, Edible Landscaping shows through pictures and words, how lovely vegetable gardens can be. It is my favorite book on vegetable gardening right now, and I’ve pondered its pictures all winter. Another book on this same theme is The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden, by Ivette Soler, sent to me for review last year.

I’ve decided for the first time in a long time to start a few of the butterhead lettuces indoors. Maybe it will help them achieve full stature in the short time they’re allowed to grow, and I can place them where I want them.

Don’t forget to do a soil test before you start. You could go to the county extension and do the big test, but I know you. You’re as impatient as I for some delicious food from your own yard, and you won’t want to wait, so just buy one from the local hardware store. It will give you the basics. Lettuces are heavy feeders. They need plenty of food to feed you.

Lettuces, along with lots of other tasty greens, feature heavily in my spring garden. Which ones will you plant this year?


  1. Anonymous says:

    Dee, how soon do you plant the lettuce seed? Also when do you thin it out?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kelly, I lightly sprinkle it upon the soil indoors or out. Then, if direct sowing, I cover it with a bit of soil. If indoors, I push it gently down into the cell or eggshells or whatever I’m sprouting it in. when they get to four leaves, I pinch off those I don’t want to keep from disturbing the other leaves. HTH!

  2. Kallie says:

    I never understood why people make such a big deal on the different varities. To me they all taste the same and the only thing different is their growing habits (which don’t vary much in my opinion) and colors. I really love red lettuces, though.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kallie, I guess some lettuces do taste similar. I think it has more to do with looks and nutrition with the reddest lettuces and purplish ones having more of each. 🙂

  3. I’m still pleased as punch with ‘Merlot,’ one of those solid red lettuces. I tried another red alongside it last year, but ‘Merlot’ lasted longer and looked better as a garden plant. Sometimes it’s good to stick with what you know works, but I figure I might as well try those swag lettuces we got in Seattle.

    1. Martha says:

      Mr. M’s Daughter – where did you buy your Merlot seeds?

  4. Martha says:

    Hi Dee!
    Are you planting lettuce seeds indoors now?
    I bought Forellenschluss seeds on a trip to Germany before I knew it was available as Speckled Troutback here. Thought I was being so clever. Ha.
    A couple of years ago when I taught my seed starting class I brought a variety of seedlings for show and tell and those cuties were the biggest hit of everything I brought.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Martha, yes, I am. I also planted some cabbages, fennel and basil. I’m waiting on my parsley seeds. I want to do a rowed planting in my potager and make it all pretty.

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Yep, I have planted some lettuce the past couple of springs. I plant it in containers. It is always a wonderful surprise when it pops up. I don’t know why I don’t expect it to but it is so easy to grow. I plan to go to the Asheville Fling. I hope to see you there.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I hope to see you too.

  6. I wish I liked lettuce more than I do. I wish slugs liked it less.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Esther, we don’t have many problems with slugs because it’s so dry here. I wish you liked lettuce too.

  7. Vickie Moore says:

    Thanks for this, Dee! I’ve been thinking about growing some lettuce in pots on the deck and I think you’ve just inspired me to go for it! I have some beautiful Swiss Chard in with my pansies and it still looks fabulous so I think I will definitely try the lettuce!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Vickie, I hope for great success with your pots. I bet you’ll love them.

  8. Diana-Sharing Nature's Garden says:

    Your lettuce is so pretty. Forellen are trout in German. I keep saying I’m going to get some in the ground — I’m glad you are reminding us to hurry before it gets hot again!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Diana, thank you. Yes, speckled-troutback. Yes, let’s get something going before the heat hits.

  9. CurtissAnn says:

    Thanks, darlin’, for the encouragement to just be less than perfect and get the soil test kit at the local store. You have set me free to just ‘be okay’.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      You betcha! I’m always glad to help another be less than perfect. I know I am.

  10. Gardener on Sherlock Street says:

    Black seeded simpson is the staple lettuce here. I also like red salad bowl for the color. Thanks for the catalog suggestion. I need to try more and need ones that can stand a little heat!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is my fave go-to lettuce here too. I have a ton of it every spring. Grandma Nita always planted it.

  11. I love growing many different lettuces and greens. I actually have several growing in the basement under a grow light right now…should be able to harvest in a couple of weeks…

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I should start doing that too. A great idea. I could have my own lettuce all winter.

  12. Layanee says:

    Is it that time already? Yes, the mailbox is full of catalogs and it should be time to sort. I will take some of your suggestions. I will.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Layanee, time does fly doesn’t it? I’m so glad winter is nearly over.

  13. Gail says:

    Yes, let us talk lettuces! They’ll be in containers for me and I am crossing my fingers that I have a few great salads. Love the the Speckled Trout Back~such a pretty lettuce. Thanks for the book recommendations. gail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Gail, of course! Thanks for all the ways you inspire me.~~Dee

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