First key to lettuce in my garden is timing. This tender green prefers cool soil ranging from 60 to 65 degrees. Well, hello..that temp doesn't hang around here often. While needing cooler soil is an issue, we can work the system a bit with well composted soil and using drip irrigation and row covers. These won't give me lettuce in the heat of summer, but they will extend my lettuce season a bit longer than not using them.
The second key in the lettuce leaf is type. Iceberg and romaine heads may grow bountifully in the northern climates, but let me share from experience..they fail miserably here. Many a seed company (and local chain store) waits to prey on the gardener unaware; believe me I have been one. Instead, it is important to find reliable sources tuned into the southern climate we live in and be aware of the lettuce varieties well adapted to our soil and heat.
The bare facts:
Direct seed in well drained soil between January 1 and March 1. (Temps ranging from 40 to 70)
Small plot succession planting recommended.
Common Southern Varieties:
Black Seeded Simpson- leaf
Royal oakleaf, red or green- leaf
Deer tongue- hearty leaf
Buttercrunch- soft head
Mesclun- leaf mix
To curb bitter tendencies place fresh cut lettuce in fridge 2-3 days before eating.
My personal seed resource favorites are Producer's Co-op, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Territorial Seed.
***please note I am no longer using Territorial Seed as a source due to their affiliation with GMO seed.
If you intend to save seed, be sure to plant open pollinated/heirloom varieties allowing the strong plants to develop their flower head. Once ripe seed pots are present, gather them in paper bags crushing gently to release the seed. Store seeds in a cool dry place for up to a year. Often lettuces will direct reseed themselves
right in the garden.
Now, let's get growing!