Lettuce is one of the most versatile vegetables that you can grow in your garden. Though it is mainly used for salads, you can add it to sandwiches, burgers, soups, pasta dishes, and vegetarian tacos to replace the traditional shell. Lettuce is also easy to grow, even for beginners. One thing many gardeners fail to recognize is just how many different varieties of lettuce there are out there. Each one is unique in its own right, and choosing the right one can be tricky. So, what are the best varieties of lettuce to add to your garden? Let’s find out.
Types of Lettuce
Despite the sheer volume of lettuce varieties available, there are only a few basic types to pick from. Generally, we separate lettuce into two main categories, head lettuce and non-head lettuce.
Head lettuce comes in both full-size and mini options and can be planted close together. When they mature, you cut the whole head to use however you like. If you want a steady supply, it’s best to stagger planting throughout the spring and early summer.
Baby leaf and cut-and-come-again (CCA) lettuce doesn’t need to be cut all at once. You can pluck off the leaves you need at any time, leaving the rest of the plant to continue growing for a steady supply of lettuce. Most varieties mature in about 5 to 6 weeks, so if you want continual lettuce growth you may want to plant seeds every week or two to maintain your lettuce needs until the cooler fall months.
Regardless of the broad category of lettuce you grow, there are a few considerations you should keep in mind depending on your goals, growing conditions, and the level of effort you desire.
Regardless of the type of lettuce you buy, it will likely mature quickly, usually by about 6 weeks. Of course, depending on the type, you may be able to use the lettuce long before that. The leafy varieties allow you to remove leaves whenever needed, while the head lettuce should be removed all at once. This will affect how and when you can use your lettuce, so succession planting may be a good idea for some varieties to ensure a consistent supply.
Most lettuce varieties prefer moderate temperatures, so they will thrive during the spring and fall when it’s cool outside. During the hot summer months, the leaves tend to take on a bitter flavor and go to seed sooner than usual. If you want lettuce during the summer, there are a few hardier varieties that can handle the higher heat and humidity levels, so consider these for the hottest time of the year. When growing indoors this is less of a concern, but can still be an issue depending on how warm your home is and where you place your lettuce container.
How much space you have available in your garden is another factor to consider when choosing lettuce varieties. Some lettuce can be planted close together while others need a bit more space to spread out as they grow. The less space you have, the more compact your lettuce will need to be. Many varieties can also be grown in containers, so you can add a few to one of these when you have limited space, as long as the lettuce you choose can handle the tight space.
Flavor and Texture
Some lettuce varieties have a sweet flavor while others have some bitterness to their leaves, so you can pick the perfect one to match the meal you plan to serve. The texture also varies, from crisp, crunchy leaves to velvety smooth, so you can choose the variety that you prefer, depending on what you’re using it for.