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.
Best Varieties of Lettuce
Lettuce has several health benefits. It is mostly water, so it can improve hydration, plus it can contain vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates, with no fat content whatsoever. No matter which variety you buy, you’ll gain many of these benefits. Let’s take a look at the most popular options and some of our favorite lettuce varieties that you’ll find in our garden.
Parris Island Romaine Lettuce
Anyone who loves Caesar salad will likely want to grow romaine lettuce. It is tall, with sturdy leaves that can be removed as needed or you can cut the whole head at once. The flavor varies since the stems are somewhat sweet with leaves that are a bit bitter at maturity. Of course, if you prefer the sweeter taste, harvesting them early is a good option. These plants mature in about 50 days and only require about an inch of water each week, though they do need about 12 inches of space between each plant.
Tennis Ball Bibb Lettuce
For those with limited space, the Tennis Ball Bibb Lettuce is a good choice. Mature plants are only 6 to 8 inches in diameter, so you can plant them close together. Though technically head lettuce, the leaves are loose and easy to separate, with a crunchy texture and a delicious flavor. They are also easy to care for since they can handle all types of weather conditions, though they prefer moist soil and the cooler temperatures of spring.
Flashy Butter Oak Lettuce
This variety of leafy lettuce has a unique look, due to the resemblance its leaves have to an oak tree’s leaves. It also has distinctive coloring, with a mix of green and red that catches the eye. Oak lettuce is cold-weather tolerant, making it a great choice for autumn growing. It doesn’t like high temperatures and will bolt in hot weather, so be sure to plant it in the spring and again in the fall for a healthy supply of this mild-tasting, crispy lettuce.
Summer Bibb Butterhead Lettuce
Summer Bibb Butterhead Lettuce is head lettuce with loose leaves, so you can remove them as needed or take the whole head at once. The coloring is bright green, while the flavor is sweet and mild. It is somewhat more heat-tolerant than other varieties, resisting bolting for a few weeks if planted later in the spring. The medium size doesn’t require too much space and you can even harvest them early to ensure softer leaves.
Nevada Summer Crisp Lettuce
Those looking for lettuce that actually likes the heat may want to try the Nevada Summer Crisp variety. It is resistant to sun damage as well as high temperatures, so you can plant it in the summer without worrying about wilted leaves and quick bolting. The leaves of this lettuce are loose around the heavy head, with a nutty, juicy flavor with crunchy, buttery leaves. They need about 12 inches between the plants, so work better in larger gardens.
Best Lettuce Varieties
There are a lot of options when it comes to lettuce gardening and each variety has its own pros and cons. The key is to pick a variety that matches your goals and environment. Regardless of where you grow or how much space you have there’s definitely a lettuce variety for you. While the above are some of our favorites, feel free to explore more and find one that works for you.
As always, the team here is happy to answer any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through our email or message us on any of social media platforms.