Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on November 23, 2010. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Use lettuce bowls for fresh winter salads
When the cooler months arrive, many home gardeners think it is time to put away thoughts of fresh vegetables on the table and settle for the local grocery store’s offerings. If this describes you, I hope to change your mind by giving you tips on growing fresh lettuce during the winter months.
The cool months of winter are the perfect time to grow lettuce as it can tolerate frost and light freezing temperatures. It doesn’t get bitter from the heat of summer. You don’t even have to grow it in your normal vegetable garden.
Try growing lettuce in containers. Not only is this a healthy food, but you will save money on your grocery bill while adding spice to your landscape.
Growing lettuce in containers makes the job more manageable and requires less weeding. You will be surprised at how many plants you can grow in a tight space. Even if you only have a small patio, a balcony or a sunny kitchen window, you can still enjoy fresh lettuce with these ideas.
Place your containers where they are easily accessible, and you will be able to enjoy fresh salads through the winter. One of the most fun ways to grow winter lettuce is in a salad bowl. Harvest the outer leaves for supper to allow new leaves to grow.
When choosing what to plant, select lettuce varieties that have good color. These almost always are more nutritious than regular iceberg lettuce types. Try growing Tango and Dark Lollo Rossa leaf lettuce for a colorful supply of fresh salad greens.
There are great lettuce mixes available. The Encore Mix has red -- Dark Red Lollo Rossa, Firecracker, Red Saladbowl and Rouge D’Hiver -- and green --Tango, Parris Island and Deer Tongue -- lettuce varieties that are a visual and tasty treat.
Always use a quality potting mix that does not contain any soil to ensure good drainage. Remember, it is easier to add water than try to take water out of your container. Fertilize once a week with a half-strength, water-soluble fertilizer. Another option is to add vermicompost or another high-quality compost at planting.
Sow 10 to 12 lettuce seeds per container. This is typically the right amount for a 6-inch round container. Lettuce is a fairly quick crop, so you should be able to start harvesting outer leaves in 35 to 42 days.
If you like baby lettuce, try sowing about an eighth to a quarter teaspoon of lettuce seed per square foot of container, covering slightly. Harvest the baby lettuce after 28 days simply by cutting it off with scissors. Plant containers at one-week intervals to ensure a continued supply of fresh baby lettuce.
Using recycled containers can be a creative way to save money. Plastic milk carriers, wooden peach boxes or old wine crates are perfect for use on the back porch or patio, and they add visual interest. They’re also easy to bring inside if a blast of arctic air is expected.
So try growing some of your own lettuce this winter, and enjoy the freshness of truly local food.