Planting Guide and Seed Saving Notes for Lettuce

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Before modern lettuce ended up in salad bowls everywhere, it had a place as an aphrodisiac in pre-dynastic Egyptian ceremonies, cooked with eggs on the Roman dinner table, and in medieval herbals as a sedative and digestive. Now, it comes in a beautiful variety of forms, colors, and textures from smooth lime green leaves to red headings, to multicolored, smooth or crinkled leaves, with flavors ranging from a bracing bitterness to a soft buttery taste. While all lettuces can be harvested for loose leaf salad mix, romaine and butterhead varieties create folded heads for single head harvest.

Nutrients: vitamins K (high), A and folate.

How to Grow Lettuce from Seed

Bed Preparation

Lettuce is a very easy-to-grow lightly frost-tolerant annual that grows best in full sun, but will tolerate part shade. Pick a spot that receives at least 5 hours of sun a day. Lettuce greens grow most successfully in well-drained soil that is both rich in nutrients and moist.


Most lettuce germinates poorly in hot weather and bolts quickly, so be sure to plant in early spring, late summer or early fall. Succession plantings every two to three weeks are recommended for a continual harvest through the fall. Plant Seeds: 1/8"deep with 1/2" between seeds and 12" between rows. Plant several seeds in each hole. Thoroughly water seeds after planting. Continually water lettuce daily to keep soil moist. As seedlings emerge, thin them 6-10” apart for mature heads or do not thin for baby leaves. Seeds will sprout in 3-15 days.


Baby lettuce leaves are ready to harvest in about 24 days. Days to maturity for heads will vary depending on the variety. Harvest above growth point for cut-and-come-again production or cut lettuce at soil line with a knife for single harvest.

How to save Lettuce Seed

When planning to save lettuce seed, plant a little more than what you need for harvesting to eat, and don't harvest any leaves from these plants. Late spring is a good time, you want good plant production, but close enough to the heat of summer for the plants to bolt and send up flowers. Save seeds from vigorous plants, but avoid plants that are the first to bolt-- otherwise you'll be selecting for a tendency to bolt early. Lettuce seeds don't have a protective covering, so disease can develop quickly and infect the seed in wet conditions. Disease organisms can also carry over on the seed. When your lettuce plants are flowering, watch the forecasts for rain and harvest early if needed. You can harvest as early as two weeks after the flowers open. You can pull the whole plant, roots and all and allow it to dry upside down in a well-ventilated area protected from the elements for further seed development. You can also cut the seed stalks off as they mature and place them in a paper bag for drying.

If you don't need to collect large quantities of seed, you can pull off the individual white tufts, to which the seeds are attached. Put the tufts into an envelope or jar so you won't lose the tiny seeds.

To clean the seeds, shake the seed heads into a large bowl or bag to loosen the seed. The seeds are small and light, just barely heavier than the chaff so the best way to clean them for long term storage is to rub them through seed screens. The right size will have the chaff fall through and the seeds will stay on top. If you are only storing until the following season, you can probably get away with storing your seeds with the fluff, and just planting the seeds and fluff together the next year.