Imagine—crisp, fresh lettuce you harvest anytime you want. Nothing could be easier than growing your own lettuce in a pot. Here’s what you need:
- A pot
- Potting soil
- Lettuce seeds
- Lettuce is best grown outdoors, but you can grow it indoors under grow lights (fluorescent or LED). More on that in a bit.
Pot—The key here is to have a drainage hole in the bottom. Something at least 14 inches across is best. As far as material for your container, just about anything will work—terra cotta, metal, ceramic, plastic, wood, you name it. Anything goes for shape too; round, square, oblong… all good. And have fun choosing a style of pot, whether it’s rustic, modern, funky, or chic.
Potting soil—Good potting soil is critical to your success. I really don’t like some of the more readily available commercial potting soils in big box stores, so I encourage you to visit your local independent nursery and ask for the potting soil mix they recommend. (Note: you want potting soil, not seed starting mix.)
Seeds—choose whatever you like to eat. There are so many kinds of lettuces to try: Simpson black seeded, Buttercrunch, Red Sails, May Queen, Mesculun, and Rocket, to name a very few. You can buy lettuce seeds at any good nursery, and garden centers carry them during the growing season. For a wider selection of lettuce varieties, buy seeds online. There are many good seed sources, but my favorites include Renee’s Garden (www.reneesgarden.com), Pinetree Garden Seeds, and Seed Saver’s Exchange.
Light—Outdoors, look for a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Indoors, you’ll need fluorescent or LED grow lights. Bottom line: lettuce seedlings need light for 12-14 hours per day to grow well.
Put it all together:
- Scoop the potting soil into your container, filling it to within two inches of the top. Gently firm the soil with your hand.
- Open a packet of lettuce seeds and gently tap them out onto the soil surface so they are spaced about a quarter inch apart. The seeds are pretty small and dark, so might be hard to see on the soil. If you get clumps, just separate them with a pencil or toothpick. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Take a little more potting soil between your fingertips and sprinkle it over the seeds. Gently press the soil using your fingertips, so the seed makes contact with the soil.
- Place a plastic tray under the pot to catch water that may come out of the drainage hole. Water in the seeds with a gentle sprinkling of water. Be generous with the water but don’t use so much that the soil is sopping wet.
- Place the pot outdoors or under lights. If you are using lights, they need to be set 2-4 inches above the surface and remain on for 12-14 hours a day. A plug-in timer is really helpful, so you don’t have to remember to turn the lights off and on.
- Check your pot every couple days. Your seed packet may include information on how long your variety of lettuce takes to sprout. A few days before or after that, you should start to see little green sprouts.
Now you’re growing!
Once your lettuce sprouts, water lightly when the soil appears dry on the surface. You don’t want the plants to get to the point where they are wilting, yet you don’t want them waterlogged either.
Rotate the pot once a week or so, so the seedlings grow straight and strong. If you are using grow lights, raise them as the lettuce grows, so the lights remain 2-4 inches above the tops of the growing plants.
Don’t worry about fertilizing, the potting soil contains all the nutrients your plants need.
Check your lettuce packet for the number of days your variety takes to reach maturity. This will give you an idea of how soon you can start harvesting.
Once your plants reach maturity—or even a few days before—you can start harvesting. Grab a pair of scissors in one hand, and with the other gently grasp your lettuce plants. Cut straight across about an inch from the soil. The plants will re-sprout, giving you a continuous harvest.
After several cuttings the plants will begin to lose vigor. At that point, pull them out and start over with another round of seeding if you want. You can re-use the same soil for the second planting, but you should add a little liquid organic fertilizer at planting time.
Enjoy your lettuce!