Growing Romaine Lettuce

romaine lettuce growing at home

Jericho Romaine Lettuce -- This variety can handle summer heat.

Growing romaine lettuce is fun, easy, and inexpensive. You can grow romaine lettuce in your home garden with a little space, a little time, and a little energy. You can even save a little money by harvesting your own greens for salads.

It’s Wednesday morning. You are dressed for work, ready to fight rush hour, and poised to answer a hundred emails before lunch. But, what’s for lunch? Another plastic tray of flash frozen pasta? A fast food burger and fries? What about a fresh tossed salad with romaine lettuce you harvested this morning, right before you hopped in your car and dashed off to the office?

Romaine lettuce grows well in the front or backyard garden beds of most suburban homes. The leafy greens will blend right into the landscape design you already have. Most passersby will never even realize that you have an edible landscape. Romaine lettuce as a plant is attractive; there are tons of varieties that offer great attractive qualities like shiny leaves or red hues at the tips. Just twist off a few leaves, toss them into a bag or container, and voila – a fresh side dish to go with that microwavable pasta. Wash the leaves off and rip them into bite sized pieces while your lunch is cooking.

How to Grow Romaine Lettuce –

1. Plan your planting. Romaine lettuce grows well when it is still a little cool outside. The plants do best in full sun during the early spring and in partial shade during the summer. Seed packets are available for a couple of dollars. This will give you enough seeds to plant a row of lettuce in your front garden bed, or along your hedge line. You can sow the seed directly in the ground in early spring when night temperatures hover at about 38° Fahrenheit. Place each tiny seed in the ground about four inches apart.

You can also start seeds indoors and transplant them after the last frost. Of course, if you are new to gardening, or pressed for time, you can always just buy starter plants. The cost varies from two to four dollars per plant. Garden nurseries and farmers’ markets often sell vegetable starts early in the growing season.

2. Plant. When the leaves are about two to three inches high, harden them off (which is to say, get your plants acclimated to the outdoors) and plant in the ground. If you are buying starts, be sure to ask if the romaine plant has been hardened off already. Once the plants have been hardened off and are able to stay outside all day and night without showing signs of stress – wilting or turning yellow – they are ready to be transplanted.

Each plant will need from one to one and a half feet of space all around, all to themselves. If you directly sowed the romaine seeds it is time to thin your plants out a little. Use garden shears and snip the leaves close to the soil. Chances are you didn’t get 100% germination…join the club! This is nothing to worry about. Leave enough plants growing so that there is one at least every foot and a half.

Plants take to ground best if transplanted during the evening. This helps prevent shock from the hot sun, which can be a big problem right off the bat. Planting in the evening gives them all night to get used to their new home. Before placing your lettuce in the ground work some compost into the soil, remove any rocks, and break up large soil clumps a foot deep. If you have a compost heap, be sure to use only the fully composted material, generally from the bottom of the heap. If you don’t have a compost heap yet, you can always purchase a bag at any garden store or nursery for a few dollars. Adding mulch is a nice way to keep the soil cool during the summer and will control early weeds. Compost is great for mulching, it adds nutrients to the soil which romaine lettuce loves, and it saves you from having to use an inorganic fertilizer later.

3. Care and maintenance. Caring for romaine lettuce is fairly hands off. Once the plants are growing the leaves will shade the ground and control weeds on their own. Romaine lettuce is a pretty heavy feeder – meaning it uses a lot of nutrients in the soil – so be sure to add compost regularly. You can also add fertilizer with nitrogen. If you plant grows a large stalk in the center, it has “bolted.” Most varieties of Romaine lettuce don’t do well during the dog days of summer, they tend to bolt and go to seed. This is not what you’re after. If this happens, harvest as many leaves as you can, as soon as you can. Then cut the plant down, or pull it out of the ground. Add it to your compost heap, if you’ve got one. The spring growing season is over. Repeat the process for fall’s growing season.

Romaine Lettuce can be prone to slug or snail damage. If this is a problem you can add eggshells or Diatomaceous Earth around the plants, which slugs and snails won’t cross. If the ground is powdery and feels dry it is time to water. But do so in moderation. The ground should never feel waterlogged and soggy.

Keeping the romaine plants watered lightly and evenly will help prevent most fungal diseases. Stick your finger in the ground. If the soil is damp then your plants are watered properly.

4. Harvesting – the fun part. It’s Wednesday morning, before you dash off to work it’s time to harvest lunch. Twist off a few leaves early in the morning. Romaine lettuce is best harvested in the day as the leaves start to taste bitter if they are harvested in the evening or late afternoon. Twist off leaves as needed for salads. Don’t be shy about harvesting for dinner at this time too. The plant will quickly replace leaves and continue producing new ones.

Romaine lettuce – it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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