Gardening: Time for Lettuce

Story & photo by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, N.C. – This period of the late winter should be called “Pear Blossom Season” in Cary, because the ever-popular, medium-sized tree is exploding in white blossoms all over town.

It turns out that Pear Blossom Season is exactly the right time of year to plant lettuce and other cool-season salad greens.

The Joys of Lettuce

If you have ever head lettuce fresh from the garden, you’ll know it is nothing like store-bought (apologies to all concerned).

Freshly picked lettuce in the spring is soft and silky, almost like a rose petal. It has a fresh green taste reminiscent of cucumber that is lost in our usual food chain of processing and shipping.

2-3 Month Supply

The lettuce you plant now will yield a 2 to 3 month supply of fresh greens. That’s because you only pick what you need every night.

Sometimes I’l pick around the patch –  a few leaves from many heads. Other times I’ll pick from one head that has gaotten large and is crowding out the others in the beds.

The trick is to leave the head in the ground and not pick off all the leaves at any time. Lettuce grows fast in the spring, so you’ll have a steady supply.

I never buy supermarket lettuce from April through June.

Planting Lettuce

Nothing could be easier than planting lettuce.

Sun

First, pick your spot. Lettuce likes a good deal of sun. It can be grown in a bed or in a container.

Soil

Lettuce likes rich garden soil with good drainage. I plant mine in a raised bed after mixing a bag of Black Cow (compost and cow manure) into the soil.

Seedlings

At this time of year, many local garden stores have lettuce seedlings in small flats. All varieties do well. You might see Bibb, Romaine, Iceberg and Red-Seeded Simpson. Try some Oak Leaf if you can find it.

Planting

I often submerge the small plant containers from the store in a bucket of water before planting. Add a little soluble fertilizer like Miracle-Gro for an extra kick.

Dig a small hole in your garden bed – say 6″ x 6″. Gently remove the lettuce plant from the container. If the plant has a wall of roots growing inside the container, carefully loosen them up so the root system will expand.

Place the seedling in the dirt. You want the top of the seedling soil to be even with the garden bed, so fill in a little underneath if necessary.

Gently fill the rest of the hole with dirt. Tamp it down a little to eliminate pockets of air.

Water it in.

Care and Feeding

Lettuce likes a moist soil. Give it good watering at least once a week if it doesn’t rain, more as the season gets warmer. Don’t let the soil dry out.

If you mixed in Black Cow or another fertilizer with the soil, you should be fine. If not, mix up a big bucket of Miracle Gro according to the directions and water around each plant.

Other Greens

It’s a little late to plant seeds, but dozens of varities

Now’s the Time

Lettuce likes cool evenings and cool soil temperature, but it won’t stand a hard freeze. When the Pear Blossoms are out in Cary, it’s time to plant the lettuce.

Plants usually continue producing until mid-May when they bolt – that is, they start to produce flowers instead of leaves. The leaves get large and become bitter, signalling the time to start thinking about summer vegetables like tomatoes and zucchini.

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