Lettuce Sowing Season | Head & Leaf Lettuces

Since it’s decidedly lettuce planting time right about now, we figured we should dive in a bit. When you’re growing your own, you have options. The most important of which are leaf and head lettuce. We’re going to cover the differences and why you might want to choose one, the other or both.

Pretty much anyone who’s familiar with lettuce will know all about the head type. Whether its a round Iceberg, a pointy Romaine or pretty much any kind of lettuce you’d pull out of a grocery, these are typically going to be head varieties. They’re called this because they develop a head, or large and semi-compact leafy mass. They’re definitely appealing to the market and have a solid place during salad season for the home grower.

You might not be as familiar with the other type unless you tend to frequent farmers markets or boutique grocers. Leaf lettuce is called such because it doesn’t (typically) form a head, rather it’s a lettuce type that produces waves of leaves You can harvest the entire plant or do what’s called “cut and come again” harvesting. The latter is where you harvest little bits at a time, typically among a lot of different varieties. When leaf lettuce is purchased commercially, it’s most often sold in a small bag.

We grow a lot of romaine head lettuce and it performs exceptionally well in northern climates. It’s great for those Caesar salads of course, but also is just a great all-rounder. We also grow red romaine for a little bit of variety. In most seasons, we usually rotate in another head variety or two. Head lettuce is great when you need a bunch of lettuce, but less great when you just want a little bit.

For our leaf lettuce garden, we grow an absolute smorgasbord of leaf lettuce varieties. We include mustards (like mizuna), spinach and sometimes mesclun mixes into this growing strategy. We absolutely love our leaf lettuce garden and it works overtime at producing our salads during much of the summer. Growing a wide variety makes for some excellent, full flavor salads over the summer. Most years, we grow literally hundreds of leaf lettuce plants.

One of the things we’ve learned about growing northern lettuce is to definitely perform what’s called succession planting. Lettuce doesn’t have a ton of field hardiness, typically bolting some time after it reaches maturity. We raise some of our lettuce indoors, of course. But, we also do regular plantings of lettuce at one month intervals over the summer. We start with a direct sowing two weeks to last frost and they can be planted all the way up to a couple weeks before last frost. Those leaf lettuces are exceptionally prolific, typically reaching harvest maturity in 30 to 45 days.

So, if you’ve ever wondered about leaf vs. head varieties, that’s the deal, and also how we roll. We definitely recommend growing both types as it makes for a flexible lettuce garden that can fulfill all the needs of the home cook!

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