Growing your own food is a global movement that has seen substantial growth in interest over recent years. This is due to the growing homesteading, self-sufficiency, and healthy eating trends that are becoming more prevalent across the world.
Most people who want to start growing their own food are not sure where to start. Growing lettuce in containers is probably the best place for anyone to start this journey.
Growing lettuce in a container is one of the easiest ways to grow this salad crop, and it will give you predictable and repeatable success. Containers will allow you to control the growing environment of the lettuce, protect your crop from pests and allow small space cultivation.
If you are new to vegetable gardening, growing lettuce is the perfect place to start. Container growing is a popular method for growing this crop, but some preparation needs to be done to ensure your success.
We will give you some introductory ideas on how to get your first container of lettuce sprouting in no time at all!
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Why Are Containers Good For Growing Lettuce?
Lettuce can grow very well in the ground, and many gardeners grow it very successfully directly in the soil. So what benefits are there to growing the lettuce in containers as opposed to directly in the ground?
- Space-saving. Growing lettuce in a container allows the plants to be cultivated indoors, in small pots on a balcony, or even in containers on your kitchen window sill. It makes it possible for people who like in apartments who have no access to a garden to still grow their own vegetables.
- Control the growth medium. Even people who have access to garden space still choose to grow their lettuce in containers. This is because the growth medium is easier to control to give the lettuce all the nutrients it requires to grow strong and healthy. Many soils are very poor and do not have enough natural nutrients to support healthy plant growth. Adding fertilizer and food to the soil gets leeched away and spreads out into the surrounding soil, leaving less available for you lettuce.
- Easier to control pests. Humans, unfortunately, are not the only creatures that like to eat lettuce. Growing lettuce in a container will give you the opportunity to better protect your lettuce crop from unwanted pests. If you place the container in an elevated position, or close to your home where you will notice pests, or even indoors where the pests won’t venture, you can reduce the potential of these creatures getting to your lettuce before you do!
- Easier to harvest. Lettuce grown closer to your home or inside your home makes it easier to quickly harvest a few leaves as and when you need them.
What Type Of Lettuce Should You Grow In A Container?
There are a great many different varieties of lettuce, and some are more suitable for growing in containers than others.
The main two types of lettuce are head lettuce and leaf lettuce.
Head lettuce is the variety that develops the ball of lettuce, known as a head, while leaf lettuce, as its name implies, grows as loose leaves, without the leaves forming a ventral head.
Head lettuce can be grown in a container, especially if it is a fairly large container, but it is the least popular variety for smaller containers such as plant pots.
This is because the head lettuce takes up a lot of space, and it also takes longer to get to harvest size than the leaf lettuce does.
Head lettuce, such as the popular Iceberg Lettuce, can take anywhere between 80 to 100 days to produce the head ready for harvest. Other varieties of head lettuce can take between 45 days to 55 days to reach harvest size.
Head lettuce is also usually a one time harvest. Once the lettuce-head has been harvested, the plant will usually not produce another head but will die.
In contrast, leaf lettuce takes only 30 days to reach its mature size, but it can be harvested at any size, depending on how large you like them.
Once the lettuce has sprouted, which takes between 7 and 10 days, you can basically harvest the lettuce at any size, but if you wait till the 14-day or 20-day mark, the leaves will be of a good size.
Leaf lettuce can be harvested multiple times. If you harvest the outer leaves continuously, you can easily harvest three or four times from a plant. The leaves may be a little smaller each time but useable nonetheless.
For these reasons, we recommend that the best lettuce to start growing in a container is the loose-leaf variety.
Within this group, there are many sizes, shapes, and colors of lettuce, so you can grow different varieties in the same container for some variety.
Planting Lettuce In Containers
Planting lettuce in containers and taking care of them is a very easy process that pretty much anyone could manage.
As long as you are cognisant of the basic needs of the plant, which we will detail here, you will be eating your own homegrown lettuce in two to three weeks!
What does lettuce need to thrive in a container?
- Soil type. Lettuce likes a loose, well-drained soil, so use a fairly coarse potting soil mix in your container.
- Temperatures. Lettuce prefers cooler temperatures of between 60F and 65F or 15 Celsius to 18 Celsius. This means that in warmer climates, they grow better in the autumn and winter seasons. You do, however, get varieties of lettuce that can tolerate warmer temperatures that you will be able to grow in the warmer season. Generally, when the temperature gets too warm, the lettuce will bolt and go to seed.
- Light requirements. Lettuce likes lots of light and prefers to be in full sun, but they will tolerate dappled shade as a growing environment, as long as they are not in full shade all day. You can, however, grow them quite successfully indoors on a sunny window ledge.
- Water requirements. Lettuce does not like to be flooded with water. They prefer more frequent, smaller amounts of water than infrequent large amounts of water. Just make sure the growing medium stays moist; don’t let it dry out too much, and it should not be soggy.
Loose-leaf lettuce can be planted quite close together because it does not need the same space requirements as head lettuce.
For this reason, you can plant a few different varieties in the same container so that you can have a range of colors and types for your salad.
You can comfortably plant the lettuce about 4 inches apart, and they will thrive in proximity to one another.
You can plant the plants closer together if you have a smaller container; you will just have to harvest them at a smaller size to stop them from overcrowding each other.
Should You Start Your Lettuce From Seeds?
You can certainly start your lettuce from seeds. Seeds are generally cheap and easy to come by and if you want to have a healthier alternative, look for heirloom seed to avoid GMO varieties.
Seeds can be planted a quarter or a half-inch deep (0.5cm – 1cm) and around 4 inches apart.
Cover the seeds loosely with soil and don’t press down to compact the soil on top of them; they will struggle to push through.
The seeds will germinate in 7 – 10-days, and you will notice the small lettuce starting to poke through the soil.
If you would like to get a head start in growing your own lettuce, you can purchase a tray of lettuce seedlings that are an inch or two in height.
Plant them out into your container, and within a week to 10-days, you should be able to harvest your first lettuce leaves from the plant.
Harvest the older, outer leaves of the lettuce plant and leave the inner ones to continue growing. This will extend the crop and allow you to harvest longer from the same plant.
Growing lettuce in a container is not only possible, but it works very well, and the plants thrive in this environment.
It is a great way to get started in beginning the journey of growing your own healthier, more nutritious, pesticide-free food.
No matter what size your dwelling is, you will be able to find a space where you can grow your own lettuce.
This makes it possible for anyone to grow this plant, and once you see how easy it is, you will be encouraged to try other vegetables to grow in containers beside your lettuce.
Once you see how rewarding this activity is, you will soon want to explore the potential of expanding and exploring other ways that you can become self-sufficient.
Next thing you know, you will be calling yourself a homesteader!