Leaf lettuce is one of the most popular types of salad greens in the US, and for a good reason. They’re delicious, grow quickly (in about four weeks), have a low risk of disease, are easy to harvest, and can be grown year-round in mild climates. Leaf lettuce is available at every grocery store or farmer’s market near you. With these benefits, interest in commercially growing leaf lettuce is increasing.
The value of leaf lettuce production was nearly $800 million in 2020, and over 90% of lettuce sold in the US is grown in California. For farmers, leaf lettuce provides a sustainable crop to grow year-round. If you’re considering commercially growing leafy greens, here’s everything you need to know.
You Need Well-Prepared, Well-Draining, Weed-Free Soil
It’s important to have well-prepared soil that is weed-free. The soil should be well-draining so the plant can receive enough water but not drown or get root rot in soggy conditions. It also must be well-aerated, so oxygen can reach deep down into the soil. If the soil is too dense, it will be difficult for plant roots to grow and develop properly.
Successfully growing different leafy lettuce varieties also requires soil with sufficient nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which any well-balanced fertilizer will provide. With the proper soil preparation, farmers will find success growing leaf lettuce that is free of weeds, high in nutrients, and perfectly aerated.
Organic-Rich Soil Will Ensure Healthy Plants
A great place to start your growing journey is with organic-rich soil. This way, you know that the nutrients in the soil will feed your plants, and you can rely less heavily on additional supplements. Purchase composted manure from local farms or make your own compost to improve your soil and build a good foundation for growing leaf lettuce and other crops.
Plant head lettuce in rows, spaced 6 to 12 inches apart, depending on how large you want the heads to grow. A thick layer of mulch will help your plants retain water, so consider adding about six inches of this around each plant. Don’t forget to till the soil before planting. This will allow for better airflow and keep weeds at bay.
Optimal Soil pH Should Be Between 5.8 and 6.5
The optimal soil pH for growing leafy greens should be between 5.8 and 6.5 — if the number falls outside of this range, plants will be unable to absorb certain nutrients, especially iron. While you can test your soil pH using a simple DIY kit that you can purchase from any garden center or hardware store, the best option is to consult your local extension office to find out if they offer soil tests.
This is critical when it comes to commercially growing leaf lettuce but also applies to home growers. If you want the most nutrient-rich produce possible, testing pH is one of the easiest ways to ensure success every time. Too much acidity can cause a variety of problems, including iron deficiency and stunted growth.
Choosing the Right Variety for Your Area and Season Is Key
There are so many varieties of leaf lettuce available, and each is suited to different growing conditions. Some do well in cool temperatures, while others flourish in hotter weather. There may be certain types that won’t thrive until the summer months when your area experiences longer daylight hours and warmer average daily temperatures (between 70-85ºF or 21-29°C).
Most leaf lettuce grows best during the cooler months of spring and fall because it prefers growing at temperatures between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Some varieties are also more drought and disease resistant, so they may be better suited to areas where the weather is hotter and there’s less rainfall.
Sow, Water, Repeat to Maintain a Fresh Supply of Young Plants
If you’re growing leaf lettuce, the first step is to sow seeds into a starter tray. Then, water each tray thoroughly until the potting medium is moist all the way through. Once the starts reach one to two inches in height and have a strong root system established, they are ready to be transplanted into the field. While you can field-sow lettuce, starting your seedlings in a more controlled environment typically yields more robust plants and faster time-to-harvest.
The next step is to maintain a fresh supply of young plants. You can do this by planting new starts about once a month (or more if you’d like, depending on your production needs). Keep in mind that leaf lettuce typically takes two months before it’s ready for harvest, so make sure you sow new seeds before getting your first heads of lettuce.
Keep an Eye Out for Pests and Diseases
Finally, when growing leaf lettuce, make sure you keep a good eye out for pests and diseases. Birds love to eat leafy greens, so sometimes netting is necessary. Keep an eye out for aphids as well because they can spread disease from plant to plant very quickly if allowed to increase. There’s nothing worse than seeing all of the hard work you’ve put into your garden go to waste because of a pest problem.
Learn More at Fruit Growers Supply
Growing leafy greens is an excellent option for both small-scale and large-scale farmers. If you want to diversify the crops you grow on your farm, then growing leaf lettuce can be an excellent addition. Cultivating leafy greens is a great way to expand your offerings and capture more market opportunities.
Learn more about farm produce management and packaging at Fruit Growers Supply.