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Australian Grow Guide: Lettuce

Lettuce is one of those vegetable crops that you can plant in your garden all year round. As it’s an annual, plant more lettuce every couple of weeks in your garden for a constant supply of fresh salad leaves.

Lettuce is easy to grow all around the country but it does need protection from heavy frosts. It can also be grown year-round as long as you plant it in the right spot for the season.

Plus, there are so many different varieties that you can grow to keep your salads fresh and exciting. Here’s how easy it is to grow lettuce in Australia.

When to plant lettuce in Australia

Lettuce is one of those vegetable crops that you can plant in your garden all year round. As it’s an annual, plant more lettuce every couple of weeks in your garden for a constant supply of fresh salad leaves.

Choosing the right location is important and this is reliant on the season. In the warmer months, lettuce should be grown in a shaded spot in the garden so that it’s protected from the harsh afternoon sun.

Lettuce growing in garden 1 | Fruit & Vegetables

This will stop your lettuce from bolting and going to seed before you’ve had time to harvest it.

On the other hand, during autumn and winter, lettuce can be grown in a sunny position in the garden and will appreciate the extra warmth from the winter sun.

Before planting your lettuce in the garden, enrich the soil with lots of compost or well-aged animal manure. As this is a vegetable that is harvested for its green leaves, it requires a good dose of nitrogen in the soil.

soil pH. | Fruit & Vegetables

How to plant lettuce

Lettuce can be grown from seeds or seedlings. If you’re growing from seed, I find it best to start these in punnets or small pots filled with a seed-raising mix

Lettuce seeds | Fruit & Vegetables

Generally, I like to make my own mix by combining some coco coir with premium potting mix in equal parts. The coco coir helps to retain moisture and lightens up the mix so that it’s not too difficult for the seed leaves to break through the surface.

Growing lettuce from seed in easy steps

  • Fill some small punnets or pots with seed-raising mix
  • Scatter the tiny seeds over the mix
  • Cover very lightly with some additional mix
  • Water the soil

The seeds should germinate fairly quickly in about 7 days. Once the little seedlings have developed two to three true leaves, they can be planted into your prepared garden bed. 

Lettuce seedlings | Fruit & Vegetables

Space them around 10 to 20 cm apart. 

Starting your lettuce seeds in punnets means that you won’t have to thin out the seedlings like you would if you direct sow into the ground. This saves time and means you won’t waste any seedlings.

Planting lettuce from seedlings

Planting lettuce seedlings into the garden couldn’t be easier. Take the seedlings out of the punnet and very gently separate them into individual plants.

Lay these out over your prepared garden bed, spacing them around 10 to 20 cm apart. Take a dibber or small trowel and create a hole for each seedling.

Lettuce seedlings 2 | Fruit & Vegetables

Make sure the hole is deep enough to accommodate the roots of the seedlings. If any seedlings have really long roots, you can gently pinch them back a little.

I find it easiest to use the dibber or a pencil to gently ease the roots into the hole before firming the soil around each plant.

Water your newly planted seedlings carefully, making sure not to dislodge them from their new home. It’s also a good idea to mulch the soil with some straw like pea straw or sugar cane mulch.

This helps to conserve moisture and suppresses weed growth.

How to care for lettuce

Once your lettuces are happily growing in the garden, all you have to do is keep them watered and harvest them when ready.

It’s important not to let the soil dry out for any length of time as this will stress the plants and cause them to bolt. Using mulch on top of the soil will help with this.

Lettuce | Fruit & Vegetables

If you’ve added compost or other organic matter to the soil before planting, it’s not necessary to add any other fertiliser while the plants are growing.

However, you might like to dose your young seedlings with some liquid seaweed such as Seasol as this will encourage strong root development and healthy growth.

How long does lettuce take to grow?

Lettuce seedlings 1 | Fruit & Vegetables

This will depend on the variety that you’re growing. Head-forming lettuces such as cos and iceberg can take up to 11 weeks to reach maturity.

Loose-leaf lettuces take less time and you should be able to harvest some of the outer leaves in about 4 weeks.

When to harvest lettuce

Head-forming lettuces can be harvested as soon as they have formed a nice dense head.

Lettuce harvest | Fruit & Vegetables

Don’t wait too long to harvest as the plant might bolt and once this happens, the lettuce leaves will become bitter and unpalatable.

Loose-leaf varieties can be harvested as soon as the outer leaves are large enough. Make sure that you only harvest a few leaves from each plant and harvest only the outer leaves so that the plants will continue to grow.

How to harvest lettuce

Head lettuces such as iceberg and cos need to be harvested by cutting the complete head while loose leaf lettuce varieties can easily be harvested leaf by leaf whenever you want some fresh leaves for your salads.

To harvest head-forming lettuces, it’s best just to gently pull them from the soil, roots and all. Take care not to disturb nearby plants when you do this.

For loose-leaf varieties, just cut the leaves that you want to harvest at the base.

Lettuce harvest 1 | Fruit & Vegetables

Lettuce pests and diseases

The only pests you’ll have to contend with are slugs and snails. You can control these quite easily by using some snail traps or scattering some Multiguard snail and slug pellets around your plants.

Lettuce companion plants

Lettuce can be grown with a whole range of companion plants including:

  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Cabbage
  • Carrot
  • Cucumber
  • Onion
  • Parsnip
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Strawberries

Types of lettuce to grow in Australia

There are many different types of lettuce that you can grow in Australia.

The most popular ones include:

  • Iceberg
  • Butter Crunch
  • Cos lettuce
  • Mignonette
  • Oakleaf
  • Coral
  • Rocket

Growing lettuce in pots

Lettuce grows really well in pots and this is a great way to have a constant supply of leafy greens for your family.

Lettuce in pots | Fruit & Vegetables

One of the benefits of growing lettuce in pots is that you can move the pots around depending on the season. So, in summer, you can move your lettuce to a nice shady spot in the afternoon while in winter, your plants can be positioned in a sunnier spot.

Growing lettuce in pots is no different to growing them in the ground. All you need is a premium quality potting mix and some lettuce seeds or seedlings.

Just remember to keep your pots well-watered as they will dry out faster than if you’re growing in the ground.

FAQ

Will lettuce regrow after cutting?

Loose-leaf lettuce varieties will continue to grow after you harvest some of the outer leaves.

Do you need to fertilise lettuce?

If you’ve prepared the soil before planting with plenty of organic matter, then you won’t have to apply any additional fertiliser to your lettuce plants.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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