We have recently been receiving occasional emails asking how to harvest leaf lettuce so it keeps growing.
Well, here is my story:
As a first timer, I thought that once you pick your loose leaf lettuce, that’s it. That was because I used to think that you should dig out the entire head when harvesting lettuce.
Imagine I actually did it once with my first batch? (I can see you laughing…)
Well, friends there is another method.
Aptly named “cut and come again”, this method will extend your plant’s growing period and supply you with greens throughout the summer months. You literally cut, leave it and return for more healthy greens. For this reason, lettuce is among the popular cut and come again vegetables
In this article, I will lay out in the open all facts about this convenient lettuce harvesting method.
I will also show you exactly how it’s done.
Shall I show this method?
When to Harvest Leaf Lettuce
Lettuce grows well in cool weather and will even excel in partial shade. Now, unlike other lettuces like iceberg, loose leaf lettuce will never form a head. Instead, it grows loose leaves.
So, what does this mean?
It means that harvesting this lettuce simply involves picking the leaves.
Now, when should you start harvesting?
Well, you can start as soon as the leaves form- but ensure it’s before the formation of its seed stalk.
Although it may vary from one variety to the next, generally look for leaves that are starting to get crisp and those beginning to look fully grown.
These are the ones ready for cutting.
Remember that older leaves will have a poor or bitter flavor, regardless of how well they are harvested.
But, your timing can have an impact on the quality you get
It’s like this:
Leaves harvested earlier in the morning, like around 7 a.m., have approximately double the plant sugars available in the leaves harvested at around 2 p.m.
Also, early morning wounds start to heal well before they are exposed to hot sun- which is known to scorch tissues
In short, Cut it early –it sweeter and convenient!
Is your child interested in gardening? This popular gardening tools for kids will help you raise a young gardener.
How much and how frequently should you harvest lettuce leaves?
Another question is that of yield.
Now, cutting down the entire plant down to approximately 1 inch normally yields a larger harvest of loose-head greens.
You can repeat harvest 2-3 times. After this, expect the quality of your leaves to decline.
Even the romaine and butter head lettuce varieties can still be cut to 1 inch though for them, the remaining stubs will often generate a weaker but still edible second growth.
How to Harvest Leaf Lettuce using the “cut and come again” method
with the basics tackled, let’s see now the “cut and come again” method step-by-step
- step 1: Prepare your scissors
Get and wipe clean a pair of scissors (sharp).
This ensures you do not contaminate the lettuce leaves when harvesting. And it’s important since a contaminated plant cannot continue growing.
- step 2: Harvesting (cutting)
Cut your outer lettuce leaves approximately 1-inch above the crown. This will protect the crown for continued growth.
Then, cut off the required amount of lettuce leaves. Cut leaves at between 3 & 6 inches.
- step 3: Watering
To encourage further growth, Water your lettuce regularly- even after the first harvesting. Stop when the soil is moist and avoid standing water (or soaking the soil).
The water also discourages bolting- that is the plant starting to seed, which means your plant will have more time to yield additional lettuce leaves.
- step 4: Removal of ‘bad’ plants
If you have a lettuce plant that starts to grow tall, remove its center before just before it begins bolting.
You’ll slow down bolting and in turn harvest, more greens before your lettuce plants eventually go to seed.
Guidelines on how to Harvest Leaf Lettuce
- Strip older leaves first, so that the younger leaves can continue to grow.
- Ideally, your lettuce garden should have multiple rows of growing lettuce- Some at the maturity stage and some a bit behind (with a week or two). This guarantees a continued supply of greens.
- Harvest different rows at a time. The picked rows will be re-growing as you pick from another set next time.
- Covering the rows with a row covers or a shade cloth slows their bolting tendency especially in hot weather.
- If your lettuce bolts, Wait until next fall before planting another crop
Now we are looking at the specific varieties:
Useful tips on How to harvest red leaf lettuce
- Harvest about 45 days from planting. The outer leaves should be 6 inches or more in length. Cut your outer leaves from the base of the plant using a clean knife
- Cut the fresh outer leaves either once or twice weekly based on how quickly it grows
- Remove the entire top third of your plant with your knife or shears when it reaches full size. This encourages further fresh growth.
- Harvest the whole plant before it bolts by Cutting off the whole plant at the ground level
Also read how to grow broccolini your family will love.
Useful tips on How to harvest romaine lettuce without killing the plant
Finally, let’s talk about how to harvest romaine lettuce. Here are some special tips for this variety;
- The maturity date is between 55-65 days for romaine lettuce. Estimate the harvest date and mark your calendar
- Keep Pinching off the outer leaves of your romaine during growth for more baby lettuce leaves. This ensures you can harvest for a longer duration
- Keep an eye on your romaine as it nears maturity date. Squeeze its heads to check. If it’s immature, its head is loose while a hard head means its overgrown
- Harvest when it reaches about 6-8 inches tall, and when leaves begin to tighten.
- Always harvest in the morning
- Cut the romaine’s head off just above its soil line but below its lower leaves to grow additional lettuce. You can as well dig up the entire plant if not interested in a further crop
So, that is how to harvest leaf lettuce so it keeps growing. I hope you won’t make the same mistake like I did those early days.
Otherwise, Let us know how your lettuce planting is taking you from the comments section.