Growing lettuce is one of my favorite things to do during the spring and fall growing seasons, when the days and nights are cooler. It’s so easy: Just sprinkle a few seeds on the soil surface — don’t worry about burying them — and in about three days they’ll sprout. In just another week or two, you can start harvesting lettuce leaves to enjoy that unparalleled straight-from-the-garden taste. In this video, I share three ways to harvest leaf lettuce, two of which allow the plants to last all season.
From the time leaf lettuce is a few inches tall until it is about ready to flower, you can harvest the leaves. Once the lettuce begins “bolting,” or producing a flowering stem, the leaves become bitter. So it’s important to harvest regularly.
Unlike head lettuce, which is typically done once the head is harvested, leaf lettuce is a “cut and come again” crop. That means you can take a few leaves at a time or all of them at once, and the plant will regrow those leaves — until the plant bolts or frost comes.
Method 1: Cut Just Above the Base
With a sharp knife in one hand, use your other hand to grip all the leaves on a lettuce plant. Cut off the leaves about an inch and a half above the base. The basal point, where the leaves form, will remain intact below the cut, so new growth will emerge.
Method 2: Snips Leaves from the Edges
With garden scissors or micro snips, cut off leaves one or two at a time, starting from the outside edges of the plant. This is perfect for harvesting just a small amount of lettuce for an individual lunch or dinner plate.
Method 3: Yank the Whole Plant
Pulling the entire plant out with its roots intact is an easy harvest method that you may want to use for a variety of reasons. It could be that you’d like to plant something else in that spot, you suspect the plant will bolt soon or you know a hard frost is coming — so you’re not concerned about allowing the plant to grow more leaves. Another really good reason to harvest lettuce with the roots attached is to keep it fresh while you transport it to a dinner party or another occasion and you want to keep it as fresh as possible. Just rinse off the roots in cool water, wrap the plant in a damp paper towel and store the plant in a zip-lock bag. The plant can also be kept in a glass of water on the windowsill, out of direct sun, until you are ready to serve the lettuce.
However you intend to harvest lettuce, the best time is early in the morning. It’s when the lettuce is at its most crisp, as it’s been absorbing water all night and the sun and heat haven’t started to wilt it yet.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
Episode 122: Fall Vegetable Garden Success: Best Plants and Tips for Cool-Season Growing
Episode 174: Season Extension Practices for Getting More from Your Garden, with Niki Jabbour
joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Protect Cool-Season Crops in Hot Weather
joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Build a Simple Cold Frame
joegardener blog: How Do I Grow Lettuce?
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™ Optimal Soil Temperature Range chart
Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, AeroGarden, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, PittMoss, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, National Wildlife Federation and TerraThrive. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.