Cut-and-Come-Again Lettuce Sampler

comments (11) November 11th, 2009

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The Seed Sower delivers a thin, evenly distributed line of lettuce seeds.
Freckles makes a lovely leaf lettuce for the salad bowl, and if you let it go to seed, you might be surprised by an enchanting flowering plant.
Click To Enlarge Photo: Boyd Hagen

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When I had a market garden, I grew 200-foot rows of lettuce. The rows contained my own mixture of lettuce varieties, chosen for taste, color, and leaf shape, and I cut the leaves young for the mesclun mix I sold to local chefs. Twice a week my two young assistants and I knelt in the white clover pathways to shear the baby plants.

Most of the dozen or so lettuce varieties were the type described as cutting lettuces, which obligingly and vigorously sprout a fresh crop of leaves when they are snipped off just a couple of inches above the ground. They are often called cut-and-come-again lettuces.

Cutting lettuces are mostly non-heading leaf varieties from two groups, Grand Rapids and oakleaf. The Grand Rapids group produces broad, crinkled, and frilly leaves, while the oakleaf varieties have flatter and distinctively lobed leaves. Both groups include red and green varieties and several red-green combinations. All make great garden design elements.

Paint the garden with lettuce

Whatever else I grow, I always have plenty of ‘Black Seeded Simpson’, an heirloom. I don’t bother with little packets; I buy it by the ounce, about 25,000 seeds. Properly stored, lettuce seed stays viable for three years. ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is so reliable I use it as the standard for judging the germination success of other varieties. A fast grower, it produces crinkly, juicy, yellowish-green leaves. Its only shortcoming is a tendency to bolt in summer heat; it does best in spring and fall here on Long Island.

One of the best summer performers I have found is a romaine: a French cos, ‘Craquerelle du Midi’. When every other lettuce in my garden is getting bitter or defiantly announcing its plans to set seed, this one stays mild and leafy.

Black Seeded Simpson Oakleaf
'Black Seeded Simpson'   'Oakleaf'

The red or green lobed leaves of the oakleaf types are pillars of the looseleaf establishment. There are at least half-a-dozen varieties of each color commonly found in seed catalogs. ‘Oakleaf’ is the original old standby that yields crisp, tender, light green leaves and keeps going through moderate heat. Although it has deeply lobed leaves, ‘Salad Bowl’ is not a true oakleaf. But it is an All-America Selections winner that produces rosettes of delicate lime-green leaves and also has good heat tolerance.

Tops for reliability, even through a hot summer, is ‘Red Sails’. Another All-America Selections winner, it’s a fast grower with green and reddish-bronze leaves.

Salad Bowl Red Sails
'Salad Bowl'   'Red Sails'

A 1998 introduction that did well for me was ‘Green Vision’, which produces dark-green, glossy, savoyed leaves; it is a slow bolter. ‘Lollo Rossa’ has light-green leaves with elegant rosy margins, while its cousin, ‘Lollo Biondo’, is pure pale-green. Both ‘Lollo’ cultivars are deeply curled and heat tolerant, and very decorative both in the garden and in salads.

Lolla Rossa Lolla Biondo
'Lollo Rossa'   'Lollo Biondo'

Stepping beyond the looseleaf varieties, there are some butterheads and romaines I like to grow as cutting lettuces. They will also sprout new leaves, if less energetically than the looseleaf varieties.

Of the butterheads, ‘Ermosa’ has dark green leaves and stands up to a fair amount of summer heat. In a weak pre-spring moment I ordered seed for a romaine called ‘Freckles’ or ‘Trout Back’, simply because I liked its name. I wish all my weak moments worked out this well. It is a beautiful lettuce, lime-green flecked with wine-red markings, and has a fresh, delicate taste.

Ermosa Freckles
'Ermosa'   'Freckles'

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posted in: Lettuce

Comments (11)

A4MyAngel55 writes: Hi when I plant my seeds they come up ok, but they look week and spindly. I usually end up with two plants per spot, I wait till they're about one inch tall before thinning. After that they get week looking. What am I doing wrong. I want to start a green house in my basement this winter, but I want to make sure I'm doing everything right. HELP PLEASE.
Posted: 4:04 pm on May 29th
Jesully414 writes: When do I cut it after it's sprouted? How high? I'm not sure what leash lettuce I have. More of a salad bowl or an oak leaf.
Posted: 7:46 pm on May 25th
Fields writes: I would recommend using a sanitizer on your cutting tools. Sanidate and other OMRI horticulture products are great for that. I have used scissors and knives in personal and commercial lettuce harvesting with no issues. Pinching does work well but anytime you leave an unclean pinch or tear in the skin you open the door for disease. I have also sped up my production by using a simple hdroponic NFT unit. Works great outdoors or in the basement under simple, cheap lights. I would also agree with the varieties in this article. Great choices and good article.
Posted: 9:45 am on May 7th
Flmastergardener writes: when you use scissors to cut anything in your gardin, which I do quite often, just dry them and spray with some pam and store with blades open. Of course away from children
Posted: 6:46 pm on July 17th
Chaef writes: I have never used a scissors to cut my lettuce, because when your scissors get wet, they rust, and when you cut the lettuce, it leaves rust behind on the lettuce. Rust will damage your lettuce!
Posted: 12:09 pm on May 30th
debbieb73 writes: I actually plant garlic around my garden as I have a bunny "problem". The garlic is the first thing up in the spring, they bite it & never return to my garden. They must not be Italian rabbits. We LOVE garlic!!!!
Posted: 8:07 am on May 3rd
BillyJoesFoodFarm writes: I love this article, and have reposted an excerpt with a link back to you on my facebook page and on our farm website.

Here in zone 6, I let a couple of my lettuce plants go to seed right in the garden. They will self-sow and come back up the next year, with no work from me. Less work is always a good thing!

Thanks for the article.

Tina Elliott
Posted: 12:45 pm on February 26th
Susieqtwo writes: Good information.
Posted: 9:53 am on January 29th
clematislover writes: Instead of using a scissors, I just use my thumbnail to pinch off the leaves. I have so many plants in a row that if some pull out, instead of being cut off, it's not a big deal. I've done this for 20 years and not had a problem. It's much faster than using a scissors.
Otherwise, this is a very complete article about growing lettuces. The photos of the different varieties are great too.
I've also used lettuce as an edger in my perennial garden. You have lovely choices of yellow green, green,red and red greem combos to pick from.
Posted: 8:55 am on April 14th
PeterGarnham writes: Tigerlady, use a really sharp knife, or sharp scissors. Cut the whole plant, and do it a bit lower than shown in the photo. Leave about 1 to 1-1/2 inches of the plant so it can regrow. It may regrow even if you cut too low, but it will take longer. If you cut too high the leaf "stubs" will die back and rot. Experiment until you get the hang of it. You can generally get two or three cuttings off lettuces and spinach before it's time to re-seed. Hope this helps!
Posted: 2:55 pm on March 26th
Tigerlady writes: I would like to read more about the actual cutting and harvesting, please. Tips? I'm not at all sure I do it properly, and find it takes me a very long time cutting leaf by leaf, but also saw your warning in the picture caption to not damage the "crown". Is the crown the inner most small leaves? The center? Also, if I don't break it off, the center of the plant gets long, leggy and then weak. Perhaps I just need to cut and reseed more often? Thanks.
Posted: 12:39 am on March 14th
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