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'

Better ways to sow small seeds
Because they are harvested while very young, cutting lettuces can be planted in fairly dense bands. Instead of broadcasting seed, it is just as easy to sow rows about 3 inches apart, with 1⁄2 inch to 1 inch between plants in the row. I have found that it takes less time to plant seed carefully than to thin seedlings; besides, if not done properly, thinning often disturbs the roots of the seedlings that are left.

There are several ways to sow seed to eliminate thinning. Simplest is to mix the seed with dry builder’s sand (not salty beach sand), using about twice as much sand as seed. This makes it easier to dribble seeds at fairly even spacing down a marked row. An inexpensive little gadget that distributes seed much better than a seed packet is the Seed Sower, which has five different-size outlets to control the flow of seeds down a tapered spout.

Seed Sower Harvest carefully
The author uses the Seed Sower to deliver a thin, evenly distributed line of lettuce seeds.   Cut carefully while harvesting. Damaging the crown will hinder the plant's ability to resprout.

For garden rows, my old reliable is an Earthway Seeder, for which I now have a dozen seed plates for different seed types and spacings. It makes a furrow, plants the seed at whatever depth I want, covers it, and firms the ground, all in one pass.

Last season I experimented with the Pinpoint Precision Seeder, which can handle six seed sizes. It’s smaller and more maneuverable than the Earthway, and works well with a finely tilled, debris-free bed, but is a bit finicky in less-than-perfect conditions. A larger version sows four rows 2-1⁄4 inches apart, perfect for mesclun.

If enough space is available, or just to confuse pests, I sometimes skip the cut-and-come-again routine in favor of harvest, hoe, rake, and reseed. I harvest the young plants, roots and all, stir the soil up with a stirrup hoe, rake the bed flat, and sow fresh seed.

Keep the soil rich
Lettuce likes a fairly rich, sandy loam. I till the beds and let them settle for a week before applying about an inch of well-rotted manure or compost, which I work into the near-surface zone with the stirrup hoe. After harvesting leaves, I revive the plants with a weak fish or seaweed emulsion, or manure tea. I have a siphon gadget on my drip irrigation system that allows me to feed emulsion or filtered manure tea down the lines. Most drip systems can be fitted with something similar.

  More info on growing all kinds of lettuce...

Lettuce will grow, if not thrive, in less than ideal soil, but one thing it must have is water, about an inch per week. Drip irrigation puts water only where a plant needs it. Overhead watering wastes a lot of water, and at the wrong time, such as late in the day or in hot, muggy weather, ­encourages fungal diseases.

Slugs love lettuce as much as I do, but luckily they seem to prefer beer. A few saucers of stale beer help them drown their sorrows and themselves. I tried sugar water once, which worked, but my bees liked it even more than the slugs did.

Cutworms can be a hassle, but usually they won’t do too much damage to a fairly dense band of plants. Untilled soil can harbor cutworms, so I till my beds in spring while the weather is still cold enough to kill overwintered cutworm pupae and eggs. If cutworms become a real problem, I add parasitic nematodes to the soil about a week before planting.

How to grow lettuce

300 Park Ave.
Warminster, PA 18991

The Cook’s Garden
PO Box 535
Londonderry, VT 05148

Hermosa Valley Garden Seeds
PO Box 1409
Santa Maria, CA 93456

Johnny’s Selected Seeds
955 Benton Avenue
Winslow, ME 04901


In the home garden, sowing every week will ensure a constant and generous supply of lettuce. Each sowing yields three or four cuttings before the plants are exhausted. As a rough guide to quantity, sowing about 3 feet of row every week will keep one omnivorous adult well supplied with salad from spring to fall; a vegetarian might consume twice as much.

Lettuces prefer cool temperatures, but by sowing every week, choosing heat-tolerant varieties, and using shade-cloth tunnels, I can produce lettuce right through my Zone 7 summers. It is easy to keep the supply going right into winter by growing winter varieties in cold frames or tunnels of row-cover fabric. The same tunnels can be used, covered instead with 50 percent shade cloth, to protect heat-sensitive lettuce from summer sun.

And just because it’s hot doesn’t mean I stop sowing lettuce. When temperatures hit the 80s, lettuce seed will not germinate, so I start seeds in flats in a cool room indoors and set the plants in the garden when they have two sets of true leaves.

From early spring until the start of winter, I cut lettuces and keep several salad bowls generously supplied. But lettuce is good for more than just salads. Try it in a creamy soup or wrapped around vinegared sushi rice for a tempting appetizer.

Sauteed Shrimp Salad with Curry   Cream of Lettuce Soup   vinegared Rice and Lettuce Rolls
Sauteed Shrimp Salad with Curry   Cream of Lettuce Soup   Vinegared Rice and Lettuce Rolls

by Peter Garnham
February 1999
from issue #19

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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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