Lettuce greens are so easy to grow, so nutritious, and so delicious picked fresh from the garden, that everyone should grow them. Grow lettuce in the vegetable garden, tuck it into flowerbeds, or cultivate it in containers. With regular watering, shade from hot sun, and succession planting, you can enjoy homegrown lettuce almost year-round in much of the country.
Types: Home gardeners can choose from dozens of different cultivars, each with its own special taste, appearance, and texture.
Cabbagelike crisphead, or iceberg, lettuce stands up to hot weather and ships well; it is the old standby in stores. It also has the thickest, crunchiest leaves of any lettuce. Iceberg lettuce is the least nutritious type, but like all lettuce, it is a good source of dietary fiber. After years of being dismissed as worthless, iceberg lettuce has undergone a renaissance among chefs, so you’re as likely to encounter an iceberg wedge with house-made blue cheese dressing in a restaurant as a salad of spring greens or mesclun mix.
The crunchy, spoon-shaped leaves of romaine, or cos, lettuce are much more nutritious. In addition to being heat tolerant and easy to grow, the big-leaved types also produce crisp, white hearts that can substitute for celery. Romaine is the traditional choice for Caesar salads. Red-leaved and red-speckled romaine lettuces are especially beautiful in salads. Because romaine lettuce is both crunchy and nutritious, it’s also a great choice for sandwiches.
Butterhead, or Boston, lettuce has soft, tender, rich green outer leaves and white to yellowish hearts. It is also high in nutrition, and its taste and texture are excellent. Many butter-heads, particularly the quick-maturing cultivars, require cool weather and an excellent soil to produce well.
Fast-growing, nutritious leaf lettuce tolerates much warmer temperatures than head lettuce. Most cultivars have loose, open growth habits and leaves that range from smooth to frilly. Harvest the outer leaves of leaf lettuces, and the plants will grow new ones for later picking, or pull entire heads at once.
Lettuces sold as spring mix or mesclun mix are typically blends of several loose-leaf cultivars that are harvested when they’re just a few inches tall. You can find many different combinations available from seed companies, or mix your own favorites for a signature blend. Mesclun also typically features a few spicier greens like radicchio and mustard.