Favorite Lettuce Varieties & Tips
Mmmm fresh garden lettuce! The mild winters we have here in Orange County are the perfect time to grow some of my favorite lettuce varieties. Honestly, homegrown lettuce is one of those crops I think everyone should try growing. It tends to be quick-growing, small-space and container friendly, and you can guarantee that it’s free of pesticides yourself!
Is lettuce tricky to grow at home?
Despite how much I love growing my own lettuce, it does come with some challenges that should be acknowledged. Personally, I have not had luck growing lettuce in the heat of Summer. I’ve tried growing lettuce in shade and growing heat tolerant or “slow-bolt” varieties, but it’s never worked out for me. As a result, I’ve come to accept that maybe my microclimate is simply too hot for lettuce the Summer. Other areas of Southern California—mainly the coastal areas—can grow lettuce during the Summers with a little extra effort. If you’ve got a secret for growing lettuce during a hot Summer, please share it!
Lettuce attracts many pests and is easily devoured. For example, birds love lettuce, various moth caterpillars, and urban critters too. Therefore, I would consider growing lettuce under insect netting/mesh (my current favorite mesh is discussed HERE) or in a more protected area such as containers on a patio. In winter, I grow my favorite lettuce varieties under some mesh covers until they are big enough to maybe fend for themselves.
Growing Your Favorite Lettuce Varieties from Seed
Despite potential problems, lettuce is still one of those crops that is worth growing at home! After all, lettuce grows well from seed and if you’ve got a $4.00 seed packet of lettuce, you can grow more lettuce than you’ll ever need!
As far as tips for growing lettuce from seed, I’ve tried so many methods! For me personally, I find that lettuces that form large heads (such as romaine, butterhead, or iceberg lettuces) do best when started in seed starting cells and transplanted into the garden when large enough to fend off some critters. This method seems to cut down on losses from thinning and pests. Alternatively, lettuces that are grown for loose-leaf mixes and “cut and come again” style, do best when generously sown like a carpet of microgreens. There’s no need for thinning, but I do protect sown patches of seed with my DIY garden hoops and insect mesh covers.
My Personal Favorite Lettuce Varieties-Heading Lettuce
As a Southern California gardener, I can only offer inspiration for what has grown well in my own garden here in zone 10b. Remember, you can always find your garden zone or learn about the importance of microclimates HERE.
One of my all-time favorite lettuce varieties is buttercrunch. I’m still working through this seed pack from Burpee Seed Co, and can’t rave enough about the perfect balance of crispness and buttery goodness. Another reason to love buttercrunch lettuce is it’s versatility in the kitchen. I’ll sometimes separate the leaves for salads, but also will use the leaves for lettuce wraps too. For instance, these Garlic & Ginger Turkey Lettuce Wraps are a quick weeknight meal here in the Winter. A smaller version of traditional buttercrunch lettuce is Tom Thumb. While Tom Thumb lettuce is not large enough for lettuce wraps, Tom Thumb has the same buttery flavor but in mini/compact form….it’s also an heirloom variety!
Related Article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern CA
Another one of my favorite lettuce varieties for Southern California is Parris Island Cos romaine. This is a crisp, classic romaine lettuce for those of you who like romaine lettuce. Personally, I prefer crisp lettuce and chopped salads the most, so some sort of romaine is mandatory in my winter garden.
Speaking of crunchy lettuce, another one of my favorite lettuce varieties to eat is iceberg, but sadly my first attempt to grow some was destroyed by caterpillars. While many say that iceberg lettuce is boring or bland, I suspect that they may have not had homegrown iceberg lettuce before. Everyone I know who has grown iceberg lettuce in the garden has loved it, so iceberg lettuce is on my “grow-list” this year.
Last but not least, one of the most consistent, beautiful, and delicious heading lettuces I’ve grown is Salanova. This gem from Johnny’s Seeds is quite pricey for seed, but totally worth it. The germination rate is fantastic! In the seed cells below (remember, I start most of my heading lettuces in cells), there was one Salanova seed sown per cell, and now we have six beautiful transplants!
Favorite Lettuce Varieties- Loose-Leaf & Mixes
The next segment of my favorite lettuce varieties is about loose leaf mixes or “cut and come again” lettuces. For now, I consider these types of lettuce to be more similar to what you’d buy in bags from the grocery store—individual leaves, sometimes of different lettuce varieties. Loose leaf lettuce also tends to be softer, not so crispy or crunchy. As I mentioned previously, to grow lettuces mixes it’s nice to directly sow the seeds in the garden. This is mainly because growing them closely together (like a mat or carpet of greens) is space-saving, less work, and easier to harvest in handfuls. You might remember my Gurney’s lettuce seed mix from last year growing in my garden grid. That small 3 x 3 area grew enough salad for the two of us allllll Winter long. While those seeds were gifted to me to try, I decided I liked the mix so much that I’m growing it again. Definitely one of my favorite lettuce varieties now.
If you like a slightly spicy salad mix, definitely check out the Renee’s Garden Asian Baby Leaf greens mix. The “spice” comes from greens such as mustard and arugula that are in the mix. I’ve personally grown this mix for years in my own garden and truly enjoy it.
Finally, there are some honorable mentions I’d like to showcase here because the idea of a “favorite lettuce variety” is going to be subjective. Therefore, the following lettuces all grew well here in my zone 10 garden, but for personal taste/reasons they aren’t a staple in my garden:
For now, that’s a good chunk of information to consider for the Winter garden here in SoCal. Aside from lettuces, there are so many wonderful greens to grow for stir fries, soups, and even curries. You can find additional suggestions in my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide but, for now, lettuce end this blog post here. Hahaha I couldn’t help myself….