Favorite Lettuce Varieties & Tips

by | Oct 7, 2022

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 in 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 to peck lettuce, various moth caterpillars, and urban critters eat it 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 mesh covers until they are big enough to fend for themselves. Once lettuce is large, it doesn’t necessarily need to be covered any longer.

In my experience, the key to growing amazing lettuce is to understand the different types of lettuce and what your end goal is for their use in the kitchen. Overall, I divide my favorite lettuce varieties into two types of categories, heading lettuces and leaf lettuce mixes, to demonstrate my tips for growing lettuce successfully.

Here is some buttercrunch and cilantro growing under my protective garden hoops covers. These are both wonderful Winter garden crops and Buttercrunch is one of my favorite lettuce varieties.

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 packet of lettuce seeds, you can grow more lettuce than you’ll ever need in a season! Additionally, lettuce can be harvested in a way that continues to promote plant growth, so you’ll be harvesting the same patch over and over throughout the season. In contrast, if you buy one package of lettuce mix at the store, that’s all you get!

Even though I advocate for growing lettuce from seed, I also still think it’s worth it to buy starts from a nursery as well. Even if you buy three 6-packs of lettuce to create a patch, you’ll be able to continue to harvest (with the cut and come again method I’ll describe below) over and over again. You don’t just get to enjoy one, individual salad! Have I convinced you to grow your own salad?!

Heading Lettuce versus Leaf Mixes

For the purposes of this blogpost, I’m going to talk about lettuce in two categories: heading lettuces and lettuce leaf mixes. Basically, heading lettuces would be varieties that would be grown and cultivated all the way until they have developed a full head. Think about those fancy buttercrunch heads they sell in plastic enclosures at the grocery stores….or like iceberg lettuce. Whereas lettuce leaf mixes are like baby leaves that you might buy in a bag at the store.

As far as tips for growing lettuce from seed, I’ve tried so many methods! For me personally, I find that heading 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.

This is a six-pack of lolla rossa lettuce seedlings. This variety did not make my all-time favorites list, but grows very well here in Southern California.

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!

As of January 2024, I’d like to add this escarole, endive, and radicchio mix to my list of favorite lettuces to grow. This past Winter I direct sowed this mix into my garden and had great success. One of the best parts about growing this mix was the versatility. Not only could I use the different lettuces as a salad mix, but I also made a delicious Italian soup using the large heads of escarole. After this growing season, this particular mix is on my “must-grow” list. 

Related Article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern CA

Two favorite lettuce varieties I’d recommend are Parris Island Cos Romaine and Buttercrunch (pictured here). I let both lettuces grow into large heads, but I will sometimes harvest the outer leaves of the romaine in a “cut and come again” style.

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-textured lettuce and chopped salads the most, so some sort of romaine is mandatory in my winter garden.

While many say that iceberg lettuce is boring or bland, I suspect that they may have not had homegrown iceberg lettuce before. Now, my first-ever round of iceberg lettuce was demolished by caterpillars one year, and I almost gave up growing it. Thankfully, I tried again, and iceberg lettuce has now become a staple in my winter garden. What I love most about growing iceberg lettuce is how I can make my own crispy wedge salads as a quick dinner side. Also, iceberg lettuce is so refreshing on a burger! PS: bugs like to reside inside the layers of iceberg lettuce, so clean it carefully before eating! Ask me how I know…..

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! 

Salanova comes in a few different forms from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This particular mix is their “home garden” mix. Salanova is one of my favorite lettuce varieties due to it’s germination, flavor, and form.

Favorite Lettuce Varieties Cont’d- 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, often comprised of different lettuce varieties. Loose leaf lettuce also tends to be softer, not so crispy or crunchy.

As I mentioned previously, lettuce leaf mixes are great for direct sowing in the garden. Remember, these types of mixes grow best when seeded thickly in a patch to grow like a “carpet” of greens. Growing them closely together (like a mat or carpet of greens) is space-saving, less work, and easier to harvest in handfuls.

Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite leaf lettuce varieties to grow for a mixed green salad:

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.

This was my Garden Grid bed in 2021. This bed is growing both the Gurney’s Lettuce mix and the Renee’s Garden mix. Both lettuce seed varieties were directly sown into the garden bed as I’ve described.

Harvesting Your Greens With The “cut and come again” Method

Now, you can absolutely harvest your heading lettuces as whole heads. There’s nothing more satisfying than cutting a full head of iceberg lettuce out of the garden. It’s like a work of art! On the other hand, there is a way to harvest your salad and lettuce greens in a way that will let them continue to grow in the garden for the whole season. This method is often called “cut and come again.”

Now, for leaf lettuce mixes you’ll often see directions on the back of the seed packet for how to “cut and come again” with scissors. Essentially, when the greens are the size you desire, you can take kitchen scissors and shear down the whole patch to about 1-2 inches above the soil line. By leaving behind the bottom 1-2 inches, you will be guaranteeing that the patch will continue to push out more growth and provide another harvest soon.

A second “cut and come again” method can be used for heading lettuces and even other cool season crops such as kale, bok choy, mustard greens, and more! Basically, you will simply harvest the outer leaves of each plant and leave the middle alone. If you look closely, new leaves emerge from the middle of the plants, so removing only the outer leaves allows the plant to continue growing (and actually promotes growth) and provides harvests all season long.

If you’d like some visual examples of how I harvest my iceberg lettuce and also remove the outer leaves of romaine, check out my YouTube video Rainy Day Garden Harvest in March.

Honorable Mentions

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:

Lolla Rossa


Rouge D’hiver

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….

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Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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