Pick lettuce and other spring greens when the leaves are small.
Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau
These tender young lettuces and other greens are called mesclun, designer greens or spring mix. The seed mixes may contain the baby leaves of many kinds of lettuces, such as romaine or oakleaf, arugula, endives, mustards, purslane, chicory, cresses, parsleys, fennels, escarole and tender wild greens, or just one kind. There may even be some you’ve never heard of, such as mizuna, a leafy green from Japan. Sometimes, the mixes will include a few edible flowers, too, such as nasturtiums or chive blossoms.
Each of these tasty leaves can be harvested as they develop and grow rather than waiting until a plant reaches a mature size. The result is a nutritious mix of colorful leaves and textures that please the palate.
Although transplants may be available at garden centers, your best variety comes when you sow your own seeds. You can pick the lettuce seeds or mesclun mixes you like best. It’s so easy!
- Select a site that gets six to eight hours of sun a day, whether in the ground or where you can place a container.
- The soil should be rich in organic matter, such as compost, well drained and loose. Apply two inches of compost and work into the top two inches of soil
- You can use any type of container, such as a window box or a large pot. In a container, use a high-quality potting mix. Do not use soil from the garden in a container. The soil may contain insects or disease
- About two weeks before the last frost date in your area, sow seeds in moistened soil, according to label directions. You can plant transplants at this time, too. Click here to check with your county extension office about your area’s last frost date.
- Water well. Lettuces do best in soil that is moderately moist, but not wet. Seeds should germinate within a week of sowing.
- When seedlings are 3 inches tall, apply Preen Vegetable Garden Organic Weed Preventer according to label directions. This can be reapplied every four to six weeks to prevent weeds from sprouting.
- These greens grow fast. You can begin to harvest usually within 10 days to two weeks, depending on which kinds of greens you planted and the weather. The best time to harvest is early morning, when it’s cool and the leaves have picked up moisture from the night air. Use scissors to remove leaves when they are 2 to 3 inches tall. Snip the leaf close to the plant’s crown. Alternatively, you could pick off the individual leaves. The lettuce will continue to grow when harvested in this manner.
- Rinse leaves in cool water, drain and pat dry. If spin-drying the lettuces, use them immediately because the process bruises the leaves, causing them to go limp. Although baby lettuce leaves are best used as soon after harvesting as possible, if you must store them, do so wrapped in a slightly damp towel sealed in a plastic bag, then placed in the refrigerator. Limp lettuce can usually be revived when given a 10 to 15 minute soak in cool water.
- Pull from the garden and compost or dispose of the plants when they send up seed stalks. This usually happens when the weather heats up. When plants do this, it is called bolting, and the leaves turn bitter.