How to Harvest Lettuce: A Step-by-Step Guide for Fresh and Crispy Salads

how to harvest lettuce

Since lettuce plants grow best in cool growing seasons, most lettuce varieties are classified as spring or fall greens. However, if the longer days are keeping your lettuce plant producing leaves well into the summer and it hasn’t bolted yet, here are some excellent tips to follow to maximize your harvest.

Taking individual leaves off the plant is one way to increase its yield. Alternatively, you could sow in succession every two weeks in the early spring or fall to continue the harvest. To offer lettuces shade and protection from the hot summer sun and high temperatures, a third method is to interplant with a taller crop. Lastly, cultivators should seek out cultivars known for their slow bolting, like the looseleaf varieties “Slobolt” and “Sierra.”

Here is how to harvest lettuce so you can eat some leaves right away and encourage the plant to continue growing more.

How To Harvest Lettuce?

Harvesting Lettuce

If you want to harvest lettuce and do not know how to go about it, here are all the details. Follow the steps closely to get the healthiest and crispiest lettuce for your salads and sandwiches.

Plant Looseleaf Varieties

Your lettuce variety should be ready to harvest in 35 days, according to the seed packet, which means you should have large enough leaves to pick a little more than a month after planting. By regularly picking the outer leaves, you may be able to extend the harvest until late June if you sow seeds in March or April.

Begin Harvesting Early in The Season

Young lettuce plants will be harmed by light frost, but mature plants can withstand it. If you live in an area where there is no winter frost, you can plant early and begin harvesting the outer leaves when they get to be 4 or 6 inches long. Your harvest can last up to 30 days longer if you plant and harvest early.

Pick Lettuce in The Morning

It is ideal to harvest lettuce early in the day to avoid the leaves wilting due to the intense heat. The leaves are crispest and flavorful in the morning because they contain the most water.

Look For Plants with Large Outer Leaves

The center of the crown is where the new growth starts on the lettuce. You must remove the largest, oldest leaves that are about 4-6 inches long. You will find these leaves on the outside of the plant.

Cut or Pinch The Outer Leaves

At 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the base, pinch off each outer leaf. To break the leaf off the crown, apply just enough pressure with your thumb and forefinger. Another option is to use a sterile, sharp scissor or snipping tool, though there is disagreement about whether doing so accelerates the browning of cut edges.

Harvest Until it Flowers

When older, mature leaves are consistently removed, the lettuce plant is encouraged to grow new leaves in their place. Harvesting individual leaves is possible until the plant produces a flower stalk, which indicates that it is ready to bolt and set seed. Lettuce turns bitter once it bolts.

When to Harvest Lettuce?

When to Harvest Lettuce

As soon as the lettuce is large enough to pick, it can be harvested. A seed packet will typically tell you how many days it will take to harvest. For the “cut and come again” method of harvesting loose leaves, standard-size varieties are the most effective. When outer leaves are 4 to 6 inches tall, that’s the best time to begin harvesting.

There are many varieties of lettuce seeds available, including blends and mesclun mixes. The best varieties to plant for a continuous harvest are called bi-colored, spotted, or loose-leaf lettuces in green and red or burgundy tones. The following are some varieties you might want to try:

  • Black Seeded Simpson
  • Green Salad Bowl
  • Freckles
  • Lolla Rossa
  • Gourmet Mesclun Blend
  • Deer Tongue
  • Garden Leaf Blend

Loose leaf lettuce varieties yield the best results from the cut-and-come-again method. Red, green, and oak leaf lettuce are a few examples. Additionally, you can wait to pick until a full head has matured or harvest early leaves from loose-heading varieties like butterhead and romaine.

When and How to Gather Lettuce Heads

When and How to Gather Lettuce Heads

The growth habit of head lettuce is akin to that of cabbage. In order to form a dense, rounded, or clumped shape, younger leaves emerge from the center, and older leaves form layers. There are two types of head lettuce: loosehead (similar to romaine) and crisphead (like iceberg).

  • Let the crisphead varieties mature for a single harvest and keep an eye on them in accordance with the days to harvest specified on the seed packet. When the heads are dense and the appropriate size, they are ready to be picked.
  • If you remove the outer leaves once or twice, loosehead lettuces will still head. However, the size of the fully mature head may decrease as a result. These lettuces can produce a head of looser layering or wrapping leaves (butterhead) or a clump of tall, straight leaves (romaine).

Remove crispheads by chopping off the stem just below the center. Loose heads can be trimmed similarly or removed, with roots and subterranean stems cut back to the leaf base, depending on size.

What Happens If a Flower Stalk Bolts

A lettuce plant will eventually shoot up a flower stalk in the center, a sign that it has reached the end of its life and is ready to bolt, or bloom, and set seed. Though they might still be edible, the lettuce leaves are starting to get tough and bitter. There is no stopping flowering once this process has begun. Throw away the plant and plant again if the weather permits.

Types of Lettuce

Types of Lettuce

There are four types of lettuce you can choose from when choosing which to grow: leaf, butterhead (loosehead), romaine, and head lettuce.

When it comes to cultivation and harvesting, the main distinction is that leaf lettuce crops yield several harvests, whereas head lettuce varieties, such as iceberg, romaine, and butterhead, only yield one harvest. Leaf lettuces are, therefore, a favorite among home gardeners since you can grow them in raised beds, on the ground, or in patio containers.

Keep in mind that lettuce is a cool-season crop, so you should schedule your harvest for the spring when the temperature is still cool. Such temperatures are usually around 70 degrees. Find out when the first frost occurs in your area each fall and plant appropriately. Starting fall crops from seed indoors and moving them outside as the weather cools down may be the best option.

Seek out head lettuce cultivars such as Crisphead and Iceberg that you can grow from seed. In roughly six weeks, the lettuce will reach maturity and be ready for harvest after the seeds have germinated in 10 to 21 days.

One loose butterhead variety that you can grow from seed or seed tape is called Buttercrunch. It takes 65 days to be ready for harvest.

Vivian is one of the romaine varieties that yields soft, flavorful leaves. Directly sow seeds in the garden in the spring. Start seeds indoors in the fall and transplant them to your garden.

Varieties of loose-leaf lettuce grow quickly and are enjoyable to experiment with in salads, sandwiches, and other culinary creations. Look for mesclun mixes and heirloom cultivars such as “Black Seeded Simpson.” Many come in simple-to-grow seed tapes that can be harvested in roughly seven weeks.

How to Harvest Leaf Lettuce?

How to Harvest Leaf Lettuce

When the weather gets chilly, you can harvest salad from a leaf lettuce crop in your home garden whenever you’re ready to eat. You can harvest an entire crop of lettuce at once by waiting for it to mature. However, cutting fresh lettuce leaves off as they grow is the easiest way to prepare them for consumption at any time.

Depending on the variety, lettuce leaves should be harvested when they reach a length of 3 to 6 inches. Gather leaves continuously until the lettuce plant “bolts.” This indicates that the plant has focused its energy on developing seeds and flowers, and as a result, the leaves typically develop tough stems and a bitter taste.

How to Harvest a Full Head of Lettuce?

How to Harvest a Full Head of Lettuce

A lettuce plant can continue to grow until it produces a full head of leaves. Use the “one and done” approach when harvesting head lettuce. Just make a clean, above-soil knife cut across the entire head of lettuce at the base of the plant. For this, a harvest knife comes in handy.

Remember the seed packet and note the maturity or harvesting days. As your plants get bigger, keep an eye out for indicators of maturity, which are typically firm, full heads. Harvest in the spring before it gets too hot, usually when the daytime highs hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The bitter taste of the leaves and the mushy head of lettuce can result from warm weather.

How to Store Lettuce?

How to store lettuce

When the lettuce is inside, you can use a colander to wash the leaves and thick cotton towels to dry them so you can use them in salads and sandwiches. In case you cultivate a lot of lettuce, investing in a salad spinner would be wise. It helps dry and wash Lettuce quickly.

Lettuce leaves without water should be refrigerated. For most greens, store the leaves in a loose plastic bag for approximately a week. When the salad greens are ready to be eaten, give them a good rinse in several runs of cold water and then pat dry.

How to Harvest Lettuce Microgreens?

How to Harvest Lettuce Microgreens

Microgreens are incredibly simple to harvest! When the first true leaves appear, after ten to fifteen days of planting the seeds, they will be ready. When the microgreens are two to three inches long, harvest them if you are measuring them by height.

Investigating the flavor profiles of the microgreens at various heights is enjoyable. Cut the entire plant ½ inch above the soil line with a pair of scissors or grass shears. If you need more inspiration, check out our many other interesting gardening tips for growing microgreens, like growing lettuce microgreens!

How to Harvest Romaine Lettuce?

How to Harvest Romaine Lettuce

The leaves of romaine lettuce (also known as cos) have the perfect amount of crunch or crispness. The lettuce plant’s outer leaves can be harvested as it grows. The leaves can be chopped off one to two inches above the ground. Gathering these tender green leaves now will give the lettuce more time to ripen before full plants can be harvested.

Before Romaine lettuce reaches maturity, it can take 55–70 days to grow from seed. To determine when the lettuce is ripe, examine it directly. When the romaine lettuce leaves are 6 to 8 inches tall, the ribs are firm and juicy, and the leaves have formed a tightly compacted head, the lettuce is ready for harvesting. To test if the lettuce head is firm, squeeze it.

Overripe head lettuce will be tough, while young head lettuce will be soft. Harvest by making a cut an inch above the ground, saving the crown for a subsequent harvest. You can harvest the lettuce head by digging up the entire plant if it is nearing the end of its garden lifespan.

Read More: Everything You Need To Know About Harvesting Basil!

Loose Leaf lettuce

Loose Leaf lettuce

The harvest window for leaf lettuce varieties is quite broad. After planting, the young, baby lettuce leaves can be harvested 25 days later, and the plant will mature fully in 50–60 days. Make sure your crop is harvested prior to it bolting.

Since you can harvest loose-leaf lettuce more than once during the growing season, it’s ideal for repeated harvesting. You can chop the entire lettuce plant 1-2″ above the soil line once the leaves reach 4″.  In 10 to 15 days, fresh leaves that have sprouted from the base will be ready for harvesting again if the crown is left intact.  Try spreading out your seed sowings and doing multiple sowings to ensure a consistent harvest all season long.

If you want to preserve the crisp flavor of the young baby greens, you should sow them again. Another method of harvesting involves leaving the inner leaves to grow while pruning the young leaves on the outside of the head for greens. When the plants are 4 inches tall, you can begin harvesting lettuce by cutting them just above the soil line.

Crisphead Lettuce

Crisphead Lettuce

When grown locally, crisphead or iceberg lettuce makes for incredibly tasty salad greens.  You might not get a whole head of lettuce, but this can be a cut-and-come-again harvest.  A single harvest is more appropriate for this green lettuce. After planting, there is a 50 to 75-day window for harvest.

Iceberg lettuce can be harvested as soon as the head appears before the outer leaves turn brown and as soon as the center feels firm, and the leaves are compacted tightly. Before the crisp lettuce starts to open and the seed stalk starts to form, harvest it. More importantly, if you see the lettuce beginning to bolt—a common issue in hot weather—or the seed stalk, harvest it right away.

Harvesting iceberg lettuce is best done by digging up the entire plant and then cutting off the stalk. Because of its thick stem, this lettuce plant can be challenging to harvest while it is still in the ground.  If you decide to harvest the lettuce while it’s still in the ground, please take care not to harm it.  You can cut the stem just below the leaves by lifting the lettuce upwards.

Wrapping Up

Nothing compares to the sheer satisfaction of harvesting and regrowing fresh, new lettuce from the same plant. You are far superior to other lettuce owners if you can figure out how to harvest lettuce correctly so that it keeps growing.

Thus, if you want to become a rich lettuce farmer, make sure you constantly and meticulously follow all the above steps! If you have thoughts to share or questions to ask about how to harvest lettuce, then please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.

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Ankita Tripathy loves to write about food and the Hallyu Wave in particular. During her free time, she enjoys looking at the sky or reading books while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Her favourite niches are food, music, lifestyle, travel, and Korean Pop music and drama.

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