Container gardening: Benefits of growing potted lettuce | #24CarrotDiet | green leafy vegetables | DIY

Lettuce Gardening Tips: Potted Lettuce & What We’ve Learned from Last Year’s Crop Failure

Growing potted lettuce is one way to address a lack of space in your garden. But did you know that growing lettuce in containers can also help to prevent it from bolting? Choosing potted lettuce over lettuce grown in a garden plot can help to extend your growing season. It may also help you to avoid garden pests that might otherwise attack your growing greens.

Potted Lettuce: What We Learned from Last Year’s Crop Failure | #24CarrotDiet | container gardening | how to keep lettuce from bolting
We’re growing potted lettuce to supplement our main lettuce crop this year


We decided to grow potted lettuce alongside the lettuce in our raised bed this year, as a bit of an extra insurance after last year’s lettuce crop all bolted. We had bought started plants from a friend and they seemed to take really well when we transplanted them. But within about a week they were looking leggy. It wasn’t long before we realized all our lettuce had bolted. Very disappointing!

Our tiny back yard is overshadowed by several trees, so the lettuce may have lacked sunlight when it was initially transplanted. Last summer was very hot and dry, making it tough to keep the soil moist. We also transplanted our starts a bit late in the season. So it could have been a combination of several factors that led to the crop failure.

This year we’re addressing some of the issues by planting from seed early in the season, and also by growing some of our lettuce on our land share instead of just in the yard. I’ve also opted to try growing some potted lettuce as well.

In this post, I will discuss the benefits of potted lettuce and some of the lettuce varieties that are suitable for growing in containers. I will also look at the choice of containers and soil, as well as how temperature and sunlight affect your lettuce plants.

Vegetable gardening tips: Choose potted lettuce to extend your growing season #DIY #salad #greens

Growing Potted Lettuce to Improve Bolt Resistance

The ultimate goal of any organism is to ensure the survival of its kind. One of the best ways a vegetable plant can do this is to produce seeds. This is great when the seed grows in the part of the plant you want to eat, as it does with peas, tomatoes, or peppers. But how does lettuce reproduce?

If you usually buy started lettuce plants, you probably aren’t all that familiar with lettuce seed. But even those of us who grow our lettuce from seeds may never have seen how that seed is produced by the plant. That’s because we try to harvest lettuce before it gets the chance to set seed. You see, when lettuce goes to seed it changes the whole plant. The leaves become tough, and their sweet crispness disappears. Instead, the leaves start to taste bitter. Lettuce that has gone to seed just isn’t pleasant to eat.

But if you’re into seed saving, you may have allowed your heirloom lettuce to go to seed at the end of the season. You only need to do this with a handful of plants. They’ll produce enough seed for next year’s crop. The lettuce tends to grow more upright when it’s producing seed, and it sends up a tall, cental stalk topped by little dandelion-like flowers. Each flower will produce seed.

Preventing Lettuce from Bolting

When lettuce tries to set seed too soon, we call it bolting. You get the sense of urgency and prematurity in the very word we use to describe this process. Usually, we’ve harvested all of our lettuce before it can go to seed. But if the plants get too much heat or light, or if they are stressed by a lack of moisture, they will bolt. Growing potted lettuce can help to reduce the chances your plants will bolt.

Because potted lettuce is portable, you can move the plants around in order to give them the best possible growing conditions. Early in the spring, place your containers where the lettuce will get at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. But if the weather turns hot before your plants are mature, you can move potted lettuce to a cooler part of the yard where they can benefit from partial shade. Moving them closer to your deck or window might also help you remember to water your potted lettuce. Since maintaining even moisture is important to reducing bolting, this can extend the life of your crop when conditions are dry as they were here in BC last summer.

If you find that no one spot in your yard is ideal for growing lettuce, the cool thing about potted lettuce is you can move the containers around during the day. This may be necessary if there is no one spot in your yard that provides enough sunlight hours. Not getting enough light, especially early in the growing season, can cause your lettuce to get leggy. While that’s not quite the same as bolting, it does cause the lettuce to grow taller. So you won’t have nice heads forming on your lettuce plants.

Extending Your Growing Season with Potted Lettuce

Potted lettuce is ideal for the eager gardener who wants to get a head start on the season. The soil in containers tends to warm up sooner than in beds set at ground level. So if you want to start your lettuce just a little earlier in the year, try leading off your spring crop by growing lettuce in containers.

If you are growing lettuce for the fall, choosing potted lettuce helps to extend the season into the cooler months. Since mature lettuce tolerates frost less well than young seedlings, cooler nights can bring an end to your crop before you’ve had a chance to harvest all your greens. But with potted lettuce, you can move containers closer to the house to provide them shelter from the cold. You can even move pots of lettuce into a cold frame, or bring your lettuce indoors at the end of the season so it can continue growing.

Even if you choose to grow rows of lettuce in a larger vegetable plot or raised bed, you may want to plant some potted lettuce to supplement the main crop. Growing lettuce in containers can give you a few extra weeks at either side of the growing season, so you can be enjoying fresh greens from the garden for more weeks of the year. For a Canadian gardener who has to buy grocery store lettuce pretty much half of the year, that’s a huge bonus!



Lettuce Growing Instructions

How to Grow a Baby Lettuce Salad in Containers

Potted lettuce is a great choice if you eat a lot of salad. You can enjoy baby lettuce salad early in the season, and continue to eat fresh lettuce from your garden right through midsummer. Just choose lettuce varieties that are suited for container growing and give them the right kind of soil in the right container. Nature will take care of the rest!

One caveat about growing potted lettuce is that the soil can dry out faster, especially in shallow pots. Be sure to water your lettuce regularly, and to keep an eye on soil moisture. You will have to water more often than when you grow lettuce in a vegetable garden. Lack of moisture can trigger bolting, so pay extra special attention to watering your lettuce when the weather is hot and dry.

Growing Lettuce in Containers: Varieties to Try

You can grow both looseleaf and heading types of lettuce in containers. If you’re growing potted lettuce because of its increased bolt-resistance, as I am, try to choose lettuce varieties that are slow to bolt. In field trials, Batavian lettuce held up best to bolting. These varieties are often labelled “summer crisp” or “French crisp” lettuce, and are somewhere between Butterhead and Iceberg lettuce.

Purple-leaved lettuce varieties are also a good choice for potted lettuce. Higher levels of anthocyanins apparently lower the freezing temperature of the lettuce and slow its growth. This makes purple lettuce or red lettuce more resistant to both drought and bolting.

We happen to have a lot of ‘Grand Rapids’ lettuce seed this year, so I’ve chosen this variety for my potted lettuce. Other lettuce varieties you might want to try for growing lettuce in containers include: ‘Nevada,’ ‘Magenta,’ ‘Rouge d’Hiver,’ ‘Reine des glaces’ and its relative ‘Jack Ice,’ ‘Black Seeded Simpson,’ ‘Green Ice,’ and ‘Red Sails.’



Choosing the Right Container for Potted Lettuce

Lettuce doesn’t have very deep roots, so you can choose a fairly shallow container for your potted lettuce. It should be between 15-30 cm deep, and allow each lettuce plant to have about 15 cm of lateral space around it. The diameter of your container depends on whether you want to grow a single plant in each pot, or several lettuce plants together.

Containers can be made of clay or plastic. Just keep in mind that clay pots are more porous and tend to dry out more quickly. Growing lettuce in a shallow pot already means soil will dry out faster. So keep moisture in mind when choosing your pots. If you’re not great at remembering to water your plants, or if drought is a problem where you live, you might want to stay away from clay pots. If you don’t like the looks of plastic, you can always tuck them into a basket or a larger ceramic container.

The Best Soil for Lettuce Grown in Containers

Use soil formulated specifically for containers. This soil has ingredients that help with drainage and aeration. You can create your own container mix using a recipe. But before you choose, shop around a bit. We found that buying the peat moss, compost, vermiculite, etc. separately and making our own soil mix was quite expensive last season.

This year, I found 56 L bags (sometimes labelled “2 cubic feet”) of container soil at our local home Hardware. The cost was less than what I would have paid for ingredients, and it was a lot easier to find space in our little yard for just one bag. If it works out well, I’m going to stick with this more economical soil option next year.

You can sow lettuce seeds directly in your containers about two weeks before last frost. Or buy started lettuce plants and transplant them into your containers, allowing 15 cm of space between plants. If you start with seeds, remember to cover them only lightly, as the seeds need some sunlight to germinate.

Thinning and Harvesting Potted Lettuce

When your lettuce seedlings are about 2.5 cm tall, thin them to about 10-15 cm apart. Use scissors to snip the seedlings just above the ground level. This allows you to remove the extra seedlings without disturbing the roots of your potted lettuce. As the plants grow, you can come back and thin them more as needed. If you’re growing looseleaf lettuce, just a cut and come again approach to harvesting the leaves will probably be enough to ensure your plants get enough sunlight and air circulation. For head lettuce, be sure each plant has enough space around it. Otherwise, the heads will be small.

Probably the best way to use potted lettuce is to use it as a cut and come again crop. Don’t pick the entire plant at once. Instead, simply harvest a few outer leaves from each lettuce plant. The lettuce will grow new leaves to replace what you’ve cut away. You can cut the outer leaves of your head lettuce, even if you want to later harvest the whole heads.

When harvesting head lettuce, cut the plant about 5 cm above the soil. Do not pull the lettuce up by its roots or cut it too close to the bottom. If you leave enough of the plant in the pot, it will usually grow back. This will produce a whole new crop of baby lettuce leaves. Lettuce should grow back at least once each season.

As long as you keep your lettuce happy, you’ll get twice the harvest from your crop. Remember, if outdoor conditions are too hot or your plants are getting too much sun, move your potted lettuce to a location that provides a bit of cool shade.


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Growing potted lettuce can extend your growing season and improve bolt resistance
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Original content © 2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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Potted Lettuce: Grow a Delicious Baby Lettuce Salad in Just a Few Weeks
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Potted Lettuce: Grow a Delicious Baby Lettuce Salad in Just a Few Weeks
Does your lettuce bolt before you get to enjoy it? Try growing potted lettuce instead! Growing lettuce in containers can extend your growing season and improve bolt resistance.
Kyla Matton Osborne
24 Carrot Diet
24 Carrot Diet
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50 thoughts on “Lettuce Gardening Tips: Potted Lettuce & What We’ve Learned from Last Year’s Crop Failure”

  1. Lettuce is one of the important veggie of all. It is rich in fiber and water, and don’t you know it is the staple food of sumo wrestlers in Japan? I can eat lettuce in many different cuisine, and with no issue. 🙂

  2. This is such an informative post. We eat a lot of lettuce but not tried to grow it. This year we are trying tomatoes, runner beans and peppers but after reading your post, I am tempted to try maybe 1 in a pot just to give it a go.

    1. I have to admit that I still need to plant my potted lettuce! But I looked out into the raised bed today, and we have a row of radish and a row of lettuce popping up. That’s very encouraging!

      We have friends who are starting tomatoes for us under their grow lights, so I expect to have about 8-10 different types of tomatoes ready for transplant in the coming weeks. Our friends were just here and tell me the seedlings have true leaves now, which is super exciting! A lot of those seeds were so old, I hadn’t even expected them to germinate!

      Our runner beans will have to go in the ground soon. So I have to get over to the farm and start setting up our land share there. We are going to be busy! Best of luck with your garden. If you grow a pot of lettuce, please come back and let me know how it does 🙂

  3. How ironic your post is about growing lettuce in pots. Where I live we wait until after mother’s day to plant in our grow beds because we could still get a freeze. But Lettuce I will get a head start and grown in pots indoors and then transfer to grow beds in about 4 weeks. A few I keep in pots on the patio though.

    1. I must admit that I’ve never started my lettuce indoors, though I have used purchased starts on a couple of occasions. When we lived in the Montreal area, we always waited until at least Mother’s Day (for cool weather plants) and sometimes even the Victoria Day (3rd Monday in May) weekend to plant the garden. I discovered that, although these might be the right times to plant annual flowers or tomatoes transplants, waiting that long to put lettuce out caused it to bolt.

    1. I’m still just learning too! But I figure if you can learn from my mistakes, maybe you can avoid repeating them, LOL! Thanks for stopping by, Kristi Ann! And best of luck with your garden 🙂

  4. I have always wanted to have my own garden but never had the space. Your post is very informative and I may start out small with lettuce and herbs in containers. Thank you for sharing!!

  5. Wow, your article is calling me to start a small garden. I have been flirting with idea for years. Your tips are great and starting off with one pot is a great way to start.

    1. I so enjoyed having my first balcony garden! I didn’t know about growing potted lettuce then, or I would have started with that. But I had some really lovely basil, oregano, mint, and even borage in containers. It was in a spot that was well sheltered part of the day, but got plenty of sunlight in the middle of the day. That tiny garden was so lush! I hope you’ll have great results too, Holly 🙂

  6. I found mine still bolted in pots when we had super hot weather. I found copper tape amazing for keeping slugs and snails off though so it was good to have it in a pot so I could put copper tape around

    1. I’ll have to keep the copper tape in mind for the slugs. We had a few of them last year. With bolting, growing potted lettuce helps ONLY IF you take advantage of the earlier start and/or the ability to move the pots into a more shaded spot. Just having your lettuce in a container, in and of itself, isn’t going to prevent the bolting. In fact, if you let the soil dry out and leave potted lettuce in a hot, sunny spot, it will likely bolt sooner.

  7. What a great idea to grow lettuce in a pot, I had not heard of that before but I certainly learned so much from your really thorough write up on it. A really helpful post indeed.

  8. This was such an informative post! I’ve never thought about growing my own lettuce, but it’s so cool the process it goes through. I chuckled at the term “bolting” as I pictured lettuce running off on me. haha But it was really cool learning what it all meant.

    1. It really does feel as if the lettuce were running off on you when it happens, Amanda! It stays rooted in the ground of course, but when it bolts, all of a sudden it starts growing like a weed. And that lovely, round head you were trying to grow is now all raggedy, with a huge stalk growing up its middle. As a gardener, it’s a sad experience that can make you feel very much out of control 🙁

  9. I miss gardening so much! Ever since we moved to Las Vegas, I am killing just about every plant – no idea what in heck I am doing wrong, but nothing survives – even indoor plants.
    My husband wanted to put some tomatoes on our porch, but gave up on that one as well.

    But I am still determined to try something – wish me luck. Maybe lettuce will work for me?


    1. Have you tried talking to local gardeners, Claudia? There are a lot of gardening groups on Facebook that can provide a wealth of information. It may be that you need to learn a few new tricks to go with your new location and climate. Best of luck this season!

  10. I love this, great information as always. I grow my own veggies and fruits at home with a special indoor garden, The kit comes equipped with everything I need. It’s so functional!

    1. Little ones get so much out of gardening! I remember when we did our first real garden with the kids some years back, my youngest was so amazed when we started harvesting the veggies. She said it was like grocery shopping in our own yard 😀

  11. This was really helpful. As a new gardener, I felt the steps were easy to follow AND I learned new lingo!

    1. Nice! I’m so glad it helped you, Marni. I’ve got some more gardening posts coming, and lots more info on my Facebook and Instagram pages too. I hope you’ll keep coming back to read more!

  12. I’m going to try this! Hubby loves lettuce but he recently have a hip replacement and our garden is a bit behind. This way he can have fresh lettuce always!

  13. What a wonderful post!!! I’ve always wanted to grow lettuce but didn’t think it was possible since I only have a balcony, but now I know it’s totally possible!! I’m going start my lettuce this weekend, and now I’m very excited to add lettuce to the mix! Hopefully our summer won’t be as hot and dry as last year, so I can see my lettuce grow successfully!

    1. Sadly Bee, I think this year will be hot and dry again. Let’s pray the wildfires aren’t as bad as they were in 2017!

      Be sure to provide some shade for your lettuce when the days get longer. And keep it well watered. If you need to bring it in the house, do it. Especially if you are cooling with fans or AC, that might just keep it from bolting.

      Best of luck with it! I hope you’ll come back and tell me how your potted lettuce turns out 🙂

    1. We have the same worries at our land share – except in our region, it’s rabbits and deer! Try container gardening. It might help to have hanging pots, or at least to be able to bring plants indoors if the iguanas become too much of a pest. You could also ask other gardeners in your area and check online for ways to deter them. Maybe there are plants they don’t like?

  14. This post is so detailed and interesting. I have never tried growing lettuce on pots, but will give it a try. We do have a small balcony garden that my mother looks after. This sounds good!

    1. It can be difficult to grow plants in a small space. But it is well worth it when you get the results you want. The one year I grew organic herbs in pots on my balcony, it was such a pleasure to go outside at any time of day and breathe in the scent of the basil or gaze at the beautiful purple flowers of the borage plant. It was wonderful to refresh my mind for just a short while 🙂

  15. I have such a struggle growing lettuce, I did good the first year I was here… I have raised beds planned now in a different area of my yard and I sure hope that helps me! Thanks for the tips!

    1. Lettuce is either really easy or quite tricky, I find. It’s all about timing, location, and even watering. Now that you know the general preferences of lettuce plants, you should see better results. To fine-tune that, try growing different lettuce varieties. If you have a university extension office for your area, they often have lists of vegetables that are best suited to the local climate. See if you can find such a list, or ask at a nursery. They can steer you towards the types of lettuce that will grow best in your area.

  16. Wow! This post is so thorough! I’ve thought about growing some stuff in pots at my apartment, but I’m so lazy about getting anything started because I kill everything. Great information here, though!

    1. I used to try to grow potted plants indoors. I gave up on it because I managed to kill everything but the African violets! Growing vegetables and herbs outdoors in containers is easier than keeping houseplants alive, trust me. And lettuce is a fairly easy crop to grow. Start small: plant one pot of lettuce and take really good care of it. Once you start eating that lettuce, you’ll gain a bunch of confidence and you will want to try growing other things too 🙂

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