How to Harvest Lettuce: ‘Always’ Follow the ‘25% Rule’ for ‘Healthy and Productive’ Plants

Most enthusiastic gardeners and home cooks have tried growing lettuce from seed. Easy, quick, and rewarding to grow, they’re a great way to bring variety, interest, and flavor to dishes—after all, there are so many more seed options than store-bought lettuce. They also pack much more flavor into their leaves than store-bought produce and the wide variety of textures, from crisp and crunchy to soft and velvety or deeply curled, add a different dimension to dishes. So whether it’s cutting off the entire head of lettuce or picking individual leaves, there are a few simple tips to help gardeners get more from their crop.

The West Coast Seeds team said: “Harvest as small leaves or wait to harvest full heads.

“Lettuce can also be grown as a ‘cut and come back’ crop.

“Lettuce plants are good companion plants for beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, spinach, squash and strawberries.”

Taking just six weeks to reach the harvest stage, loose leaf varieties are a great choice if you fancy a selection of different lettuce leaves.

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“Always follow the 25 percent rule when it comes to harvesting lettuce by avoiding removing more than 25 percent of the leaves at a time to keep the plant healthy and productive.”

For those who have heart centered lettuces, they will take longer to ripen.

“Heart lettuce will need about ten weeks to mature and then will stay up for about a month, depending on weather conditions,” says plant expert Sarah Raven.

Perfect for feeding large quantities, gardeners can leave this type of lettuce to form a single large plant with loose outer leaves wrapped around a ‘heart’ or center of tight, crisp leaves.

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Popular varieties include Webb’s Wonderful, Little Gem, and Lobjoits Green.

When it comes to harvesting romaine and butthead lettuces, Sarah suggests following the “cut and come back” technique.

She said: “This technique is often described as ‘cut and come back’ and is particularly good with cored lettuce varieties such as oak leaf or salad bowl types.

“The key is to have a system of taking only two or three basal leaves from each lettuce in succession, so that they then have a chance to grow back before you attack them again.

“It works well if you just need to have a few leaves that you want to eat right away as a side dish or in a sandwich.

“If you’re creating a large bowl of green salad or serving more people, a heart lettuce is a better choice, as it keeps longer in the fridge, and some lucky person may enjoy the crunch of the center leaves.”

The key to harvesting lettuce for continued growth is to cut rather than pull.

For romaine and butterhead lettuce, dig up the entire plant or cut off the head about an inch above the ground.

By cutting instead of pulling, the head stays cleaner and can grow back to give you a second crop.

Crisphead lettuce is harvested when the head is firm. Pull the plant about an inch above the ground to harvest.

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