Easy as Mesclun: How to Grow Leaf Lettuce

by Daisy

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I decided to do a little tutorial on how I grow salad greens after the following conversation with my husband:

Me:  How much do you think this would cost in the store, a huge bowl of fresh organic mixed salad greens?

Husband:  Oh, about four dollars.  But that’s without e. coli.  The e. coli will cost you an extra fifty cents.

Me:  You are so weird.

Actually, I didn’t say that last.  Frankly, around here that’s understood.  What I did say was, “Exactly!  That’s my point. Cheap, easy to grow, and you know where it’s been.”  And then what I thought was, everybody should grow salad greens.

A lot of you have gardens. Big gardens, small gardens, container gardens.  I know some of you are still just thinking about gardens, and for practically anybody, growing salad greens is a great place to start.  This is for you newbies ready to take the plunge.

Here is what I do:

1.  Prepare the soil.  In my case, a basic square raised bed, filled with whatever comes out of my compost heap.  If you don’t have your own compost bed use the best garden soil you can afford.  You can also grow in containers or directly into a well-prepared ground-level bed. Lettuce likes rich, slightly acidic (6.0-6.8 pH) soil that is well-drained.  Reserve a bucket of fine soil for sprinkling over the top after you have sowed the seeds.

2.  Select the seed.  I typically use pre-mixed leaf lettuce and greens blends, often called mesclun, mizuna and misticanza.  If you choose to do the same, look for the blend best-suited for your climate and time of year.  While lettuce prefers cooler temperatures, summer blends will allow you to extend your season past the “salad days” of spring.  And of course, don’t forget the fall.  A crop of mesclun can overwinter in some parts of the country.

3.  Wet the soil.  Give it a good soak.  Stick your trowel down a few inches to make sure you’ve saturated the soil beneath the surface.

4.  Sow the seeds.  Not too thick, not too thin.  I usually err on the side of too thick, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart.  You can thin later.

5.  Lightly sprinkle the surface with some of the reserved soil.  Not too thick.  Just barely cover the seeds, a rule of thumb is to cover seeds with soil equal to the thickness of the seed itself.  Gently pat the soil.  Say, “nice lettuce, nice lettuce,” as you do this.  Avoid eye contact with neighbor.

6.  Lay down a floating row cover over the bed.  You don’t absolutely have to do this, but taking this step will improve germination and baby your crop by keeping in moisture and discouraging pests, including insects, birds, cats, dogs and children who like to dig.  To keep it from blowing away, I use lengths of fencing wire bent in half or, like here, staple it to the wooden sides of the bed.  Do this loosely enough so you can peek under and so the baby mesclun has room to grow.

7.  Keep well-watered.  You will probably need to water daily until the seedlings are well-established.  You can water right through the row cover. Remove the row cover later if you feel it is time, or loosen it up to “float” on top of your mesclun.  Fold it back or reach under to harvest.

With leaf lettuce, I obviously don’t thin much.  I just let it go wild.  This is a personal choice because I’m lazy and it seems to work out fine without much thinning, but by all means, thin to the recommended spacing on your seed package if you desire.

To harvest, I either pick leaf-at-a-time, or use the cut and come again method, shearing off just the leaves from patches as needed.  They will grow up again and you can harvest multiple times from the same plants.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Harriet M. Welsch June 7, 2010 at 8:20 am

I would like to advocate for container growing for greens as well. The containers allow you to move the lettuce into the shade on the hottest days. I grow mesclun, spinach, chard and arugula in a series of window boxes. The mobility of containers allows me to grow fresh greens in northern Illinois for a good 8 months of the year.

Tanya Walton June 7, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I adore salad leaves as do the rest of the family and have always grown some in containers at home…this year with an extra half of an allotment plot I have lots more room and a friend gave me a load of pots when she was moving house so I have filled these with salad leaves up the allotment too…i don’t bother covering mine….just sow and watch them grow…i never thin out…just cut what i want and if I ever notice a bare patch just chuck some more seeds in!!!

Window On The Prairie June 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Our lettuce season was short this year as it was cold so late, and then turned off hot, and the lettuce bolted. But it was good while it lasted.

Esther June 7, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I like the last part of step 5. I told my 3yo and 1.5yo daughters to tell seeds “Time to grow, little (bean)!” as they water each newly planted seed. I figure someone has to make clear to the seed that it’s time to come out of hibernation.
Fortunately the neighbors usually aren’t out at the same time we are.

Heather June 7, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Wait. What? Floating row cover? What the heck is that? It doesn’t look like it’s floating. It looks like it’s attached. Floating? Let me repeat. FLOATING? And you can water THROUGH it? You’re trying to fool me, huh? You all are sayin’: “Let’s mess with this reader. Really. She will spend days asking for a ‘floating row cover’. It’s as good as sending some one out ‘snipe huntin’. Or lookin’ for a sky hook. ”

Shame on you all.

I ain’t no ordinary red necked hick.

Floating row cover. Sure. And I’m seein’ pink elephants.


Tomato Lady June 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Heather–Fret not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floating_row_cover

And if you’re shopping: http://www.planetnatural.com/site/floating-row-cover.html


The snipe hunt is NEXT week.

JavaLady June 7, 2010 at 9:55 pm

AWESOME TIMING ~! I just bought some mesclun seed packets on Sunday and some “mixed greens” seeds in a jar from the whole sale place. Thanks to your helpful page, I now know just what to Do ! I am tired of my variety of bean sprouts so this will be a welcome change.

whit June 8, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Ha! I’m glad to know my hubbie isn’t the sole “weirdo” on earth that would say e. Coli costs extra. There’s a special place in heaven for us you know, after putting up with a lifetime of that kind of cheese. :o)

I’m counting the dollars I’m saving on butter lettuce as we speak–6 heads and counting!

Handful June 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I love mesclun mixed with regular leaf lettuce. And you are so so right about the price and e-coli too. Mr. TL has a good sense of humor!

Geez – I am behind on my e-mails!

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