Lettuce is a fantastic addition to any produce garden because it is not a “one and done” vegetable. As the lettuce plant continues to grow, you can trim leaves as you need them without disturbing the continuous growth of the rest of the plant.
Knowing how and when to trim your growing lettuce plants will guarantee that you have leafy greens for salads, sandwiches, and wraps whenever you want them.
Many gardeners use succession planting, or staggering when you start your lettuce seeds, in order to have lettuce all throughout the growing season. If you can keep an eye on your lettuce’s growth, you can trim enough for use in your kitchen recipes and extend the life of your lettuce plants.
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Different Types of Lettuce and Trimming Recommendations
Lettuce comes in three different types: head lettuce, like iceberg and romaine, bibb lettuce, like green or red butterhead, and loose-leaf lettuce, like green or red leaf.
Bibb and loose-leaf lettuce are the best candidates for trimming prior to final harvest since their density and growth patterns give you outer leaves that are easy to trim. Given the amount of time needed to form a tight, well-sized head of lettuce, your best bet is to plant a variety of lettuce and save your trimmings for every variety other than head lettuce.
Consider planting some of your favorite loose-leaf lettuce in containers so you can move each pot closer to your kitchen door as the plants mature. This will allow you to easily trim what you need and keep an eye on your lettuce plant at the same time.
Lettuce is especially easy to grow in containers that you plan to move since it only requires about four inches of soil and a pot that is about eight to twelve inches in diameter.
When To Trim Lettuce?
Leafy lettuce like romaine will take about 60 days to get ready to harvest if you want to remove the entire head at once. You can also trim leaves throughout the growing season, which is commonly referred to as the “cut and come again” method.
Be sure you don’t disturb the crown of the lettuce, which is done by trimming the larger, outer leaves first. Use kitchen scissors that have been cleaned just before use. You don’t want to risk contaminating your plants with any bacteria that might exist on your kitchen scissors.
Gently hold the plant as you trim the leaves, because the shallow root system of lettuce can make it easy to dislodge the plant. Work your way evenly around the plant, starting with the outer leaves. You can also use a kitchen knife to trim the tops of leaves.
Focus on trimming those leaves that are above the plant’s crown. By making even slices, you will open up the crown for regrowth. As you trim leaves, new leaves will grow, which will keep you in crisp, leafy veggies whenever you need them.
Another, more organic method of trimming a few leaves at a time is to pinch them off the plant with your fingers. It isn’t a good method for trimming a lot of leaves, but it is effective for one or two leaves to put on your sandwich at lunchtime.
If you want the sweetest leaves on that sandwich at noon, you may want to pick those leaves first thing in the morning. Leaves have the highest sugar content in the coolness of the morning—nearly twice the sugar content that would be present later in the day.
You also need to pay attention to the maturation of your leaves. Harvest them too early and they will be too small (which means you’ll be harvesting more than you might want), and the flavor will not be as developed. Harvest leaves too late and your crisp, light taste may become dense and bitter.
For most bibb and loose-leaf lettuce varieties, once leaves have reached about four inches in length, they should be ready for trimming. Once you choose the leaves that will come to your kitchen, use your scissors (or fingers) to cut the leaves about one to two inches above the soil.
Frequency of Trimming
With a number of different lettuce plants and varieties, you should be able to rotate through your lettuce trimmings so that no one plant is over-trimmed. Try to limit your trimmings to no more than five per plant.
You can trim more than one leaf at a time as long as you’re only taking more mature leaves. You will know when a plant has been trimmed enough because new leaves will continue to grow slower and the lettuce taste will be weaker.
Lettuce is incredibly easy to grow, so if you power your summer on crisp salads and crunchy, green sandwich components, you can easily have a rainbow of options. With a little planning, you can stagger your plantings so that fresh lettuce will be ready every day.
Not only can you have nearly unlimited lettuce for meal preparation, but you contribute significantly to your compost pile as your lettuce plants reach maturation. There is perhaps no greater representation of how your vegetable garden is a representation of nature’s full cycle.
Even though you know your produce from its very first seed planting, remember to thoroughly wash your lettuce trimming before use. Remember that the most organic gardening can still leave bacteria or bugs, which are a natural part of any garden, on your cut leaves.