(This advice is suitable for: Lettuces, Endive, Wild Rocket, Land Cress, Purslane, Frills Mustard, Giant Red Mustard, Mizuna)
Planting Lettuces & Leaves:
- Lettuces and leaves need some sunshine, but will tolerate partial shade (and in fact this can often help to keep them cool and prevent them from bolting) and moisture-retentive soil.
- Lettuces and salad leaves don’t require a lot of space, making them perfect for growing in pots and containers, grow bags, planters and beds.
- As a general rule, plant them about 15cm space.
- Lettuces and salads will keep producing lots of leaves for several weeks if kept fairly cool – regular watering, mulching and growing them in partial shade can help. If they do get too hot, they are prone to ‘bolt’, and will stop producing leaves and instead start to form a flower/seed head.
- Protect from slugs and snails, and rabbits!
Problems & Pests:
- Slugs/Snails – Lettuces and leaves are very popular with slugs and snails – keep them protected (try beer traps, eggshell/grit, copper tape etc) and remove any slugs that you see.
- Plants bolting – In hot, dry conditions lettuces and salad leaves can get stressed and will rush to produce flowers and seeds rather than producing lots of leaves. Once this has happened you cannot reverse it, so the best thing to do is keep your plants nice and cool and well watered during warm spells to try and prevent it.
- Rabbits - Try to protect your leaves from rabbits if they are a problem in your plot – a simple 2 foot high fence made from chicken wire and bamboo canes is usually sufficient to deter them, but the more persistent rabbits will burrow underneath the fence, so be prepared to dig the chicken wire into the ground if needed.
- Plants dying at stem - this is known as damping off, when the base of the stem rots through and the plant dies off. This can happen when the soil is too soggy - it is best to allow the top 1-2cm of soil to dry out between waterings
- Flea beetle - Tiny round holes in leaves, particularly in stronger leaves like wild rocket and mizuna is inevitably flea beetle. Where this is a problem, you can try using an insect proof mesh and mulching the plants to keep the soil moist and cool will help (they are more active in hot dry weather). You can still eat the leaves if they have holes in so don’t give up on them!
- Unless you are planning to harvest an entire plant at a time, it is best to keep harvesting larger, outer leaves regularly even if you end up putting some on the compost pile - this will keep the plants leafy for longer, rather than allowing them to mature and bolt.
- Lettuces and leaves can be picked and stored in an airtight bag or container in the fridge for several days. Wash before eating and the cold water usually refreshes them and perk them up a bit.