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Introduction on growing butterhead lettuce

multiple lettuces in growing butterhead lettuceEveryone knows butterhead lettuce. In Latin, it’s called Lactuca Sativa. In the shops around here, we can find butterhead lettuce year round because it’s grown in greenhouses.
Nowadays lettuce is mostly eaten raw in salads but in Roman times, people cooked the plants because lettuce wasn’t so tender yet.

What is butterhead lettuce?

The ancestor of our now known lettuce could be prickly lettuce or Lactuca Serriola in Latin. The Latin name for lettuce is Lactuca Sativa.
Lettuce is a vegetable that is grown with thousands at a time. Lettuce is eaten by many people and is sold in almost every grocery shop around the world.
If lettuce contains anthocyanin it will contain a red coloration.
There are many different kinds of lettuce. Some form a head, some don’t form a head. (cutting lettuce or picking lettuce)
Butterhead lettuce is a class of lettuce varieties having soft leaves that grow in a loose head and are said to have the flavor of butter.

 Where to grow lettuce?

lettuce field in growing butterhead lettuceLettuce loves a nutrient-dense soil. Normal plant compost will benefit the plant. Just watch out for the use of composted manure. It’s better, if you use composted manure, to use the manure before winter time if you plan to sow or plant lettuce on that spot in spring.
Lettuce likes daily watering as this prevents the plant from bolting. And daily watering keeps the leaves nice and tasty.

 Taking care while growing butterhead lettuce

Sowing the seeds can be done in a small container. Just sow a bit more seeds than the number of plants you need at that time.
When the plants are three weeks old you can break off small lumps with the roots and plant out the lettuce. If you want a bit more order, you can sow a couple of seeds in a small pot and count the number of pots you need. If you sow for instance three seeds per pot, you can keep the strongest plant and cut off the other two.
Don’t use any fertilizer when sowing because this will cause the roots to die off as soon as the seeds germinate. If you want to fertilize, wait until the plants have two real leaves.
If lettuce is sown on a nutrient-rich soil, you’ll only have to water daily and almost forget about the plant. Lettuce grows quite fast, so amending the soil isn’t really necessary. The soil can of course always be topped off with some very mature compost.
If you take the right precautions, you can sow lettuce at almost any time in the year in zone 8. If you have a greenhouse, you won’t have too many problems growing your lettuce almost year round.
Even if you don’t have a greenhouse, you can make use of cold frames, plant covers or plastic tunneling and grow almost year round. Just make sure you have the right kind of lettuce for the right time of year as this can influence the bolting and harvest times of the lettuce.
Checking for pests and diseases is necessary, in a timely fashion, otherwise you could get up one morning and find out your lettuce has vanished from the face of the earth.

 Transplanting butterhead lettuce

lettuce leafWhen sowing your own seeds, you’ll see seedlings pop up after a couple of days. About 3 weeks later, you can plant the lettuce in its final spot.
During the really cold months, transplanting is best done in pots or places in the greenhouse or in a cold frame. Here, we can plant outside in April, if the weather cooperates just a little bit. (it’s still possible to cover up the plants if there’s a freeze at night)
It is, of course, possible to use pre-grown plants, that can be bought in garden centers. By buying small plants, you’ll have a head start and you’ll be able to harvest just a bit sooner.

 Harvesting butterhead lettuce

bunch of lettucesOnce the head has its final shape and is big enough, you just have to cut off the head from the stem underneath.
Just take the butterhead lettuce inside to clean. If you don’t eat the lettuce the same day, keep it in the fridge until consumption.

 Diseases when growing butterhead lettuce

Bacterial vain rot

Bacterial vain rot is a horrible disease and it’s almost a global problem. Vein rot is caused by bacteria in the Pseudomonas family. The sides of the veins will start showing small spots which will quickly evolve into a slimy leaf mass making the plant unusable for consumption and the disease will kill the total plant in no time. There is not much around to treat the disease. In any case, the diseased plant has to be removed and burned to avoid further contamination.

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails just love young and tender lettuce leafs. This can cause the vanishing of several young plants a day if not treated immediately. There are multiple biological products and uses to avoid or remove slugs and snails from the vegetable patch.


Aphids can use lettuce as a host plant so it’s necessary to control the plants from time to time. (I do it daily) Aphids can also transfer certain fungal diseases so be careful.

caterpillars when growing butterhead lettuce

Different kinds of caterpillars love a nice and tender lettuce leaf (and more than one). In no time, the plants will be decimated. Sometimes they don’t eat the whole plant but the plant loses its use in the kitchen once a caterpillar has enjoyed his meal.


Cutworms, the larvae of certain night-flying moths can hide in the soil and will eat the roots and leafs of the lettuce at night.


Rhizoctonia, botrytis, and sclerotinia can all cause different kinds of rot. Rhizoctonia is bottom rot of the plant. Botrytis gives gray mold to the plant. Sclerotinia gives lettuce drop disease. These three diseases are fungal infections which will decimate the plants. Giving the plants the proper space to grow, will avoid a lot of problems but long periods of rain can still cause severe problems to the crops. Treatments for these diseases are still a work in progress.

 downy mildew

Bremia lactucae or downy mildew also named white. This fungus makes a gray fluffy covering on the bottom side of the leafs. The top side shows yellow spots in the leaf. Bordeaux mixture can treat this fungus. Just bear in mind that Bordeaux mix isn’t all that healthy for the soil life. So don’t use more than necessary.
There still are other diseases for lettuce. Planting the plants at a distance of 30cm (about a foot) in the row and from row to row will avoid a lot of problems.
If you do have problems with your plants and you don’t know what’s going on, just contact us with some photo’s and we’ll see if we can give you any advice.
I will amend the article if I come across other diseases and when I can make the right pictures.

So this is it for this article on growing butterhead lettuce, I hope you’ve found it interesting. If so, please share on social media, with friends, and other gardeners.

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Thanks for reading and see you in the next post.


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