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Home & Lifestyle

How to Harvest and Store Lettuce From Your Home Garden

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 14, 2020 • 2 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Loose-leaf lettuce plants (Lactuca sativa) are fast-growing, cool-weather crops that are easy to plant and harvest. Unlike iceberg, butterhead, and romaine lettuce, these leafy greens and reds do not grow from a head or heart, making them an ideal low-maintenance crop. Colorful loose-leaf lettuce varieties like mesclun, endive, or arugula can make a quick, simple addition to your garden bed.

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Ron Finley Teaches GardeningRon Finley Teaches Gardening

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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When to Harvest Lettuce

The type of lettuce you’re growing and the hardiness zone you live in will determine the length of your growing season, as well as the best time to harvest. Depending on your climate, lettuce can grow in early spring or fall, and just about anywhere in the summer, as long as you water the plant consistently, and provide partial shade.

You can begin to thin and eat the edible trimmings from the young lettuce leaves around three weeks after planting. Timing is key when harvesting loose-leaf lettuce—the longer you wait to harvest, the more bitter it becomes. Although it is less prone to bolting, the lettuce leaves will lose their flavor and wilt with long-term exposure to hot weather or improper maintenance.

How to Harvest Lettuce

Harvesting loose-leaf lettuce is different from harvesting a head of lettuce, as you can pick loose leaves as it grows rather than waiting for a head or heart to form. When your outer leaves reach around four inches in length, you can either use a pair of shears to snip—or your fingers to snap off—about an inch above the crown of the loose-leaf lettuce plant.

Avoid touching the inner leaves when harvesting. These leaves will eventually become the outer leaves, which will be ready for harvest in around seven to 10 days. Uprooting the whole plant or damaging the base can hinder the lettuce’s growth, so be careful when removing leaves to not tear, rip, or cut the crown.

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How to Store Lettuce

After harvesting lettuce, wash the leaves and dry them thoroughly. Wrap the lettuce in a dry paper towel and store it in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator crisper drawer for seven to 10 days.

If the lettuce starts to wilt, you can revive it in a quick ice bath—but lettuce that is slimy or has an odor should be tossed immediately.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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