How and Why We Grow Lettuce in Containers

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Container gardening offers great possibilities, especially to people without suitable ground for a garden. It's not without its challenges, however. Happily, there is a plant that's pretty, useful and very amenable to life in a pot: lettuce.

A mixture of different kinds of lettuce grow with chives in a balcony pot.

A mixture of different kinds of lettuce grow with chives in a balcony pot.

Lettuce will grow in a smaller, more shallow container than many other edible plants. Because it is grown for its leaves, not fruit, it can take much more shade than many others. In fact, some shade can be beneficial in keeping lettuce cool and prolonging its season. Lettuce is a cool-season crop, with high temperatures turning it bitter. 

Lettuce also takes well to succession planting to prolong the season. You can sow a few pots of lettuce seeds in early spring. A few weeks after they've sprouted, sow a few more pots. After you harvest your first batch, sow another round of seeds in its pots. With this routine you can ensure that you never have too much lettuce ready at once.

Lettuce is also versatile in that you can use baby leaves from some plants while letting others mature before harvesting them.

How to grow lettuce in containers

Choose a pot at least six inches deep. Make sure it has drainage holes. You can grow single heads in narrow pots, or grow multiple plants in a wide bowl. Use a fertile, easy-draining potting mix. Mulching the top of the mix will conserve moisture and maintain an even temperature. Site your pots in full sun or part shade and keep the potting mix evenly moist. As summer weather arrives, pull your containers into more shade to keep the plants cooler.

Pots of lettuce can be dressed up by mixing different kinds and colors of lettuce together or by adding flowering plants. Pansies are a good choice because they enjoy similar growing conditions, and their flowers are edible, too!

Image credit: Wendy Cutler/CC BY 2.0