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We all enjoy healthy greens in our salad bowls, sandwiches and plates.
They all have slightly different tastes and can have a really different appearance.
Do you have any idea how many of the tasty greens are actually lettuce?
The spring is coming so it is the perfect time to get to planting and harvesting this diverse plant and give your immune system a boost.
Let’s see all the different types of lettuce, and prepare to be amazed!
Another name you can find arugula under is ‘rocket lettuce’, probably due to its shape.
It has small leaves that are spiked, and the spikes can be either sharp or a bit more rounded.
The taste is quite strong and peppery, and the level of bitterness, or rather- spiciness, depends on how it is cultivated.
Wild arugula lettuce is generally spicier than mass-produced ones, so for the richest taste visit farmers’ markets rather than supermarkets, or plant a batch for yourself.
It goes well with pesto, with lemon juice (used instead of vinegar) or lemon zest, walnuts instead of nuts and, goes better with beef and chicken rather than pork.
2. Belgian Endive
A very interesting and unique lettuce variety, Belgian Endive belongs to the heading variety.
The leaves are white with yellowish-green tips, and they are very closely packed together.
You can consume Belgian Endive fresh or cooked (grilled, braised…), and it will provide your meal with a bitter crunch.
Since they are quite bitter, thread carefully, until you are certain you would enjoy the taste.
If you want to soften the taste a little bit, add a bit of honey in the salad, or sugar if you decide to cook it.
Also, it goes well with sweet dips for a vegetarian or lightweight snack.
Another great thing about this type of lettuce is that it is grown in the dark so the leaves would remain pale (almost white) which means it is perfect to grow indoors and it is available all year round.
3. Buttercrunch lettuce (butterhead)
Butterhead lettuce is light green color, and it has leaves that are the shape of a cup.
The leaves are fine and they could be easily bruised and damaged which is why they are often sold in plastic containers to avoid bruising during transportation.
Butterhead lettuce is perfect for making lettuce cups or veggie wraps and it has a soft and buttery texture and combines well with vinaigrette dressings and other vegetables like tomato and cucumber.
Buttercrunch lettuce has two varieties: Boston lettuce and Bibb lettuce (or limestone, after the soil it grows in).
Both have the same taste and texture characteristics while the main difference is the size and the price.
Bibb lettuce is smaller than the Boston variety and it is about the size of a fist.
Also, its price is quite steep for lettuce, which is why you will not usually encounter it in a regular salad unless you do not frequent high-end restaurants.
Escarole or Batavian endive, broad-leaved endive or scarole is pale green and slightly bitter in taste.
It is a favorite ingredient in Italian dishes because it goes well with beans, cheese, garlic, and garlic-based dressings.
You can consume it cooked in soups, braised, or fresh in sandwiches and salads.
5. Baby spinach
First of all, I need to say that baby spinach and spinach are the same.
The only difference is in the time you are harvesting i.e. baby spinach is just spinach that was harvested before the leaves have reached the full maturity.
Baby spinach is perfect for salads, and full-grown spinach is perfect for cooking. You can make a salad out of full-grown spinach but the taste can be too bitter for some and cooking makes it sweeter.
It goes well with fruits or vegetables, eggs and chicken and it has a slightly bitter and earthy taste and spongy texture.
It is full of useful minerals and other nutrients.
Tatsoi is also known as spoon cabbage due to its shape (the leaves literally look like little spoons).
It is usually available in farmers’ markets rather than supermarkets, it is Asian in origin and has a slightly bitter taste similar to spinach although a bit more ‘mustardy’.
Due to the similarity with baby spinach recipes including one or the other can be swapped without much difference.
Frisee is otherwise known as curly (frisee means curly in French) endive, and like the Belgian Endive, it has quite a bitter taste.
It adds texture and color to any salad mix, and chefs around the world use it as garnish and decoration.
It is often used in French cuisine mixed with blue cheese and nuts as the tastes are complementary.
It is a small handful of frizzy yellow and pale green leaves, and crunchy addition to your salad.
It is grown in the dark like the Belgian endive.
8. Oakleaf Lettuce
Oakleaf lettuce got its name because the leaves look like the oak leaves.
It is leaf lettuce, which means it does not form a head but the leaves grow loosely away from the stalk.
It comes in three main colors–green, red and bronze. The taste is mild, and this type of lettuce goes perfectly well with a variety of dressings and other salad ingredients.
Because it is soft and tender, it is often a part of ”baby lettuce” mixes and mesclun.
The leaves are large, especially the outer ones, so you may have to cut them up to serve them.
9. Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce is pretty much the fan favorite all around the world. And why is that?
First of all, Iceberg lettuce does not have a strong taste like, say, arugula or Belgian endive.
The fact that it is neither spicy and bitter nor buttery makes it a perfect base for any salad. What it will provide is texture, crunch and a lot of vitamins.
The other plus is that it can be in your fridge for about two weeks without losing the crunch and texture, while other lettuce varieties can be used for about 2 days.
How do you recognize it?
It looks like small cabbage!
The leaves are perfect for making wraps or you can cut it into wedges since the head is tight and firm and choose any dressing you like and/or combine with any type of veggies.
Looseleaf has its name due to the fact that the leaves are not as packed as in other lettuce varieties, and its leaves are pliable.
It comes in colors red and green (green leaf lettuce).
Like the color, the taste can be different- mild or spicy.
Because the leaves are quite tender, loose-leaf goes bad fast.
You can find radicchio under the name Radicchio di Verona or Italian Radicchio.
It is a part of the Chicory family and has a lot of relatives regarding taste and shape.
It looks like a burgundy-and-white cabbage and it brings a pop of color to any salad. Cut it into thin slices and mix with any other types of lettuce.
It has a bitter taste and goes well with any kind of cheese- the creamier the better!
If you cook or grill radicchio it becomes sweeter and the color goes brown.
12. Batavia lettuce
Batavia lettuce or summer crisp comes in shades of green and purple. Whether it is green or purple lettuce, the sweet and mild taste does not differ.
It is called summer crisp because of the crispy texture and the fact that it withstands higher temperatures without bolting, which is why it is successfully grown during summer when other types of lettuce are not.
It has a unique crunch that is fun in any salad.
Mache or lamb’s lettuce/field lettuce is characterized by clusters of 4 or five small leaves of dark green color.
Mache has a mild and sweet taste and is a great addition to salads because it provides versatility and softness.
Aside from salad mixes, it goes well with chicken and fish.
It is softer than other lettuces because the leaves are a bit thicker.
Wash it carefully for two reasons- Macha bruises easily and it is usually sold with roots that have dirt on them.
14. Mesclun (Spring mix)
To avoid confusion, mesclun is not a lettuce type per see, it is actually a mix of different lettuce varieties.
Why is it on this list then?
Well, you will often find it in supermarkets under this name, and it may cause confusion since it appears under one name and there are so many different leaves in there.
Mesclun in Provencial means “mix”, and this is a mix of an assortment of baby lettuces.
The base is usually a few of the tender and mild loose-leaf varieties such as oakleaf, but there are others that ad to the Mesclun’s crunch and texture- frisee, arugula, endives, watercress, and others.
Basically any lettuce can be included in the mix.
You can create your own depending on what you like-bitter and spicey or buttery and sweet.
What makes Mesclum special is the richness of taste and the fact that the leaves are from 3 to 6 in- all young leaves of any lettuce included.
It got its name because it grows best next to the water (e.g. streams).
It has a dark green color and belongs to the cress family including upland, curly or land cress.
It has a mustardy and peppery flavor that goes stronger the older the plant is.
It is used fresh or lightly cooked (steamed for example) along with the stems. Wash thoroughly because they can have some sand or soil on them.
16. Romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce is one of the most famous and most frequently used types of lettuce.
It is a part of the Caesar salad, and with that said, it is obvious that it goes well with chicken and bacon.
It has a slightly bitter taste.
Its leaves are long and tight-packed which means that it can be lightly grilled aside from torn or cut up in a salad.
You can also use it to make light meaty wraps as a healthy alternative to traditional wraps.
Romaine lettuce is a variety that can be easily grown indoors and from scraps none the less!
Just cut about an inch off the base and place it in a wide bowl filled with water and watch it grow right there in your kitchen.
Avoid direct sunlight.
In about a month you will be able to use the leaves as they mature, or wait for about two months for the whole head to form.
Chard or lettuce Swiss is a very attractive and interesting type.
It has tall, wrinkled and meaty leaf and a long stalk of striking colors like red, yellow and white.
It brings fun and ‘pop’ to any salad, but it can also be consumed cooked.
In taste, it is quite similar to spinach and it goes well with the same types of food.
Another Asian green, Mizuna has veiny green leaves and is dark green with a peppery taste.
It has spiked leaves and goes well with sweet and spicy combinations (as it is often the case in Asian cuisine).
You can consume it fresh or cooked and it goes well with pork and garlic.
19. Little Gem Lettuce
It is a little lettuce with a cute, descriptive name. It looks like a small Romaine lettuce and it comes in green color or green with purple tops.
It is softer than Romaine, which means it has less crunch than other lettuce of the type. Also, its taste is fresh and mild which goes well with citrus-based dressings or ginger vinaigrette.
Mix it with asparagus or radishes to get the most out of its taste.
These are the most used and most well-known varieties; there are others (all with the botanical genus of Lactuca, where some are not edible).
Sometimes you will find these lettuce varieties under other names as people are getting really creative when naming and nicknaming them.
The tastes go from bitter and peppery, even spicy to mild and buttery.
The sizes and shapes are numerous, so if you include at least three of the lettuce varieties in your salad you will get an interesting look and a mix of tastes.
There are small and firm varieties, purple, light green, almost white and dark green.
Add some nuts, a few pieces of fruit or vegetables and a dressing of choice and you have a great meal in your hands!
The combinations are endless.
Check out these recipe ideas and spice up your salads!
How to Grow Various Types of Lettuce
Growing lettuce is not at all difficult, and should be started right at the end of the winter, after the last frosty days because lettuce likes cool environments to germinate and grow.
There are a few ways that you can grow any kind of lettuce, and they work for all types, with only slight differences in maturation time and the way you harvest.
For example, green leaf lettuce, butterhead lettuce and other leafy varieties can be harvested gradually, leaf by leaf, and they take less time to mature than the heading varieties such as romaine and endives (which are usually harvested by cutting it at the base).
Why is lettuce interesting for gardeners? Because you can basically grow it all year round and it is one of those plants that can be successfully grown indoors as well as outdoors.
Heading varieties can be grown from scraps so you can literally reuse the same plant over and over.
Majority of gardeners plant lettuce from seeds directly in the garden. If you decide to do so, do it early in the spring when the weather is warm enough that you are sure that there will be no freezing of the ground anymore.
The ground should be loose, this is why it is better to use potting soil or plant lettuce in beds that used to have other vegetables before.
Make sure that the temperature is between 4o to 80 F, and that the ph level is between 6.0 and 6.8, also nitrogen and potassium-rich.
The spacing between the seeds can vary depending on the variety, butterhead, for example, requires more space than endives or romaine. To be sure that you have done the right job, follow the guides on the seed packaging.
The general rule would be from 1 to 10 seeds per square foot depending on the variety.
If you have planted too thick, you can thin the plants out by pulling them out and transplanting them elsewhere or simply discard the extra plants (while they are still sprouts).
Another way is planting the lettuce indoor, and transplanting the plants in the garden outside later.
Or you can decide to grow them indoors, and yes, you can do that for even baby spinach.
The planting frequency can be from 7 to 14 days so you can have steady growth and have tasty lettuce every day.
And you should use both planting techniques, especially if you want to have lettuce growing in the hottest months.
Namely, the germination process does not happen in high temperatures, so plant indoors a month before and transplant into your garden in the active growing phase.
This will also prevent bolting.
To make your garden worthy of envy, plant rows of green lettuce mixed with rows of purple lettuce.
You can use a bigger container and plant a few different varieties in the same pot (mix sizes, shapes, and colors)
This will give your garden a fairy-tale look.
Growing lettuce from scraps
You can grow heading varieties from scraps in the water right there in your kitchen.
What you need to do is simply cut your lettuce at about an inch off the stem, take the stem and place it in a shallow container (for example a small bowl) with fresh water.
Place in a well-lit place away from the direct sunlight and watch a new lettuce plant growing from the center of the stem scrap.
You can harvest as it grows or waits about a month or two to reach full size.
Watering Various Types of Lettuce
Since lettuce is almost all water (about 90%) it is logical that it needs a lot of water to thrive.
So, what you need to do is provide constant moisture to your lettuce.
Whether you have decided to grow them indoors or outdoors, make sure that the soil is always slightly moist.
Do not overwater since it can lead to root rot, stunted growth, and molding.
Not watering it enough can, on the other hand, cause it to dry, and if it survives, the leaves will be bitter when consumed.
To provide proper watering for your lettuce plants, try to keep the soil moist at all times.
Water the plants lightly and constantly. The frequency will depend on how warm it is which means that in the early spring you can water every two or three days while during summer, you may have to water every day.
Check the moisture level by touching the soil, if it is moist you do not have to water.
During the hot summer months, make sure that you water it either very early in the morning before the sun is high up, or in the evening, when the heat is gone (otherwise the plant may droop temporarily).
If you are planting the lettuce in containers, make sure that they have enough drainage holes to allow the excess water to drain.
If you are re-growing the plant from scraps, keep the water in the container fresh by changing it every few days.
Proper Lighting for Lettuce
Lettuce is sensitive to sunlight (as a consequence of being almost all water).
Keeping it in direct sunlight will burn and dry the leaves.
To make sure your lettuce has the proper lighting, put it in a shady place in the garden protecting it from the hot afternoon sun (especially during the hottest summer months).
It goes the same if you are growing lettuce indoors.
Do not place the containers in direct sunlight, so what you can do is protect the plants by shading them with thick sheer curtains.
Another thing you can do is simply place the container in a well-lit area but far from the direct sunlight.
Mind you, although shade and avoiding the heat of the sun should be avoided during the warmest months, lettuce still needs a lot of light (i.e. cloudy day, mild sun, etc.) so make sure that the light source is near if you are planting indoors.
Too much sunlight, besides burning the leaves, can cause the plant to bolt.
Bolting is irreversible and it happens when the plant prepares to seed, and it is characterized by the middle section bolting up while the outer leaves remain the same size.
It is a natural process, yet the plant is not edible at that point and gardeners chose to pull it out when that happens.
Fertilizing Various Types of Lettuce
The best soil for lettuce is actually any potting soil with high nitrogen levels, or any other aimed at growing vegetables.
Garden soil is not nutritious enough for the lettuce to happily grow and give you the best taste.
Leaf mulch, manure or alfalfa meal is a good choice to boost growth speed.
Fertilize once or twice during the growing period, it should be enough.
Use 1 cup of compost per 1 square foot of soil for the best results.
Now that you have taken good care of your lettuce plants it is time to harvest and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
There are a few ways in which you can harvest lettuce for consumption
The first way is to harvest the outer leaves once they are ready. Harvesting in this way will allow the rest of the plant to continue to grow, and you will have a constant harvest for days, even weeks.
Another way is removing the lettuce about an inch off the ground. You can simply cut it for this technique.
It works best for Romaine lettuce and butterhead lettuce is also great for this type of harvesting.
Really, the way you harvest depends on how many you have, what type it is and what you need it for (if you grow it for sales, leaf by leaf harvest will not do the trick, yet if you only want to have a bowl of fresh salad every day, it is perfect!)
You should harvest lettuce as soon as they form grown leaves, or before in case of the baby spinach, but do not wait for too long.
When the leaves mature (you will know that they are mature when they are darker green color, thicker and almost feel like plastic under your fingers) they become bitter in taste and are not good for eating.
Also, if it is possible, harvest lettuce in the morning, or at least before the sun gets to the plant. ‘Why’, you ask? They have more moisture in the leaves before the sun dries them and softens them a bit.
You want your lettuce crisp and crunchy, not soggy and soft to be able to enjoy an assortment of tasty salads.
Various Types of Lettuce Problems and Solutions
Caring for lettuce is one of the easier gardening tasks you may encounter.
It does not require much attention even when it comes to pests and diseases.
Usually, it has only a few, easily solved problems.
Lettuce browning and curling
The browning and curling of the lettuce leaves are usually the sign of not enough water.
Solution: What you should do is just remove the brown leaves and make sure your watering regimen is consistent and adapted to the environment (i.e. more frequent when the temperatures are high).
Fungal and bacterial diseases
They usually affect the lower outer leaves that are touching the soil, and especially if the soil is overwatered. After affecting these leaves, the disease spreads inward.
Solution: Do not plant the same plants in the same container two years in a row (i.e. use the planter that was previously used to plant, for example, beans.)
Caterpillars and Aphids are among the most frequent to attack lettuce.
Aphids cause the leaves to curl, and caterpillars eat them.
Solution: Insecticides or, in case of the caterpillars, handpicking can solve the problem (or a paper ring around each seedling). Planting mixed with garlic can help with keeping Aphids away.
Slugs and snails like to munch on the lettuce leaves as much as any of us.
Solution: Again, if you are not too squeamish, handpicking can do the trick (especially if you do not have a big garden but a few of the containers).
Otherwise, you can use snail and slug baits to eradicate them. Make sure to apply after each watering or rainfall as it is washed away and before germination to keep them away to start with.
Here are some of the questions I get asked about growing lettuce most frequently.
1. Can I grow lettuce all year round?
Early spring until the end of summer is when lettuce naturally grows, however, if you want to enjoy it all throughout the year, you can.
You can grow it indoors where you can keep the optimal temperature, or you can use greenhouses to grow them all year round.
2. What is the best temperature to grow lettuce?
If you are trying to grow it from seeds your goal should be somewhere in between 40- 80 degrees, since the seeds will not germinate in higher temperatures.
For the plant to grow actively you need temperatures around 60 to 70 degrees.
Also, if you are growing lettuce from scraps, it may grow in warmer temperatures than 80 degrees.