If you read “The Complete Guide to Growing Lettuce“, I covered everything you needed to know to successfully grow, harvest and store lettuce.
Now that you know how to successfully grow lettuce, it’s important to know that not all lettuce types are the same. Some are upright, while others spread out. Some have firm leaves, while others have soft, delicate leaves. Some are better-suited to growing in the summer, while others only grow in cooler temperatures and will dry up and bolt in the heat of summer.
In this post, I take lettuce growing to the next level. In it, I discuss the 5 types of lettuce and their characteristics. Through understanding the differences and their growing habits, it will help you to better plan what you grow, for a healthier lettuce patch.
The 5 Types of Lettuce
- Butterhead – Butterhead types have soft, pale, waxy leaves. Their leaves tend to lay low on the soil and especially before forming a head. Butterhead types have a soft texture and a buttery feel. At maturity, a nicely wrapped head will form, with a blanched inner heart. Heads can be harvested by cutting beneath the head and just above the soil line, or individual leaves may be harvested from the outside, as the lettuce grows.
Butterhead-types do not perform well in summer and will quickly dry if they don’t receive adequate watering. When temperatures rise quickly, butterheads tend to bolt. I recommend growing this variety in the spring or late summer, for a fall crop.
Some examples of Butterhead lettuces includes Flashy Lightning Butteroak, Tom Thumb, Deer Tongue and Yugoslavian Red.
- Romaine, Cos and Gem – Romaine lettuce is familiar to many, as it is the variety commonly used in Caesar Salad. However, this type comes in many shapes and colours, which may be surprising to many that know it for its typical green leaves.
Romaine lettuce types produce the most upright leafed varieties. As they mature, their leaves fold in at the top of the head and develop a long-hearted shape, that is blanched on the inside.
If you’re looking to grow lettuce during the hottest days of summer, romaine types will perform well for you. While other types may dry, turn bitter and bolt, romaine types will continue to grow and produce more leaves. Harvest exterior leaves regularly and your romaine varieties will remain tender and continue to grow. Some examples of Romaine, Cos or Gem lettuce include Paris Island Cos, Winter Density, Lava Lamp Romaine and Pomegranate Crunch.
- Crispleaf or Head – Crispleaf or Head lettuce is commonly known as Iceberg. However, when thinking about iceberg lettuce, we tend to envision a light green head of lettuce, with water-filled leaves, often shredded and added as a topping to burgers or subs. Crispleaf comes in deeper shades of green, red or speckled, making it a good choice for salads and sandwiches. Very refreshing and juicy, remaining nonbitter, even during the hottest days of summer. Due to its high water content, it is better to grow this type in spring/early summer and late summer/fall, avoiding the hottest days of summer.
Crispleaf lettuce produces a densely packed heart as it matures, eventually developing a tight head. Some varieties develop into a rosette.
Some examples of Crispleaf or Head lettuce include Anuenue, Cardinale and Crispino.
- Leaf – Leaf lettuce types don’t form a head or a heart. Rather, their leaves tend to lay loose and open over the soil. When planted close together, these leaves make an excellent planting of “cut and come again” salad greens. Simply harvest outer leaves just above the soil-line, allowing plant energy to redirect towards producing more leaves from the inside-out.
Leaf lettuces come in different shapes and may either be oak-shaped, rumpled on the surface, savoyed or crispy and smooth. Colours may be green, red or speckled.
This lettuce type is a good choice where summers are hot. Leaf lettuces are slow to bolt and resistant to heat. Some examples are Green Salad Bowl, Merlot, Oakleaf and Red Sails.
- Summer Crisp/Batavia – Summer crisp lettuce, also known as Batavia, is a cross between Crispleaf and Leaf lettuce. This lettuce type tends to grow large-sized lettuce heads, with thick and crispy outer leaves. Summer Crisp is easy to harvest when young, since it forms loose heads, allowing for an individual leaf harvest. Once mature, however, the heads develop into a compact form.
Summercrisp is a good choice when growing lettuce in the summer. It grows well in warm, summer weather and is resistant to bolting. Some examples of summer crisp or batavia lettuces include Oscarde, Reine des Glaces and Anuenue.
Never again skip growing lettuce in the summer. Misconceptions exist about lettuce only being suitable for spring and early fall gardens. However, understanding the differences between the five lettuce types will allow you choose the appropriate lettuce type for the season. Grow your favourite Butterheads and Crispleaf varieties during the spring, early summer and fall seasons. Then save space in your summer vegetable gardens to grow your favourite Romaine, Leaf and Summer Crisp varieties. By choosing correctly, you may successfully grow lettuce throughout the entire gardening season.