Lettuce is actually made up of a crown with leaves growing in waves radiating from that crown. If you are patient and you know where to cut, you can keep cutting the leaves as they grow further and further away from the crown without having to worry about killing the lettuce. The lettuce can keep growing as you harvest wave after wave of lettuce leaves.
The great thing about harvesting lettuce this way is that you get a longer supply of lettuce leaves.
Typically, gardeners would harvest the crown and its surrounding leaves once and for all. When you do that, the plant dies. There is nothing left even though the roots are still in the ground. There’s just simply not enough plant material to keep producing leaves, much less a crown.
It All Boils Down to How You Cut
First, you need a very sharp set of scissors. This is crucial. Here are our favorite pair of pruning shears!
You have to use the right tool because if it isn’t sharp, you cannot cut at the right angle. It might also take you several attempts to cut off the leaves and you might end up cutting too deeply that you damage the crown. It’s much easier for you to make mistakes when you’re using a dull or badly prepared set of scissors.
It’s also a good idea to sanitize your scissors with some sort of rubbing alcohol. You have to do this before you cut leaves, and right after. By doing so, you cut down on the chances of contaminating the remaining plant.
Remember, you’re going to be cutting leaves in such a way as to preserve the life of the plant. You want to keep the crown growing so it would produce wave after wave of leaves for you. It’s hard to do that if your leaf cutting leaves contaminants on the crown that ends up rotting it.
Next, make sure to harvest early in the day. The closer you get to the morning, the better. Try to cut leaves before the sun rises or as close to the morning as you can. This ensures that the leaves are very crispy. The crispier the leaves, the more precise your cutting.
Remember, you have to cut the leaves precisely because you don’t want to damage the crown. As much as possible, you have to cut the outer leaves one inch away from the crown. You have to leave this much leaf matter on the lettuce crown so that it can adequately protect this part of the plant. This is the growing part and it has to have enough shade to continue growing at full speed.
Make sure to also cut only leaves that are long enough. This is where a lot of gardeners mess up. They think that as long as the leaf is a few inches away from the crown, it’s fair game. Not so.
The leaf has to have a total length of a minimum of 3 inches, and optimally 6 inches. This way, there will be enough leaf matter left on the plant so the crown can keep growing and keep providing you with wave after wave of leaves.
Don’t Cut Back on Watering
Once you have started harvesting lettuce leaves, maintain the water intake of your plant. Water it as regularly as possible. This ensures that it will get the nutrient it needs to keep producing leaves.
This also prevents the plant from going to seed. This is called bolting. And when you put a lot of stress on the plant, namely through cutting its leaves, it has a tendency to preserve its nutrients and divert it to seed production. This makes the lettuce tougher and more fibrous.
When you water it in the same amount as when it first entered its vegetative state, it’s less likely that the plant would bolt despite the amount of stress it’s experiencing from your leaf cutting.
Be on the lookout for tall growth in the center of the lettuce plant. If you notice that the center of the lettuce plant is growing too tall, cut it down. This can delay the bolting process.
Remember, when you cut your lettuce, you’re causing it a lot of stress. And one of its coping mechanisms is to go to seed.
One smart way to relieve your lettuce of stress is to plant different batches throughout the growing season. You can collect from another batch while you allow some time for the group you previously harvested to recover. That means you’ll have a steady supply all season long with this staggered method of harvesting.
Not only will it be beneficial to your crop, but you can also plant enough groups so that you will shorten the time waiting for leaves to mature. The next batch would have grown to the proper length after you’ve already cut from the others just a few days earlier.
Resilient Lettuce Varieties
There are three hardy types of lettuce than lend themselves well to frequent harvesting.
Black-seeded Simpson lettuce is a tall variety with large frilly leaves and has been around for more than a century. They can withstand dry, hot, and frosty climates while having one of the most tender and nicely flavored lettuce leaves. It’s no wonder why they have remained popular for many years.
Lingua di Canarino or “canary tongue” lettuce is a variety from Italy that’s easy to cultivate and has plenty of leaves. It is also known as oaked leafed lettuce because of the shape of the light green leaves. They have a crisp dark green head, but their leaves are medium-sized and have a light taste. This variety is known for having high resistance to bolting.
Merlot is a loose-leaf variety known for its antioxidant properties and has striking burgundy colored leaves. They are sure to be an eye-catcher in any garden being the darkest red-colored lettuce. Because they’re resistant to bolting, they can endure cut-and-come-again harvesting. They can thrive in both hot and cold climates as well.