Can leaf lettuce be grown in a container?
Growing lettuce in small containers is not only possible, it makes perfect sense. Lettuce plants are small, and their root systems are small too, which means they don't need a whole raised bed to be happy.
When I was first getting started with Rooted Garden, I created small salad planters and sold them as teacher and friend gifts for the holidays. What I realized was that a lot of people aren't ready to commit to a full raised bed kitchen garden. The little containers of lettuce plants I made were the perfect introduction to growing your own delicious food.
And the best news is that anyone can set up their own salad planter like I did. Here's how to create a cut-and-come-again salad planter that will allow you to cut from your greens for months to come.
How deep should a container be for salad greens?
Lettuce plants are small little gals with shallow roots. Your container needs to be at least 6 inches deep, but I recommend going for one that's a foot deep and at least a foot wide so that you can grow several different types of lettuce in one container.
When selecting your container, choose natural materials. My favorites are cedar, steel, and terra cotta clay.
If your container doesn't already have good drainage holes in the bottom, make sure to add some with a drill. Lettuce plants really dislike sitting in extra water.
How to grow lettuce in pots or containers
Make sure whichever pots or containers you select have good drainage holes. Salad plants like to be well-watered, but they don't like sitting in water. By creating drainage holes, you'll ensure that your plants get the water they need but don't drown. (Use a landscape cloth or weed barrier cloth to keep the soil from leaving the container every time you water.)
You can start from seed or buy plants from a local nursery. My favorite lettuce types to grow as cut-and-come-again plants are romaine, buttercrunch, spinach, and Rocky Top Lettuce Mix. If you're in a warmer climate, try arugula, which doesn't mind the heat as much as other salad plants. Make sure to give your seeds or new transfers a good watering in to welcome them.
Keep your salad pot or planter in a spot that receives at least four hours of sunlight and check the water moisture level every day to be sure the soil isn't dry (or too wet). During the colder months, you can let your salad garden get more hours of light because the sun is further away and the temperatures are lower. (Remember, salad plants love cooler weather.)
Our favorite containers for growing salad greens
I've gathered my favorite containers to turn into easy salad planters here. If you're shopping around on your own, look for words like "food grade" and "untreated" to ensure you're using the most natural of materials for your organic salad greens.
Fill your pot with organic compost for the easiest and most nutrient-dense growing medium your salad plants will love.
Clay pots for growing salad greens
Lettuce plants are the perfect fit for those terra cotta pots of yours you've had lying around. Again, make sure your pot is at least 6 inches deep. While the outside can be painted or coated in something, make sure that the inside is untreated and chemical-free.
Know that the shallower your pot is, the more frequently you might need to water your lettuce plants so that they don't dry out.
Grow bags for growing salad greens
Fabric provides you with one of the simplest and most affordable ways to start a salad garden, and there are many canvas and wool products to choose from on the market now. I've even seen someone turn a canvas shoe hanger into a salad garden!
When I choose a material for my garden, I look for naturalness, durability, affordability, and beauty. Grow bags are lower on beauty for me than steel planters or clay pots, but they're still a great option for someone looking to try something new.
Steel tubs & containers for growing salad greens
I favor steel tubs that are wide so that I can fit a variety of salad greens in one container. Remember that a wider container means more drainage holes will be needed. Aim for at least one drainage hole for every square foot of your planter.
You can find my step by steps for creating a cut-and-come-again salad planter using a steel tub here.
Again, keep your salad pots in a spot that receives at least four hours of sunlight and check the water moisture level every day to be sure your planter hasn't dried out completely or gotten too wet.
Raised garden beds for growing salad greens
When the weather cools, I look forward to turning some space in my raised beds completely over to salad plants. The one disadvantage of raised beds compared to containers is that I can't easily move my raised beds around to get just the right soft light for my salad greens—my beds are, to say the least, pretty attached to their location.
Raised beds are great to offer more space for mustard plants, which have deeper roots than other salad greens, or root crops like radishes and carrots that you want to toss into your delicious organic salads. Also, I don't have to worry about my salad greens being over- and under-watered quite as much in my raised beds. The extra root space in a raised bed tends to make plants more forgiving of conditions.
Here's how you can create a super simple salad box in a small area of your backyard.
Now that you know all of the different places you can grow your lettuce plants, check out my top ten salad greens to grow in the garden this fall to help you get started.
Salad greens make great starter plants for those new to gardening. Plus, every single time you grow a little of your own salad, you're making a huge difference in the world. Each piece of lettuce you harvest from your porch, patio, or salad box means less fuel, less packaging, and less waste for our country's food system.
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