Don't pack up your gardening gear just yet.

Attention, gardeners: Just because we are in the waning weeks of summer and cool weather is on the horizon, doesn'y mean you have to hang up your gardening gloves. There are still plenty of plants you can grow and, since it won't be so warm and humid outside, working in your garden will be a bit more enjoyable. One of the easiest plants to grow in the fall is lettuce. Considered both a spring and fall crop, lettuce thrives when temperatures are between 60 to 70 degrees F. In fact, lettuce tastes sweetest in cool weather, which is why it is such a great fall crop. Many varieties of lettuces will reach maturity in as little as 30 days, and some can be harvested much earlier as microgreens. Tuck lettuce plants into small spaces, between other plants, grow it in containers, or try your hand at hay-bale gardening. These lettuce growing tips will keep your garden and salad bowl full of crisp, healthy lettuce this fall.

When to Plant Lettuce

You can plant fall lettuce anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Many experienced gardeners and farmers seem to have a sixth sense about the best times to plant just about anything. If you aren't quite there yet, use this handy Frost Dates Calendar from the trusted folks at The Old Farmer's Almanac. Just plug in your zip code and the website will show you the expected first frost date. Simply count back the recommended number of weeks to plant. Making successive plantings two to three weeks apart will provide a continuous harvest of fresh greens over a long period.

Where to Plant Lettuce

The ideal location for growing lettuce in both spring and fall is in a spot that receives a lot of sun. During the warmer months partial shade is necessary to provide protection from the heat but, once days become cooler, you can plant in full sun. Regardless of whether you plant in your garden bed or in containers on your porch, use loose, cool soil with good drainage, water regularly during dry weather and add mulch to keep the soil cool and moist. Make sure there is enough space between the plants (read the tags on your seedling pots or seed packets) so that they can grow to full size. However, many gardeners plant lettuce much closer together and simply harvest the amount of leaves according to their daily needs.

How to Harvest Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to harvest. When to pick lettuce depends on the variety and what it will be used for, and you can harvest some types early and use as microgreens. Leaf lettuce is ready to eat at just about any size, and you can pick the baby leaves for tender salads. Romaine lettuce forms its distinguishing mid-rib before harvest; at full size it makes an upright leafy clump. Bibb types form a loose head and you can harvest anytime. If you want to characteristic Bibb rosette, however, wait until the lettuce is nearly full size and cut it at the soil line. Whether you pick a few leaves or cut the entire head, harvesting lettuce in the morning gives you the best flavor.

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