Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
March, 2006
Regional Report

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This bounty of greens was harvested in mid-March from seeds sown in early January. Spring must be just around the corner!

Loads of Lettuce

I love lettuce picked fresh from the garden. It's the perfect all-season crop, producing crisp, succulent leaves from early March through the following January in my garden. Lettuce grows best in cool weather in rich, moist soil. It's sensitive to frost and summer heat, but with a little nurturing, you can successfully grow lettuce year-round in your garden, too.

We built a cold frame next to the foundation of our house, and it's probably the best investment we've ever made. It's a bottomless box with a transparent lid, and while it doesn't sound like much, it's extremely versatile. It provides just the right environment to protect tender perennials from frost, but I also use it to propagate woody plants, force bulbs, and harden off vegetable seedlings. And, of course, I use it to grow lettuce and other greens during the winter months.

Getting an Early Start
I begin the season in January, sowing seeds of cold-tolerant greens directly in the soil under the protection of the cold frame. My favorites include 'Audran' bibb, 'Tom Thumb' butterhead, and 'Winter Density', a short romaine. Just to keep the salad bowl interesting, I plant 'Tres Fine' endive, 'Roquette' arugula, and 'Tyee' spinach. These greens can be harvested when the leaves are only a few inches tall. If you snip just one or two leaves from each plant, you'll have plenty of greens for a salad, and the plants will continue to produce for many weeks.

Marching Across the Garden
When the weather warms in early April, I sow seeds of looseleaf lettuce in a sunny garden site, protecting the seedlings from late frosts with Reemay, a floating row cover. I sow only a few seeds of each variety, creating a patchwork-quilt pattern in the bed, and producing a diversity of textures and flavors for salads. Before a meal, I circle my lettuce bed, snipping off a leaf here and there until I have enough for a fine salad.

Lettuce bolts in the summer heat, so as the season progresses, I plant my greens in a shady garden bed. They often share space with hostas and ferns, where light is bright but the air and soil are cool. I choose heat-tolerant cultivars, which are not so apt to bolt if the summer turns hot. 'Four Seasons' is a favorite butterhead, and I've had good success with 'Salinas', a rather loose iceberg-type lettuce. These are such pretty plants that I sometimes tuck a few into the perennial beds where they will be shaded by taller edibles, such as nasturtiums and calendulas.

One More Move
As autumn approaches I return to a sunny garden site, usually one just vacated by summer squash or eggplant, and sow seeds of cool-season greens, again protecting the seedlings from frost with a floating row cover. As I harvest the last of the lettuce from the plot, I begin the process all over again by sowing seeds in the cold frame for tasty winter treats.

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