Bitter Lettuce

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Probably the most frequent complaint about “homegrown” lettuce is that it is bitter. With a little attention, though, you can grow wonderful, crunchy, sweet lettuce.

Lettuce, of course, is a cool weather crop. So starting it early will help to prevent bitterness. Mulch the soil to keep it cool. Once the weather warms up watch for plants that are bolting and cut back the flowers that begin to form. Plants that are flowering and going to seed are a major cause of bitterness.

Water consistently, and pick frequently. Young leaves are much more tender. Another cause of bitterness is slow growth. This may be caused by low moisture and/or low nitrogen. Just be careful not to over fertilize since too much nitrogen can also cause bitterness.

The best advice is to wash your lettuce in cold water, spin dry, and then refrigerate for several hours. This seems to greatly reduce any bitterness. It has been a rainy, cool season for us in the NE, the perfect conditions for great lettuce!

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  1. says

    I am here from Monday Mania! great lettuce tips, I have tried growing a little bit of lettuce for 2 years in my backyard now, and it IS bitter, but we ate it anyways :). Will try your tips for sure.

  2. says

    Also, a little bit of shade can be good! Especially here in Central Texas. All of our lettuce goes under shade clothes starting in May so they don’t get too blasted by the sun.

    • susanv says

      Absolutely, especially somewhere like TX. Even here in NEPA, I generally plant my lettuce where it is in full sun in the spring, and then I plant something like tomatoes to the south of the lettuce, so that the tomatoes eventually shade the lettuce. I also have a bed that gets only about 6 hours of sun and I reserve that for cool season plants.

  3. says

    It seems as lettuce ages it becomes bitter. The more mature the plant the more bitter.
    Washing in cool water does help for us. I was wondering if you had a lot of picked lettuce if you could spin it dry in your washing machine cycle on gentle? Just a thought cause I think using a salad spinner takes too long.

    • susanv says

      Well I can’t say that I’ve ever picked enough lettuce to need anything more than a salad spinner, but it seems to me that I’ve heard that lettuce farms do indeed spin lettuce in washing machines. I’d do a little research, though, before trying it, just to be sure.

  4. says

    These are great tips- I, too, get that comment a lot from people. It always kinda cracks me up in this day and age, though, when the popular greens in all the lettuce mixes from the store are bitter mustard, strong arugula, and bitter radicchio!

  5. says

    Thanks for the tips I usually eat it after it’s picked, I’ll have to wash and store it. My husband always complains about it but I don’t really notice. I would love to know what you do for black aphids on arugala. Those little buggers ate everything. I did do some dish soap with lavender and mint essential oil and it helped but I got to them too late.

  6. Keith Evans says

    I follow beans with lettuce and plant okra close on the sun side. Okra takes a bit of time to get going, which will offer spring sunshine to get lettuce seeds started, but once growing it is like an organic umbrella for tender leaf plants. My okra is now fully 6ft tall with leaves that are 8in across. Trimming the leaves as I harvest keeps the okra from blocking air flow and encourages height quickly.

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