Location, design and plants for a pest-free garden

Fresh leafy greens are good for you. Home-grown lettuce is even better because you know exactly what went into the lettuce patch and will eventually make its way into you. Learn how to build a lettuce garden and reap the rewards of delicious, crisp and tender lettuce during the growing season.

Planning. Draw out a simple garden plan for your lettuce garden. It need not be fancy. A simple plot of yard that gets sun and is out of the way of kids and pets will do the trick. Additionally, you can create a raised bed of a few inches for your lettuce plants. This method has the advantage of being easy to till, as the soil is fresh and free of weeds and can be customized for your lettuce. It also is easy to maintain. You will use 11 square feet of greens for 1 to 2 pounds of salad greens.

Location. Your lettuce garden must be planted in full sun, in accordance with your zone. Some gardens may do well in lightly shaded areas, particularly at the height of the summers heat. Mid-Atlantic regions, for example, can plant from April and expect harvest through November.

Soil. Whichever method you select, you will need to prepare the soil with added nutrients and peat moss, if necessary. You can use your own earth, or you can add garden soil purchased from the garden center. Martha Stewart recommends a 50 percent soil-less mix and 50 percent high-quality compost material. Soil-less mixes are typically peat, perlite and vermiculite as well as coconut fibers and even rice hulls. Moisten the growing medium, and mix in the compost.

Plants. You can grow your lettuce from seeds or buy starter plants at the garden center. Try to combine various lettuces in your garden, if possible. A variety is not just pretty and healthy; it can give you lettuce non-stop as the varieties mature at different times during the growing season. Your seedlings should be planted a few inches under the soil and spaced apart as directed by the instructions on the lettuce plant—rows usually about 4 inches apart with seeds at 2 inches apart.

Types. There are so many delicious salad greens to choose from, it will be difficult picking a few for your garden. Fast and easy growing lettuce include romaine and butterhead. Consider more intriguing greens like mustard greens, kale and arugula. Slower growers include chard, spinach, basil and beet greens.

Care. The care of lettuce is quite simple. The plants do not need watering unless the soil or growing medium looks dry. If you are using soil-less with compost, there should be enough nutrients for the lettuce to grow well. You can fertilize if the plants have come up at half the label rate of fertilizer. You may pick leaves once theyve reached a few inches in height. This should take from 25 to 40 days after sowing. Plants regrow and are ready to be harvested again about three weeks later.

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