The Romaine lettuce is one of the best lettuce to grow all year round, because of its ability to grow in much cooler temperatures than some of its cousins. Romaine lettuces produce the best yield throughout the cooler months of the year, and stop growing when the temperature gets too hot. This factor means that you can grow romaine lettuce for the majority of the year, apart from when in extreme heat, or frosts. So what are the romaine lettuce growing stages?
There are several romaine lettuce growing stages which you will need to understand to be able to grow the best lettuce all year round.
The Stages For Growing Romaine Lettuce;
- Seed Preparation
These are the 7 main growing stages for romaine lettuce, which we’ll take a closer look into throughout this article. Skipping any of these stages may result in a longer harvesting process, or a null harvest entirely.
Stage 1: Preparation
The first romaine lettuce growing stage is the preparation of the seed and soil. Not many people would even think twice about seed preparation, but there is a science to it.
All seeds have a coating, and each individual coating can be a different thickness, which can determine the growing time of your lettuce. The struggle comes when the first roots try to break free from seed. The thick coating can sometimes act as a defensive barrier, keeping the roots from finding water when they really need it.
There are two possible techniques you can try, to enhance the chances of your lettuce roots breaking free more easily.
The first technique is to soak your seeds in warm water for 2-3 hours prior to planting. The water should be straight from the tap, and no hotter than a comfortable temperature to keep your hands under (as if you were washing your hands). This should allow just enough water to be soaked up by the seed to activate the plant’s embryo into a growing state.
This will also allow the outer coating to soften up just enough, so the roots can easily break through within the next few days after planting.
The second technique is to slightly knick the seeds coating, which will allow the water to be soaked up much more easily when planted. However this can become damaging if the knicks are too big or deep. This technique should be carefully demonstrated to not critically damage the seed prior to planting.
The inside color of the seed should be white, so as soon as you see the whiteness come through, your knick is deep enough. If you see a slightly green color, then you have gone too deep and may have damaged the plant embryo.
Having the correct soil when planting your seed could play dividends to its long-term growth. Seedling soil needs to be kept at a temperature of no less than 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or 18 degrees Celsius).
This means that if you prepare the soil indoors, a few days prior to the planting stage, then it should be a reasonable temperature to house your seed. You can also use a “Starter Fertilizer” which will overload the soil with all the nutrients and goodness the seed needs at the first stages of growth.
Stage 2: Planting
Stage two of the process is the planting stage. One of the trickiest parts of the romaine lettuce growing stages is the planting stage. Transplanting your romaine lettuce seeds can be detrimental if not completed correctly.
First of all, you will need to plant your seeds into starter plugs. Starter plugs are commonly made from composted materials, much like moss. This allows your seeds to receive the correct amount of air and water combined throughout the early stages of growth.
Teh seeds should be planted approximately ¼ inches deep, in the warm soil or starter plug bedding which you will have prepared a couple of days prior. Once your seed has started to grow it will be much easier to transplant into new pots or soil as you can move the entire plug, and bury it into its new location without damaging or disturbing the seeds roots.
Each seed should be planted no closer than 4 inches apart. Depending on how much space you have, you can increase the distance between planting. The bigger the spacing between planted seeds will have an effect on how big your romaine lettuce gets.
Throughout this stage the soil should be kept well drained. Any signs of weeds should be removed immediately, as these will naturally be competing for the soil’s rich nutrients, which your seed will need.
Stage 3: Germination
The next stage in the romaine lettuce growing stages is “Germination”. Germination is the development of a plant for a seed, and romaine lettuce seeds germinate very quickly. Providing the seeds environment is kept to its optimal levels, you may see at least 85% of your romaine lettuce seeds sprouting within 7-14 days.
Check your seeds daily for any growth. Some seeds may take longer than others to grow, but if after 3 weeks you still don’t see any movement in growth from a few of your seeds, these can now be discarded, as they will most likely never grow after this amount of time.
Stage 4: Fertilizing
Choosing a suitable fertilizer for your romaine lettuce is very beneficial for the growth of your vegetable. We recommend that you use a balanced fertilizer such as 4-4-4 or 10-10-10.
Miracle Gro All Purpose Plant Food, is one of the best natural fertilizers on the market. Its equal balance in Potassium, Nitrogen and Phosphorus, gives the best results when growing romaine lettuce. Using this fertilizer you should get healthy, full sized romaine lettuce, when grown at home.
Stage 5: Growth
The next stage in romaine lettuce growing stages is growth. Unfortunately in this stage there is a lot of waiting around, as the first 60 days of growth can be very slow.
The reason for this is that romaine lettuce roots take a long time to develop, and sprouting doesn’t occur until the roots are fully developed. So don’t be disheartened if you don’t see any movement within the first two months, as this is completely natural.
The growth of your romaine lettuce will depend on how far apart you have planted them from one another. If you want romaine lettuce with big leaves, then you should allow at least 6-8 inches between each plant. If you don’t mind smaller lettuce, then you can keep them 4 inches apart which they should already be planted.
For best growth romaine lettuce need at least 10 hours of sunlight a day, and daily temperature ranging between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
There is a second stage to the growth stage called bolting, but we’ll go more in depth on the bolting stage later on in this article.
Stage 6: Plant Hardening
Plant hardening is only really necessary in more extreme weather conditions. When transplanting your romaine lettuce plant, the shock of different temperatures can rapidly kill your plant if it’s not properly hardened.
To harden your plant, you will need to ease it into its new environment. If the outside temperature is far hotter than an indoors temperature, then it may simply be too hot for your plant to acclimate straight away.
You will first of all need to move your plant outside, but into a semi shaded area, which is cool and out of direct sunlight for any more than 3-4 hours a day. Your romaine lettuce plant should stay in this position for at least 2 weeks until it has fully acclimated to its new environment. Once the two weeks have passed, and your plant looks as if it’s still healthy and thriving, then you can now once again relocate it into a position in your garden where it will get direct sunlight for 10 hours (or more) of sun a day.
This hardening method will give your romaine lettuce plant a higher percentage chance of survival within the first two weeks of transplanting. It helps to reduce wilting and therefore produce stronger, healthier lettuce. If there is a sudden change in temperature below 55 degree Fahrenheit, then we would recommend moving your romaine lettuce plant back indoors, as they are not very tolerant to colder climates.
Stage 7: Harvesting
The final romaine lettuce growing stage is the harvest stage.
The best thing about romaine lettuce harvesting is that you do not have to harvest the entire plant at once. Some leaves will naturally grow much bigger and faster than others, and these leaves are ready to be harvested once they reach 4 inches or more.
This means you can literally hand pick which leaves you want to harvest each day throughout the harvest season. By carefully cutting or tearing the leaves as close to the stem as possible, (without damaging the stem or any surrounding leaves) you can harvest only the amount you need, leaving the rest to mature further.
Using this harvesting method means that your plant will continue to grow throughout the whole season. You can harvest the entire plant if you like, but then you will have to start this process again from the beginning which seems like a waste of time.
From initially planting your seed, romaine lettuce will usually take around 50-75 days to mature fully, into an edible plant. In some cases this may be longer due to environmental conditions, but as long as the lettuce leaves are 4 inches tall, or more, then they should be absolutely fine to eat.
Why Is My Romaine Lettuce Growing Tall?
Throughout the romaine lettuce growing stages, you may suddenly see your lettuce growing at a surprising rate. You may be thinking, why is my romaine lettuce growing tall? And why shouldn’t you, as seeing such a fast growth rate may be concerning. Well, you have nothing to worry about.
The reason why your romaine lettuce is growing tall is because of “bolting”.
Bolting is one part of the romaine lettuce growing stages which we didn’t mention above. Romaine lettuce plants will suddenly start to grow tall, stretching upwards towards the sky. At this stage the plant shifts its focus from producing foliage, (to get as much sunlight as possible for energy) to its reproduction stage.
When a romaine lettuce is growing tall, it will most likely begin to flower. The large growth rate is due to its flower stalk, which needs to climb its way above all the foliage leaves to get all the sunlight possible.
Once the stem has begun to flower, the flower itself will dry out, eventually releasing seeds onto the ground below, ready to produce new romaine lettuce plants next season. This is the reason why your romaine lettuce is growing tall.
If you don’t want your romaine lettuce to flower and drop seeds, then you can simply cut the stem and flower off before it has a chance to dry out in the sun. Doing this won’t harm your romaine lettuce plant in any way, but it will stop it from dropping its seeds into the surrounding area, which you may be using next year for another vegetable.
7 Things You Can Do With Bolted Romaine Lettuce
- You can donate bolted lettuce leaves to animal shelters or care for food.
- You can give them to a neighbor who has pets which eat lettuce.
- Cut back to bolted plants to let them resprout in the same season.
- Let the flower flourish as this benefits insects and the ecosystem.
- Collect the seeds, ready for next year when you can plant them again.
- Sell the seeds to make an extra bit of cash.
- Use the bolted lettuce as an insect deterrent from your soon to be harvested lettuce.
Can You Eat Bolted Lettuce?
Technically you can eat bolted lettuce, however romaine lettuce may not taste how you expect. Bolted lettuce leaves are not usually harvested to eat as they become much more bitter than the commonly edible leaves, but they’re still non-toxic. This is because the bolted lettuce leaves are part of the flower, and not the plant.
The leaves are much tougher than the light, crispy leaves of the romaine lettuce plant. The flower produces leaves which are tougher and less desirable than the plant leaves to deter pests away from eating it.
You have to remember that the flower of the romaine lettuce is the reproduction part. Making this part of the lettuce less desirable to pests means its chances of producing seeds is far greater due to the lack of interest from insects wanting to eat it.