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Lettuces Thrive In Spring

Why buy salad greens when you can grow them yourself?

Lettuces are easy to tend, and they thrive in the cool spring weather. Garden home designer P. Allen Smith visited The Saturday Early Show to share some tips on growing tasty lettuces.

Spring is the perfect time of year to plant lettuce. Specifically, Smith says, it's best to plant lettuce about two months before the maximum daytime temperatures average of 80 degrees F. Lettuce tends to languish in the heat.

You can buy baby lettuce plants at nurseries and greenhouses.

Smith showed three variations of lettuces on The Saturday Early Show:

  • Butter Crunch: Large, loose heads with smooth ruffled green outer leaves and yellow-white compact center. According to Smith, "The velvet-like leaves have a buttery flavor that surpasses most lettuce varieties."
  • Ruby Red: This is another loose-leaf lettuce with red and light-green rippled leaves. This lettuce grows quickly and can stay in the garden after it matures without becoming tough or bitter.
  • Romaine: This lettuce can be eaten a short 28 days after it's planted. It has bright green leaves speckled with red.

You can grow a wide variety of salad greens in your garden. You can often find starter plants of various lettuces, Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, mustard greens or other types of greens at your local garden center. You can also grow lettuce from seeds. Smith says the fun thing about seeds is that you can choose from a variety of lettuce mixtures, such as baby mesclun lettuces, green and red romaine lettuces, sweet green and red lettuces, plus Italian misticanza.

You don't need a big plot of land to plant lettuce -- even a pot on your patio can be a great place to sow lettuce seeds. Plant in nutrient-rich soil. Simply sprinkle a handful of seeds over the soil, cover with a thin (about 1/4 inch) layer of fine soil or potting mix, then sprinkle with water. Keep the soil moist until seedlings emerge (this should take about two weeks). Smith likes to sow seeds in the same area every 10 days. This ensures that you will have a bumper crop of leafy greens.

Smith says not to hesitate to eat the lettuce in your garden. When you cut it, it will grow back. You can either trim off the larger, outside lettuce leaves, or you can cut it off at the crown (base) of the plant. It's a good idea to fertilize the plants on a regular basis because the greens grow continuously, says Smith. He suggests using an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion liquid.

Smith likes to brighten his lettuce crop by mixing in colorful plants such as pansies and violas. The blooms from both of these flowers are edible and add a beautiful touch to any salad.

Smith says the best part of growing lettuce is that you can eat it. Lettuce from your garden is so fresh that all it needs is a simple dressing.

Smith tossed some greens on the The Saturday Early Show with one of his favorite dressings -- honey balsamic vinaigrette.

Ingredients for Honey Balsamic Vinegar Vinaigrette
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for up to one week. Whisk to recombine just before serving.

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