How to Prevent Bitter Lettuce

by Becky
Published: Updated:

Learning how to prevent bitter lettuce and instead grow flavorful lettuce right outside your door is worth the effort! In the summer, we attend potlucks with friends and one of our favorite dishes to bring from the garden is a lettuce salad.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure can be found here.

It is a far cry from the watered down, tasteless, offerings at the grocery store.  We get satisfaction as friends try it and give audible “mmm’s and oh this is good!” 

Not all lettuce is created equal and there are a ton of considerations of how to actually get a delicious and not bitter lettuce. Here are things we consider when thinking about how to prevent bitter lettuce.

Water is Key to Prevention of Bitter Lettuce

Lettuce needs water at the roots and often to prevent bitterness. How much water depends on your soil, microclimate, outdoor precipitation, and the temperature. 

Due to the fact that each situation is unique, there is no one size fits all solution. The important thing to remember is that in the heat of summer, not enough water will lead to bitter lettuce.

Avoiding bitter lettuce

If you would like to grow in summer with temperatures above 85ºF, use overhead watering to cool off the lettuce. This works best when it is small, within the first few weeks of growth. Just 10 minutes of overhead watering twice a day can make a big difference in the flavor.

After that, overhead watering in a humid environment can lead to disease development, so you may want to switch to drip tape.

Grow in Part Shade (Or create part shade)

Naturally lettuce does well in moderate temperatures. When it gets hot, lettuce will get bitter. In order to prevent the heat from turning lettuce bitter, you can either use overhead watering as mentioned above to cool it off, or you can grow lettuce in partial shade.

Many homes and gardens already have a shady area but if you don’t, you can use shade from larger vegetable plants, or you can use shade cloth draped over hoops or pinned above your area.

Grow a Lettuce Variety that Tastes Good

It seems obvious but growing delicious lettuce starts with choosing the best varieties for flavor. There are literally thousands of different lettuce varieties, each with different flavor profiles.

One thing I learned recently is it’s rare for a professional seed breeder to be asked to breed for flavor as a first priority. Usually seed breeders are breeding for a long shelf life, resistances to pests and/ or diseases. 

How to Prevent Bitter Lettuce
Kids picking Albachiara lettuce

Only very recently has there been a resurgence of growing food for flavor. Thankfully local farmers and home gardeners have been bringing back the demand for flavorful lettuce and other foods.

Here are some recommendations of lettuce varieties with flavor:

  1. Albachiara lettuce. Exceptionally sweet, and bolt resistant. (Green leaf)
  2. Teagan Lettuce. Serious flavor and a delightful crunch. (Semi- heading)
  3. Pirat. Tender heads with notably superior flavor and texture (Butterhead) 
  4. Muir. Slow to bolt and maintain a sweet, crisp flavor well into the heat of summer (Green leaf)
  5. Bauer. AAS Winner for its crisp, sturdy leaves and exceptional flavor (Mini green oakleaf) 

This is not an all encompassing list. I encourage you to do your own research and find varieties that taste delicious, and are slow to become bitter. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to purchase seeds from companies that have a reputation of selling varieties that have gone through extensive trialing. They won’t sell you something that tastes bad or is likely to fail.

A few seed companies  I know I can trust are High Mowing Organic Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and FedCo Seeds

Grow a Lettuce Variety that is Appropriate for the Season, Especially Summer

As a beginner gardener, I planted lettuce from seed in late spring and early summer. Come June when harvest time rolled around, I tested it out. One bite and I knew I had done something wrong, it was so bitter! 

One of the mistakes I made is that I had picked a variety that did not do well in the heat. 

In our southern summers, by mid June we are often in the mid 80’s. WIth high temperatures, if you want a flavorful lettuce that is sweet and not bitter, you need to start by planting varieties that can handle it.

How to prevent bitter lettuce
Tropicana Lettuce in the foreground and Coastal Star in the back

I highly recommend a variety called Coastal Star and another that has grown well for me is Tropicana (it is quite similar to Albachiara listed above). 

I have also heard that Muir and New Red Fire are good lettuce varieties for heat and I am testing those this year so I do not know from experience but will report back with an update.

Know when it’s time to Call it Quits

Oftentimes, when a plant is grown from seed to harvest, we have a hard time letting it go. There is a point when lettuce is past its prime and will not taste as good, even if you are diligent about watering, keeping the plants cool, and picking a good variety.

The most obvious indicator is when a lettuce begins to bolt. This means the middle stem is elongating and getting ready to form flowers and later on seeds. There is a very high probability that the lettuce becomes bitter as this process happens.

At this point, it’s time to cut the lettuce or pull it out and plant something else. 

How Do I Know When to Remove Cut and Come Again Lettuce?

Some lettuce types are cut and come again, meaning they will regrow after a cutting. This is usually reserved for baby leaf lettuce or a mesclun mix. I usually can get three cuttings, cut at baby stage, and no more. 

After that the lettuce mix quality is low and the lettuce begins to get bitter or tough. Remove it and replace it with a different crop or even another succession of lettuce.

Succession Plant

Succession planting is when one crop is planted immediately after another. If you plan accordingly, you can have a continuous harvest of lettuce when it is in its prime condition at maturity.

With lettuce, starting new seeds about every two weeks will give you a consistent supply of delicious lettuce. You can either direct sow them in the ground, or they can be started in soil blocks or trays ahead of time.

Succession Planting Helps Avoid Bitterness in Lettuce

Succession planting lettuce will help you to remove old lettuce that is more likely to get bitter and enjoy fresh sweet lettuce.

Conclusion: How to Prevent Bitter Lettuce

You can avoid bitter lettuce and grow delicious, flavorful lettuce by following these steps.

  1. Water lettuce deeply
  2. Grow in Part Shade
  3. Grow a Lettuce Variety that Tastes Good
  4. Grow a Lettuce Variety that is Appropriate for the Season, Especially Summer
  5. Know when it’s time to Call it Quits
  6. Succession Plant
Never have bitter lettuce again!

You may also like

Leave a Comment