How to Germinate Lettuce Seeds


Lettuce is one of the first vegetables harvested in spring, a welcome homegrown addition to the dinner table after a long winter. There are fast-growing leaf lettuces that can be harvested within just a few weeks of planting, as well as more-substantial head lettuces that begin reaching maturity in late spring. Planting lettuce from seed allows you to start your crop before seedlings go up for sale at the garden center. Germinating the seeds and growing lettuce at home is also less expensive than purchasing transplants.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Lettuce seeds
  • Pots
  • Potting soil
  • Trays
  • Plastic wrap

Outdoor Germination

  • Apply a 2-inch layer of compost over a well-draining, full-sun garden bed after the soil has thawed and dried out enough in spring to be worked. Apply 1 to 2 pounds of general purpose fertilizer for every 100 square feet of bed, then till the fertilizer into the top 6 inches of soil.

  • Plant two lettuce seeds for every 8 inches in a row. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of soil. Space the rows 12 to 15 inches apart.

  • Moisten the soil with a fine water spray. Avoid direct, sharp sprays, as this can wash away the seeds.

  • Thin the lettuce seedlings once they have sprouted, usually within seven days of planting. Pluck out seedlings so that the remaining lettuce plants are spaced 8 to 10 inches apart along each row.

Indoor Germination

  • Fill 2-inch-diameter seed pots with a fine-textured potting mixture. Fill a tray with 1 inch of water and set the pots in the tray. Empty the extra water from the tray once the soil surface in the pots becomes moist from absorbing the water in the tray.

  • Sow two to three lettuce seeds on the surface of the soil in each pot. Cover the seeds with ¼ inch of soil, then cover the pots with a layer of plastic wrap, which holds in moisture during the germination process.

  • Place the pots in a warm room (65 to 70 degrees) to germinate. Germination occurs within five to seven days in most cases.

  • Remove the plastic wrap once seedlings appear and place the pots in a warm, sunny window. Water when the soil surface begins to feel dry.

  • Thin the seedlings to one per pot once their leaves unfurl completely. Cut off the smaller, weaker seedlings at the soil level, leaving the strongest seedling in each pot.

Tips & Warnings

  • Start lettuce indoors four weeks before you can plant them in the garden. This will allow you to harvest the lettuce earlier in the season.
  • Provide ample light for the seedlings. Too much moisture and too little light can cause the seedlings to die.

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  • Photo Credit lettuce image by Azazirov from
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