Published on 08/14/01

Mesclun? By Any Name, Let Us Plant

Photo: Wayne McLaurin

Gardeners can grow almost any kind of lettuce in Georgia.

Is it mesclun or lettuce?

Actually, they're the same. Mesclun is just baby lettuce, but it can also include baby greens of any type, including mustard, turnips, kale, arugula and a host of others.

Mesclun has become a hot item in gardening and is expensive in the grocery store. But it's nothing more that a mixture of greens -- any mix you want. The story goes that someone dropped seed, then swept them up and planted them, and mesclun was born.

The lettuce family is probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

Almost Any Lettuce

In Georgia, we can grow almost all of the lettuces. The one exception is the regular iceberg type. However, the iceberg is not the best lettuce when compared to the bibbs, leaf types and Romaine.

The main thing about lettuce growing is to remember that you cannot "plant" the seed. For outside planting, just place the seed on the top of the soil and barely cover it with a fine artificial soil mix.

When seeding indoors, use a plastic cup or similar container with holes in the bottom. Fill with a good soil mix, add seed and just water the top. In a fine mix, this will place the seed at the right depth.

When lettuce plants have 4 to 5 true leaves, they can be set out in the garden. When setting out fall crops, it is best to do so in the evening, so the plants can have a little coolness of the night to acclimatize before the heat of the following day.

Grows in Semishade

Lettuce is one of the few vegetables that will grow in semishade. It's best to give it 3 to 4 hours of sun, but lettuce will tolerate the shade. Fertilize moderately with one side-dressing.

Space plants according to the cultivar, but no more than 8 to 9 inches between plants. If you're pushed for garden space, lettuce can grow between broccoli or other types of plants.

The growing season for lettuce varies with the cultivar. Most will be ready to harvest within about 40 days. The best thing about lettuce is that you can plant every 10 days and have a fresh harvest until frost.

If you're growing mesclun, plant every five days. Given protection during cold snaps, lettuce can be grown well into early winter.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.