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Saving lettuce seeds is a wonderful gardening project for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
To save lettuce seeds, start by planting several dozen lettuce plants as early in the spring as possible. Choose the last plants to flower for seed saving and stake up the flower stalks. The flowers wilt and develop seeds within 2-4 weeks. Hand-pick the dried seeds when the seed heads are dry enough to crumble. Hang the seeds in a mesh bag or scatter them over a screen to dry.
Read on to learn all about how to save lettuce seeds!
Introduction to saving lettuce seeds
Lettuce seeds are easy to collect. All you need is a little patience and some basic equipment. These plants usually self-pollinate and don’t need any sort of hand pollination. They also don’t need vast isolation distances between varieties.
Lettuce is in the Asteraceae family (Aster family), which also includes sunflowers, zinnias, and many other favorites. Plants in the Aster family like lettuce have perfect flowers. Lettuce plants usually self-pollinate, making them a good choice for beginner seed savers. Let’s learn how to harvest lettuce seeds!
Planting lettuce for seed saving
Plant a minimum of 1-2 dozen lettuce plants of one variety to ensure you have a large quantity of viable seed that is genetically diverse. You’ll want to collect viable lettuce seeds from the final 10 plants to flower.
Try to plant the lettuce plants out as early as possible. The point of early planting is so that the lettuce will be flowering in midsummer when the weather is dry and hot and the seed capsules can dry out quickly on the flower stalks.
Lettuce plants are self-fertile. They don’t need another variety of lettuce for cross-pollination. If you’re planning on saving true-to-type lettuce seeds, isolate the group of seed plants from other varieties by a minimum of 10 feet (3m).
Choose an open-pollinated variety
Make sure the lettuce variety you select is open-pollinated. Seeds saved from hybrids (F1 crosses) will not save true to type, even when isolated from other varieties.
Here are some great open-pollinated lettuce varieties:
- Buttercrunch lettuce
- Black-seeded Simpson lettuce
- Little gem lettuce
- Amish deer tongue lettuce
- Red sails lettuce
- Marvel of four seasons lettuce
- Salad bowl lettuce
- Red salad bowl lettuce
- Oak leaf lettuce
- Tom Thumb mini lettuce
- Parris Island cos romaine lettuce
These heirloom lettuce varieties and other open-pollinated favorites are perfect for saving seeds and home seed production.
Companion planting for seed saving
Lettuce plants make excellent companions for many garden vegetables. Some good crops to plant alongside lettuce include:
Growing lettuce for seed saving
To grow lettuce plants for seed saving, start by spacing the plants twice as far as they would be spaced for compact heads. This usually translates to leaving one head per foot so they have lots of room for growth and air circulation.
Lettuce flowers on tall stalks are best supported when planning on seed saving. Sometimes the stalks can’t find their way through varieties like iceberg that have dense heads, and you may have to cut through the leaves at the base to allow the stalk to grow up through the plant. You can stake individual stalks with bamboo stakes or stretch mesh netting over the entire bed to hold up all the stalks at once.
Water the plants deeply and regularly to prevent stress. Lettuce grown for seed saving doesn’t require extra fertilizer. If rain is forecasted while the seeds are developing, you may wish to cover the plants to keep the rain from knocking the seeds out of the capsules.
Choosing lettuce to save seeds from
When saving lettuce seeds, do not save seeds from the first plants to flower, as doing so would select for plants that bolt early. Choose plants that flower later and that have a healthy robust appearance. You’ll also want to taste leaves along the way so you can choose the tastiest plants with the best-textured leaves.
How to save seeds from lettuce plants
When the flowers wilt and turn brown, it’s time for harvesting lettuce seeds. Seed maturity in the pods usually happens 2-4 weeks after the plant blooms. Gently rub the dried flower heads between your fingers so the dry seeds fall out of the capsules. Some seeds may not yet be dry enough to fall out. You can come back later and get the remaining seeds.
Collect lettuce seeds in a bowl, bucket, paper bag, or another container that can hold very small seeds. Always hold your collection bowl under the flowers to catch any tiny seeds that fall through your fingers.
An alternative way to save the seeds is to pull up entire plants. Wash the soil off the roots. Tie a string to the end with the roots and hang them upside down to dry. Put a paper bag over the flower heads to catch drying seeds as they fall. Once the plant is dry, you can gently tap the seed capsules against the inside of the paper bag to release the remaining seeds.
Lettuce seeds often have a lot of chaff, seed pod bits, and other plant debris that comes along with them. You can use a sieve to remove larger bits and even blow gently over the seeds to lift up fluffy chaff away from the seeds.
Once the seeds are dry and cleaned, label them and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. They should stay viable for 3-4 years if stored properly.