How to Grow and Care for Buttercrunch Lettuce

Buttercrunch Lettuce

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As far as leaf lettuce varieties go, buttercrunch lettuce sets the standard for melt-in-your-mouth flavor and texture. Seeds are quick to germinate, plants are slow to bolt, and the taste is sweet, mild, and complex. Gardeners looking to get into vegetable gardening for the first time couldn't choose an easier or more productive plant to get into the hobby, as buttercrunch lettuce plants tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions, and continue to grow new leaves as you harvest.

Botanical Name Lactuca sativa var. capitata
Common Name Buttercrunch lettuce, butterhead lettuce
Plant Type Annual vegetable
Mature Size  9 to 15 inches tall
Sun Exposure Full to partial sun
Soil Type Average to rich
Soil pH Slightly acidic, 6.0-7.0
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Yellow, insignificant
Hardiness Zones Grow as annual in all zones
Native Area Mediterranean basin
Harvesting Buttercrunch Lettuce
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Mature Buttercrunch Lettuce
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Head of Buttercrunch Lettuce
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How to Grow Buttercrunch Lettuce

Buttercrunch lettuce is a low maintenance vegetable that rewards gardeners with mature plants in two months time. It's a good space filler in the garden while you wait for the weather to warm up for summer staples like tomatoes and peppers. You can also grow a row of attractive buttercrunch lettuce plants at the front of the spring border, in front of your flowering bulbs and pansies. When the spring flowers are done, you can harvest the lettuce and free up the flowerbed for something summery.

Light

Buttercrunch lettuce grows best in full sun. Plants will tolerate partial shade, and in hot climates some afternoon shade will help delay bolting. 

Soil

Like all lettuces, buttercrunch lettuce does well in an average to rich, somewhat sandy soil. Lettuce can succumb to rot in heavy clay soils, so if this describes your soil, consider container culture.

Water

Keep your buttercrunch lettuce plants consistently moist from planting until harvest. The ideal moisture will have your soil feeling like a wrung-out sponge.

Temperature and Humidity

Buttercrunch lettuce grows best in cool or moderate temperatures between 45 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above eighty degrees signal plants to form flowers, which decreases eating quality. When summer temps get the best of your lettuce crop, take a break and plan on a second crop when fall arrives.

Fertilizer

Nitrogen-rich fertilizer promotes the leafy growth of buttercrunch lettuce. You can choose a single ingredient simple fertilizer like blood meal, or by adding generous amounts of compost or manure to the soil. For a quick nutrient boost for successive plantings, use a liquid fertilizer formulated for vegetable gardens.

Potting and Repotting

If you purchase buttercrunch lettuce transplants, pot them up with about four inches between plants. The plants can tolerate this closer spacing in pots, where they won't have any competition from weeds. Use a lightweight potting mix rather than garden soil or topsoil to ensure good drainage. Plants should not need repotting: if they begin to get crowded, harvest and start over with a new planting.

Harvesting

Unlike many vegetables you can grow, it’s almost impossible to harvest buttercrunch lettuce too early. The smallest leaves are tender and delicious as baby lettuce in salads. Make use of these leaves when thinning young plants in the garden. As the plants grow, you can harvest the outer leaves only, leaving the inner leaves to grow. Or, you can remove the entire plant if you desire a head of lettuce. By cutting the plant at the base and leaving the roots to grow, new leaves will sprout, giving buttercrunch lettuce a cut-and-come-again quality. 

It’s important to harvest buttercrunch lettuce before the plants bolt, or produce flower stalks. The leaves of bolting plants become bitter and unpalatable. 

Buttercrunch lettuce is delicate, and wilts quickly after harvest. Pick the leaves in the late morning when the dew has dried, or in the evening. Store the leaves dry in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, set on high humidity if your drawer has controls. Store the lettuce away from ethylene-producing produce like apples and other fruit that will hasten the wilt and decay of the leaves. 

Being Grown in Containers

Buttercrunch lettuce is compact and has a shallow root system, making it an ideal container specimen. Container growing can also help you thwart ground-dwelling slugs and snails. Buttercrunch lettuce is surprisingly ornamental in a container garden: grow it with edible cool season blooms like nasturtiums, pansies, and calendula flowers to yield a spring mix that you can harvest for weeks. 

Growing From Seeds

Sow seeds about a week before the last frost. Cover seeds with about a quarter inch of soil. Keep moist, and expect germination to occur in about a week. Thin seedlings to eight inches apart in the garden. For frequent use or heavy harvesting, make a new sowing every two weeks.

Common Pests/Diseases

Slugs and aphids are the worst pests for the succulent, rapid growing buttercrunch lettuce leaves. Avoid sprays, as you will be eating these leaves eventually. Practice cultural controls, such as handpicking and traps for slugs, or blasts of water for aphids.

Buttercrunch Lettuce vs. Leaf Lettuce

Leaf Lettuce
Leaf Lettuce.  Ascent/ PKS Media Inc./Getty Images

While buttercrunch lettuce forms a loose head shaped like a rosette at maturity, leaf lettuce does not form a head, and is slightly more crisp. Leaf lettuce has a mild flavor, but is somewhat more astringent than buttercrunch lettuce. Combine the two in a container to add variety to your salad bowl.