Does lettuce need full sun to grow?

Lettuce grows best in full sun but will still grow successfully in part shade. Loose leaf lettuce varieties grown in part shade will be softer, sweeter and be easy to pick. Make sure your lettuce has at least 3 hours of sun or bright light throughout a 24 hour period to encourage the plants to grow fast.

What happens when you grow lettuce in shade

When I have grown my lettuce in shade, it was much softer and sweeter. The leaves were also lighter in color than lettuce grown in full sun. I found that the leaves weren’t as bitter as fully sun-grown lettuce either.  I don’t use anything on my lettuce but the occasional organic liquid feed. So all of the goodness they need to grow will come from the soil that I prepare first.

This lettuce has been grown in full shade and is delicious.

How to prepare the soil to grow lettuce in shade

I prepare my garden soil the same way for all of my vegetables and herbs. I like to mix in aged cow manure, a handful of pelletized chicken manure and compost if I have any. This will give your lettuce longer lasting nutrients so that they can grow without adding too much else.

Because the lettuce grows so quickly, I might only add a liquid fertilizer one time as it is growing. I like to choose a lettuce variety that grows individual leaves rather than in a single head like iceberg lettuce.  That way, you can pick a few leaves at a time and let the lettuce grow back. It will keep growing for months as you individually pick the leaves.

Add a slow release nitrogen fertilizer like pelleted chicken manure to the soil before planting lettuce.

How much shade can lettuce grow in?

My experience has been that lettuce will grow in dappled shade all day. My lettuce only gets about 3 hours of sun scattered throughout the day and it is still growing strong. The key to success is good soil preparation and water.

Over winter I rarely need to water my lettuce as I live in a higher rainfall area. However, in summer, keeping your lettuce moist will keep it happy. It is one of the first plants in my garden to start to wilt if it dries out too much. That is the other benefit of growing lettuce in shade, is that the soil won’t dry out as quickly.

Leafy green vegetables that grow well in shade

Leafy green vegetables are very shade tolerant. Try some of these in your shady spots:

  • Kale
  • Bok Choy
  • Spinach

They like long “light” days, meaning they like daylight for at least 10 hours per day if possible, but they will successfully grow well in dappled light or even full shade.

Lettuce is growing well next to peas and strawberries.

How to know when lettuce is ready to harvest

I like to let my lettuce grow to about 5 inches tall and then I start to pick the leaves. I like to only pick a few leaves at a time and my lettuce will grow back quickly.  The earlier you pick lettuce leaves, the sweeter and more tender they will be.

When they are growing in shade, you will find that they will tear off easily and taste delicious. I actually will pick mine with scissors so that I don’t accidentally pull the whole lettuce plant out when I am picking the leaves.

Easiest lettuce to grow in shade

The easiest lettuce to grow in shade is a loose-leaf lettuce variety. They can be ready to pick in just 3 weeks! I just buy a mixed lettuce seed packet and scatter them over prepared soil. I give the soil a soft rake over to make small holes for the lettuce seeds to fall into and then top off with some seed raising mix or some more garden soil that I have put aside. 

Lettuce seeds only need to have a thin layer of soil over the top because they are a small seed.  Water in gently with the mist setting on your garden hose or a small squirt bottle. Gentle watering is key because it is easy to wash away the small seed.

The key to successfully growing lettuce from seed is  to make sure that they are kept moist. The main reason lettuce seeds won’t succeed is that they dry out during the process of sprouting.  Other than that, they are super easy to grow, even in a lot of shade.

Water young lettuce seedlings regularly. I have scatter sown lettuce in this bed and I add diluted worm juice regularly.

Why lettuce grows tall

If you have planted lettuce in a full shade spot the lettuce may be reaching up tall to find sunlight.  Your lettuce will still grow well in full shade, but I find it is lighter in color and flavor. I have actually found that my kids like to eat lettuce grow in full shade because it isn’t as strong in flavor.

The other reason your lettuce might be growing tall is that it is ready to go to seed. Once it has finished growing and the warm weather begins to hit, it will send up a long stalk which will come from the center of the lettuce. You can let your lettuce go to seed and collect them for the next year. Once the seed heads have formed, and the seed has started to dry out, place a plastic bag over the top and give it a shake. I find that the seeds just fall off nicely into the bag.

The most important tip here is only to use a paper bag and not plastic, this will make sure that the seeds can dry out completely and won’t go moldy or rot in the bag. 

Watering lettuce grown in shade

The best thing about growing your lettuce in a shady area is that they won’t dry out as quickly than if they were planted in a sunny spot. Lettuce in general is a thirsty plant and won’t thrive if left to dry out. If your soil is partly shaded however, it will be easier to keep them moist and happy.

Growing lettuce in shade – Summary

Lettuce is the perfect plant to have in your part-shady garden. It is easy to grow and if you choose the loose leaf variety, it can be picked over and over again. Leafy greens are a great vegetable to grow at home if you have kids and can be an easy way to get them into gardening.

I grow my lettuce completely organically and it always thrives. I also like to sprinkle lettuce seeds between crops to fill any  gaps in my vegetable garden. In my tiny containers, it is the perfect plant to make the most of the space I have.