Hydroponic Greens: A Guide to the Best Types of Lettuce for Hydroponic Gardens

Lettuce is one of the best crops to grow in a hydroponic system due to its hardiness and fast rate of growth. In a month’s time with only a 5 gallon aeroponic bucket you can have a continuous crop of ready to eat lettuce. When choosing a variety of lettuce for your hydroponic garden there are two key points to keep in mind. 

  1. Harvest Method (Traditional vs. Cut and come again)
  2. Growth characteristics

For a smaller hydroponic setup such as the 5 gallon aeroponic bucket. I would recommend a loose leaf variety of lettuce also called simply leaf lettuce. This type of lettuce has open leaves that do not form a very defined head. I recommend this type of lettuce for two reasons. It works best for the cut and come again harvest method and the growth characteristics of loose leaf lettuce favor hydroponic setups. In the section below we will go over specific varieties of loose leaf lettuce and discuss what makes this variety of lettuce the ideal candidate for hydroponics.

If you like the crisp crunch of romaine lettuce do not worry! There are many types of romaine lettuce varieties that work well in a hydroponic setup. As I mentioned above you will want to stick to the more open leaf varieties that do not form a very defined head. Traditional romaine lettuce varieties tend to form a tall tight cluster of leaves and although this can work in a hydroponic system those are better suited for a traditional harvesting method. Below we will discuss the cut and come again harvesting method and go into detail on different types of lettuce varieties.

Cut and Come Again Harvesting Method

I believe the cut and come again harvesting method is ideal for hydroponic lettuce. It allows for a continuous harvest of lettuce versus the traditional way of harvesting the entire plant. With the cut and come again method you only cut off the outer leaves of the lettuce plant. This allows for the plant to continue to grow as you harvest. You can start harvesting the outer leaves once they reach 3 to 4 inches in length. I recommend this method of harvesting for the following reasons:

Less wasted lettuce.

  • With the cut and come again method you can harvest only what you need for that specific meal. Many times when I harvest a whole head of lettuce I will not be able to use the entire head before it goes bad. This is especially true of home grown lettuce because they tend to go bad faster than the store bought varieties (But taste much better!). 

Less time and effort starting seeds. 

  • The cut and come again method allows you to get more lettuce out of each plant. This saves you from the trouble of constantly germinating lettuce seeds to replace plants that were harvested traditionally.

Leaf lettuce works extremely well with the cut and come again method of harvesting and this is one of the reasons why it is my top choice for hydroponic systems.

Loose Leaf Lettuce Varities

Loose leaf lettuce comes in many different varieties. Seeds of some of the more common varieties can be found at your local gardening center, and other more exotic varieties can be found at Baker Creek or other online stores. Below is a list that I have compiled of the varieties that have worked well for me in a  hydroponic system. 

Solar Flare Lettuce

Source: Baker Creek

 -Fast growing with large leaves. Beautiful red color.

Bronze Beauty Lettuce

Store: Baker Creek

-Has a very sweet taste, heat tolerant and slow to bolt, Interesting leaf design.

Allstar Gourmet Lettuce Mix

Source: Johnny’s Seeds

-An all around good mix of several different varieties of lettuce. 

If you want to get started right away and not wait around for seeds check out your local home improvement store and see what types of lettuce seeds they offer. I have seen a gourmet lettuce mix in most of the Home Depot/Lowes seed sections that I have found works very well. Just take a look at the picture on the seed packet and if it looks like the leaves are relatively open and not forming a tight head it should work well.

If you are using artificial lights in your hydroponic setup, I have found that loose leaf lettuce does well with around 15-16 hours of light per day. If you are not using artificial lights you will be at the mercy of the sun, but try and position your hydroponic system in a position that allows for as much sun as possible. Ideally it would be located close to a large south facing window. This will allow for the most sun throughout the day. To learn more about grow light setups for hydroponics check out this post.

Romaine Lettuce Varieties

Traditional romaine lettuce grows in a taller tightly packed head. For a hydroponics system you will want to look for romaine varieties that have a more open loose leaf growth characteristic. Sometimes romaine varieties that have more open loosely packed leaves are referred to as semi-romaine. There are many varieties of romaine that will work well in a hydroponic setup and list below are the varieties that I have personally tried and were very successful with.

Forellenschluss Lettuce

Source: Baker Creek

Forellenschluss lettuce is one of my all time favorite types of lettuce to grow. It has beautiful red speckled leaves that taste as good as they look. In a hydroponic setup it is an extremely fast grower and works very well with the cut and come again method of harvesting. It will provide lettuce for many weeks from a single plant. It is also frost tolerant and does very well in cool weather. This is especially important over winter if you have your hydroponic garden setup in your garage where the temperature can be very cold.

Little Gem Lettuce

Store: Johnny’s Seeds

Little Gem lettuce is a great miniature variety of romaine. It works very well if you are limited on space. Despite its small size it is one of the best tasting varieties of lettuce that I have grown. It is also heat tolerant and slow to bolt. This is great for the summer months if you have your hydroponic setup in the garage where it can get hot.

As far as lighting is concerned I have found that romaine lettuce has the same light requirements as the loose leaf varieties. The ideal timing for artificial lighting is 15-16 hours of light a day. This maximizes the size and speed of growth of the lettuce plant. 

As you are planning what types of lettuce varieties to grow in your hydroponic garden I would encourage you to try many different varieties and see what works best for your setup. The varieties I have listed above provide a good starting point, but do not be afraid to branch out and try something new. Lettuce is a robust, fast growing plant especially in a hydroponic system, so it leaves a lot of room for experimentation. Let me know in the comments below what varieties of lettuce you have had success with in a hydroponic system.

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