American mesclun mixes, the NGB writes, tend to have “lettuces, arugula, endives, mustards, purslane, chicory, cresses, parsleys, fennels, escarole and tender wild greens as well as Bibb, Romaine, oakleaf and crisphead lettuces.”
In fact, the NGB notes that eight to 16 different types of plants may find their way into an American mesclun mix, but the one thing the mixes have in common remains that combination of different flavors and colors, such as green, red and burgundy, from the lettuce varieties grown and served together.
Considered an old vegetable, having been cultivated since 500 BC in Persian monarch gardens, people have used lettuce for food and medicine, according to the NGB.
Warm Season Planting
Though some gardeners may find the cool season crop challenging to grow in the home garden during warmer months, they can grow bountiful lettuce.
Grower Howard Piland of B&H Produce in Suffolk, Va., has grown leaf lettuce for years, particularly mesclun mixes, and he said he has grown lettuce in the summer months for the past two years.
“You have to grow it in the shadiest part of the garden during the hottest part of the day or you’ll have to use a shade cloth over the lettuce,” Piland said.
Shade cloth, similar to row covers, has the appearance of screens but are made of plastic, he said, and the covers also protect the lettuce from pests.
“In using the shade cloth, I haven’t had to spray anything on my lettuce the entire spring,” he said.
For soil, Piland said he uses nothing but compost for all of his lettuces. To keep a steady flow of lettuce available year round, Piland plants successive crops of lettuce every week or two weeks, he said.
“Additional plantings also help if I have a pest problem,” he said. “Just in case, I know that I’ll have more lettuce coming along.”
While leaf lettuce grows well in the ground in rows or in flower beds, Piland grows his lettuce in six-inch diameter cups, which he said makes harvesting easier, and for gardeners with limited space, a container may serve as the perfect option for planting.
How To Grow Mesclun
Of the four categories of lettuces – leaf, Bibb, Romaine, crisphead – all require a loose, loamy soil, write Diane Relf and Alan McDaniel, Virginia Cooperative Extension extension specialists with Virginia Tech, in the article “Leafy Green Vegetables.”
Gardeners should also assure lettuce has a sunny location but a location with shade during the summer months, and growers need to provide frequent, but “light watering” of the lettuce, Relf and McDaniel write. Soggy soil and over watering can cause the lettuce to die.
When planting from seed or transplants, Relf and McDaniel suggest spacing the leaf, Bibb and Romaine lettuces four to 10 inches apart and space the rows 12 to 24 inches apart. When the leaf lettuces sprout, some growers suggest thinning the plants, though others don’t thin them.
Relf and McDaniel describe lettuce as a “medium-heavy feeder,” meaning that the plant takes up a number of nutrients from the soil and would require fertilizer, but they suggest side-dressing, placing the fertilizer alongside the row and raking it into the soil, if the lettuce shows deficiencies.
Mesclun mixes grow quickly in warmer weather, sprouting in up to four days in some regions, and can be harvested when the leaves reach two inches, according to the NGB.