In the middle of last summer, I inherited a pot full of very sad Lollo Rossa lettuce seedlings when my daughter finished her gardening club at school. There were lots of straggly and very thin stems and leaves of lettuce all fighting for space in one small pot.
It didn't look all that hopeful but I decided to have a go at potting these on individually to rescue as many as I could. Included is lots of information on growing this loose leaf variety.
As I did not grow these from seed myself, I did not know the exact date of sowing. Judging by the size of the seedlings when I received them, I guessed they were sown in late May or early June time. The stems were initially so thin and stretched from fighting for space and light. I had plenty of doubts on whether I could save any of them and get them to thrive.
Information on Lollo Rossa Lettuce
- Position needed: sun or semi shade
- Type of soil: rich fertile
- Ideal for: patio, kitchen garden, greenhouse and polytunnel
- Hardiness: half-hardy
- Sowing months: March, April, May, June, July, August
- Harvest months: June, July, August, September, October
- Ultimate height: 15 cm (6 in)
- Ultimate spread: 25 cm (10 in)
- Ideal Growing Temperatures: 45 - 75 °F or 7 - 23 °C
Rescuing Straggly Seedlings from Crowded Containers
This is a photo showing what the container looked like when my daughter brought this home from school. Some of the stems were incredibly thin and delicate with many twisted around each other. I wondered how I was going to rescue anything from this. However, I decided to have a go at separating and potting on as many of the best seedlings that I could.
First, I gave the pot of lettuce a good watering to make it easier for me to start removing the individual seedlings. Then I filled some 6 cm fiber pots up with John Innes No. 1 compost and made sure that this seedling soil was nice and damp. Using a blunt chisel (you could use a dibber) I created space in the middle of the compost, ready for the seedlings. I planned to plant one seedling per container.
Working from one side of the original lettuce pot, I used my thinnest chisel to carefully work around the soil surrounding a stem. Holding the leaves of each plant in my other hand, I managed to pluck these out without touching or damaging the roots. Holding on to the lettuce leaf, it was easy to place the roots and a little of the spindly stem into a prepared hole in a new container. I carefully placed the soil around the stem and firmed each one in before applying a little water from a tiny measuring cup.
It wasn't the easiest job in the world and it took a lot of patience. However, I managed to save 9 Lollo Rossa plants in the end and potted them all up in new containers.
Planting Seedlings into Individual Fiber Pots
This photo shows the same day I re-potted these. You can see how thin, spindly and sad these seedlings looked. At this point I really believed that none of them would survive but I did my best regardless.
They had a good water and I removed the leaves that looked like they were dying off. I kept these outside during the daytime and under the cover of the polytunnel in the evenings. I had to watch them with regard to the pigeons who love eating any seedlings.
Some Re-Growth and Improvement after 10 Days
Aided by Keeping the Plants at Ideal Growing Temperatures
What a difference just 10 days can make. I was so careful with these, making sure to keep the soil moist and giving them small amount of water every day. They were looking so much better at this point and the stems were starting to thicken up nicely.
I was growing these outside and putting them under cover in the evenings. However, the summer weather got so bad with constant rain and cold that I moved them into the polytunnel along with the tomato plants.
Since lettuce plants do not like intense heat, I had to make sure that the polytunnel did not get too hot by adjusting the door and window openings through the day. The ideal growing temperature for lettuce crops is between 45 - 75 °F or 7 - 23 °C.
Potting into Final Containers
Taking Care to Water Daily and Feed Once a Week
Once August arrived, it was much drier and warmer. I moved the lettuce outdoors again and re-potted them all into 6 inch wide plastic containers which are large enough for these to mature to their ideal height and spread.
I decided to let them grow as much as possible, before picking off my first leaves for eating. This is a loose leaf lettuce variety which means that I can cut off leaves and allow new ones to grow back.
If it is sunny, these were outside to enjoy the warm weather. In bad weather, I kept these in the polytunnel. Like most salad crops, they need a reasonable amount of water every day and the soil should feel moist but not waterlogged or completely saturated.
I fed these once a week after potting into their final container with a drench of organic liquid seaweed. I am careful to use natural and organic gardening products where possible because I do not wish to harm the wildlife and especially not my garden frogs.
Since I have frogs in the garden and am an avid backyard bird watcher, I am careful to use natural gardening products and not chemicals which may be harmful to wildlife. I find organic seaweed extract to be very good for growing many vegetables including salad crops and lettuce. Dilute in water and apply to your plants according to the instructions.
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Harvesting as Cut and Come Again Salads
Later in August, the Lollo Rossa developed more of the pretty frilly leaves for which they are best known. I was happy with how much progress they had made. At this point, they were ready to start eating.
These are loose leaf lettuces and you can either harvest by cutting across the main stem at the base to remove the whole plant. Or you can use these as a cut and come again salad variety. I did the latter which meant that I removed a few leaves off each plant as needed and allowed regrowth to occur through the growing season. 
Cut and Come Again Salads and How to Grow Them
My Rating for Lollo Rossa Lettuce
Pretty, Easy to Grow and Harvest, Sweet and Pleasant Flavor. However, I Prefer Crispy Varieties
Enjoy Eating this Sweet and Tasty Lettuce
The leaves on this variety look so beautiful but they are a bit of a pain to wash since it is hard to see any bugs lurking in the folds of the frills. They have been easy to grow and look great in a salad bowl.
I enjoyed mine in a bread bun as a delicious and fancy looking version of a BLT. You need to layer up lots of these for maximum flavor and taste because they are quite thin. This is a delicate leaf and not a crisp and crunchy one such as an Iceberg variety which I prefer.
These Lollo Rossa have been fantastic. I worried that I would not be able to save these poor, straggly specimens when they were seedlings. However, with a bit of care, they rallied and they've been fantastically easy to grow ever since.
Image Credits: The introductory image belongs to the author, Marie Williams Johnstone. All other images (unless watermarked with the author’s name) are product photos from Amazon.