I’m a salad girl, growing dozens of types of salad crops; quinoa, amaranth, kale, spinach, orach, mache, Asian greens, and of course, lettuce. I love all types of lettuce, but I’ve got a particular fondness for red lettuce varieties, which offer bold colour to the garden and the salad bowl. I’ve grown dozens of varieties of lettuce in my garden, but these three are among my favourites.
The three red lettuce contenders:
Red Sails – Perhaps the widest grown red lettuce, Red Sails first made a splash in 1985 when it won an All-America Selections award. It forms large frilly heads – up to a foot across – with deep burgundy leaves that turn green towards the base. It’s easy to grow, cold tolerant, heat tolerant, and remains tasty and bitter-free, even after bolting. I’ve been growing it for a decade, and in my informal trial, Red Sails really stood up well to the unexpected stretch of cold, damp weather we had in early June. And, it withstood the heat-wave that followed, continuing to resist bolting and offering plenty of crisp foliage for our daily salads.
Ruby Gem – I was first introduced to this variety a few years ago through Renee’s Garden and it’s become my go-to red lettuce. We grow them in spring and autumn in the open garden, and in summer they are planted beside tall crops or structures like trellises to offer some shade from the hot sun. The plants form attractive rosettes that grow up to 10 inches across with ruby-red leaves and green hearts. Those wavy leaves are very crisp and delicious. They also grow great in containers and window-boxes if you’re short on space! Like Red Sails, Ruby Gem has proven to be bolt-resistant in my garden, thriving all spring and continuing to provide top quality leaves for weeks into the summer heat.
Red Deer Tongue – This is an heirloom variety with long, pointed leaves that form loose heads in the garden. The colour is fantastic; deep mahogany red and the leaves are sturdy, holding up well in the salad bowl. Because Red Deer Tongue is open pollinated, you can save your own seeds from this old-fashioned favourite. It thrives in cool weather, but I have found it to be quick to bolt once the hot summer weather arrives. Save it for spring or fall planting.
Do you have any favourite red lettuce varieties?