Contain Your Excitement with 5 Great Annuals!

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Gardeners can be Choosers

Let your imagination flow with possibilities, but keep a few things in mind. Think about sun, wind and shade requirements and where you’re going to place your plants. Consider flower color, texture & height – how they look alone and in combination. Ask yourself, is the plant compatible with other plants together in the same pot? It’s best to combine plants with similar needs, but sun-loving plants that grow above shade-loving will sometimes work out. The list of annuals ideal for containers is very long. In case you’re stuck, we’ve named 5 of our favorites to get you started.

5 Flowering Favorites

Fuschia – The name is also the color. This plant with lovely little bell-shaped flowers likes partial shade.

Gazania – Or African daisy. Daisy-shaped flowers come in a vivid color range featuring red, orange, yellow, white and pink and close at night. This annual wants full sun.

Begonias – From full sun to dense shade; flowers from spring to first frost in beautiful white, red or pink!

Portulaca – Can you say “hot and dry”? Those are the perfect full-sun conditions for these small, but fast growing annuals with 1″ flowers in white, red, orange, pink and yellow.

Verbena – These plants reach a size of six to ten inches. But don’t over-pamper them with excesses of anything. Full to partial sun. Verbena blooms in clusters of small flowers in shades of blue, mauve, white, pink or purple.

Growing Beautiful Annuals in Containers

If you think annuals are only for flowerbeds, you’re missing out. Wherever you grow annuals, they will reward you with beautiful colors, bright foliage, and soothing fragrances all season long. But when you plant them in containers, they provide even more benefits.

5 Reasons to Grow Annuals in Containers:

  1. Experiment with different types of plant combinations
  2. Get creative with what you plant them in
  3. Can move containers around to the ideal location
  4. It’s easy to do – even for beginners & kids!
  5. Perfect for those with limited gardening time or space

Choosing Containers:

There’s a lot of latitude when choosing a container for your annuals, but here are a few important things to think about:

  • Containers should complement the plant, not overwhelm or outshine it
  • Containers should be sturdy but not too heavy
  • They must have drainage holes. • In most cases, containers should be at least 6 inches deep. Taller flowers need deeper containers.
  • Cascading plants and vines work well in hanging baskets
  • Get creative – use old boots, wheelbarrows or something else that adds character to your garden

Easy Come, Easy Grow

Follow these friendly tips – and grow with confidence.

  • Make a clean start. Always use a clean container. And use a superior potting mix that drains well and isn’t clumpy like Espoma’s All-Purpose Potting Mix.
  • Watch and learn. Espoma’s Container Gardening videos will give you the planting instructions you need.
  • A different kind of deadhead. Keep annuals blooming throughout the season by “deadheading” them. When flowers begin to die, just pop off the seed head with your fingers to encourage new blooms.
  • Get closer with your plants. Just a side note – remember, you can plant annual combinations closer together in containers (4″), because their roots won’t compete
  • Feed ’em right. Feed plants regularly with high quality organic plant food, like Espoma’s Plant-tone or Flower-tone. Follow the application rates on the package
  • Hold your water. Watering needs vary by plant. In general, don’t flood, but thoroughly soak the soil. Excess water should exit through drainage holes in the pot. You shouldn’t see any puddles at top.

We hope we’ve inspired you to fill your surroundings – and containers – with beautiful annuals. Choosing to grow annuals in containers is the easy part. Deciding on the combination you like best – now that’s the real challenge!

Make Mother’s Day Rosier than Ever!

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Stop & Smell the Rose Garden this Mother’s Day

It’s a popular tradition to buy Mom Roses for Mother’s Day. No other flower can communicate such a range of meaning and emotion. This year, why not consider giving her some roses that will last for years rather than a few days.

6 Reasons to Plant Roses for Mom:

  1. Rose bouquets last only a few days. Rose plantings last for years!
  2. They’re beautiful!
  3. They have a lovely fragrance
  4. There are many low maintenance options now.
  5. You can grow them in the ground or in a container
  6. There’s a wide variety to choose from

6 Types of Roses – With So Many, Choosing can be a Little Thorny!

Floribunda – its Cowabunga! A bushy shrub with lots of big, showy blossoms on every stem (instead of just one). Something to really get excited about!

Hybrid Tea, anyone? These are the long, tall beauties you see at the florist.

Shrub & Landscape – a dynamic duo. Hardy, low-maintenance plant that blooms throughout a long season available in shapes and sizes to fit any landscape.

Climbers – heighten the effect. Dress up the scene with cascades of flowers – train climbers to adorn an entrance, wall or fence –anything that will offer support.

Miniature – no shortage of lovely with these little beauties. Large roses are beautiful, but there is something even more captivating about seeing roses this small. Hardy little plants that do well in containers.

Tree Roses – or four? You just can’t get enough of them. These grafted wonders connect strong roots to a long stem and the top of a rosebush to create an unusual but elegant look. Extra care is required for these roses.

Nothing Thorny about Growing Roses

Tips when Planting Roses:

  • Plant your rose where it will get at least six hours of sun each day
  • Dig a hole at least 18 inches in diameter and 18 inches deep.
  • Discard half the soil and replace it with compost, peat moss or Espoma Organic Planting Mix.
  • Mix approximately 3 cups of Espoma Rose-tone into amended soil. Refill the hole with enough soil so that when the plant is planted, the soil level is the same as the surrounding area.
  • Add mulch and water.

9 Groundbreaking Tips for Summer Bulbs

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Why Summer Bulbs are a Bright Idea

  • Summer Bulbs add texture, color, height and glamour to your garden
  • Versatile – plant them in the ground, window boxes or containers, indoors and outdoors
  • Adds the “exotic touch” that comes from sub-tropic species
  • Provides years of beauty and enjoyment when you plant them every spring
  • Easy to grow and care for by following a few simple steps

Hot Bulbs for Summer

We often think of planting bulbs as a Fall activity for Spring color, but there are many Summer Bulbs that can be planted now that bring bright color, cheer and sweet fragrances into our lives. Okay, some are actually corms or tubers, but they always get lumped in with the true bulbs. Our favorite Summer Bulb varieties include:

  • Caladium – sometimes called “elephant ear” due to the big heart-shaped leaves. Leaves are marked in varying patterns of white, pink or red.
  • Canna – often called a lily, but it’s not. Large, 3-petaled flowers are red, orange, yellow or a combination.
  • Gladiolus – Long stems with many flower spikes bursting forth in colors that range from pink to red or light purple with white.
  • Dahlias – One bulb produces dozens of flowers in one bulb. This is sure to create a colorful commotion in your garden.

9 Groundbreaking Tips

  1. Selecting Bulbs: When you buy new bulbs, make sure they’re firm and heavy-not squishy, lightweight or crunchy.
  2. Give them a warm reception: Plant bulbs when you would plant tomatoes-make sure the soil is not too moist and make sure it has warmed up to about 60 degrees.
  3. Step out of the shadows: Plant bulbs in well-drained soil that gets good sunlight. A little shade is O.K. Damp, dark spots will rot bulbs before they grow.
  4. Point them in the right direction: Most summer bulbs are planted 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface, pointy end up. Add some high quality organic plant food, such as Espoma Bulb-tone. For container gardening, choose a high quality potting mix, like the one from Espoma.
  5. A drink – but don’t drown them: Water bulbs well, but allow them to dry before watering again.
  6. A growing appetite: Feed established bulbs (when plants reach 6″) monthly with Espoma Bulb-tone.
  7. Don’t leave them out in the cold: Many Summer Bulbs will not survive the cold of winter. If you live where bulbs could freeze, dig them up and store them. Do this when the bulb plant’s leaves turn yellow in the fall.
  8. Skip the bath: Dust off – don’t wash – the excavated bulbs and put them in a bucket of peat moss, sand or vermiculite. Store them in a cool (50–70 degrees), dry place.
  9. Know when to split: Don’t divide bulbs before storing. Divide in the Spring before planting.

Spring for something different in your garden this year: Summer Bulbs. They’re bright, colorful, and the hottest thing to come along – besides summer.

Popular Flowering Cherry Trees

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Want a Burst of Spring Color?

After a long, cold winter, a splash of vibrant colors is just what your yard needs. Embrace Spring time and consider these popular Flowering Cherries. These trees produce a range of colors from bright white to deep pink and crimson leaves. Adding these rich colors to your landscape are the best way to welcome Spring with open arms—or open leaves that is.

4 Popular Flowering Cherry Trees – there’s no wrong choice

Okame Cherry – One of the earliest flowering cherries. This magnificent cherry breaks the grip of late winter with an outstanding 2-3-week display of rosy pink blossoms.

Kwanzan Cherry – The Kwanzan cherry has double pink flowers and a vase-shaped form that spreads with age, making the tree wider than it is tall at maturity.

Weeping Cherry – The tree droops towards the ground and has abundant dark pink flowers. When the flowers fall, they look like a blanket of snow.

Yoshino Cherry – Fragrant, white-pink flowers with glossy bark and dark-green leaves. In 1912, the Japanese government gave the U.S three thousand Yoshino cherry trees. This gift was the beginning of the now famous National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C.

Planning, Planting & Ensuring Success

Flowering Cherries are good for defining property lines, borders and as a focal point in your yard or landscape design. However, you must choose your site carefully. Mature trees can grow to a height of 20 feet. They require full sun and well drained fertile soils. Be sure to add Bio-tone Starter Plus at time of planting to improve growth and transplant survival. You can improve heavy clay or sandy soils by adding Espoma Planting Mix. Feed your established trees with Tree-tone.
The Espoma Company’s Top 5 Cherry Festivals

Join the festivities! Witness the bloom live and in person at any of Espoma’s top 5 cherry festival favorites.

  1. Let freedom spring?! Yup, at The National Cherry Blossom Festival Washington, D.C.
  2. Check out the blossoms as they reawaken in Macon at The International Cherry Blossom Festival! Macon, GA
  3. A most honorable event. The Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival. Brooklyn, NY
  4. Your buds in California are waiting for you! Visit them at The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival! San Francisco, CA
  5. Happy Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival! Vancouver, B.C.

Cool Season Vegetables

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5 Reasons to Warm up to Cool Vegetables

  • Be the first on your block with fresh, home grown vegetables.
  • Save cold, hard cash vs. supermarket prices.
  • Great way to extend the growing season
  • Fewer problems with insects and heat stress.
  • Great way to get kids outside gardening & eating their veggies!

5 Cool Foods for Thought

You might think of the growing season as the time between frosts. But vegetable gardening doesn’t have to wait until warm weather to be in the forecast. Cool Season vegetables are heartier varieties that tolerate, and even thrive, in the cold soil of early Spring. For many gardeners, mid-March marks the best time of the gardening season. What’s really important is soil temperature–it must be in the 40’s for cool season vegetable seeds to germinate. Simply go by the general rule that soil is warm enough when you can easily turn it with a shovel. Here are some come cool season vegetable suggestions worth trying:

  • Lettuce. Hail Caesar! Nothing like fresh romaine lettuce for your salad. It takes but a little time, space and energy. And lettuce always tastes best when it matures in cool weather.
  • Onions. They can be started 3 ways: sets, seeds, or transplants. Planting sets is easiest. If you can poke a hole in the ground, you can plant an onion set.
  • Carrots. For long, straight carrots, plant them in raised beds or sandy loam soil free of stones. Sweet, tender young carrots make a wonderful snack.
  • Peas. They need an early start to flower and set fruit before temperatures exceed 80 degrees. There is a world of difference in the way fresh peas taste—enough to make you plant them every year.
  • Broccoli. It might not be everyone’s favorite, but it ought to be. It’s really good for you and easy to start with seeds.

5 Hot Tips for Success

  1. To get the most vegetables throughout the year, plant cool season veggies now, follow then with warm season veggies in the summer, & then replant more cool season ones in the Fall.
  2. Choose a well-drained spot that gets as much sun as possible. This kind of space is likely to provide warmer soil temperatures.
  3. If your soil is not frozen, you can start preparing the ground. Use a shovel to turn the soil. Add some organic matter such as compost or Espoma Organic Planting Mix along with some Garden-tone. If your soil is still frozen, containers are a good alternative.
  4. Water deeply, but less frequently. Plants in general need less watering in cooler temperatures.
  5. Plant seeds or plants according to the directions found on the seed packets or plant tags.

If you can’t wait to get your hands dirty in the garden, there’s no reason to get left out in the cold. Give cool season crops a try!

Mulch to Talk About – 5 Reasons to Add Mulch Now

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Selecting the Right Mulch

There is no one, universal mulch for everything. There are pros and cons to every mulching material. Whatever the material, mulch needs to stay put to be effective, but should also be easy to remove and apply.

Natural mulches are very common and are composed of plant matter. Examples include straw, shredded leaves, bark, pine needles or wood chips. These mulches decompose over time which helps improve the soil but it also means they must be replaced once or twice a year. Colored mulches are made by adding a dye to a natural mulch. They typically come in colors such as brown, black or red. Whether you’re using rich black to make your perennial garden pop or soft red to accent your home, colored mulch gives you more flexibility and creativity in your garden.

5 Reasons to Add Mulch Now

  1. Adds beauty, color and texture to garden
  2. Keeps soil from washing away
  3. Helps retain moisture in the soil
  4. Suppresses weeds
  5. Insulates soil and roots from temperature extremes

8 Tips for Magnificent Mulching

Not all plants are the same, but these basic directions provide good rule-of-thumb guidelines for applying mulch.

  1. Spring fever. After a long, cold winter, nothing says Spring is here like a new bed of mulch. So apply mulch in the early Spring. Not only will it look great, it will help warm the soil and make your neighbors envious!
  2. Stay out of the weeds. Always weed before applying mulch.
  3. Scratch the surface. Lightly rake the soil to loosen up the surface before mulching.
  4. Feed first. This is an ideal time to feed evergreen and acid-loving plants such as Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Dogwoods and Hollies with a high quality plant food like Holly-tone. So before you mulch, apply it in a circle around the drip line of shrubs or trees.
  5. How mulch is too mulch. A uniform depth of 2 to 3 inches works for most mulches around established plants. Mulch that’s too deep can actually smother young plants.
  6. No volcanoes! Never pile up mulch next to anything. Keep mulches 2 to 3 inches away from the stems of woody plants and 6 to 12 inches away from buildings to avoid pests such as rodents or termites and other insects.
  7. Put a ring around it. When mulching around trees, the mulch should extend away from the plant to a little beyond the drip line. The basic idea is to cover a realistic portion of the root system.
  8. Give it the smell test. Replenish or replace mulch when it decomposes. Mulch should smell woody or earthy; if mulch smells sour like vinegar, replace it immediately.

Kid & Pet Friendly Lawns

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Your lawn may be doing more harm than good.

The quest for greener grass on your side of the fence could be harming the environment. By EPA estimates, Americans apply 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawn and gardens every year, creating a potential hazard for adults, children and pets. In addition, synthetic fertilizers can burn your lawn and leach away into nearby waterways. And odds are your lawn products contain both of these ingredients.

Why go organic?

Organic lawn care is a great way to a safe and healthy lawn. A healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds, insects and diseases. For a healthy lawn, you need healthy soil, alive with earthworms and loaded with beneficial microbes. Healthy soils let grass roots grow deep, making them more resistant to drought and stress. To have a safe & healthy soil, you need to avoid using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and follow the tips at right.

4 Tips for a Chemical Free Lawn

1. Go on an organic diet. Choose an organic lawn program like the new one from Espoma. Benefits include:

  • No pesticides or synthetic ingredients
  • Product lasts 2.5x longer than typical lawn foods
  • Won’t burn your lawn or leach away
  • Each bag covers 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Safe to use around kids & pets

2. Water When the Rooster Crows

  • Water early in the morning to avoid evaporation loss.
  • Start watering at the first signs of stress in the Spring.
  • Water deeper & less frequently in the Spring to encourage deeper rooting.
  • During the summer, watering should be lighter & more frequent.

4. Sweeten the Soil (if necessary)

  • Lawns require a pH range of 6 – 7 to utilize nutrients.
  • If the pH is too low (acidic), sweeten it with lime.
  • If the pH is too high (alkaline), acidify it with sulfur.
  • You can check the pH with a simple home test kit.

 

Learn More About Creating Useful Compost

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Composting

What is Composting?
Composting is the biological process in which microorganisms convert organic material such as manure, leaves, grass, and food wastes into a soil-like material called compost. Composting is the same process that decays leaves and other organic remains in nature except that composting controls the conditions so that materials decompose faster.

Optimal Conditions for Composting
Composting is quickest when conditions that encourage the growth of microorganisms are established and maintained. The most important conditions include:

Oxygen and Aeration
Composting consumes large amounts of oxygen. If oxygen is limited, the composting process slows down. Offensive odors are usually a good indication of a need for greater aeration.

Ample Nutrients
Carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are the primary nutrient requirements for microorganisms and plants. Microorganisms use carbon for both energy and growth while nitrogen is essential for protein and reproduction. In general, organisms need about twenty-five times more carbon than nitrogen. Raw materials blended to provide a C/N ratio of 25:1 to 30:1 are ideal for active composting, although C/N ratios from 20:1 to 40:1 will usually give good composting results.

Moisture
Moisture is required to support the metabolic processes of microbes. Water provides the medium for chemical reactions, transports nutrients, and allows microorganisms to move about. The moisture content of composting materials should be maintained with a range of 40% to 65%.

Microorganisms
Successful composting relies on the successful growth and maintenance of microbial populations. Generally, sufficient organisms can be found with most organic materials. However, adverse conditions such as low oxygen, poor nutrients, inadequate moisture, or improper pH can slow, stop or even kill the growth of these vital decomposers. Espoma Compost Starter provides the insurance that their growth will proceed optimally by enriching the pile with thermophilic, mesophilic, and special varieties of microbes that are specifically cultured for rapid and complete composting.

Taking Care of the Compost Pile
To ensure that adequate amounts of oxygen are maintained in the pile, turning is an ideal technique. The main objectives of turning are to shift materials from the outer parts of the pile closed to the center for better decomposition and to incorporate oxygen. The pile should be turned more frequently during the warmer periods of the year. Piles should be turned immediately if ammonia or other offensive odors are detected.

The composting pile should also be kept moist for proper decomposition. Inadequate moisture reduces microbial activity, while excessive water may cause anaerobic conditions. A thin outer layer of dry material is unavoidable. During dry weather it may be necessary to add more water. The moisture content of the interior of the pile should be observed while turning.

Common Problems & Solutions

Problems Probable Reason(s) Solution
Compost does not heat up Too dry or wet, C:N ratio too high, pile too small, pH low, not enough aeration Add water to dry material, add Compost Starter, and/or low C:N materials, build pile larger, add Compost Starter, turn more frequently
Compost cooling Low moisture or aeration, composting almost done Add moisture and turn more frequently, add Compost Starter, if composting almost done – do nothing
Compost overheating Pile too large, spontaneous combustion beginning Add moisture, turn more frequently
Ammonia odor High pH, high nitrogen Add high C:N materials
Rotten eggs odor Too wet, not enough aeration Add dry materials, turn more frequently
Insects Breeding in pile, too wet Turn more frequently, reduce moisture, add Compost Starter

Starting Seeds Indoors

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11 Tips to Seed Starting Success

Start seeds 4 to 6 weeks before you plant in the garden. Cool season crops like broccoli or lettuce can go into the garden before the last frost. Warm season crops like tomatoes & peppers should not be planted until all danger of frost is past. Almost anyone can succeed by following the guidelines below.

1. Fresh is best. Always start with fresh, high quality seeds.

2. Plastic is fantastic. You can purchase plastic trays and kits designed specifically for starting seeds. They’re clean and free of pathogens, keep soil uniformly moist and allow for adequate drainage.

3. Use a magical mix. Good mixes, like Espoma Organic Seed Starter, ensure that you’ve got a lightweight, clean and sterile medium without insects, fungus or weeds. Moisten the mix with a little water (damp, not soggy).

4. Packets know best. Plant your seeds according to the depth and spacing directions on the seed packet. Cover the seeds with soil mix and tamp down to ensure that the seeds are held in firm contact with the soil.

5. Bottom’s up. It can be challenging to apply the right amount of water to freshly sown seeds by pouring, sprinkling or spraying. It’s better to water from the bottom. That means placing the planting container into a larger pan of shallow water for a short time (few seconds to a couple of minutes).

6. Take cover. Loosely cover with plastic wrap after watering to retain moisture. Check the moisture daily and watch for germination. As soon as the seeds germinate, remove the plastic wrap.

7. Stay warm. For most seeds, sprouting requires a minimum temperature of about 65° to 75°F. If the ambient temperature is less than that, you can position a space heater nearby. Just make sure that the soil doesn’t dry out.

8. Let the sun shine in. Most seeds need about 12 to 16 hours of sunlight each day. Place your seed containers in a sunny location such as a window with southern exposure. Once the seeds sprout, turn the container a little each day. This will prevent seedlings from overreaching in one direction toward the light.

9. The need to feed. Don’t use fertilizer on seedlings until they have sprouted! In the very early growth stage, the seed provides its own nourishment, but once leaves develop, it’s time for a little fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone.

10. Harden them off. Your sheltered seedlings need to get ready for the outdoors. For 7 to 10 days, put your plants outside for a few hours each day, increasing their exposure to sunlight & wind. Cut back on watering a bit, too. Your plants will become heartier and better prepared for transplanting.

11. No stripping. Slowly, gently remove plants from their containers without stripping the roots naked or tearing them. Plant them in the ground and mix in a really good starter plant food like Bio-tone Starter Plus in with the soil.

Now that the plants are safely in the ground, there’s just one last step. Give yourself a big pat on the back for a job well done—and look forward to enjoying the fruits (or flowers and veggies) of your labor later in the season.

5 Reasons to Start Seeds Indoors

  • Save money – seeds are less expensive than plants
  • Choose from an almost endless variety
  • Enjoy vegetables earlier
  • It is a fun project to do with your kids!
  • Greater satisfaction of starting from seeds

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Let Us Grow Lettuce

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shutterstock_114573622Let Us Grow Lettuce

There are many different types of lettuce, but all of them do best in cool temperatures, between 45 and 75 degrees—well suited for Spring and Fall weather. Many gardeners plant several kinds of lettuce at intervals throughout the growing season to enjoy a steady harvest with variety.

Lettuce Begin
Spring lettuce in 5 easy steps

  1. Plants or Seeds? Some gardeners do both and start seeds indoors ahead of time. To learn how, see our seed starting primer. Seeds can go directly in the ground about two weeks before your typical last Spring frost date.
  2. Prepare the Soil. Keep location in mind,as lettuce likes full sun. If you’re using a container, select a high-quality potting media, such as Espoma Potting Mix. In the garden, till or work the soil to about 4” to 6” deep and fortify it by mixing in a rich, organic garden soil like Espoma Organic Vegetable & Flower Garden Soil and plant food such as Garden-tone®.
  3. Plant. Transplant seedlings as early as the ground can be worked, or plant seeds according to instructions on the package. Space plants roughly 8” apart and kick-start seedlings with a shot of Garden-tone ten days after planting. Keep an eye on the temperature until frost danger has passed. Seedlings can survive 20-degree temps if protected by a little sheet of plastic.
  4. Water. Depending upon rainfall, lettuce needs a deep watering once per week. Mulching with some straw will help conserve moisture.
  5. Enjoy! Lettuce types mature at different rates, but you can harvest lettuce as soon as leaves form. Trim heads off at the base, or just trim off the outer leaves on loose-leaf, if you’d like to keep plants going longer.

Choose your Lettuce

(it’s not ready to pick yet) The type of lettuce you select will fall into one of 5 categories:

  • Loose leaf – Like the notebook. These grow in clusters of leaves instead of a head.
  • Butterhead – But you probably know it as Bibb or Boston. Small, tender heads with loose outer leaves offer a mild, pleasing flavor.
  • Crisphead – Sounds more like a heavy- metal band, but it’s an accurate description. Think iceberg – round, crunchy heads that keep well in the fridge.
  • Romaine – Sturdy vertical heads with crisp, nutritious dark leaves and white hearts.
  • Batavian – If this was a dress, your mom wouldn’t let you wear it. These loose and sexy spiral heads have shiny, sometimes frilly leaves that can range from deep green to red.

This year, give Spring lettuce a try. It’s a great way to spring into the gardening season — and the perfect way to get a head!