(Image credit: DutchScenery)

Leafy greens are one of the easier crops to grow in the home garden, but learning how to keep lettuce fresh after picking can be a bit challenging. Follow these tips to have crispy leafy greens for salads and sandwich toppings.

Harvest Tips for Fresher Lettuce 

Keeping lettuce fresh after picking actually starts before the harvest. Since lettuce is a shallow-rooted plant it requires a moist soil. This may mean watering twice daily when the weather is warm and dry. Additionally, mulching lettuce beds will slow down the process of soil moisture evaporation. 

Early morning is the best time to harvest leafy greens. It's usually the coolest time of the day and the dew helps keep lettuce leaves hydrated. Heads of lettuce can be removed by severing the stems or harvested by the “cut and come again” method. With the latter, the outer leaves are harvested, while the inner leaves are left on the plant to mature.

To keep lettuce fresh longer, place the harvested leaves in a shallow basket to prevent bruising and don't allow the basket to sit in direct sunlight. If you're harvesting other veggies at the same time, it's advisable to pick the lettuce last and prep it for storage first. 

How to Store Freshly-Harvested Lettuce

To keep salad greens fresh after harvest, place the unwashed leaves and heads in a vented plastic bag. Store lettuce in a cooler or the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Wrapping wet lettuce in a paper towel helps remove excess moisture and prevents rotting. 

Once it's time to use the lettuce, it can be washed by rinsing or soaking in cool water to remove the dirt. You can revive wilted lettuce by placing the leaves in ice water for about five minutes. Next, dry the lettuce leaves in a salad spinner or by rolling in a paper or cloth towel. 

Tips for Commercial Growers

Lettuce can be a particularly difficult crop to display and sell at a roadside stand or farmer's market. Hot sun, wind and lack of refrigeration can wilt this delicate produce and make your lettuce crop unmarketable. If you're wondering how to keep greens fresh and crispy-looking, try these tips:

  • Store leafy greens in an ice chest. Use ice or gel paks in the bottom of the cooler. To prevent ice from damaging the lettuce, add a protective barrier such as a piece of cardboard. Then place the lettuce on top of this barrier. 
  • Display only a few heads or bags of lettuce at a time. Keep the remainder in a cooler. Periodically, dip the displayed lettuce in an ice bath to rehydrate the leaves.
  • Store lettuce in plastic bags. This traps the humidity inside the bag and helps to keep the lettuce hydrated. Avoid displaying bagged lettuce in direct sunlight.
  • Display leafy greens in an ice chest. Use ice and a protective barrier to keep lettuce fresh all day. Replace the ice as needed.
  • Mist with a spray bottle. Periodically spraying lettuce with sterile water can keep the leaves hydrated. Follow food safety guidelines to prevent contamination of produce.
Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.