With its fast growth and moderate nutrient and light requirements, lettuce is the perfect vegetable to try delving into hydroponics with. It’s perfect for apartment gardening, indoor winter gardening, and it’s also great to get kids involved in gardening.
What lettuce variety you choose doesn’t matter much if you’re growing for fun, but some varieties definitely perform better than others. Some varieties just grow faster, which gives you very rapid harvests in a hydroponic system. Other varieties have good heat resistance, which keep them from bolting under warm grow lights. Below are some of the best varieties you can start growing indoors or outdoors hydroponically.
|Lettuce Variety||Type||Days to Maturity||Additional Notes|
|Salad Bowl||Loose Leaf||50 days||Oak-type leaves.|
|Grand Rapids||Loose Leaf||45 to 60 days||Batavian-type leaves.|
|Parris Island||Romaine/Cos||55 to 75 days|
|Buttercrunch||Butterhead/Bibb||60 to 70 days|
|Rouge d’Hiver||Romaine/Cos||50 to 60 days||Red variety.|
|Hanson Improved Crisphead||Iceberg/Crisphead||70 to 80 days|
|Little Gem||Romaine/Cos||50 days||Dwarf variety.|
|Muir||Loose Leaf||50 days||Best heat tolerance; Batavian-type leaves.|
|Winter Density||Romaine/Cos||55 to 65 days||Compact growth.|
Best Lettuce Varieties for Hydroponics
A super fast-growing loose-leaf heirloom with nice mellow flavor
Type: Loose Leaf
Days to Maturity: 50 days
Open Pollinated: Yes
Get seeds: Burpee (US), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), Territorial Seed Company (US), Fedco Seeds (US), Victory Seeds (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada), McKenzie Seeds (Canada), Suttons (UK), Thompson & Morgan (UK)
Red Salad Bowl seeds: Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada), Simply Seed (UK)
A classic oak-leafed variety, the Salad Bowl is a rapid grower that performs well in hydroponics, containers, and in the ground. It was selected as an All-America Selections (AAS) winner in 1952 due to its tender, sweet leaves and prolific yields. Salad Bowl has a relatively open rosette, making it easy to harvest. The classic Salad Bowl comes in green, but there is a red Salad Bowl variety as well.
Normally, Salad Bowl lettuce will take 50 days to reach full size, but in a hydroponic system, you could get your first harvests in less than 40 days. Because of its rapid maturity, Salad Bowl does exceptionally well in simple, non-circulating, Kratky hydroponic setups or a floating raft system.
As with all loose leaf varieties, harvest with the cut-and-come-again method to maximize consistent yields from each plant. However, because it grows so quickly, you can stagger your plantings every two weeks and harvest entire heads.
An aptly named rapid grower with tender, juicy leaves and tipburn resistance
One of the fastest-growing lettuce varieties available is the Grand Rapids, a light-green, frilly-leafed heirloom lettuce with juicy, mild-flavored, Batavian-type leaves that make the perfect addition to a lettuce mix or even as the base of a salad. This variety was bred in the late 19th century and is still popular to this day because of how quickly it grows and its great flavor.
Another advantage of Grand Rapids is that it thrives in lower light conditions, so you can get away with growing them under less powerful fluorescent or LED grow lights.
Pro-Tip: One common problem among hydroponic lettuce growers is that the edge of their lettuce leaves dry up and turn brown. Grand Rapids seeds listed as “TBR” are tipburn-resistant which makes them even better for hydroponic systems.
Parris Island Cos
One of the best romaine lettuce varieties in terms of flavor, texture, and yield
Days to Maturity: 55 to 75 days
Open Pollinated: Yes
Get seeds: Baker Creek (US), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), Victory Seeds (US), High Mowing Organic Seeds (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada), Veseys (Canada), Kazco (UK), Succeed Heirlooms (Australia), The Seed Collection (Australia)
Parris Island Cos is the definitive romaine lettuce for home gardeners and market growers. There is a whole profile about growing Parris Island here, but in short, it’s a reliable producer that grows mildly-flavored romaine leaves that don’t turn bitter as quickly as other varieties.
In fact, the featured image of this article is showing Parris Island lettuce less than one month after transplanting into a non-circulating Kratky-style hydroponic system.
If you prefer romaine lettuce, Parris Island should be the one you try growing first. If you need a variety with more heat tolerance, Winter Density (further down the article) is another excellent romaine variety.
Soft, buttery leaves with a yellow core that has good heat resistance
Days to Maturity: 60 to 70 days
Open Pollinated: Yes
Get seeds: Baker Creek (US), Burpee (US), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), Park Seed (US), Territorial Seed Company (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada), McKenzie Seeds (Canada), Dobies (UK)
Buttercrunch is one of the most popular lettuce varieties and for good reason, it’s crisp leaves that have a soft, buttery texture once you bite into them make it ideal for wraps, sandwiches, burgers, as well as salads.
Unlike loose leaf lettuce, this butterhead-type lettuce is harder to cut-and-come-again individual leaves, so for most gardeners it’s easier to harvest the whole head. Each plant forms a tight, compact rosette. Buttercrunch bolts relatively slowly and is fairly tolerant to hotter growing conditions. Not the fastest grower but absolutely recommended for its flavor.
Pro-Tip: Buttercrunch is highly recommended to be picked right before eating for the best flavor and texture.
Rouge d’Hiver Lettuce
A hardy, classic red romaine heirloom from France with a crisp midrib and buttery flavor
Days to Maturity: 50 to 60 days
Open Pollinated: Yes
Get seeds: Baker Creek (US), Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), Fedco Seeds (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada), McKenzie Seeds (Canada), Chiltern Seeds (UK)
A popular 19th century French heirloom, the Rouge d’Hiver (pronounced “rooj dee-VAY”) is a classic romaine lettuce with stunning red leaves. The name is translated to “Red of Winter” because as the weather gets colder, the leaves turn even more red. Because of its gorgeous color, it’s popular among market growers and home gardeners alike. Rouge d’Hiver grows exceptionally well in hydroponic systems.
This variety is fairly bolt resistant but like most lettuce varieties it doesn’t like very hot weather. It’s best grown in the “shoulder” seasons of spring and fall, during mild winters, or indoors in hydroponic systems.
Although this is a head lettuce, just like Parris Island Cos, this can be harvested leaf by leaf in a cut-and-come-again way so you can stretch out your harvests over several weeks.
Pro-Tip: At room temperature, leaves will be green with tinted red pigment around the outer edges. Cooler conditions make the leaves deeper burgundy red.
Hanson Improved Crisphead Lettuce
A hardy, better-tasting, crispier iceberg lettuce for salads and sandwiches
If you’re a fan of iceberg lettuce, Hanson Improved Crisphead lettuce is one of the best iceberg-types for growing hydroponically or in the ground. It forms a tight, juicy head that is more crisp and flavorful than regular iceberg lettuce you can get at the grocery store.
Being a head lettuce, expect to wait longer to harvest, but if growing hydroponically, you can usually get harvests in less than the standard days to maturity, however heads might not be as tight as when they grow more slowly. Stagger your plantings so after you harvest your Hanson Improved Crisphead, you have new seedlings ready to replace them.
Like other icebergs, this variety grows best in cooler weather.
Little Gem Lettuce
A dwarf romaine lettuce that’s cute and loaded with flavor; a gourmet favorite
For those tight on space or who just want a fun little lettuce to grow, Little Gem is a unique romaine-type lettuce that has become popular in recent years because of its small size. Don’t be fooled by its tiny stature, this lettuce has a lot of flavor and has become a favorite among gourmands in Europe. Harvest the whole head, slice it in half, serve with dressing, and impress guests with this little gem.
Little Gem grows well in small pots as well as small hydroponic systems, and is a great way to get full-sized mini heads out of a small Kratky-style hydroponic system. Or you can plant many of them in a larger hydroponic system and have a bountiful harvest.
Because of its dwarf growth habit, it’s best harvested as a whole head, although you can certainly harvest it in a cut-and-come-again fashion, picking individual leaves off each plant as you need them.
One of the most heat-tolerant varieties that is also tipburn resistant, disease resistant, and perfect for hydroponics
Similar to Grand Rapids, Muir is a frilly, loose leaf lettuce with good production and excellent tipburn resistance. However, Muir has additional disease resistance against Downy Mildew and Lettuce Mosaic Virus. Muir also has some of the best heat tolerance of any lettuce variety. It might not be enough for the peak of summer outside, but grow lights in a hydroponic setup won’t faze it at all.
Muir boasts a good, crisp texture and mild flavor. You can harvest individual leaves as needed, harvest mini heads, or let it go wild and harvest large, frilly heads at maturity.
Heat-tolerant, frost-tolerant romaine with smaller, compact heads and good, buttery flavor
Days to Maturity: 55 to 65 days
Open Pollinated: Yes
Get seeds: Johnny’s Selected Seeds (US), Territorial Seed Company (US), High Mowing Organic Seeds (US), Fruition Seeds (US), West Coast Seeds (Canada), Growseed (UK), Suttons (UK)
A classic, award-winning English heirloom, Winter Density is a compact, productive romaine with both heat and frost tolerance, making it great for hydroponics or growing in soil. It’s smaller than Parris Island, but larger than Little Gem, but more heat tolerant than both.
Winter Density’s leaves have a good, crisp texture and buttery flavor, described and somewhere between a romaine and a butterhead/bibb lettuce. Highly recommended if you need a romaine with more heat tolerance.