The 15 BEST Lettuce varieties for growing in containers.

May 21, 2020

If you’re starting a patio or balcony garden, one of the easiest things to grow in the beginning is lettuce. But with so many varieties to choose from, how do you know which will grow best?

Most gardeners will tell you that a leafy variety like Black Seeded Simpson is the best lettuce to grow in containers. But the truth is, with their relatively shallow roots, most varieties will do well. And if you have the space, it can be a great idea to grow several varieties side by side.

We’ve compared some of the best lettuce varieties for growing in pots so you can choose which ones fit you and your container garden best.

Factors to consider

Container gardening is a little different to gardening in the ground so some of the things we look for are going to be a little different. Here are some of the factors we considered when deciding which lettuce varieties will be the best to grow in containers.

  • Size and spacing. When planting in containers, especially for somewhere like a balcony or patio garden, you’re going to want to maximize the use of the limited space available. That means we want to choose varieties that can be densely packed, without too much space between plants. We also want to make the most of any vertical space, so we want to choose varieties that can grow nice and tall. Different varieties of lettuce can take up very different amounts of space.
  • Root Depth. Anything planted in a container is obviously going to get a lot less root space than in the ground. But most lettuce varieties already have relatively shallow roots, so unless you have extremely shallow containers like trays, this one probably isn’t such a big deal. Root depth is generally correlated with the height of the plant, so avoid the taller varieties if you are planning to grow in extremely shallow soil (less than about 3 inches).
  • Hardiness. We can move containers around the yard as the weather changes, and can even bring them indoors if we expect frost or unusually hot weather. That means we can start planting earlier than usual. So hardiness will be a little less important to us than usual. But even so – every little helps.
  • Bolt Resistance. This one is just as important for garden planting. When the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, lettuce plants can bolt. Which means they grow a tall flower stalk, and then go to seed. Bolting takes a lot of energy and nutrients, and causes the leaves to become tougher and bitter.
  • Taste. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some great looking varieties of lettuce. But no one’s growing them just for their looks. We’re going to want to make sure whatever variety we choose to grow and look after for weeks is going to taste great too.

Container gardening: Whats the difference?

There some other general differences you’ll want to be aware of when planting in containers vs planting in a garden bed. These are things that will affect all of our lettuce varieties.

  • Nutrient need. In containers, nutrients tend to leach out of the soil and then wash away in the rain, so container plants tend to need much more fertilizer than the same plants planted in the garden. We should also try to choose a variety that isn’t quite so nutritionally demanding.
  • Pest & Disease Control. We can more easily isolate plants if needed. It’s also much easier to inspect and treat individual plants in containers than when planted in a garden bed.
  • Weed Control. Because of the shallow roots, lettuce can be difficult to weed around without accidentally uprooting it. This gets a lot easier in containers where you can more easily get access from all sides.
  • Water. Container gardens have much less soil volume for a given surface area, so they tend to dry out much faster. To make up for that, we should be watering more often, but we should also choose a variety that is a little more tolerant to dry spells.

The 7 types of lettuce

There are seven main types of lettuce (called cultivars), and they are quite different. And each is split up into lots of different varieties. Let’s talk a little about the differences, and about how that might affect which varieties we choose.

The main lettuce types are:

  • 1. Looseleaf
  • 2. Romaine
  • 3. Crisphead
  • 4. Butterhead
  • 5. Summercrisp
  • 6. Celtuce / Stem
  • 7. Oilseed

The top 5 are what you could call “mainstream lettuce” [There’s a sentence I never pictured myself saying!].

Celtuce is an unusual, tall variety used a lot in eastern cooking and more closely resembles celery than what you probably think of as lettuce.

And Oilseed is a type of small-leaved, tough lettuce which is deliberately designed to bolt to seed, which can then be harvested for oil.

So while both of those could be interesting, its probably not what you came here for. So we’ll focus on the top 5.


Looseleaf varieties are defined by having open, loosely bunched leaves rather than a tightly bunched “head”. That means more of the leaves are able to reach sunlight. And that leads to generally more nutritious leaves with deeper colors and stronger flavor.

Looseleaf varieties can also be less prone to rot and fungal diseases making them excellent beginner choices.

Looseleaf lettuce comes in green, red and oak varieties with oak leaf varieties being named for the characteristic shape of their leaves.

Eat, Food, Salad, Vitamins, Lettuce, Green, Red

Most varieties grow around 9-15 inches in height and spread about 6 inches. For best results, space them about 8 inches apart.

Looseleaf lettuce varieties can be some of the fastest growing with most maturing around 45 days after planting!

Some good examples are Green Ice or Black Seeded Simpson if you like traditional green leaves. For a beautiful canvas, mix in the deep red hue of Lollo Rossa or the interesting shapes of Royal Oak Leaf.

Many sellers will offer a blend of these or similar varieties which you can grow to maturity or even harvest early for a baby leaf salad.

Suitability for Container Growing: Perfect Fit!


Also called Cos.

If you’re a fan of Caesar salad, then why not try growing your own Romaine lettuce.

Romaines are defined by having tall heads of long luscious leaves. That can make them a little top heavy, so they can be a bit more challenging to grow in shallower containers.

But that famously crisp Caeser crunch can make the effort very rewarding if you’re careful not to topple them while weeding around them.

Lettuce, Romaine, Greens, Vegetable, Crisp, Salad

Most varieties grow around 10-12 inches tall and need to be spaced apart by about the same amount. They mature much slower than Looseleafs, with most taking around 60-70 days.

So generally, they are a little more difficult to grow in containers, and will yield a little less.

We’d recommend White Paris or Parris Island Cos (The extra “r” in Parris isn’t a typo).

Alternatively, if you feel like a change of color or live in a warmer zone try Cimmaron. A deep-red romaine with a great flavor that also doesn’t tend to bolt.

Or if you are really short on space, why not take a look at Little Gem. True to its name, at more like 6 inches wide, it’s a great option for densely packing in small containers in a balcony garden.

Suitability for Container Growing: A little awkward, but it can work.


Crisphead lettuces like the iconic Iceberg grow low to the ground with a classic dense, round head. Because most of the leaves don’t see sunlight, they tend to be a bit less nutritious and lighter in color. And far from having a strong flavor, I find eating them can be a bit like eating crunchy water.

The closed leaves also trap moisture. So it’s very common to find the outer layers of leaves rotting or diseased.

Table, Close-Up, Salad, Close Up, Food, Wooden Table

Most varieties end up about 9-15 inches in height, and about 6 inches wide, but if you can get them to form a good head it could be more like 6 inches by 6 inches.

They will need about 8 inches of spacing and are relatively slow to mature in about 75-85 days. So yields will be relatively low.

Most varieties are also quite prone to bolting early in warm weather, and even if they don’t fully bolt – they can still fail to grow a head if conditions are ever so slightly too warm.

We think there are better options to grow in container gardens than Cripsheads. But they aren’t a huge amount harder and can be worth a try if you live in a cooler area.

If you have your heart set on them then why not give the iconic Iceberg a try.

You won’t get quite as much to harvest, but if that doesn’t bother you then go for it.

Suitability for Container Growing: Ehhh… Not Really


Also called Boston or Bibb.

Butterheads have a much looser head than Crispheads. That means air can circulate more freely so they don’t suffer from diseases nearly as often. They tend to have rich, buttery flavors and gorgeous bright colors.

You aren’t going to get them to grow at the same density as Looseleafs. But if you have the space, the flavor and great variety of colors can make them a great addition to any container garden.

Lettuce, Young Plant, Sheet, Plant, Vegetable, Food

Most varieties take up about the same space as Crispheads growing to about 9-15 inches tall and about 6 inches wide with around 8 inches between plants. And they also need about 75 days to mature.

But they are much more robust against disease than Crispheads, so you can expect to yield a little more. The classic Butterhead is probably Buttercrunch, but there are a couple of other honorable mentions.

The Marvel of Four Seasons is a French variety with brightly colored leaves which are green at the stem, changing to red or bronze at the tips. It gets it’s name for being extremely resistant to cold which opens up the possibility of a winter harvest. Not only that, but it is also pretty quick to mature at only 55 days.

Yugoslavian Red is another relatively quick grower, also clocking in at about 55 days to reach maturity. While it doesn’t have the same cold resistance as Four Seasons, it has luscious dark leaves splashed with even bolder flashes of deep rosy-red, and a buttery and mild taste which makes it a superb garnish to any salad bowl.

And how could we not mention Tom Thumb? This pint-sized Butterhead will grow to around 6 inches height, and 6 inches across when planted at a 6 inch spacing. It’s dense packing and fantastic crisp, buttery taste makes it one of our favorite varieties to grow in containers.

Suitability for Container Growing: Not perfect…but pretty close.


Also called Batavian or French Crisp.

Summercrisps are similar to Looseleafs when young, but develop heads when mature which can even grow as dense as to resemble a Crisphead.

But the number one reason to grow them is for their fantastic heat resistance in warm climates. Summercrisps will continue to produce crunchy, buttery and juicy leaves long after other varieties have bolted.

Lettuce, Salad, Leaf Lettuce, Green, Vegetables

Most varieties grow to about 9-15 inches tall, but they can be a little wider so should be spaced about 12 inches.

If you live in a warm climate, keep an eye out for the traditional green Nevada, or the deep red Cardinale.

Summercrisps also grow well in cooler climates, and make a great companion to a Looseleaf or Butterhead.

But if you are short on space, they probably aren’t the best choice … until you find other varieties are bolting on you!

Suitability for Container Growing: Works well, but there are better options.


Just about any of these varieties can work in a container garden. And if you have the space, then why not go for it.

But if you are trying to maximize what you can produce from a limited area, or if you are just plain trying to make things easy for yourself, then go with a Looseleaf variety like Black Seeded Simpson, or a Butterhead variety like Buttercrunch.

And of course, as with all planting, make sure your USDA Hardiness Zone is compatible with whatever choice you make.