June 17, 2024

How to Plant and Grow ‘Winter Density’ Lettuce

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'Winter Density' is a fantastic crisp and juicy cross between butterhead and romaine lettuce. Learn how to grow 'Winter Density' now on Gardener's Path.

A vertical photo of a green winter density lettuce plant growing in rich garden soil. Green and white text spans the center and bottom of the frame.

Lactuca sativa ‘Winter Density’

Unless you frequently experiment with different lettuce varieties, it can be easy to think that there isn’t that much difference between them.

But then you bite into ‘Winter Density,’ and it’s like opening the door to a hidden world.

‘Winter Density’ has a juicy, crisp texture and a sweet flavor that stands out from your common store-bought romaine.

Plus, it’s so adaptable and easy to grow that you can pop some seeds in the ground and basically forget about it until it’s time to enjoy the leaves.

A horizontal close up of several young, green winter density lettuce plants.A horizontal close up of several young, green winter density lettuce plants.

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If you’ve grown lettuce before, then you know the routine – if not, be sure to check out our guide to growing lettuce for all the basics. ‘Winter Density’ doesn’t require any special care – or much care at all.

Coming up, this guide will cover everything you need to know, including:

What You’ll Learn

  • Cultivation and History
  • Propagation
  • How to Grow
  • Growing Tips
  • Maintenance
  • Where to Buy
  • Managing Pests and Disease
  • Harvesting
  • Preserving
  • Quick Reference Growing Guide

Cultivation and History

No one is sure exactly where this fantastic cultivar came from, though we know it was bred in the 1800s in England.

It was introduced to France and became wildly popular there in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

‘Winter Density’ is a cross between a butterhead and a romaine lettuce, with eight-inch-tall heads that mature in about 55 to 65 days.

It has an upright growth habit and a dense heart. It is tolerant of frost and will produce nicely even in partial sun. It won’t bolt in moderate heat or a freeze, either.

You may also see it marketed as ‘Craquerelle du Midi’ or ‘Craquante D’Avignon.’

After harvest, the heads can last up to a week when stored properly, which is longer than most lettuce cultivars.

‘Winter Density’ Propagation

Lettuce should be planted directly outdoors in the spring, or in the fall when the weather is cool, but there are still enough freeze-free days predicted in the forecast for the plants to mature.

You can generally start harvesting your ‘Winter Density’ in around 55 days, so plan accordingly.

This lettuce grows compact and upright, so you can squeeze quite a few into a small area.

From Seed

You can choose to direct-sow ‘Winter Density’ seed into the garden or if you want to get a head start, you can start seeds indoors in containers for transplanting.

A horizontal close up of a metal tray with several white, oblong lettuce seeds.A horizontal close up of a metal tray with several white, oblong lettuce seeds.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

To direct sow seeds, prepare your garden bed by working in plenty of well-rotted compost.

I think of compost as the do-it-all soil amendment. It aids water retention, adds nutrients, and improves drainage. Amending with compost can make sandy soil more water-retentive and improve drainage in clay.

Sow the seeds about four inches apart. Either place them on the top of the soil or just cover them with an eighth of an inch of soil. The seeds need light to germinate, so don’t bury them too deep.

The challenge is to keep the seeds moist while you wait for them to germinate. When seeds sit on the top of the soil, they tend to dry out quickly. In the absence of rain, make sure to keep the soil evenly moist.

If you wish to start seeds indoors, fill a seed tray with a seed-starting medium, and sow the seeds on the surface of the medium, and keep it moist. You may need to mist them once or twice a day to maintain sufficient moisture.

The seeds need about six hours or more of light per day, so provide supplemental lighting if you don’t have a spot with enough light for your indoor seeds.

A horizontal close up of a winter density lettuce seedling with three leaves, and several small leaflets emerging.A horizontal close up of a winter density lettuce seedling with three leaves, and several small leaflets emerging.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

You can move the seedlings outdoors when they have at least two true leaves and as soon as the soil can be worked.

‘Winter Density’ doesn’t mind a little frost, but the soil can’t be too soggy and wet. Before you transplant, harden the seedlings off a bit.

Hardening off is the process of gradually exposing the plants to the growing conditions outdoors so they aren’t shocked by the transition from the cozy indoor environment to the outside world.

Transplanting

Transplanting ‘Winter Density’ seedlings started indoors or purchased from a nursery is pretty straightforward.

A horizontal close up of a gardener's hands dividing young winter density lettuce seedlings and preparing to plant them in rich, dark garden soil.A horizontal close up of a gardener\'s hands dividing young winter density lettuce seedlings and preparing to plant them in rich, dark garden soil.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

Prepare the ground as described above, then dig holes the same depth and width as the containers the plants are currently growing in, spacing them four inches apart.

Gently remove each lettuce seedling from its container and carefully place it in the hole. Firm the soil up around it and water the soil well.

Keep the ground moist but not waterlogged as the lettuce plants grow.

How to Grow ‘Winter Density’ Lettuce

‘Winter Density’ does best in full sun, though afternoon shade is fine as well.

In fact, if you live in a region that can get a surprise hot spell during the fall or spring, a little afternoon shade can be a good thing. I’ve been known to put umbrellas over my plants during unexpected heatwaves.

A vertical shot of several winter density lettuce seedlings in a row, freshly planted in rich garden soil.A vertical shot of several winter density lettuce seedlings in a row, freshly planted in rich garden soil.
Photo by Kristine Lofgren.

It’s important to keep the soil moist and cool. While ‘Winter Density’ won’t usually bolt in warm weather, heat can make the leaves bitter.

Any lettuce will bolt in too much heat, since they’re cool-weather plants, but this cultivar is a bit more tolerant to warmth than many other varieties.

Protecting the roots with mulch can help prevent bitterness and bolting. I like to heap some straw around my lettuce plants to keep the roots cool and help the soil retain moisture.

Try to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. If the soil is soggy, it will lead to problems like root rot. Allowing it to dry out can cause stunted growth and tough, bitter leaves.

A horizontal photo of young, green and healthy lettuce seedlings planted in rows in a garden.A horizontal photo of young, green and healthy lettuce seedlings planted in rows in a garden.

You can tell if you have the right amount of moisture by sticking your finger in the soil. It should feel like a well-wrung-out sponge all the way down.

When you add moisture, be sure to water at soil level and try not to splash water on the leaves. You might want to use a soaker hose, which is ideal for irrigating lettuce.

If you worked in plenty of compost at planting time, then there is no need to add additional fertilizer.

Because of its compact growth habit, this cultivar also grows well in container gardens or in spots where you don’t have a ton of room.

You can learn more about growing lettuce in containers in our guide.

Growing Tips

  • Plant in full sun or partial afternoon shade.
  • Amend the soil with compost at planting time.
  • Keep the soil consistently moist.

Maintenance

Keep weeds far away, especially while your plants are young. Weeds compete for water and nutrients and can smother seedlings. They also act as hosts to pests and disease.

If any outer leaves are damaged or collapse, feel free to pull them off.

Otherwise, you can kind of forget about ‘Winter Density’ lettuce until they’re ready for harvest.

Where to Buy ‘Winter Density’ Lettuce

‘Winter Density’ is a fairly common cultivar and you can find it at many retailers.

A square photo from above of a head of winter density lettuce growing in a garden.A square photo from above of a head of winter density lettuce growing in a garden.
‘Winter Density’

For example, High Mowing Organic Seeds carries seeds in 1/32, one-eighth, half, or two ounce packets or half or one pound containers.

Managing Pests and Disease

Generally resistant to most pests and diseases, stressed plants might be infested by aphids

They’re also subject to feeding by cabbage worms, flea beetles, and cabbage loopers. If you notice small, ragged holes in the center of the leaf, it’s probably one of these pests.

A horizontal close up of several aphids along the center vein of a leaf.A horizontal close up of several aphids along the center vein of a leaf.

And then there are the dreaded slugs and snails. By far, these are the most common pests I face each year.

I use pellets to control them, but if you want some excellent tips and other management methods, visit our guide.

I find that once my plants get past the seedling stage visiting pests won’t bother them that much. If you want to avoid the whole problem altogether, use floating row covers.

‘Winter Density’ is resistant to most fungal diseases, but it’s not immune to anything. Visit our guide to lettuce diseases to learn what to watch for.

Bacterial leaf spot, damping off, downy mildew, and lettuce mosaic virus are the major issues it’s possible to encounter.

Harvesting

Starting at about 55 days, you can harvest the heads as needed.

You can leave the plants in the garden as long as they don’t start to bolt, so it’s best to harvest when you’re ready to eat them and not sooner.

While the heads store well in the refrigerator for over a week, they’ll last even longer in the garden.

A horizontal photo of a gardener's hands harvesting lettuce in the garden.A horizontal photo of a gardener\'s hands harvesting lettuce in the garden.

The easiest way to harvest is to take a sharp knife and cut the plant at its base, as close to the soil as you can.

When I need to harvest several heads and I know I won’t be able to eat them all at once, such as when a heatwave or heavy snow is coming, I will dig down and take up some of the roots with the plant.

Having some roots attached keeps the head fresher for longer.

Preserving

Wrap the entire head in a paper towel or cotton cloth and store it in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

If you harvested the heads with some roots attached, wrap these in a wet paper towel.

The head should last for a week to ten days without the roots, and up to two weeks with the roots intact.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Annual vegetable Tolerance: Some heat, frost
Origins: Mediterranean region Maintenance: Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 3-11 Soil Type: Loose, rich
Season: Spring, fall, winter Soil pH: 6.0-7.0
Exposure: Full sun to partial sun Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Time to Maturity: 55 days Companion Planting: Asparagus, beets, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, marigolds, mint, onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, strawberries
Spacing: 4 inches Avoid Planting With: Brassicas
Planting Depth: Surface to ⅛ inch (seeds), same depth as growing container (transplants) Order: Asterales
Height: 8 inches Family: Asteraceae
Spread: 8 inches Genus: Lactuca
Water Needs: Moderate Species: Sativa
Common Pests and Diseases: Aphids, cabbage worms, flea beetles, loopers; Bacterial leaf spot, damping off, downy mildew, lettuce mosaic virus Cultivar: Winter Density

Winter is Wonderful

A garden full of ‘Winter Density’ lettuce is my idea of a winter wonderland.

The leaves are crispy and sweet, with a juicy snap that calls to me both in the dog days of summer and the middle of winter.

Are you growing ‘Winter Density?’ Let us know in the comments section below!

And for more information about growing other types of lettuce in your garden, check out these guides next:

  • How to Grow Buttercrunch Lettuce
  • Tips for Growing Ice Queen Lettuce
  • Tips for Growing Summer Crisp (Batavian) Lettuce

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