Growing Lettuce in Containers to Eliminate Pest Damage

Tender green lettuce leaves are very susceptible to damage from slugs and snails. They’re also a favorite of pests like rabbits and deer, though admittedly those are not a problem for me here. To combat the damage from snails and slugs, I’ve opted for growing lettuce in containers up off the ground.

Originally published March 2020; this post has been updated.

lettuce growing in a hanging planter.

Growing Lettuce in Containers and Baskets

Loose leaf lettuce is a better option for growing in small containers than head lettuce. This is because you can harvest the outer leaves individually and enjoy it over the course of many weeks. Small baskets will only allow a single head of lettuce to grow in the space allotted, and is harvested all at once. Use larger containers for growing head lettuce.

Lettuce plants tend to be small and a crop that’s easy to grow in small spaces thanks in part due to its shallow root system. Take note, balcony gardeners! This means that it can thrive in relatively small containers. When planting lettuce in a container garden, you’ll need to provide a soil depth of at least four inches for the lettuce roots to expand into.

Choose a good quality potting soil. When growing lettuce in containers like wire baskets, it’s a good idea to incorporate some coconut coir to help with water retention, as the baskets tend to dry out quickly. A three-to-one mix is a good ratio to aim for.

Lettuce is a cool weather crop and can be planted in both the early spring and fall. When planting in containers, lettuce seeds can be sown once the threat of frost has passed and soil temperatures are between 55-65 degrees.

In the fall, wait until the heat of summer has passed. This often means planting in late September or early October. Be sure there’s enough time for the plants to mature so you can harvest lettuce before the first expected frost.

Hanging Lettuce

There are plenty of ready-made hanging pots that will work for growing lettuce and other leafy greens. You can also get clever with upcycling containers for gardening. To transform large coffee cans into a hanging planter, for instance, use a nail to poke several drainage holes in the bottom of the can to assure adequate drainage. Add three more nail holes near the rim of the can for hanging.

Keep your eyes open for metal colanders at the thrift store. Add some chain for hanging and they’re a great inexpensive option for planting lettuce in containers. Here’s how.

Wooden box planters — or even old dresser drawers — are easy enough to alter so that they can be hung, too. Simply add three or four holes (you’ll have to consider how the box will balance when hung), insert an S hook, and hang with chain.

lettuce in galvanized container

Related: Harvesting Leaf Lettuce: How to Make Yours Produce for Months

Where to Hang your Lettuce

When choosing a location for your hanging containers, there are a few things to consider. Make certain that the containers of lettuce are situated with at least several inches between the baskets and any vertical surface that a slug or snail could crawl. They will crawl up the side of a house or a trellis post; make sure they can’t reach the hanging lettuce and move in for a free salad bar.

Lettuce actually prefers a little bit of shade, especially if you live in a very warm region. Think about sun exposure and situate the hanging baskets so that the lettuce gets a break from the sun during the warmest part of the day.


pretty garden with tomatoes and flowers - cover of book "edible front yard garden"The 5-Gallon Garden

New to gardening? Limited on space? The 5-Gallon Garden gives you the skills you need to grow food in the space you have. Get started with your garden today!

growing lettuce in containers

Preventing Slugs and Snails

Hanging baskets are a good option for deterring a variety of pests, but you can eliminate slug and snail damage in containers on the ground, too. Protect container-grown lettuce by creating a barrier that slugs and snails won’t cross.

Setting the lettuce container in a tray of water is one way to do it. Just make sure that the tray is at least a couple of inches bigger in diameter than the outside of your pot so they can’t stretch across the gap. You can also set containers of lettuce on a table, and use a similar water barrier method by putting each table leg in a container of water.


heads of lettuce in a galvanized vegetable garden container

Watering Containers of Lettuce

Container gardening means that you’ll need to water lettuce (and other vegetables!) more frequently than if you were growing it in the ground. Depending on the outside temperature, watering it daily may be required.

If you’re concerned that you’ll forget to water the containers, a small olla [see page 160 in my book to make one] can be one solution for larger containers. A drip system set up on a simple timer is another option.

Fertilizing Lettuce in Containers

About once a week, I mix about two tablespoons of liquid kelp with a gallon or so of water (I don’t actually measure) and water the containers with that.

Read more about growing different types of lettuce to help you decide what to grow! Want to learn how to extend the harvest? Read about growing lettuce indoors.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

15 comments… add one
  • Nancy Jun 16, 2023 @ 3:05

    How deep do lettuce roots go? Trying to pick from containers I already have and save money! Thank you, thank you!

    • AttainableSustainable Jul 5, 2023 @ 10:01

      Lettuce can thrive in relatively small containers, provide a soil depth of at least four inches for the lettuce roots to expand into.

  • Nancy Nesbitt May 30, 2023 @ 5:58

    Love this idea! What about crows? We have a lot of them in our yard. Thank you!

    • AttainableSustainable Jun 1, 2023 @ 11:37

      It’s probably best to plant in containers and use garden netting if crows are the biggest issue!

  • Cindy Mar 13, 2021 @ 1:55

    When is the best month to plant lettuce?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 13, 2021 @ 9:12

      That depends entirely on where you live! Lettuce is a cool season crop.

  • manda Mar 12, 2021 @ 8:27

    Love the article. (Also, deers and rabbits aren’t pests)

    • Carol L Jun 22, 2021 @ 17:11

      Deer and rabbits ARE pests when it comes to your garden.
      Defined by Miriam Webster:
      : something resembling a pest in destructiveness especially : a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns (such as agriculture or livestock production)
      3 : one that pesters or annoys : nuisance

  • Ginny Jun 1, 2020 @ 16:03

    How many plants to a hanging basket. 14 or 16 inch

    • Kris Bordessa Jun 21, 2020 @ 15:43

      About half a dozen

  • Mohd Ismail May 4, 2020 @ 15:14

    Very good and useful imformation. Thk you

  • Dena Huff Mar 25, 2020 @ 0:43

    Hello, thank you for the information. What type of lettuce is that planted above in the big aluminum containers?

    • Kris Bordessa Mar 29, 2020 @ 13:27

      A type of butter lettuce, I think.

  • Nilo Esquila Feb 8, 2020 @ 20:41

    Im from the Philippines, what soil can I use in planting lettuce and any brand of fertilizer?

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