Why is my lettuce bitter no matter what?

Grew some romaine and Butterhead for fall.

Beautiful heads, but very bitter. We’ve had over 4 inches of rain in the last two weeks and most days have stayed in the 60s with lows in the 40s.

Why would it be bitter?


That amount of rain and cool temps , seem ideal.
May have been stressed at some point ?
Or too old.
Plant some more !
I plant some every 2-3 weeks from late August – end of Nov.
Later plantings usually gets a row cover.
I usually have some “good” lettuce some where.
So , it’s not to late ! Plant some more !


Like Hort says, conditions seem ideal, and stress matters. Is your soil pH lower or higher? Lettuce does best in pretty alkaline soils (e.g., Bibb types are also “Limestone”) and that affects the sweetness.

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It’s around 6.2 in that plot.

It was HOT when I first planted it (98 as late as October 2). Since then, it has been fairly cool.

That has to be plenty alkaline. So maybe some initial stress from early heat? Only other thing I can think of is some fertilizer issue, but I wouldn’t know what.


BG, Since much of the eastern US had a rather hot and dry Autumn up until recently am thinking that might be the cause. Usually Autumn lettuce tends to be rather mild and non-bitter.
Im growing Landis Winter lettuce this year and my first two plantings bolted prematurely, but my Ice Bed arugula and De Louvers endive (frisee) are not bolting and endive is a bit bitter anyway. I say embrace the bitterness as much as possible as it goes well with acidity of Italian dressing and many cheeses. Enjoy! Randy/GA

Were they anywhere close to bolting? I’ve found that many lettuces start getting a bit bitter for my tastes if the stem gets at all elongated. I’ve had to compost many heads that i thought were perfect, but turned out I let them go just a bit too long when I cut them open.

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I kept them well irrigated, but I couldn’t turn off the heat.

Same thing happened to me year after year. Stopped planting it in RI. Will try it again here as the soil is reddish yellow with pebbles, sand and clay ochre. Totally different from my very black New England soil. The lettuce here is sweet with a nutty flavor. Very delicious.

I planted a hybrid iceberg type on August 1st…it still hasn’t headed up and its way too cold now. I picked some of the leaves for a sandwich (it has plenty of big nice looking leaves)…all bitter…garbage. The plant has had more then enough water, ferts, etc…it is container… it was warm in Sept, but not brutal. Who knows. I’m going to keep trying.

I also learned that August 1st is probably too late for fall planting here…probably mid July or even early July.

If you haven’t, try Jericho lettuce Jericho Organic Romaine Lettuce - Fedco Seeds
When I lived in Kansas, it would handle temps into the high 90’s no problem with no bitterness. Not my #1 for overall flavor, but it’s a good solid romaine type.

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I would keep trying different varieties until you get one that does well in your climate. In addition to what jcguarneri suggested, there is Parris Island Romaine which I got from Christmas Tree Shops. There’s another romaine my neighbor uses. He collects the seeds from it every year and doesn’t know what it is called, only that it is originally from Australia.

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Too much phosphorous in the soil can make lettuce bitter also


I wish i could do fall lettuce or fall anything for that matter. We go from hot to freezing way too quickly. For example, it’s 3 degrees F right now.

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That’s a good point. Excessive N is a common culprit, too. Never had a problem with it, as I only use compost for fertility.


I just read a good article on this…



I also had a rude awaking experience with bitter lettuce. I only discovered it later that this was caused by leaving my lettuce crop growing in full (blazing actually) sun. Of course the sun is not the only cause of bitter lettuce as I would find out after deeper research. As others have mentioned, soil pH does play a role so does bolting. You just have to have a checklist with all potential causes and tick them off one by one. After my research I did a list of every thing I could find. You may have a look at the blog post if this helps https://www.greensguru.com/why-is-my-lettuce-bitter/