Over the centuries, certain strains of lettuce have been developed specifically for winter use. In the US and much of the world, these strains have long ago been abandoned because lettuce is now routinely shipped to grocery stores from locations around the world. Few home gardeners have actually grown winter lettuce.
For those looking for the independence of being able to produce inexpensive winter lettuce at home, look for these varieties:
- Brown Dutch Winter is a butterhead-type said to have been grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson. This lettuce is reported to overwinter without protection even in USDA Zone Four, with temperatures below freezing.
- Brown Winter is a bibb-type lettuce that, according to Seed Exchange members, overwinters nicely even under snow cover and grows well in unheated cold frames or greenhouses in winter.
- Hanson, a crisp-head variety that withstands both heat and frost and grows up to five pounds.
- Winter Marvel, a butterhead-type lettuce that performs well outdoors in winter
- Tango, a loose-leaf lettuce that performs well in winter, also tolerates summer heat, and grows quickly.
- Brown Goldring, a romaine lettuce that performs well in colder zones, tastes great, is slow to react to heat, and is very cold hardy. This lettuce variety has even won awards. The only problem is that deer like it, too!
- Marvel of Four Seasons / Lettuce Merveille des Quatre Saisons, beautiful lettuce named for its hardiness. An 1885 French heirloom, this butterhead variety has cranberry, green and bronze-colored leaves so fantastic to look at that you almost hate to eat it. Almost.
- Landis Winter via Baker Creek: We acquired this dark green classic Pennsylvania Dutch winter lettuce in 1994 from the well-known lettuce collector Mary Schultz of Monroe, Washington. A Pennsylvania Dutch selection of the now-extinct late 1700s variety known as White Tennisball, this is one of the hardiest, most frost-resistant lettuces we have ever grown. It even survived the Polar Vortex during the severe winter of 2013-2014. Each head reaches 11 to 12 inches in diameter with a loose butterhead appearance. Plant 14 inches apart in early September for salad greens through December and January.