Tom Thumb Lettuce Care – Learn About Growing Lettuce ‘Tom Thumb’ Plants

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

Lettuce has long been one of the most common staples in the vegetable garden. In addition to the quality taste when picked fresh, lettuce is also a great option for first-time growers or for those wishing to grow their own produce without access to adequate garden space. The combination of its quick growth habit, compact size, and ability to grow in a wide range of conditions makes lettuce an easy choice. Some varieties, such as Tom Thumb, are specifically suited for growth in containers, grow bags, and raised beds, making even more great options for small space gardeners.

Tom Thumb Lettuce Facts

Tom Thumb lettuce plants are a unique variety of butterhead or bibb lettuce. These plants produce crisp buttery leaves which form a loose head. Reaching maturity in around 45 days, the most unique characteristic of these plants is their diminutive size. Small 4 to 5 inch (10-15 cm.) plants are perfect for a wide range of garden applications, including its use as a ‘single serving’ salad.

Growing lettuce, Tom Thumb specifically, is quite the popular choice among gardeners for container plantings, as well as for its use interplanted with various other cool season crops.

Growing Tom Thumb Lettuce Plants

The process of growing Tom Thumb lettuce is very similar to growing other varieties of lettuce. First, growers will need to determine when it is best to plant the seeds. Since lettuce plants flourish when grown in cooler temperatures, planting most often occurs early in the spring and into the fall in successions.

Spring sowing generally takes place around one month before the last predicted frost date. While it is possible to sow lettuce seeds indoors, most gardeners choose to direct sow the seeds into well amended soil. To direct sow Tom Thumb lettuce seeds, select a well-draining location that receives direct sunlight.

Whether planting into the ground or into prepared containers, keep lettuce seeds moist until germination occurs within seven to ten days. Plants may be spaced according to seed packet recommendations or sown intensively for more frequent harvests.

Once established, Tom Thumb lettuce care is relatively simple. Plants will benefit from frequent watering and rich soil. Frequent monitoring for damage from pests, such as slugs and snails, will be imperative due to this plant’s small size.

Harvests can be made by removing a few leaves from each plant or by cutting the entire lettuce plant and removing it from the garden.

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Tom Thumb Lettuce

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Miniature butterhead type, perfect for small gardens. Heads grow to the size of an apple. 55 days to harvest. (approx. 1,600 seeds/pkt)

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Reader Interactions


I am just starting my hydroponic set up. I have some success with strawberries and I am now trying lettuces. I have already germinated the Bibb lettuce seeds and they are about 3 inches long. I have also built a rail system to grow the lettuces. I am about to transplant to the seedlings to the 3-inch cup with the hydroton. My question is this: Do you transplant only the seedling to the cup or the entire peat plug?

Transplant the entire plug into the cups with the hydroton – the roots will grow through the plugs.

what height do you have the water?
I am trying to grow lettuce and they look weak currently.

Any tips would be welcome

Water volume depends on the kind of system you are using (aeroponic, flood and drain, drip, etc). If your plants aren’t looking strong, it’s likely to be a nutrient or a pH problem. How are your pH and EC readings?

Hi Ashley, have you tried growing lollorosa lettuce ? I found it quite difficult to get it sprout. I use rockwool as the grow media, the seed’s shell has broken, then I put it under cool white fluorescent light but I don’t see it grow and get bigger. I use RO water with no nutrients during germination. Need your advice please…thank you so much. I live in a tropical country with daily temperature of 28-31 C. I’ve tried romaine and it did well.

One you have planted the seed in rockwool that has been presoaked in water ph’d to 5.5-5.8 put it under a humidly dome and let the seed do its thing as it germinates. Once you see a sprout coming out of the rockwool showing you its first set of leaves you can put it under the light.Then you will want to re-soak the rockwool every 5 days with ph’d water to 5.5-5.8. I would also consider trying seedling nutrient as rockwool is completely inert and has no nutrients. I would recommend Canna start as a great nutrient to give your new babies the proper does of food they need to grow up big and tasty. Hope this helps.

Hi Gabrial,
Thank you for the comment, I’d try as you recommended.
Will soaking the seeds in cool water before sowing will help speed up the germination ?

Hi Hadi,
There is good research suggesting that soaking lettuce seeds in cool water for 16-24 hours in a well-lighted area before planting will significantly improve the chance of germination. But you need to soak them at least 16 hours for the soaking to have an effect. Good luck!

Hello – I have a deep water culture system and have begun to grow lettuce.
At what point of growth can I transfer the lettuce to soil (the lettuce grew via fiberglass/seed cubes? And can I transfer the lettuce cubes to soil or somehow remove the roots from the cubes? All of my flowers and plants all died quickly once transferred to soil.

Hello, If you try to start plants in a DWC you should transplant them as soon as you see roots. There is a difference between hydro and soil root zones. I haven’t seen very much success from taking established hydro plants to soil. Your best bet is to start them in soil if you want to finish in soil otherwise grow hydroponically the whole way.

How much water per minute or hour did you have running for the lettuce? My class and I made an aquaponic system and we need to know how long we should have our pump running for the water to flow through, without drowning them and killing them because they don’t have enough.

I usually set the timer to come on every 4 hours for 15 mins. Seems to allow the root zone to dry out but not kill the plant. Good luck with the aquaponics system – what a cool project for your class!

Hi Ashley. My system has 12 pipes and they are 40 ft long respectively. Nutrient rich water continuously runs from the one side out the other side and back to the res. The first batch of butterhead lettuce has been in for 4 weeks and ready to harvest but now I’m seeing the tips of the leaves starting to die. I use FoxFarm 3-2-6. I tried to stay organic but now I don’t know what’s going on. Water temp is around 68f and ph between 5 and 6. Any advice? Find me on Facebook and look for Future Farms and Greeneries. Thanks.

I’m from argentina and will appreciate so much your help on butter letucce germination stage.
I was trying it but I failed
I’m not sure if are moisture or temperature problems
I tried under 10 C and wet turba
Thank you very much

Hi Maria, I’m not sure why your seeds failed. To germinate, seeds do need to be kept uniformly moist, and they do need warmer temperatures to come out of dormancy. Once germinated, lettuce likes cooler, rather than warmer temperatures, but if it is cold, the seeds won’t germinate.

I have build an NFT system using 4″ PVC pipes. The problem is that there is too big a distance from the bottom of the net pots to where the nutrient stream is flowing. This means that I need to grow the lettuce to a point where the roots are at least 3-4 inches long so that they can reach the water. My question is what do I do after they germinate to get roots that are long enough?

My husband is growing various types of lettuce in a DWC in our basement. They all grow and look great, but the texture is so very tender and becomes limp almost immediately after harvest. What are some possible causes? He wants to expand this DWC concept to a warehouse, but I am unsure of its success because the building will be quite warm in the summer.

I would suggest that you integrate an adjustable drain valve into each NFT channel. Adjust the drain up, allowing the water to touch the net cup, and then adjusting down as the roots grow into the channel. Regards – Mike W.

I know this is old but, I’ll ask anyway: How much salad did you get out of those 18 heads? How many people did you feed?

I’m a long ways out from doing so, but some day I’d like to set up a system in my house to grow some of my own food. It would most likely just be me, but I have no idea how much to even consider planting for myself, if I wanted to eat a big salad 4 or 5 times a week.

I figured I’d have some plants on rotation, started at different times so I don’t just have one giant harvest.

We harvested all of the lettuce at once and had a salad bar event at the store – not sure how many people it fed, but a lot. You could easily harvest a head every other day, or cull individual leaves from multiple plants as they grow. I would absolutely recommend succession planting so you always have new plants, medium sized-plants, and mature plants for harvesting, to always have a flow of ready-to-eat greens. Hope this helps!

I like to do the planting. this is something really new I have learned today. I would love to implement it.


[…] growing crops year-round indoors with good lighting and growing systems. You may have seen Tracey’s blog post on how easy it can be to start a hydroponic garden. While there are many people out there enjoy […]

Lettuce Tom Thumb Seeds

Tom Thumb is a very quick maturing variety, producing small but very solid heads with terrific flavour and nice texture. Sow early under cover and up to June only.

Lettuce is one of the staple ingredients in a crispy, fresh summer salad. So what could be better than growing your very own lettuce to add to your tasty salads.

End of February to July

Where to Sow
Sowings can be made underglass, sow seeds into pots or trays of seed sowing compost at a temperature of 15-20C and lightly cover seeds with sprinkling of vermiculite or compost. Alternatively sow seeds from April thinly along rows 1.5cm (1/2in) deep and 30cm (12in) apart direct in the vegetable plot.

What to do next
Sowings made underglass can be pricked out into individual pots or module trays and grown on until ready to harden off and plant out into the vegetable plot 30cm (12in) apart between the plants and the rows. Seedlings sown direct outside can be thinned once large enough to handle to 30cm (12in) apart. Thinnings can also be transplanted into other rows, watered in well during hot dry spells.

10-12 weeks after sowing.

If short of space, the attractive red foliage can look just as good planted in a flower border.

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