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How to Grow and Care for Lentils


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Lentils are a cool-season legume. Sow lentils in spring as early as 2 weeks before the average last frost date. Lentils can be started indoors before transplanting to the garden; lentil seeds will germinate in 10 days at 68°F. Lentils require 80 to 110 days to come to harvest.

Description. Lentils are a hardy annual; they are a member of the pea family. Lentils grow on sparsely branched vines from 18 to 24 inches tall. The lentil has small whitish to light purple pea-like flowers. Pods are small, broad, and flat, and contains one or two flat, lens-shaped seed that is green or yellow to orange, red, or brown.

Lentils .flower from the lower branches up until harvest. Each flower produces a short pod that contains two seeds

Yield. Plant 4 to 8 lentils per household member.

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Where to Plant Lentils

  • Plant lentils in full sun.
  • Lentils prefer loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter.
  • Lentils will grow in poor soil but the yield will be reduced.
  • Lentils will not grow well in water-logged soil.
  • Lentils grow best in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds before sowing.

When to Plant Lentils

  • Lentils grow best in cool weather.
  • Sow lentils outdoors in spring as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date.
  • Lentils can be started indoors 2 to 4 weeks before setting in the garden.
  • Lentil seeds will germinate in 10 days at 68°F.
  • Young lentil plants are frost tolerant/
  • Lentils require 80 to 110 days to come to harvest.

Planting and Spacing Lentils

  • Sow lentil seeds 1 to 1½ inches deep, deeper if the soil is dry.
  • Space seeds 1 inch apart.
  • Innoculate lentil seeds before planting with Rhizobium leguminosarum.
  • Thin successful seedlings to 4 to 5 inches apart.
  • Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart.
  • A target population per acre is 400,000 plants.

Watering and Feeding Lentils

  • Keep the soil where lentils grow evenly moist.
  • Lentils are more drought tolerant than other legumes, however, the yield will be less in dry conditions.
  • Do not water lentils once pods have begun to dry near harvest time.
  • High humidity can reduce yield and seed quality.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds before sowing; this provides the most nutrients needed during the growing season.
  • Side dress lentils with compost tea when plants are 5 inches tall and again at flowering.

Caring for Lentils

  • Support lentils with a low trellis. Without a trellis, lentils should be set 5 inches apart to ensure ample air circulation.
  • Protect early crops from pests and frost with row covers.
  • Keep the lentil planting area free of weeds; lentils do not compete well with weeds.
  • Protect lentil plants from wind.

Lentil Companion Plants

  • Plant lentils with potatoes, cucumbers, and summer savory.
  • Avoid planting lentils with onions or garlic.

Container Growing Lentils

  • Lentils can be grown in containers, but several plants are required for a practical yield.
  • Grow plants in pots at least 8 inches deep.

Lentil Pests

  • Aphids may attack lentils. Control aphids by pinching out infested areas or hosing them off of the plant with a blast of water.
  • Weevils may attack lentils; remove and destroy infested plants.
  • Rotate crops to avoid repeat infestations.
  • Other pests that may attack lentils are thrips, Lygus bugs, seedcorn maggots, and wireworms.

Lentil Diseases

  • Lentils have no serious disease problems.
  • Mildew may attack lentils that are too closely planted.

Harvesting Lentils

  • Harvest lentils when the plant begins to turn yellow and the pods become brown.
  • Lentils are commonly used as dry beans or peas.
  • For dried seeds, harvest pods when they have matured and hardened.
  • Leave lentils unshelled until you are ready to use them.
  • Dried lentils are ready for harvest 110 days after sowing.
  • Lentils also can be used as snap beans; harvest these green about 70 to 80 days after sowing.

Storing and Preserving Lentils

  • Unshelled green-pod lentils will keep in the refrigerator for one week.
  • Dried, shelled lentils can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.
  • Lentils can also be sprouted.
  • Lentils are high in protein. They are used in soups, stews, casseroles, and salad dishes.

Lentil Varieties to Grow

  • Lentils can be divided into large lentils and small lentils. There are dozens of varieties of each type.
  • Three common lentil varieties are flat brown ones, small yellow ones, and large pea-shaped ones.

Get to Know Lentils

  • Lentils are a pulse crop, a grain legume.
  • Lentils are believed to be one of the first agricultural crops, growing more than 8,000 years ago.
  • Lentils were first grown in the Near East region of the Mediterranean. They were later grown in Asia, Europe, and finally in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Lentils grow well in regions where there is little rainfall.

Common name. Lentil

Botanical name. Lens culinaris

Origin. Mediterranean region

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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