Cut-and-come-again gardening refers to harvesting just the older outer leaves of leafy green vegetables and allowing the center of the plant to continue sending out new leaves. It's an easy way to have a succession of harvests without having to succession plant.
The trick to keeping your cut-and-come-again plants going is to begin harvesting the oldest leaves while they are still fairly young. Rather than waiting for them to reach mature length, start harvesting when they are only about 3 to 4 inches tall. By doing so, the plant never has a chance to mature and take its natural course to seed. It also prevents the leaves from becoming bitter.
Because you are extending your harvest, you won't need as many plants, and you won't need to continually replant. Try growing your cut-and-come-again garden in containers kept near the kitchen; you'll be more likely to remember to harvest regularly when they're close at hand, which will encourage them to keep growing.
However, no plant lives forever, and there will come a time when your cut-and-come-again greens are exhausted from the effort of continually regrowing. Still, you should get at least a few months of harvesting before that happens.
Vegetables for Cut-and-Come-Again Gardens
Leafy greens, whether salad greens or cooking greens, make the best candidates for a cut-and-come-again garden. Many herbs are also harvested this way.
Start by planting some cool weather greens, followed by heat lovers as the cool greens start to wane. Finish the growing season with a second sowing of the cool weather growers, and you'll have yourself a bountiful harvest.
You may be used to seeing some type of amaranth in the flower garden, but it's actually an edible plant. Often grown for grain, its leaves have a fresh, herbal flavor. Remove leaves as you notice the plant getting overly full. The plant thrives on this perpetual thinning.
Arugula, also known as rocket, has a very brief growing season in some gardens. Make the most of it by taking just the outer leaves and letting the center continue to grow. It may seem counterintuitive, but this is one of those plants that will stick around longer if it never gets the chance to mature.
Basil is one of the most common cut-and-come-again plants. In fact, you might not even realize you're already harvesting it that way. Pinch off the end leaves and stems anytime you need some herbs, which will in turn allow the plant to become bushier and fuller.
Many gardeners grow beets for their roots, but you can harvest the tops from the plants as well. Be mindful never to harvest all the tops off any one plant, which will cause the bulbous root to fail. Cut-and-come-again harvesting will let you have the best of both worlds.
Closely related to lettuce, chicories are several varieties of greens that are a bit heartier and more bitter. Sometimes you'll want to harvest the whole head for a salad, but often it's nice just to mix a few leaves into your recipe and let your plants continue to produce new leaves. In fact, you may even get another flush of growth after you cut the whole head if you leave a couple of inches or a few leaves on the stem.
Beloved for the zesty flavor it lends to many recipes, cilantro is a staple in almost all herb gardens. And, like many herbs, it's a great candidate for a cut-and-come-again garden. Simply pinch the leaves you need from the plant, and allow the rest of the stems to remain, which will in turn encourage the plant to grow fuller.
Like arugula, corn salad (also known as mache) doesn't stick around very long. Make the most of the time you have by harvesting the outer leaves when they reach 3 inches in size to encourage the plants to grow more.
Once the weather heats up, kale is a quick grower. It takes quite a few leaves to make a sizable side dish, so you'll want to grow several plants. Harvest the kale by plucking the outer leaves and allowing the inner ones to grow, giving you kale all season.
Lettuce gets credit for creating the cut-and-come-again technique. As with endive, heading lettuce is not appropriate for cut-and-come-again. But there are hundreds of loose-leaf varieties just begging to be used this way.
Mustard greens, even the black mustard ones, are an acquired taste due to their harsh, bitter flavor. However, by using the cut-and-come-again technique, you can head off some of that distinct bitterness by harvesting the leaves young.
It's satisfying to slice off an entire head of these vase-like greens, but if you can resist, bok choy makes for a great cut-and-come-again option. Harvest the whole head within its first year of growth. As with chicory, you may still get a second head if you leave even a few leaves on the stem.
Now that parsley is getting some respect as an herb and not just a decorative garnish, you may be tempted to cut off an entire plant to use. But it's better to keep plants to snip from throughout the season. As a biennial, parsley has nothing to do in its first year except grow more leaves, so you'll have plenty to put to good use.
Sorrel is a perennial green that pokes its head up in early spring. Those first few leaves are about as tender as they come—and the most delicious to use in sandwiches or salads. It will send up a seed stalk eventually, but you can put that off by treating the plant as a cut-and-come-again.
Spinach is a leafy green that grows best in cooler weather. In fact, it tends to fade away in the heat. One way to increase the longevity of your spinach plant is to use the cut-and-come-again method to encourage the plant to get bushier by pinching off leaves. A bushy plant will shade the soil above its roots, keeping it cool and helping it stick around longer.
Swiss chard may look like a green. But it's actually a beet that doesn't form a bulb, which makes it perfect for cut-and-come-again. Like spinach and kale, Swiss chard cooks down considerably, so you'll need leaves from several plants to get your fill.
As with beets, you don't want to take all the green tops off of turnips you're growing for bulbs. But the plants won't mind if you help yourself to a few here and there. Let them fill back in, and then snip off a few more.