The term "cut and come again" is a mouthful, in more than one way. Cut and come again is a term for harvesting just the older, outer leaves of leafy green vegetables and allowing the center of the plant to continue sending out new leaves. You cut just what you need for one meal and the plant will still be there when you come back later. It's an easy way to have a succession of harvests, without having to remember 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 young themselves. 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.
No plant lives forever and there will come a time when your cut and come again greens are just
exhausted from the effort of continually regrowing, but you should get a couple of months of harvest before that happens. Not bad for a single planting.
Vegetables Suitable for Cut and Come Again
Leafy greens, whether fresh eating salad greens or cooking greens, make the best candidates for cut and come again and many herbs are also harvested this way. By planting some cool weather greens, following them with heat lovers as the cool greens start to wane, and then finishing the season with a second sowing of the cool weather growers, you'll have an even longer harvest season.
Excellent Choices for Cut and Come Again:
Amaranth - Most of us have seen some type of amaranth in the flower garden. It is actually an edible plant. It's the most often grown grain in the world, but I like it for its leaves, which have a fresh, herbal flavor. I remove leaves as needed and it seems to thrive on this perpetual thinning.
Arugula - Arugula, or rocket, has a very brief growing season in some gardens, but you can make the most of it by taking just the outer leaves and letting the center continue to grow. This is one of those plants that will stick around longer if it never gets the chance to mature. More on Growing Arugula
Basil - Basil is a no-brainer cut-and-come-again champ. The more you pinch off the end leaves and stem, the bushy the plant becomes. Win-win. More on Growing Basil
Beet Greens- If you are growing beets for their roots, you should never harvest all the tops off of any one plant. However, cut-and-come-again harvesting will let you have the best of both worlds. More on Growing Beets
Chicory - Sometimes you want the whole head, but often it's nice to just mix a leaf or two into your salad. The plants will continue to produce leaves, as you do. In fact, you may even get another flush of growth when you cut the whole head if you leave a couple of inches or a few leaves on the stem.
Cilantro - You've got to love herbs. The more we use them, the more they grow. Never be afraid to pinch a few leaves from herb plants. They will reward you for your efforts. More on Growing Cilantro
Corn Salad - Like arugula, corn salad, or mache, doesn't stick around very long. Make the most of the time you have by harvesting the outer leaves when they reach 3 or more inches and encourage the plants to grow more. More on Growing Corn Salad
Dandelion - If you've ever tried to kill a dandelion, you know how difficult it is to do. That long tap root can sustain the upper plant through a nuclear attack. So if you are cultivating them for food, cut those leaves (and flowers) without fear of losing the plant.
Endive - Heading endive is not a great candidate for cut-and-come-again, but the loose leaf varieties and even young headers that haven't closed up yet, will continue to send out leafy growth if you snap a few leaves here and there.
Kale - Once the weather heats up, kale is a quick, quick grower. It takes quite a few leaves to make a sizable side dish, so you'll want several plants. But keep plucking those outer leaves and you'll be in kale all season. More on Growing Kale
Lettuce - 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. Go crazy. Plant a huge variety. More on Growing Lettuce
Mizuna - This delicate Japanese green will have a long growing season if you continually snip off leaves. That should be easy to do because it's great fresh or cooked. More on Growing Mizuna
Mustard - I love tangy mustard but in moderation. Which is how I learned that it is very obliging about regrowing when trimmed.
Pak Choi - It's satisfying to slice off an entire head of these vase-like greens, but if you can resist, pak choi (bok choy) is indeed a cut-and-come-again option. And as with chicory, you may still get a second head if you leave even a few leaves on the stem. More on Growing Pak Choi
Parsley - Now that parsley is getting some respect as a green and not just a decoration, you might be tempted to crunch off an entire plant, but it's better to have several plants to snip from. As a biennial, parsley has nothing to do its first year except grow more leaves. More on Growing Parsley
Radicchio - Like cousins chicory and endive, radicchio will go further if you take just a bit at a time... until you just can't resist any long.
Sorrel - Sorrel is a perennial green that pokes it's head up early in the spring. Those first few leaves are about as tender as they come. It will send up a seed stake eventually, but you can put it off by treating it as a cut-and-come-again. More on Growing Sorrel
Spinach - Spinach is another green that fades away in heat. It is also one that gets bushier if you keep pinching off leaves and a bushy plant will shade the soil above its roots, keeping it cool and helping it to stick around longer. More on Growing Spinach
Swiss Chard - Chard is a beet that doesn't form a bulb, which makes it perfect for cut and come again. But like spinach and kale, it cooks down considerably, so you'll need leaves from several plants to really get your fill. More on Growing Swiss Chard
Turnip Greens - As with beets, you don't want to take all the green tops off of turnips you are 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. More on Growing Turnips
Cut and Come Again Is an Excellent Technique for Container Gardening
Because you are extending your harvest, you don't need as many plants and you don't need to continually replant. Growing your greens in containers kept near the house and kitchen also means you'll be more likely to remember to harvest regularly, which will encourage them to keep going.