The term "cut-and-come-again" is a mouthful in more ways than one. 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. 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.
Because you are extending your harvest, you don't need as many plants and you don'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.
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, but you should get a few months of harvest before that happens.
Vegetables for Cut-and-Come-Again Gardens
Leafy greens, whether salad greens or cooking greens, make the best candidates for cut-and-come-again gardens. Many herbs are also harvested this way too. By planting some cool weather greens, then following 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 extended harvest season.
Most of us have seen 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 needed; it thrives on this perpetual thinning.
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.
Basil is a no-brainer cut-and-come-again champ. The more you pinch off the end leaves and stems, the bushier the plant becomes. Win-win.
If you are growing beets for their roots, you should never harvest all the tops off of any one plant, but cut-and-come-again harvesting will let you have the best of both worlds.
Sometimes you want the whole head, but often it's nice to just mix a few leaves into your salad 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.
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.
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.
If you've ever tried to kill a dandelion, you know how difficult it is to do. That long taproot can sustain the plant through a nuclear attack! This means if you are cultivating them for food, you can cut dandelion leaves (and flowers) without fear of losing the plant.
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.
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 several plants. But keep plucking those outer leaves and you'll be dining on 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. Go crazy and plant a huge variety.
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.
Mustard greens are an acquired taste to be sure, but by using the cut-and-come-again technique, you can head off some of that distinct bitterness by harvesting leaves young.
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. 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 a green and not just a decorative garnish, you might be tempted to cut off an entire plant, but it's better to keep plants to snip from throughout the season. As a biennial, parsley has nothing to do its first year except grow more leaves.
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 longer.
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.
Spinach is another green that fades away in the heat. It is also one that gets bushier if you keep pinching off leaves. This is good because a bushy plant will shade the soil above its roots, keeping it cool and helping it stick around longer.
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 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.