Many edible plants can be used as ‘cut & come again’ crops – snip bits of them off, and a few days later they’ve regenerated. This can be an excellent use of space in a kitchen garden, and it’s relatively easy to do if you follow a few simple rules.
What are the benefits of cut and come again growing?
- Plants are usually grown close together, saving space
- Mature plants keep on giving you food for a long time instead of being gone in just one go
- Less turnover of plants means fewer areas of bare soil and less time waiting for new seedlings to be ready
Which plants can be used for cut & come again gardening?
What you’re looking for is plants that can regenerate after being beheaded, or having half of their leaves stripped away. That includes:
- Most types of loose leaf lettuce (Salad Bowl, Oakleaf and so on)
- Some hearting types of lettuce (beheading mainly, especially Little Gem types)
- Seeds sold for ‘baby leaf’ salad
- Oriental greens: pak choi, Chinese cabbage, giant mustards and mustard greens, mizuna, mibuna etc
- Spring green type cabbages
- A few ballhead type cabbages (beheading only, Golden Acre is one of the best for this)
- The new broccoli-kailaan crosses (beheading, for sprouting flowering stems rather than leaves)
You may also get a few extra cuts of flowering stems after your Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and calabrese initially appear to be finished, although they won’t give you huge crops.
How to do cut & come again harvesting
There are a few simple rules for keeping your crops healthy and happy if you choose to grow and harvest them in this way.
Firstly, don’t overdo the harvesting from single plants. They will last longer and be happier if you remove a moderate amount of leaves, perhaps a quarter or a third of them, rather than slicing their whole tops off.
Harvesting just a few of the outer leaves of lettuces and greens leaves tender inner growing points intact and undamaged, and also leaves enough of the plant alive so it can make enough energy to quickly regrow.
One of the easiest ways to harvest is to move along rows taking a few leaves from every other plant, alternating this from week to week. It helps to prevent overcrowding and overshadowing too, which is a bonus.
If you are in a real hurry, you can snip whole tops off lettuces and other baby leaves, as long as you leave a decent sized stump behind, usually 8cm high or so. This type of cropping means they will give you two, or maybe three harvests, each one smaller than the last. Picking leaf by leaf can give you two-thirds more or even double the crop that you can get by snipping the whole plant tops off – a far better yield in most cases.
The exception to the ‘don’t behead’ rule is broccoli, and ballhead cabbages. Off with their heads! However, it does help the plants enormously if you leave their outer, lower leaves intact so they can still photosynthesise and do some more growing.
Secondly, another important thing to remember is that you need to keep the cuts on all your cut and come again crops as clean and dry as possible, so they heal well. Use a clean, sharp knife or scissors, avoid sawing motions, and don’t touch the blade or the stump with your fingers.
Wait for a few hours before watering your plants again, so the cut areas don’t get wet. If you absolutely must water, use a watering can without a rose to direct the water straight onto the roots, without splashing the rest of the plant.
Finally, since plants grown and harvested in this way need to keep regenerating, they will also appreciate some multi-purpose liquid feed every week or so to help them keep going.
Do you grow any crops in this way already? Are you tempted to give it a go?