By Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell.
“Cut and come again” is a phrase that is used to describe the technique of harvesting just the outer leaves, or just what you need for a single meal, from a leafy green vegetable. This method allows the center of the plant to continue growing for a continuous harvest.
There are a plethora of herbs and vegetables that you can grow and harvest multiple times, from all season long up to a period of several years. A good percentage of these cut and come again crops are nutrient-rich foods that will provide healthy meals for you and your family for many years when harvested this way.
The Benefits of “Cut and Come Again” Crops
Growing cut and come again crops comes with several unexpected benefits. Cut and come again crops are typically perennial vegetables that are easy to care for and don’t need much attention once the plants are established.
The majority of cut and come again crops are super hardy and resistant to many common garden pests and diseases. Most of these crops can survive through occasional dry periods and will adapt to poor soil conditions.
The majority of cut and come again plants are also weed resistant, but you should still pull up any weeds you see that pop up around them so the plants will perform at their best and won’t need to compete with weeds for resources.
Another unexpected benefit that comes from growing cut and come again crops is their ability to improve the soil that they are planted in. Perennial herbs and vegetables assist in soil building and help the garden in other ways, too. Think about hosting beneficial nematodes, improving water retention and drainage, as well as increasing organic matter in the soil, and helping to optimize soil structure.
Time and Money Well Spent
Though some perennials take a good amount of time to settle in well before they start producing decent harvests, the money you will save on produce when you use this technique will be well worth the time you spend waiting for crops to become established. If you have enough garden space to devote to a large edible garden and you take advantage of both succession planting and cut and come again crops, you will always be well stocked with a large variety of healthy, fresh, homegrown food—especially leafy greens and flavorful herbs.
27 Cut and Come Again Crops for Your Edible Garden
The following cut and come again vegetables deserve a spot in your edible garden.
1. Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus)
Amaranth is typically grown as an ornamental crop in North America, but in many other regions of the world, amaranth is cultivated as an edible crop for both its grains and its leafy greens.
In the Caribbean, the leafy greens of amaranth are sauteed or boiled with onions, carrots, and spices in a dish called callaloo. Amaranth leaves have a fresh, herbal flavor and are quite good eaten fresh as well.
The plant thrives on consistent trimming, so a cut and come again garden is an ideal place for amaranth. Its beautiful leaves can be red, green, or a variegated purple and green. Tricolor amaranth is one of the best varieties to plant in an edible garden for greens. Find out more in our article How to Grow Amaranthus Cruentus (Red Amaranth).
2. Arugula (Eruca sativa)
Arugula, also called rocket, is a spicy, peppery-tasting leafy green vegetable that is great to grow for microgreens or as a cut and come again crop.
When trimming your arugula plants, take only the outer leaves, and let the center continue to develop. Keeping your arugula regularly trimmed will increase its growing period, providing you with more tasty greens.
3. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Asparagus is a perennial flowering plant with its own genus. The young shoots are commonly cultivated and used as a spring vegetable. Asparagus plants need two to three years of growth before they will start producing harvestable crops.
Check your asparagus plants daily, and when the plant has matured, start cutting it back to the soil line as soon as it reaches six inches or taller. Regularly cutting back your asparagus plants will encourage continued growth. Find out more in our article How to Grow Asparagus.
4. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil, and many other herbs (See the “Herbs” section below) are probably the most common cut and come again crops in the garden.
An herb garden is great to have around if you do a lot of cooking with fresh food. For extra flavorful additions to your favorite recipes, there is nothing better than being able to snip off a few shoots of fresh herbs whenever you need them.
Basil is a perfect cut and come again plant. The more leaves and stems you cut back, the thicker it grows back. Find out more in our article How to Grow Basil.
5. Beetroot Greens (Beta vulgaris)
If you are planting beets in order to harvest the actual root vegetable known as beets, it’s not a good idea to take all of the greens off of the plants when harvesting beet greens.
However, you can take some of the greens off once the greens have grown to reach four to six inches tall. Just never harvest more than two thirds of the top of each plant. Find out more in our article How to Grow Beets, or you may be interested in the Q&A article Can Beets Be Grown in Pots?
6. Bok Choy (Brassica rapa var. chinensis)
If you have a shady area in your edible garden, bok choy, or pak choi, makes a great cut and come again vegetable.
This Chinese cabbage variety has a celery-like growing habit with its bulbous bottom, crisp white stalks, and thick green foliage. Either trim back the outer leaves and allow the center to continue developing or harvest the whole head, leaving only a few inches of growth at the base of the plant, and a whole new plant will sprout up in its place.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Bok Choy (Brassica rapa subsp. Chinensis L.).
7. Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica)
Unfortunately, you can’t harvest more than one main head of broccoli from a broccoli plant. Once you harvest the main head, the plant is not going to grow another one, no matter how much you may want it to. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get much more out of your broccoli plants using the cut and come again approach.
If you harvest broccoli side shoots, new shoots will grow back in their place, and there may even be some mini broccoli heads that grow up on the sides of the plant as well. Find out more in our article How to Grow Broccoli.
8. Carrot Greens (Daucus carota subsp. sativus)
Just like beet greens, carrot greens are a nutrient-rich leafy green that is perfectly edible, though they are often tossed out by people who don’t know how good these greens are for you and how tasty they can be when paired with other fresh salad greens. If you are growing carrots just to harvest the roots, you can still take up to two thirds of the greens any time they’ve grown to reach five to seven inches tall. Find out more in our article How to Grow Carrots Successfully in Your Garden.
9. Celery (Apium graveolens)
In cool climate areas, celery requires a longer growing period than many other vegetables to reach maturity. However, you don’t have to wait patiently for the celery plants to fully mature before you can enjoy some of the harvest.
As soon as your plants have reached eight inches tall, you can start to snip off the outermost stalks, working your way inward. Uneaten stalks can be stored in the fridge for several weeks. Find out more in our article How to Grow Celery Plants.
10. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Leaf chicory, also called radicchio, is not a commonly cultivated leafy green in the western gardening world, but its complex and interesting flavor should not be overlooked.
Chicory is great fresh or sautéed, and it can also be dried and added to specialty coffee for a distinct, bold, spicy flavor. Chicory is of many cut and come again plants that grows in a rosette, making it especially easy to harvest its outer leaves while you allow the rest of the plant to mature naturally.
Find out more in Utah State University Extension’s article Growing Chicory.
11. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chives are a low maintenance perennial that just keeps on giving. All throughout the summer months, chives can be pruned down to an inch or two above the soil line, allowing for multiple harvests.
Trimming chives back regularly during the summer comes with several other benefits in addition to the endless supply of chives. A regular trimming not only keeps the plants growing and producing, but it also prevents them from bolting.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Chives.
12. Collard Greens (Brassica oleracea var. viridis)
Collard greens are a staple of the Southern diet and an excellent cut and come again crop that produces massive dark green leaves in a rosette formation.
Collards are a cool season vegetable. Allow 60 days for full maturation, and harvest leaves by cutting them down at the base of their stalks, taking no more than two thirds of the plant’s leaves at a time.
Much like kale, collard greens will become sweeter when exposed to cool weather, and they will become more bitter when exposed to warmer conditions. Find out more in our article How to Grow Collard Greens.
13. Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta)
Also called lamb’s lettuce or mache, corn salad is a small leafy green annual vegetable that is typically cultivated to be used as a salad green. Corn salad greens have a slightly nutty and slightly herbal flavor profile. The leaves and stems are both excellent in salads and fresh wraps.
The stems are similar in texture to the stems of sunflower sprouts. Once corn salad leaves are three inches long or longer, harvest them from the outside of the plant, working inwards.
Find out more in the Savvy Gardening article Corn Mache: Perfect for the Vegetable Garden.
14. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
Though considered a weed by many due to their ability to grow back no matter how many times they are chopped down or pulled up, dandelions are actually a wildflower with medicinal and culinary value.
Dandelions get their persistent growing behavior from their exceptionally long taproot which burrows deep into the soil and is nearly impossible to pull up in its entirety. If you don’t get all of the taproot when pulling up the plant, you will likely see it again.
Luckily, dandelion greens are excellent in salads, and their flowers can be used to make tea, or processed into botanical oils. However, if you choose to plant dandelions, you may wish to do so in a container, even if you bury the container to preserve the look of an in-ground garden, just so you can control the spread of these invasive plants.
Find out more from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Master Gardener Program’s profile on dandelion greens.
15. Daylilies (Hemerocallis)
Though daylilies are not often thought of as an edible crop in North America, where they are commonly grown as ornamental flowers, in Asia, daylilies are grown like vegetables and treated similarly to beans. The plant’s flowers are often eaten raw in salads or battered and deep-fried.
Daylilies are especially hardy plants as well, and require very little hands-on care. Daylilies seem to bloom continuously. However, each flower opens in the morning and dies by the end of the day. Luckily, each stem contains a dozen or more buds, so there are plenty more flowers to take the place of those that die.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Daylily Flowers.
16. Endive (Cichorium endivia)
Not all varieties of endive make good candidates for cut and come again harvesting. As with most types of lettuce, heading varieties are best left to mature completely and harvested all at once. However, loose leaf endives can be harvested a bit at a time.
You can also harvest heading varieties using the cut and come again technique while they are still young as long as the head has not yet closed up. If you make sure not to remove more than two thirds of the leaves at a time, the plant will send up new growth to take the place of the leaves you’ve harvested.
Find out more at the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences Gardening Solutions profile for endive.
17. Fiddlehead Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Fiddlehead ferns are known for their vase-like growing habit and their tightly wound new spring fronds, which are edible, and have grown in popularity in recent years.
Fiddlehead fern fronds are found for a few weeks each year on the menus of fancy restaurants, and at farmer’s markets. Fiddlehead fronds should not be eaten fresh, but steamed and served with butter. Steaming the fronds removes shikimic acid inside, which should not be ingested. The bitter, brownish-red, paper-thin coating which protects the delicate fronds from the elements, should be removed before steaming.
Find out more in our article Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads: How to Identify and Cook.
18. Garden Cress (Lepidium sativum)
Garden cress is also known as peppergrass. Unlike watercress, which grows best in wet areas or near water features, garden cress does best in spots that receive full sun or partial shade as long as the soil stays moist.
The leaves of garden cress are grown to use in salads, on sandwiches, and in other dishes just as you would any other baby green. Simply trim the amount you need from your garden cress plants, using clean, sterile shears to snip just about the level of the soil.
You can start harvesting after just two or three weeks of growth, as long as your garden cress leaves are at least two inches long. Harvest the oldest leaves, those that the plant produced earliest, first and allow the newer leaves to keep growing and mature.
Find out more at the Utah State University Extension profile on garden cress.
Lots of herbs are excellent options for cut and come again harvesting. These plants are made to grow in the herb garden all season long, allowing you to trim off exactly the amount you need for a recipe or another household purpose while the plant keeps growing.
To ensure your plants stay healthy and are able to keep regenerating the parts you take, never remove more than two thirds of a plant at a time, and don’t start taking cuttings from your herb plants until they’re well established.
Almost all herbs can be harvested using the cut and come again method, including aloe vera, angelica, anise, basil, bay leaves, bee balm, borage, catnip, chamomile, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel greens, feverfew, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, rue, sage, savory, sorrel, thyme, valerian, wormwood. Basically just about any other herb you can think of, unless you use the root or the bulb of the plant.
Find out more in our article Beginner’s Guide to Herb Gardening.
20. Kale (Brassica oleracea)
Kale is delicious when you let the greens fully mature and harvest a whole bunch at a time, but it’s just as tasty when it’s not allowed to mature for quite as long.
You can harvest kale at any time between the baby leaf stage and complete maturity, but the leaves are at their tastiest and tenderest when they’re small. Many gardeners prefer to cut kale greens when they measure about as high and wide as the palm of your hand.
Using clean, sterile gardening shears, remove the leaves you want to harvest individually, taking those at the outside base of the plant first before working up and in toward the center. Leave at least a third of the leaves on the plant so it will keep producing new leaves to replace those you’ve taken.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Kale: Including Three Favorite Ways to Prepare Kale.
21. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Certain varieties of lettuce work better as cut and come again veggies than others. Heading varieties of lettuce do best when they’re allowed to mature completely and harvested all at once. However, most other varieties of lettuce that don’t have a strong heading habit (especially loose leaf lettuces) can be harvested a little at a time throughout the season.
Start by cleaning and sterilizing your shears, then clip just the leaves you need for one meal at a time. Work your way from the outside edge of the plant up and in toward the center, never removing more than two thirds of the leaves on a lettuce plant at a time. Your plants need to retain a third of their foliage so they can continue feeding themselves through the process of photosynthesis.
Find out more in our article Growing Lettuce in the Home Garden or, for a particular variety or growing method, you may also be interested in Growing Romaine Lettuce: A Gardener’s Checklist, How to Grow Butter Lettuce, or Grow Lettuce Year Round.
22. Mustard Greens (Brassica juncea)
Mustard greens are a staple of Southern cuisine that can flourish during the heat of summer when many other leafy greens struggle. There’s no reason you should pull your mustard green plants up by their roots and get just one harvest from the seeds you plant and the work you put into them.
Once leaves mature to about the size of your palm, you can harvest them individually. Use clean, sterile gardening shears to snip off individual leaves at the base of the stem. Take leaves from the outside edges of the plant first, working your way up and toward the inside of the plant.
As long as you leave your mustard green plants with at least a third of their foliage intact, they’ll be able to keep on growing and replace the leaves you harvest with freshly grown new leaves throughout the season.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Mustard Greens (Brassica juncea).
23. Mustard Spinach (Brassica rapa subsp. perviridis)
Mustard spinach is also known as komatsuna or tendergreen mustard. It’s a mild-tasting Asian green for fall planting that resists the heat well. The flavor is described as a cross between mustard greens and spinach that takes the best traits of both plants and leaves their worst qualities behind.
Once the greens reach 40 days of maturity, you can begin harvesting them. Much like mustard greens, you can harvest mustard spinach a little at a time as it’s needed.
Use a clean set of gardening shears that you’ve sterilized to trim off the leaves at their base, starting at the outside of the plant and working up and in. Make sure to leave the plant with at least a third of its foliage intact so it will survive to keep replacing leaves for you to harvest.
Find out more in the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences Ask a Master Gardener article on mustard spinach.
24. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is considered an invasive plant in some areas, so when you’re growing purslane, it’s a good idea to plant it in a container so you maintain control of how far the plants spread.
If you prefer the look of gardening directly in the soil, you can bury the container underground so your plants all appear to be direct sown, while you maintain the benefits of container gardening. Purslane can be found in many neighborhoods growing wild, too.
To harvest purslane using the cut and come again technique, just use clean, sterile shears to trim off the amount you need, cutting close to the surface of the soil. The plant will regenerate new shoots of purslane to replace what you’ve harvested.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Purslane.
25. Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
Spinach is known for its great taste and the nutrition it holds. You can count on spinach to offer lots of beta carotene, calcium, folate, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Instead of pulling your spinach plants up by their roots to harvest them, try simply snipping off the leaves you harvest at the base of the plant. (Make sure your shears are clean and sterile first.) As long as you leave the plant with at least a third of its foliage, it will replace the leaves you’ve harvested with new ones, so you can keep growing a continuous harvest all season long.
26. Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris)
Swiss chard is leafy green that packs the same nutritional punch as spinach does—and requires less work and fuss from the gardener. One cup of Swiss chard will provide a person with 300 times their recommended daily allowance of vitamin K as well as offering plenty of dietary fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E.
You can begin harvesting the leaves as soon as they are about palm-sized, trimming them off at the base of the plant with clean, sterilized shears. Make sure not to remove more than two thirds of the plant’s foliage at a time so the plant can keep growing strong and healthy.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Swiss Chard.
27. Turnip Greens (Brassica rapa)
The great thing about growing turnips is that while you wait for the root vegetable that grows under the surface of the soil to develop, you can go ahead and begin harvesting the greens to enjoy.
As soon as the greens are about as big as the palm of your hand, you can cut them off at the base without harming the turnip’s development. On the contrary, snipping off the greens will help encourage the plant to focus its resources and energy on developing the root vegetable instead of putting its energy toward foliage.
Find out more in our article How to Grow Turnips (Brassica rapa).
A Few Helpful Tips for Harvesting Cut and Come Again Crops
One trick to harvesting cut and come again crops that keeps the plants producing is to take the oldest leaves before they have a chance to actually become old. Don’t wait for the leaves to reach full size, but instead start taking your early trimmings when your plants are merely three to four inches tall.
By starting early on harvesting, you effectively keep the plants from reaching maturity altogether. This method keeps plants from bolting as well, which also keeps their stems from growing woody and their flavor from turning bitter (as vegetable plants often do when they go to seed).
Lengthening your harvest period will keep you from having to replace your plants during the growing season, and aside from succession planting, you won’t need to replant your crops to continue reaping their benefits.
Eventually, your cut and come again plants will become weary of the constant regrowth and production and will need replacement, but you should be able to get quite a few small harvests from each plant before they need to be replaced.
Try keeping your cut and come again veggies near the kitchen to remind you to incorporate your garden greens into your cooking more frequently. The more often you take a cutting or two from your plants, the quicker they will produce new growth.