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Sow seeds once and get several harvests when you grow baby salad greens as cut-and-come-again. Includes details on growing lettuces individually or broadcast sown and two ways to harvest cut and come again salad greens. One method yields larger harvests over time, but the other is easier and better suited for container growing.
No matter your growing space, anyone can grow baby salad leaves at home. Using this method, you can get up to four harvests of greens, all for the cost of just one bag of salad from the supermarket. Called mesclun in the USA, baby salad leaves are immature leaves of lettuces and other greens that would grow into full-size versions if you planted them individually. Growing them using the cut-and-come-again method is far easier, and you don’t need a traditional garden to do so.
Growing baby salad greens is less about specific types of lettuce. It’s about how you grow loose-headed or leaf lettuce (and greens) and how you harvest them. Instead of growing each plant individually and harvesting it once it is fully mature, you take several smaller harvests from plants. It gives you a longer harvest, tender salad greens, and can use fewer seeds.
The tips in this piece share how to grow baby leaf salads and how to harvest them. It focuses on growing in containers, though you can, of course, grow cut and come again lettuce in a traditional bed. Growing in containers makes it easier to keep an eye on young plants, reduces slug damage, and makes on-the-spot harvests of fresh greens much more convenient.
Cut-and-Come-Again Lettuce Seeds
Packets of seeds labeled as cut-and-come-again lettuce or as baby leaf salad greens are really just marketing. You can use any loose-leaf lettuce variety for the cut-and-come-again method but also some heading types and herbs, such as arugula (rocket) and even cilantro (coriander). I even have a piece on how to grow supermarket coriander to keep it alive for multiple harvests. Salad seed mixes can be convenient if you want to have a diverse selection of different leaves in one packet, though. You’ll find them at garden centers, some supermarkets, and direct from seed suppliers.
Grow Lettuces Individually for Cut and Come Again
If you’d like larger harvests of salad leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis, then it’s best to grow lettuces individually. That means that you give each plant the space it needs to grow to a semi-mature size. With many lettuces, that means giving them around four to six inches in diameter to grow. When I grow my lettuces this way, I start them off in modules using this technique, then plant them out in garden beds and in containers.
When you grow lettuces with plenty of space for plants to grow then the plant can be healthier and produce more leaves for each harvest. You need to either grow the plants in modules first or directly sow and thin the seedlings out.
Grow Baby Salad Greens through Broadcast Sowing
Growing lettuces and other salad greens individually can give you bigger greens harvests, but it does take more time and effort. If you’d like to keep things simpler, you can instead broadcast sow your seeds and grow baby salad greens the easy way. It’s simple and quick, and if you do this once a month, you’ll have salad greens all spring and summer long!
First, select a container. It can be any non-toxic and sturdy material, including wood, plastic, or heavy-duty cardboard, but it should ideally be shallow, have drainage holes or slats, and have a surface area of at least a square foot. Line it with landscaping fabric if there’s a chance that the container could leak from the sides or loose soil from the bottom.
Grow baby salad greens by filling a shallow container with about three or more inches of pre-moistened potting mix/compost. It should be suitable for growing edible crops and preferably organic and peat-free. Next, thinly sprinkle the seed over the top, cover lightly with more compost, and press down firmly with your hands. Although optional, a fine layer of horticultural grit spread on top will help keep the compost underneath moist.
Place the container outdoors in a sunny place and in a place where you can keep an eye on it. Slugs and snails will be attracted to the seedlings, so try to choose a place where they’re less likely to get at your container. Seedlings will appear within a week, and baby leaves could be ready for harvest in 30-40 days.
Watering Cut-and-Come-Again Lettuce
Lettuce and salad leaves need constantly moist soil/potting mix and warm sun to thrive. If you allow the container or soil to dry out, the plants can be stressed. Stressed plants don’t grow well and can go to seed quickly, making the leaves bitter and barely edible. Keep on top of watering, and your harvests of cut-and-come-again lettuce will keep on coming!
With lettuces grown in the ground, grow either directly in compost mulch (as in no dig garden beds) or plant young plants in the soil and spread compost as a mulch around each plant. Compost helps lock moisture into the soil underneath it while also feeding the plant and soil. Ensure that the soil never dries out, especially in dry periods, by manually watering or using drip irrigation.
With containers, water it immediately after seeding it and keep the soil moist from that day forward. A watering can with a rose head, spray bottle, or pressure waterer is ideal. Single streams of water from a smaller watering can or hose can disturb the potting mix, seeds, and seedlings.
Keep on top of your watering since potting mix dries out easily and is difficult to re-saturate if it becomes too dry. The compost should be moist, but not sopping wet — press your finger in it to check. If you see or feel water, then it’s too wet. Wet compost can invite pests and algae to move in, and it can also drown your seedlings. If the compost is too dry, it may lead to your plants dying or bolting. Bolting occurs when the plant is stressed or at the end of its life cycle. It stops putting energy towards growing leaves and starts producing flower heads and seeds.
Harvesting Cut-and-Come-Again Lettuce
Time to harvest generally averages between four and six weeks from when you see the first signs of sprouts. It all depends on the varieties in the mix, how warm it is, and if other factors are suitable. The further you get into spring and summer the quicker crops will grow outdoors. The cut and come again lettuce is ready to harvest when the plants are three to six inches in height and look like the leaves you see in bagged salad mixes.
There are two ways to harvest cut and come again lettuce. The first is the method that I prefer, but it is a little more work. Pick one to two outer leaves from each plant with your fingers. Choose the developed leaves from the outside only, and make sure you don’t take all the leaves from a single baby plant, or it could die. Harvesting this way encourages the center leaves to continue growing, and you can easily get four or more good harvests from each plant before it tires. This method is better suited for plants grown individually.
Harvesting Baby Salad Leaves with Scissors
The second way to harvest cut and come again lettuce is with scissors. Gently take a bunch of leaves in your hand and cut them off one to two inches from the soil/potting mix. This method is quicker, but try not to cut too close to the ground, or the plants may not grow back. A good rule of thumb is to leave each plant with at least two visible green leaves. They can be partial (cut) growth, but the plant needs leaves to be able to regrow.
The plants will grow new leaves, and subsequent crops will be ready within weeks. Then, you repeat the process and take another harvest. When you can see that the greens are tiring and not producing as much, or they begin to bolt, it’s time to re-sow. Take your last harvest by cutting the greens all the way down to the compost level. Fill the container with fresh compost and begin again.
Grow Baby Salad Greens Indoors
Have a sunny east or west-facing window? Use it to grow an indoor vegetable garden that includes baby salad greens. Don’t be tempted by an even sunnier south-facing window (north if you’re below the equator) since the light can be too intense for greens.
You can grow salad leaves indoors all the year-round, providing you have the light and you take precautions against fungus gnats. These tiny fly-like insects lay their eggs in compost and their larva burrow into your plants’ roots. They seem to appear from nowhere around houseplants, but they come from compost. If you want to grow lettuce and baby salad greens indoors, you should either grow hydroponically or sterilize the potting compost first.
Sterilizing Compost for Use Indoors
Purchased houseplant compost is already sterile, but it’s not nutrient-dense enough for edibles. First, get high-quality organic peat-free compost for growing vegetables. It will have the nutrients that vegetables need, but it can also have fungus gnat eggs waiting to hatch. To reduce fungus gnat numbers, you can sterilize the compost.
Fill a plastic tub with however much you’re planning on using, then pour boiling water over it. Just enough to saturate the compost, not to make it into a slurry. The hot water will kill the gnat fly eggs already in the compost, and trust me, they’re definitely there. Allow it to cool before potting up your plants or sowing seeds.