How to Grow and Harvest 'Cut and Come Again' Lettuce, for Perpetual Salad Greens

green lettuce grows out of dirt

Treehugger / Kristine Hojilla

There's something beautiful about growing and harvesting a whole head of fresh lettuce from the garden, and it can be well worth the wait; but for both an earlier and an extended harvest of salad greens, the cut and come again method can yield an abundance of leafy green goodness all season long.

Growing Your Greens

loose leaf lettuce seeds and dirt
Treehugger / Kristine Hojilla

Lettuce is one of those fairly simple to grow garden crops that doesn't require pollination or the longer growth times that some veggies need before harvest. Still, if you want to grow a head of lettuce, it does take a bit of patience. If you're an impatient gardener, or want to extend your salad harvesting season, you might consider planting a bed or two with leaf lettuce that can be cut over and over again.

To grow head lettuce, each lettuce plant needs its own space around it, but this can restrict the total amount of lettuce grown in a garden bed. This means you can only harvest so many heads of lettuce per gardening season. Additionally, many of the head lettuce varieties are prone to bolting (sending up a flower stalk) once the heat of summer hits. Unless these leafy greens are grown under shade cloth, harvests of head lettuce are often more suited to the spring and fall.

To grow lettuce with the cut and come again method, it's best to plant loose-leaf lettuce varieties (although head lettuce varieties can also work if those are the seeds you have on hand), and to use mesclun (mixed) lettuce seed to provide some variety in color, texture, and flavor. The rows of cut and come again lettuce can be much closer together than head lettuce (as close as four inches apart), and the seeds can be planted much closer together as well, so there's no thinning necessary.

Plant Spacing and Creating Variety

bright green lettuce leaves close up
Treehugger / Kristine Hojilla

Prepare a garden bed as for any other seedlings, then lay out your rows and plant the seeds close together, either in a single row or as a four to six inch band. Once the leaves have reached the size of baby greens (about four inches long), the outer leaves can either be harvested individually (which takes a lot longer), or can be cut one handful at a time with garden shears or scissors, about one inch above the crown of the plant (cutting into or below the crown will most likely kill the lettuce plant). I like to start at one end of a row and loosely grab a handful of leaves and cut them with scissors, which is a quick and efficient method of harvesting them, especially if you have a big garden bed.

One of the keys to growing a perpetual harvest of lettuce with the cut and come again method is to not plant all of the rows at once, but to instead start several rows (depending on the size of your household) each week or every other week. This way, you'll always have a row or two ready to cut when you want fresh greens, and will allow the rows you've previously cut to send up a new batch of leaves for future harvests. Different varieties and gardens in different climates will have different growth rates, but a general rule of thumb is that new lettuce leaves will be ready to harvest again about two weeks after cutting a row. It's possible to get about three to five cuttings from each planting of lettuce, and possibly more, depending on your weather and garden conditions.

To add some variety to your cut and come again lettuce beds, consider using a spicy greens mix with mustard or other 'bitter' greens, adding some chard or spinach seeds to the rows, or planting radishes either between the rows or in the rows, which can be harvested as soon as a couple of weeks.

salad greens in bowl with croutons
Treehugger / Kristine Hojilla

Before the weather really heats up in the summer, rows of lettuce can be covered with shade cloth or row covers, which will slow the plants' tendency to bolt and extend the harvest into the hot season. Once the lettuce begins to bolt, you can either let them go to flower to nurture the pollinators, and to set seed (which can be saved for next year's planting if they are a non-hybrid heirloom or open-pollinated variety), or the plants can be pulled and fed to chickens or the compost pile. As fall approaches, more rows of lettuce can be planted and grown under row covers, or existing beds can be covered with row covers or low tunnels to extend the harvest well into the cold season.

View Article Sources
  1. How to Grow Lettuce.” Michigan State University.

  2. Harvesting Vegetables.” Clemson University.

  3. Voyle, Gretchen. “Cut and Come Again Vegetables.” Michigan State University.

  4. Lettuce.” University of Illinois.

  5. The Cultivar. Cornell University. 1983.

  6. Coulter, Lynn. Gardening with Heirloom Seeds. University of North Carolina Press. 2012.

  7. Heirloom or Hybrid: What’s in My Seed Packet?University of Maryland.