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Regrowing Lettuce and Other Greens From Kitchen Scraps

Regrowing lettuce

Regrowing lettuce

Do you want to make the most of your groceries? Or do you have your own garden and want a continuous harvest? Try regrowing scraps of your leafy greens such as lettuce, cabbage, bok choi, and celery.

When preparing these vegetables in your kitchen, cut off the bottom 5 cm (2 inches) and place this “scrap” in a bowl of water or plant it in soil. Within a few days, new growth will appear that will be ready to eat in a few weeks. Similarly, when you harvest lettuce or other greens from your garden, cut the plant off above the ground and the plant will continue to grow.

Let’s look at how easy it is to regrow leafy greens from scraps.

The Best Leafy Greens to Regrow From Scraps

Most leafy green plants contain vegetative buds in the stem where the leaves and stalks grow from. When we pick leaves off of a plant or completely cut the plant off of the stem, the energy and nutrients in the plant will then be redirected to these buds to grow new leaves.

Here are some great greens to regrow from cuttings.

  • Lettuce: Lettuce will regrow quite quickly and the new leaves can be picked at any stage and added to salads, smoothies, or whatever you want.
  • Cabbage: A cabbage bottom will regrow small tender leaves that can be used fresh or raw, and you can regrow any type of cabbage that you like best such as greed, red, napa, or savoy. Try planting cuttings from other varieties at your local grocery store and see which grows best.
  • Bok Choi: Bok choi, and other choi varieties, are in the Brassica family will regrow similarly to their cabbage cousins.
  • Celery: The best part of celery is the small tender stalks in the middle and this is what will regrow.

What about spinach, chard, and kale? If you grow spinach, kale, or chard in your garden, then you probably know that you can pick leaves throughout the summer and the plant will continually grow back. Unfortunately, when you buy these greens from the store, they only sell you the leaves themselves which will not grow back since you need the bottom part of the main stem for this to happen. Sometimes, however, you will see bunches of spinach that are sold with part of the root still attached and these can be regrown quite successfully.

Don’t Be Disappointed

Will the bottom of a head of lettuce regrow a beautiful new head? Unfortunately not. Instead, the bottom cutting will send up new, smaller leaves and stalks to replace those that we removed. The regrowth will never be as large or as impressive as the mother plant.

Regrown cuttings are not the ever-producing cornucopia and will not regrow indefinitely. You will usually be able to get 2 to 4 harvests of regrowth before the cutting has been used up. At this point, toss it in the compost to feed your garden, and start a new cutting.

The same is true in the garden when you pick individual leaves and leave the plant to regrow. The regrowth leaves will generally get smaller and less abundant as the season goes on, and eventually, it will be time to pull the whole plant.

Regrowing celery

Regrowing celery

How Fast Do They Grow?

New greens will usually start to grow within a few days of planting. In about 2 weeks, the leaves will be big enough to eat.

Regrowing Greens in Soil

  1. Choose a pot. Regrowing greens do not have a large root system, so you do not need a very large pot, but choose one that comfortably accommodates the cutting.
  2. Fill the pot with potting soil. Bags of potting soil work well, but you can use anything you prefer. Garden soil tends to compact in containers, so mix in a lot of compost for a good soil texture.
  3. Moisten the soil. Place the filled pot in a tray and water until the excess runs out the drainage holes. Leave the pot in the tray to absorb as much water as it needs so the soil is moist but wet. Alternatively, you can put the soil into a bowl and add water until it has the right amount of moisture before filling your pot.
  4. Cut the bottom 5 cm (2 inches) off of your head of lettuce, bunch of celery, or whichever green you are regrowing. Choose a healthy, good quality scrap and use it as soon as possible, and definitely within 24 hours. Eat the rest of the vegetable.
  5. Remove any loose, brown, and old leaves or stalks, but make sure you don’t damage the main stem of your cutting.
  6. Bury the cutting in the soil about 1 cm (1/2 inch) deep and lightly pack the soil down around it. You don’t want to bury it too deep or the greens might start to rot.
  7. Place the potted cutting in a bright, warm spot such as a window sill. You might need to provide supplemental lighting during the winter.
  8. Water as necessary so the soil stays damp but not overly wet. Stick the first digit of your finger into the soil. If the soil is dry it needs more water, and if it is still damp check back tomorrow.
Lettuce scrap in soil

Lettuce scrap in soil

Regrowing Greens in Water

  1. Cut the bottom 5 cm (2 inches) off of your vegetable as mentioned in Steps #4 and #5 above.
  2. Place the cutting into the shallow bowl and fill it with about 1 cm (1/2 inch) of water.
  3. Place it in a warm sunny spot.
  4. Replace the water every few days or as it becomes dirty or cloudy.
Celery stalk in water

Celery stalk in water

Regrowing Greens in the Garden

If you are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden, even if it is just a few pots on a balcony, you can make the most of your vegetables by encouraging them to regrow right in the garden. When it comes time to harvest, do not pull the whole plant but follow these tips below and your greens will continue to produce throughout the season.

Lettuce, bok choi, and celery: Using a sharp knife, cut off the plant a few centimeters above the ground. Within a few days, new growth will start to shoot up and you can have a salad of baby greens in no time.

Cabbage: We have never had any luck growing cabbage in our garden, but here is an interesting video that shows how a cabbage plant will regrow after harvest.

Spinach, kale, and chard: When these plants are ready to harvest, simply pick off the leaves and leave the plant in the garden. It will continue to regrow new leaves into the fall. We usually get 3 or 4 harvests off of each plant this way. After this, the leaves start getting bitter and are usually small and poor quality. At this point, you can pull the plant or leave it to flower and save seeds for next year.

Lettuce regrowing in the garden

Lettuce regrowing in the garden

The Regenerative Force of Nature

For centuries, the goal of agriculture has been to grow large fields of crops that are harvested to make way for another crop. In recent times, agribusinesses have cultivated a disconnect between people and the land, presenting food as a ‘product’ to be consumed rather than a living organism that has the amazing ability to sustain itself.

Like all plants, a vegetable's purpose is to grow and reproduce itself. When we harvest fresh vegetables for our dinner, we interrupt this process but do not stop it. Under the right conditions, this process will continue and the vegetables will regrow.

By regrowing even a single head of lettuce on our kitchen cupboard, we are letting ourselves be part of an amazing cycle by making the most of the food that nature has so graciously provided.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Bellwether Farming