Are There Ratoons in Your Garden?

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Savoy cabbages

Yes, ratoons is spelled correctly, and my garden is full of them. By midsummer most of my lettuces are ratoons, as are all of the cabbage and broccoli.

What is a ratoon? Derived from the Spanish word retoño (to resprout), ratoons are second crops that grow from the stumps or stubble of the first. This makes ratoon cropping different from a cut-and-come-again growth cycle, in which harvested leaves or stems are quickly replaced by new ones (chard and basil are prime examples). Ratoon crops regrow from the lowest part of the stem, or stump. Sugar cane and rice often produce sizeable ratoon harvests, as do some vegetables. The little savoy cabbages shown in the photo above were ready to harvest as ratoons five weeks after the main head was cut.

Choosing Ratoons

The best ratoon crops for your garden are those that enjoy a long season of suitable weather. Cooler climates hold great promise for ratooned cabbage, broccoli, watercress, and even scallions. Simply replant the bottom inch of onion (or young leek) with roots attached, and within a few weeks you will have a new plant.

In long, warm climates, heat-tolerant vegetables including okra, lima beans, and sweet peppers can be rejuvenated by chopping off their heads, ratoon style. When researchers in Oklahoma and Texas cut back spring-planted sweet peppers to 8 to 9 inches (20-24 cm) in late summer, the plants rebounded by producing more premium quality late-season fruits.

Ratoon broccoli />
<figcaption class=This broccoli will resprout for a second, smaller, harvest

The great thing about ratoon crops is that they require no replanting. All you need are a few simple techniques and a bit of patience.

  • One of the keys to getting plenty of strong ratoons is to cut high on the stem when harvesting the first cabbage, broccoli head, or whatever, which leaves behind plenty of opportunities for latent basal buds to mobilize and start growing.
  • Water and or fertilizer may be needed to kick-start new growth. Fortunately, the radically pruned plant is sitting atop a large root system, which may do a fine job of nurturing a ratoon crop without heavy feeding.
  • As the new growth appears, I do think it’s a good idea to remove tattered old leaves to keep plants from wasting energy on them and to eliminate hideouts for slugs and snails.
  • Ratoon cropping works the soil hard, so be sure to replenish nutrients and organic matter by digging in plenty of rich compost when the crop is finally finished.

How much will you get? Expect the second crop to be slightly less than half of the first by weight, but also expect it to feel like a lucky bonus, or lagniappe as they might say in Louisiana.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"What if your plants did not produce? My Brocolli never went to head. Could I cull them back to get a ratoon style late crop? Should I let them go, and maybe get some late season heads anyway?"
Mark Allstatt on Thursday 6 August 2009
"Mark, I think you will be unlikely to get ratoons by cutting back a plant that has not cropped - I would just add some mulch and hope that it picks up for a small crop, or perhaps remove it and grow something quick in that space."
Jeremy Dore on Friday 7 August 2009
"Mark, you might want to cut the top "buds" from some of your broccoli plants in hopes of shocking them into heading. Otherwise, your plants plan to sit through winter and head up in spring, which won't work in most climates. You're not alone! I have two plants from spring that have not formed heads yet. If I see no promising signs in the next few days, I'll cut them back just a little. Hope this helps."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 7 August 2009
"Last year it was only pure laziness that meant that my broccoli plants did not get pulled up after cutting the flower. I was amazed to find them re-shooting and eventually we had as much from 'ratoons' as we did from the original crop! Another great reason to have a veggy garden."
Sue Painter on Saturday 8 August 2009
"The technique of cropping Cos Lettuce and scoring the stump left in the soil was suggested in that old gardening favourite: the 'Expert' series by Hessayon; I've done this since reading the piece many years ago. Again, with onions I stumbled across this technique with one plant crushed at the end of a row, which resprouted. "
Philip Muir on Monday 10 August 2009
"By the way, WOW! My Broccoli finilly headed up. It was mid September, but they came on. As they were heading up, I would cut them back, and lo and behold, the Ratoons came on. I was getting them up to last week. Some had gone to seed, but with 8 plants, my kids and I could only eat so much. Thank you both!! "
Mark Allstatt on Thursday 5 November 2009
"I found kale growing from the stump I left accidentally in the fall when cleaning up and preparing for winter. Last summer, I had to my delight so much kale from that one ratoon. I cut it back again and will see if I get another surprise this spring."
Dee on Tuesday 9 March 2010

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