What Are True Leaves on Microgreens

Two frequently asked questions by people starting to grow microgreens are: "What are cotyledons?", and "What are true leaves on microgreens?"

Microgreen seed vendors and writers often forget to explain microgreen terminology before using uncommon words or phrases. We say things like "Harvest during the cotyledon stage" or "Wait until the first true leaves form before harvesting the microgreens."

This only confuses people who just started growing microgreens. Making the simple task of growing microgreens seem more difficult or too technical than it really is, and lowering the chances that they'll try growing their own microgreens.

microgreen true leaves

Home Microgreens aims to make growing microgreens as easy and fun as possible. Hopefully this article will help those that are new to microgreens by explaining the terminology. 

Growing microgreens is easy and we want you to have trays of microgreens ready to harvest every day of the year. 

What Are True Leaves?

The photo above is Purple Wave Mustard microgreens showing both cotyledons and the first true leaves.

If you haven't read the article on cotyledons or seed leaves, you can read that article by clicking this link.

Which leaves in the photo are the true leaves?

First true leaves are smaller versions of what the larger mature leaves will be, so they are the leaves that have vascular structures and frilly edges. Now not every first true leaf has frilly edges like the mustard shown above. But they will look more like mature plant leaves.

Cotyledons are usually smooth and plain looking, with very basic shapes like ovals or in the case of the mustard above, heart-shaped.

Below, we've labeled some of the cotyledons and true leaves on the mustard microgreen photo (you can click on either picture to expand the size).

What are true leaves on this mustard microgreen

You can see that the cotyledons, or seed leaves, are heart-shaped with smooth edges.

While the first true leaves are more vascular, lobed, and have frills along the edge. 

First true leaves, without a doubt, start providing energy for the plant by photosynthesis. There's some debate if cotyledons are able to photosynthesize Many sources on the internet say they don't. 

However, a study by Zhang et al. (2010) shows that cotyledons of some plants do contribute energy to the plant by photosynthesis.

We believe that the cotyledons of many plants grown as microgreens do produce chlorophyll and help contribute more nutrition to microgreens. The main reason we think that is how much the microgreens grow before growing their first true leaves.

But this isn't an article about cotyledons, but we want you to understand how the plants grow so you can produce the most nutritious and flavorful microgreens as possible.

microgreen true leaves

We'll get back to the topic on hand.

Harvest Before or After the First True Leaves Form?

Well, that depends on the microgreen. 

You harvest many microgreens before the first true leaf forms, for example, broccoli, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes and many more. 

Others, like the mustard microgreens shown above, should be harvested as the first true leaves form. Not that you can't eat the cotyledons, because you do harvest them along with the true leaves.

what are microgreen true leaves

Purple Wave Mustard microgreen. The plant is resting on two cotyledons, and the first true leaves are growing between them.

Flavor is the Real Reason

The reason why we wait to harvest some microgreens is that the first true leaves add a much more flavor to the microgreens.

The flavor will be more intense after the true leaves form. Generally, we wait for the first true leaves to form on herb microgreens, like basil, cilantro, parsley, before harvest. But we wait on some of the vegetable microgreens, like the mustards and celery too.

Confused When to Harvest What?

We know it's confusing, and we'll publish an article on which microgreens should be harvest prior too or after the formation of the first true leaves very soon. 

We'll post a link here when that article is published. Or, you can sign-up below to receive a weekly e-mail update with links to the newest articles as well as growing tips.

More Photos of Microgreen First True Leaves

Below are three more microgreen varieties. Again, you can click the image, and the photo will expand. 

Basil microgreen first true leaves

The fan shaped leaves to the top and bottom of the photo are the cotyledons. The first true leaves are coming out of the middle of the plant pointing east & west.

celery first true leaves

In this image of celery microgreens, all of the leaves shown are first true leaves. The cotyledons have either fallen off or can't be seen below.

Cilantro microgreen first true leaves

The cilantro cotyledons are narrow and oval, the first true leaves are tri-lobed.

Have a Question?

If you have any questions about the information in this post or microgreens in general, please leave a comment below or reach out to me using the Ask a Question page

Leaving a comment or using the Ask a Question page does not add your email to any mailing or marketing list. 

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Author of this Article is Todd

Todd is the founder of Home Microgreens & the Home Microgreens store. He also writes for several other websites, including MyViewFromTheWoods.com.

His microgreens have appeared in Better Homes & Garden magazine and other websites.
Todd worked at a large farm market, garden & nursery center for 20-years. Somehow he snuck off to become a geologist and professor before coming back to his senses to write & lecture about microgreens and gardening. He will be in the garden, trout stream, or on a mountain trail with his Springer Spaniel Caden when not at the computer.

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Home Microgreens Also Offers the Following

Microgreen eBook

A comprehensive microgreen ebook that details the principals of growing microgreens at home. Several different methods and processes are detailed.

The ebook comes in two versions, one version includes instructions to grow the most commonly grown microgreens. The second includes access the microgreen vault, a database containing more varieties and information with images taken throughout the stages of growth.

Video Courses for the Home Grower

The Home Microgreens Video Course is perfect for the person that wants to grow one or more trays of microgreens for home use. Trays of microgreens also make great gifts! 

The course includes short, easy to follow videos and checklist for each step along the way.

Step-by-step video instructions are included for the most commonly grown microgreen varieties. 

Grow for Profit Course

Do you want to learn how to grow microgreens for profit? Grow microgreens as a side hustle, retirement income, or maybe even as an occupation. 

It's possible to earn a few hundred to thousands of dollars a month. 

The Grow for Profit Video Course shows you what is involved to set up a microgreens business, how to setup your grow area, and instructions on how to grow many different varieties. 

The Home Microgreens Store

The Home Microgreen Store has all the supplies you need to grow microgreens at home. 

We stock complete microgreen kits, trays, professional potting soil, miscellaneous equipment and of course microgreens seeds.

Microgreen kits make great gifts, home school or rainy day projects, and are fun for the whole family.

Instructions are included as well as email support.

Our kit and seed prices are very competitive if not the lowest on the internet.