The Life of a Plant: Understanding the Difference Between Microgreens, Baby Greens, and Adult Greens

Published Feb 7, 2023

Harvest time makes all the difference

What is the difference between spouts, microgreens, baby greens, and adult greens? With all of the leafy green terms out there, it can be confusing to keep them all straight. There is one key factor involved in the naming – time. 

Sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens (and their adult counterparts) are all different stages of a plant’s life cycle. The point at which they are harvested is what determines their name. 

Keep reading to learn more about the plant growth cycle and how each stage offers different benefits.

Seeds and Sprouts

It all starts with a seed. A seed is similar to a battery in that it stores energy (in the form of starch) until it is needed. When the seed takes up lots of water, the seed coat bursts and triggers the process of germination. The first organ to pop out of the seed is the root followed by a shoot tip that will eventually grow the first set of leaves.

At this stage of germination, starch is being broken down as an energy source for the developing seedling, leading to a higher concentration of digestible nutrients. Bonus – germination also breaks down another compound that normally inhibits the absorption of vitamins and minerals within the body called phytate. Cue sprouts! 

By eating sprouts, you are taking advantage of this natural process. While the ratio of nutrient density varies by variety, sprouts generally have higher levels of folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K than their adult counterparts. According to Emily Ho, a nutrition professor and director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, “you can eat 50 cups of broccoli or a single cup of broccoli sprouts for similar nutrition and benefit”.


So, there has to be a downside, right? Unfortunately, yes. The warm and wet environment required to grow a large number of sprouts also leads to the growth of something else that we do not want on our food – bacteria (the bad kind). For that reason, you should always be careful when consuming raw sprouts and follow the proper precautions

Don’t worry! Our journey doesn’t end here.


At this point in the plant’s life, it has used up most of that stored seed energy and has just enough left to start growing its first set of leaves called cotyledons. The cotyledons are like the plant’s baby leaves and normally look very different from all of the leaves that will follow (which are called “true” leaves). Now, the plant moves the location of nutrient storage to its new baby leaves – aka microgreens! 

Microgreens also take advantage of the plant’s natural germination process of improved digestibility and nutrient density without all the risk. With microgreens, you are harvesting the parts of the plant that aren’t growing in a risky (sprout-friendly) environment. In addition to being much safer than sprouts, microgreen nutrient levels are also extremely concentrated – up to 40% greater than mature plants! Microgreens are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals offering a wide range of health benefits.

In addition to nutrients, microgreens are also packed with flavor. So much flavor! Microgreens typically take on a more intense yet clean flavor when compared to mature plants allowing for a little to go a long way. Plant-based sprinkles anyone? 

Are there any downsides to microgreens? Only if you are very impatient! Microgreens simply take slightly more time to develop than sprouts (a week or so instead of a few days). 

So, what happens to these little baby leaves (aka microgreens) if we don’t eat them? 

Baby Greens

Just like baby teeth, the plant will eventually lose its cotyledons to make room for its adult leaves. It’s the circle of life! Believe it not, you actually have one more chance to eat them and reap the rewards.

The easiest way to view baby greens is as more fully developed microgreens (yet still very far from being a completely mature plant). At this stage, the plant has started photosynthesis and begins to develop its first true leaves that resemble a smaller version of the adult foliage that you would expect. 

As the leaves get bigger, their flavor gets slightly less potent. Baby greens generally have a milder flavor than microgreens and taste more similar to the adult plant. However, at this still very young stage of the plant, the nutrients remain concentrated within the small developing leaves offering a wide range of health benefits.


While microgreens are typically used to essentially garnish your meals with flavor and nutrition, baby greens provide enough of a harvest to enjoy a whole salad. Baby greens also take about a month to harvest instead of days or weeks. 

Adult Greens

Since baby greens are grown in dense quantities similar to microgreens and picked young, they are usually only harvested once. When allowed to grow to full maturity, plants are able to endure harvesting while continuing to grow and produce more leaves. This technique of harvesting is called the “cut and come again method”. 

So, what does all of this mean? 

Gardyn gives you options

Gardyn’s innovative microgreen system gives you the power to choose any of these stages! You can grow 7 different varieties of microgreens in our fully reusable and compostable nursery-based system. 

If you get busy or choose not to harvest your microgreens at this stage, you can pop them directly onto your Gardyn giving them access to the additional light and plant food that they need to develop into baby greens in about a month. While all of our microgreen varieties can be grown into baby greens, our favorites include Arugula, Spicy Blend, Mild Blend, and Kalefetti. 

If you are not interested in quick results and want a plant that will continue to provide multiple harvests, simply choose from over 25 different leafy greens that are available in our yCube portfolio. The choice is yours! 

Learn more about our microgreens and baby greens in our Gardyn Help Center.

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