In nature, individuals of short-lived plant species (e.g. annuals, biennials) may grow at different times during the growing season. These plants are therefore exposed to different season-related conditions such as light and temperature, which in turn may have consequences for primary and secondary chemistry of the plant. Despite this, many studies examining plant–consumer interactions are performed in single replicates, which may thus ignore temporal variation in the expression of phenotypic plant traits that affect multitrophic interactions. In the present study, we demonstrated that even under strictly controlled conditions in a greenhouse, secondary plant chemistry changes dramatically in plants growing at different times in a single year, i.e. July, August and November. Glucosinolate (GS) contents in herbivore-damaged leaves of two different crucifer species, Brassica oleracea and Sinapis alba were higher in the August and November replicates than in the July replicate and GS concentrations were 10–25 times higher in S. alba than in B. oleracea. The development of a specialist herbivore, Plutella xylostella, also varied significantly over the three replicates. Larvae of P. xylostella that had fed upon either S. alba or B. oleracea, attained the largest biomass and had the fastest development rate in the November replicate. Female P. xylostella moths grew larger on S. alba than on B. oleracea, whereas male biomass was not significantly affected by host-plant species. Plant species, but not season also affected performance of the endoparasitoid, Diadegma semiclausum. Similar to the performance of host females, parasitoid males developed faster and attained the highest biomass when attacking P. xylostella larvae feeding on S. alba. Most importantly, the performance of the herbivore and its parasitoid only appeared to partially conform to levels of GS in damaged leaves, indicating that there is a complex of factors involved in determining the effects of plant quality on higher trophic levels.