Broccoli is definitely a staple in my garden every year. Not only does fresh homegrown broccoli taste amazing, but it’s super healthy! Growing broccoli from seed can be a bit challenging for beginners, but it’s not difficult. In this post, I will tell you all about growing broccoli in your garden, and give you all the information you need for planting broccoli seeds.
Broccoli is a brassica and is part of the cabbage family of plants. There are a few different varieties of broccoli plants that you could grow, some take longer to grow than others. Di Cicco, Calabrese, Green Golliath and Waltham are a few of my favorite varieties.
If you have kids, there are a few super fun varieties you should try too. Kids love weird stuff, so try growing purple broccoli seeds for them, or get them to help you plant some broccoli romanesco seeds. Growing broccoli from seed (especially weird varieties) might just get them to finally eat their vegetables!
Organic broccoli growing in my vegetable garden
- Growing Broccoli From Seed
- Where To Grow Broccoli
- When Do You Plant Broccoli Seeds
- How Deep To Plant Broccoli Seeds
- How To Plant Broccoli Seeds Step-By-Step
- Broccoli Seedling Care
- Planting Broccoli Seedlings Into Your Garden
- Broccoli Plant Growing Tips
- How And When To Harvest Broccoli
- Recommended Varieties
- Spacing & Depth
- Common Problems
- Questions & Answers
- Selection & Storage
- Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
- Preparation & Serving
- Home Preservation
- Broccoli Not Forming Heads: Reasons Why My Broccoli Has No Head
- Help, My Broccoli Has No Head!
- Reasons for No Head on Broccoli
- How to Grow Broccoli
- 5 Tips to Grow Big Broccoli Heads
- Broccoli Troubleshooting Tips
- Can I save this crop of broccoli that bolted early?
- What to Do About Flowers on Broccoli Sprouts?
- Broccoli Benefits
- Types of Broccoli
- Broccoli Flowers
- Culinary Uses
- Seed Production
- No broccoli or cauliflower heads
Growing Broccoli From Seed
One of the things I love the most about growing broccoli in my garden is that it’s cold hardy. Here in Minnesota, our growing season is very short.
So, any time I can grow something that is frost hardy means it’s going to be much less maintenance for me! Growing broccoli from seed is pretty easy, which is another reason it’s one of my favorite crops to grow.
If you live in a cold climate with a short growing season like I do, then it’s best to start seeds indoors in seedling trays or using a seed starting kit.
If you live in a warmer climate, then you can plant your broccoli seeds directly into the garden. It’s always a good idea to read your seed packets to find the recommended seed starting method before planting broccoli seeds
Broccoli seed packet
Where To Grow Broccoli
Broccoli grows best in a location that gets full sun, in soil that is rich in organic nutrients. They are heavy feeders, and like their soil kept evenly moist but fast draining.
To create the perfect soil for growing broccoli plants, amend your soil with rich compost, well rotted manure and/or worm castings. I also like to mix an organic granular fertilizer into my soil before planting broccoli seedlings.
Since broccoli is a cool weather crop, it’s a good idea to mulch the soil around the base of the plants to help keep the roots cool (the mulch will break down over time and help to feed the soil and plants too).
When Do You Plant Broccoli Seeds
There are different types of broccoli plants, and each variety can have slightly different seed growing requirements and seed starting dates. So be sure to read the seed packets to figure out when to plant broccoli seeds.
But in general, broccoli seeds should be started indoors 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date.
If you live in a warmer climate that has a longer growing season, then you can plant broccoli seeds directly into your garden as soon as the soil is workable in early spring.
Getting ready to plant broccoli seeds
How Deep To Plant Broccoli Seeds
The general rule of thumb for planting seeds is to plant them twice as deep as the seed is wide. Broccoli seeds are pretty tiny, so plant them only about 1/8″ – 1/4″ deep.
Related Post: How To Grow An Avocado Tree From Seed
Planting broccoli seeds indoors
How To Plant Broccoli Seeds Step-By-Step
- Fill your seed starting trays with a high quality seed starting mix
- Plant 1-2 broccoli seeds per cell (if you plant more than one seed per cell or pellet, then you’ll need to thin the seedlings once they start to grow)
- Make a hole in the soil and drop the seed into it, or you can place the seed on top of the soil and gently press it into the dirt
- Cover the seed with soil and gently pack it down to ensure the soil comes into contact with your seeds
- Water your seedling trays from the bottom so you won’t disturb the soil
- Place the lid on the top of the tray to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out during germination
Starting broccoli from seed
Broccoli Seedling Care
Once you’re done planting your seeds, you might wonder “now what?!”. Well if you ask me, this is where the fun of growing broccoli from seed really begins!
I love the anticipation of seeing tiny baby seedlings emerging from the soil. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait too long.
Broccoli seed germination time – Germinating broccoli seeds takes about 5-10 days depending on how warm the soil is. Warm soil will speed up broccoli germination, while cold soil will slow it down.
If you want your seeds to germinate faster, put your seedling trays on a seed starting heat mat to keep the soil nice and warm.
Baby broccoli seedlings
Watering broccoli seedlings – From the time you plant broccoli seeds, you always want to make sure to keep the soil evenly moist.
Broccoli seedlings won’t grow well if the soil is too dry or too wet, and improper watering of seedlings can lead to problems down the road. So make sure to check the soil daily. A soil moisture gauge can come in handy here too.
Broccoli seedling lighting – Broccoli seedlings need a lot of light or they will stretch and grow leggy. Add a seedling grow light as soon as your seedlings start to emerge.
The light should hang a few inches above your seedlings at all times (move the light up as the seedlings grow), and be kept on for 14-16 hours per day. I made my own seed starting grow lights using an inexpensive fluorescent light fixture with plant grow light bulbs for my seedlings.
Whatever you decide to use for lighting, I definitely recommend getting yourself an inexpensive outlet timer to control the lights for you, it’s so much easier than relying on your memory.
Relate Post: A Beginner’s Guide To Grow Lights For Seedlings
Fertilizing broccoli seedlings – As I mentioned above, broccoli plants are heavy feeders. So give them a good start in life by feeding your broccoli seedlings as soon as they start to grow their first true leaves.
Start with a weak dose of liquid fertilizer, and gradually bump it up to full strength as the seedlings mature. I recommend using an organic compost fertilizer, which you can get in liquid form, or buy compost tea bags and brew your own.
Other types of organic plant fertilizer that work great on seedlings are fish emulsion or liquid kelp (but those can get a little stinky when you use them indoors).
Learn more about caring for seedlings here.
Planting Broccoli Seedlings Into Your Garden
Transplanting broccoli seedlings – When growing broccoli from seed indoors, wait until your broccoli seedlings have their first few sets of true leaves before transplanting them into the garden.
Broccoli seedlings are frost hardy, so they can be planted into the garden 2-4 weeks before your average last frost date in the spring.
Seedlings growing indoors must be hardened off first, so make sure you do not skip this critical step or your seedlings could die as soon as you plant them.
Learn about the timing for when to transplant seedlings into the garden here.
Broccoli plant spacing – Broccoli plants need room to grow, so don’t overcrowd them. Space your broccoli seedlings (or direct sow the seeds) 12-24 inches apart (read the seed packets for exact spacing recommendations for the variety you’re growing).
It will look funny when the seedlings are still small, and you might think you left too much room. But trust me, once the plants grow to full size, they will fill in the space nicely.
Broccoli Plant Growing Tips
Broccoli plants need a bit of extra care to thrive and produce tons of yummy food for you. They aren’t the most high maintenance plants, but they definitely aren’t totally maintenance free. Here are a few quick growing tips…
- Broccoli grows best in cool weather, so if you live in a warm climate then you should avoid growing broccoli during the hot summer months
- Mulch around the base of the broccoli plants to help keep the roots cool
- Broccoli plants like a lot of water, so never allow the soil to dry out completely
- Feed your broccoli plants throughout the growing season for best results. You can use the same types of liquid fertilizer you use on the seedlings (e.g.: liquid compost tea, compost tea bags, fish emulsion, liquid kelp)
Broccoli ready to be harvested
How And When To Harvest Broccoli
The first time you grow broccoli in your garden, it can be tricky to figure out when is the exact right time to harvest. If you don’t harvest soon enough, eventually your broccoli will bolt (i.e.: grow flowers).
You definitely want to harvest before that happens. So harvest broccoli when the buds are still tight and green. If the buds are big and starting to turn yellow, then harvest it right away (cause it’s about to bolt).
Each broccoli plant will only produce one main head. But after the main harvest, a bunch of smaller side shoots (tiny broccoli heads) will grow, which you can usually harvest all summer long. So don’t cut your plant down to the ground or pull it after you harvest the first large head.
If you have time, allow your broccoli plants to be touched by frost before harvesting the heads. Frost makes them taste sweeter.
Harvest broccoli after frost for sweeter flavor
Growing broccoli from seed is so rewarding, and super fun too! Once you get the hang of it, it’s super easy. Plus, you can grow some pretty cool varieties when you buy seeds rather than seedlings.
If you need more help in the seed starting department, and want to learn how to grow all of your garden plants from seed, check out my online seed starting course. This comprehensive, self-paced, step-by-step online course is specifically designed to teach beginners how to grow seeds.
More Posts About Growing Vegetable Garden Seeds
- Growing Radishes From Seed
- How To Grow Carrots From Seed
- Planting Lettuce Seeds & Tips For Growing Lettuce From Seed
- How To Grow Peppers From Seed
- Growing Spinach From Seed: A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners
Share you best tips for growing broccoli from seed in the comments section below.
Broccoli is a hardy vegetable of the cabbage family that is high in vitamins A and D. It develops best during cool seasons of the year.
When broccoli plants of most varieties are properly grown and harvested, they can yield over an extended period. Side heads develop after the large, central head is removed. Two crops per year (spring and fall) may be grown in most parts of the country. New heat tolerant varieties allow broccoli to be produced in all but the hottest parts of the season.
Transplants are recommended to give the best start for spring planting, because transplanting gets the plants established more quickly. Thus they can bear their crop with minimal interference from the extreme heat of early summer. Fall crops may be direct-seeded in the garden if space allows or may be started in flats to replace early crops when their harvest ends.
Cruiser (58 days to harvest; uniform, high yield; tolerant of dry conditions)
Green Comet (55 days; early; heat tolerant)
Green Goliath (60 days; spring, summer or fall; tolerant of extremes)
Transplant young, vigorously growing plants in early spring. Plants that remain too long in seed flats may produce “button” heads soon after planting. For fall crops, buy or grow your own transplants or plant seeds directly in the garden. For fall planting, start seedlings in midsummer for transplanting into the garden in late summer. To determine the best time for setting your fall transplants, count backward from the first fall frost in your area and add about 10 to the days to harvest from transplants. Remember that time from seed to transplant is not included in this figure.
Spacing & Depth
Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, or set transplants slightly deeper than they were grown originally. Plant or thin seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart in the row and allow 36 inches between rows. Broccoli plants grow upright, often reaching a height of 2 1/2 feet. Space plants one foot apart in all directions in beds.
Use starter fertilizer for transplants and side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown. Provide ample soil moisture, especially as the heads develop.
The edible part of broccoli are compact clusters of unopened flower buds and the attached portion of stem. The green buds develop first in one large central head and later in several smaller side shoots. Cut the central head with 5 to 6 inches of stem, after the head is fully developed, but before it begins to loosen and separate and the individual flowers start to open (show bright yellow). Removing the central head stimulates the side shoots to develop for later pickings. These side shoots grow from the axils of the lower leaves. You usually can continue to harvest broccoli for several weeks.
Aphids â Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.
For more information on aphids, see our feature in the Bug Review.
Cabbage worms â Three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads of cabbage and related cole crops. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly is seen during the day hovering over plants in the garden. Cabbage loopers (“measuring worms”) are smooth, light green caterpillars. The cabbage looper crawls by doubling up (to form a loop) and then moving the front of its body forward. The moth is brown and is most active at night. Diamondback worms are small, pale, green caterpillars that are pointed on both ends. The moth is gray, with diamond-shaped markings when the wings are closed. The damage caused by diamondback larvae looks like shot holes in the leaf.
The larval or worm stages of these insects cause damage by eating holes in the leaves and cabbage head. The adult moths or butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves but otherwise do not damage the plants. The worms are not easy to see because they are fairly small and blend with the cabbage leaves. Cabbage worms are quite destructive and can ruin the crop if not controlled. They are even worse in fall plantings than in spring gardens because the population has had several months to increase. About the time of the first frost in the fall, moth and caterpillar numbers finally begin to decline drastically.
For more information on cabbage worms, see our feature in the Bug Review.
Questions & Answers
Q. How large should the central head of broccoli grow before cutting?
A. Harvest the central head when the individual florets begin to enlarge and develop and before flowering begins. Size varies with variety, growing conditions and season of growth; but central heads should grow to be 4 to 6 inches in diameter, or even larger. Late side shoots may reach only 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
Q. What causes small plants, poor heading and early flowering?
A. Yellow flowers may appear before the heads are ready to harvest during periods of high temperatures. Planting too late in the spring or failing to give the plants a good start contributes to this condition. Premature flower development also may be caused by interrupted growth resulting from extended chilling of young plants, extremely early planting, holding plants in a garden center until they are too old or too dry, and severe drought conditions. Small heads that form soon after plants are set in the garden are called “buttons” and usually result from mistreated seedlings being held too long or improperly before sale or planting. Applying a starter fertilizer at transplanting gets the plants off to a good start but cannot correct all the difficulties mentioned.
Selection & Storage
Since broccoli grows best in cool weather, your garden plan should produce a fall and spring harvest. The large central head is the spring harvest and smaller side shoots will be ready in the fall. Harvest when the head is large and firm, with a compact cluster of small flower buds with none open enough to show bright yellow flowers. Look for bright green or purplish-green heads. Yellow flowers and enlarged buds are signs of over-maturity.
Store the broccoli, unwashed, in loose or perforated plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Broccoli left unrefrigerated quickly becomes fibrous and woody. Wet broccoli quickly becomes limp and moldy in the refrigeratorâso wash it just before using. Store fresh broccoli in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Old broccoli may look fine, but it develops strong undesirable flavors. It tastes best and is highest in nutritional value when storage time is brief.
Nutritional Value & Health Benefits
A member of the cabbage family and a close relative of cauliflower, broccoli packs more nutrients than any other vegetable. Broccoli contains large amounts of vitamin C and beta carotene which are important antioxidants. In the United States, broccoli has become the most favored cruciferous vegetable (cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, and all forms of cabbage). Researchers have concluded that broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables should be included in the diet several times a week. Consuming foods high in antioxidants can reduce the risk of some forms of cancer and heart disease. One half cup cooked broccoli contains the following nutrients as well as many other trace nutrients and phytochemicals.
Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup cooked fresh broccoli)
Dietary fiber 2.4 grams
Protein 2.3 grams
Carbohydrates 4.3 mg
Vitamin C 49 mg
Folic Acid 53.3 nanograms
Calcium 89 mg
Iron 0.9 mg
Preparation & Serving
Wash broccoli under cool running water. Never allow it to sit in water as it will lose water soluble nutrients. Fresh broccoli is delicious raw or cooked. Trim and peel the stalk, it is high in fiber. Cut the florets into uniform pieces for even cooking. Overcooked broccoli develops a strong sulfur odor. Steam broccoli for 3-4 minutes or simmer in about one inch of boiling water for the same amount of time or less. Cooked broccoli should be bright green and tender-crisp. Overcooked broccoli turns dark green and suffers nutrient loss, especially vitamin C.
Freezing is the best way to preserve broccoli. Broccoli, as well as all other broccoli vegetables, must be blanched (scalded) in boiling water before freezing. Unblanched vegetables contain an active enzyme which causes toughening and severe flavor and nutrient loss during freezing. Blanching retards the enzyme activity.
Freezing does not improve the quality of any vegetable. Freezing actually can magnify undesirable characteristics. For instance woodiness in stalks become more noticeable upon thawing. Select broccoli that has grown under favorable conditions and prepare for freezing as soon after picking as possible. Broccoli at its peak quality for eating will produce best results in the freezer.
In a blanching pot or large pot with a tight fitting lid, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, wash broccoli, trim stalks and cut through florets so that pieces of heads are not more than 1 inch across. Peel stalks and cut into rounds or quarter lengthwise.
Blanch no more than one pound at a time. Add broccoli to boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.
Start timing immediately and blanch for four minutes.
Prepare an ice water bath in a large 5-quart container or the sink.
Remove broccoli from water with a slotted spoon or blanching basket.
Emerge in the ice water bath for five minutes or until cooled. If you do not have ice, use several changes of cold water or running cold water. Remove and drain.
Pack cold broccoli in zip-closure freezer bags or freezer containers. Squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing bags.
Label and date each container or bag. Immediately place in the freezer, allowing an inch of space around each container until it is frozen. Freeze for up to one year at 0 degrees F. or below.
Blanching water can be reused. Add more water if necessary. Remember to always bring water back to a rolling boil before blanching more broccoli.
Herbs and spices that enhance the flavor of broccoli include basil, dill, garlic, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, tarragon and thyme.
Steamed Broccoli with Lemon-Dill Dressing
- 1 bunch broccoli (about 2 pounds)
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 -inch strips
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- zest of one lemon, grated or minced
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried dill weed or 3 teaspoons fresh dill
- salt to taste
Wash, trim stems from broccoli and peel, cut into strips the same size as carrots. Cut florets into small uniform pieces and set aside. Prepare carrots and set aside. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. (Or prepare the steamer) Add carrots and broccoli stems. Cook for one minute. Add broccoli florets and boil two minutes longer. Do not over cook. Drain, and rinse under cold running water, drain again. Place in a large bowl and gently toss with dressing. Serve immediately.
Makes six servings.
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
- 1/2 cup walnuts, broken or chopped coarsely
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions with tops (optional)
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 1/4 cup red pepper strips
- 2 tablespoons lite soy sauce
In a large heavy, skillet heat oil until hot. Add walnuts and onions and stir-fry for one minute tossing constantly. Add broccoli and continue to toss for three to four minutes. Add red pepper strips and soy sauce and continue to cook one minute longer. Serve immediately. Makes six servings.
Broccoli Not Forming Heads: Reasons Why My Broccoli Has No Head
Broccoli is a cool weather vegetable usually eaten for its delicious head. Broccoli is a member of the cole crop or Brassicaceae family, and as such, has a number of insects that enjoy the tasty head as much as we do. It’s also susceptible to a number of diseases, but one of its major issues is broccoli that won’t head. Why is broccoli not producing heads and is there a remedy for broccoli not forming heads?
Help, My Broccoli Has No Head!
This vegetable is referred to as “sprouting” broccoli because once the larger central head is harvested, the plant begins to send out smaller side shoots that head. This is awesome for those of us that love broccoli. It means our broccoli harvest time is lengthened. However, sometimes you may get a big, gorgeous broccoli plant only to discover it won’t head at all.
You have planted the broccoli in a sunny area, in fertile, well-drained soil and incorporated plenty of organic matter and a complete fertilizer, so why is the broccoli not producing heads?
Reasons for No Head on Broccoli
One reason for a broccoli not forming heads or producing small heads is timing. As mentioned, broccoli likes to be kept cool. Plants should be set in the early spring for summer harvest and/or in the early fall. Just as excessive heat may cause the broccoli to bolt, plants may button if they have been exposed to cold weather. Buttoning will cause the plant to produce tiny heads as will stress — like lack of water or nutrients. Extreme temperatures will also bring the production of broccoli to a screeching halt.
If your broccoli won’t head at all, other potential culprits are overcrowding, damage to the root system or transplanting seedlings too late with roots that are root bound.
So how can you prevent having to squawk, “Help, My broccoli has no head”? Ensure that the plants are receiving adequate water and nutrients. Broccoli doesn’t usually require additional fertilizer, but if the plants look sickly, hit them with some nitrogen such as fish emulsion.
Time your plantings properly since extreme heat or cold has a bearing on whether or not the plant heads. Be sure to harden off seedlings in cooler regions, allowing the plants to acclimate to temperature changes.
Finally, if your broccoli isn’t heading, check and see what variety of broccoli you are growing. The issue may not be with the broccoli, it could be with your patience. Some broccoli matures anywhere from 55 to 70 days. You may just need to wait a little longer.
If you still have no head on broccoli, eat the leaves. High in nutrition as well, the leaves can be sautéed, stir fried, or added to soups. Okay, so no broccoli heads, but growing the plant wasn’t a waste either.
Sharing is caring!
After sharing some photos of my broccoli harvest on Facebook, I received the following request. “An article with tips to get big broccoli would be most appreciated! I have big beautiful plants and itty bitty broccoli.” After growing broccoli for many years, I’ve probably made every broccoli growing mistake in the book, so I may now qualify for Broccoli Growing Expert Status. 😉
We’ll start off with some broccoli growing basics, share some tips to get nice, big broccoli heads, and finally wrap up with troubleshooting tips for misbehaving broccoli.
How to Grow Broccoli
When to Plant Broccoli
Broccoli likes cool weather, but not really cold weather (we’ll get to that in a bit). As noted on my printable seed starting calendar, seedlings should be started inside 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. Broccoli growers in hot weather climates may have better luck with a fall crop sown inside between mid August to mid September.
Transplant when seedlings are about 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall, roughly one inch (2.5 cm) deeper than they grew in the pots.
Which Broccoli Variety to Grow
This may take some experimenting on your part to find the best broccoli for your area. Mother Earth News describes the four different broccoli types:
Large-headed varieties produce the familiar domed heads that are composed of numerous clustered florets. Many large-headed varieties produce smaller side shoots after the primary head is harvested.
Sprouting varieties grow into bushier plants that produce numerous small heads. These varieties are at their best when grown from fall to spring in mild winter climates.
Romanesco varieties produce elegantly swirled heads composed of symmetrically pointed spirals. These large plants need plenty of space, excellent soil and good growing conditions to do well.
Broccoli raab is grown for its immature flower buds, which have a stronger flavor than regular broccoli. Broccoli raab (closely related to turnips) is popular in Asian and Italian cooking.
If you’re buying seedlings from a nursery, you will likely get something labels “broccoli” that will hopefully be a good variety for your area. If you’re making your own selections from a seed catalog, note Days to Maturity and growing habits. Most listings will state whether the variety is known for producing a large head, abundant sprouts or both.
My favorite variety to date for here in the upper Midwest is Nutribud, which features a large center head and abundant side sprouts. Most years, I can keep picking from midsummer to frost off of one planting, although often as the season goes on I start allowing some plants to flower, because they are one of the few flowers available for the bees after hard frost.
Growing Requirements of Broccoli
Broccoli prefers a neutral pH – 6.5 to 7.5 preferred, down to 6.0 okay – Add some garden lime or crushed oyster shells to boost pH if your soil is acidic
Soil temperature should be 60-65F (16-18C) (You can check your soil temperature with a soil thermometer.)
Broccoli Requires Rich Soil! I think it may be impossible to overfeed broccoli, especially when it comes to nitrogen.
Space Plants Roughly 18 inches (40 cm) Apart – I prefer to plant in wide rows with a staggered pattern – 2 plants, 1 plant, 2 plants, 1 plant, and so on, and then leave a 12 inch (30 cm) space between the wide rows.
In the photo below I have part of my broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage bed. The black “X”s mark the grid of the cauliflower plants. The broccoli is to the left at the edge of the photo. In between the broccoli and cauliflower I pop in companion plants like calendula and alyssum. Along the edge of the cauliflower there is also a row of onions. It’s a little weedy and wild here, but still productive.
Full sun is preferred for best yield, although the plants will tolerate partial shade, especially in warmer climates.
*Note: Strong scented herbs such as dill may deter cabbage butterflies, reducing the incidence of green cabbage worms on your broccoli.
Bad Companion Plants for Broccoli: Pole and snap beans, strawberry
5 Tips to Grow Big Broccoli Heads
1. Fertilize, Fertilize, Fertilize
Work plenty of rotten manure, some blood meal or cottonseed meal into the soil before planting, and consider watering with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizers every three to four weeks during the growing season.
2. Make Sure Your Broccoli Gets Enough Water
Rainwater is best, but if rains fail, your broccoli needs 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week. In my garden this year we are roughly 5 inches short on rain for the season. Although I have watered some, I can tell the difference in the smaller broccoli head size.
3. Mulch Your Broccoli Well
2-3 inches of organic mulch such as grass clippings, finely ground leaves or straw helps to keep the soil from overheating, which is important because heat will cause broccoli to bolt (send up flower stalks).
*Note that in cool areas with a lot of moisture, the opposite treatment may be needed. Excessive moisture can lead to booming slug populations. When we are waterlogged, I skip the mulch and spread the area under the plants with crushed eggshells to keep the slugs in check. In very cool areas, black plastic or black landscape fabric under the plants may be helpful to bring the soil up to temp.
4. Consider Adding Boron
Cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi benefit from significant amounts of boron. If your soil is very acid or alkaline, boron is less bio-available plants.
Gardening Know How notes:
The first signs of boron deficiency in plants shows in the new growth. Leaves will yellow and growing tips will wither.
If you suspect a boron deficiency problem with your plants, a dose of boric acid (1/4 cup to 2 gallons of water) used as a foliar spray will do the job. Be careful as you use boron on plants. Again, heavy boron soil concentrations are toxic.
Boric acid is another name for the common household cleaner Borax, which you may be able to find in the laundry aisle.
5. Pick the Right Variety of Broccoli
As I mentioned above, broccoli can be found with different types of growth habits. You need to find the right variety for your area are production preferences.
I’ve stopped attempting to grow Romanesco types, because they require a very long season of mid-range temperatures. I tried growing them for three years, and only one year out of the three did I get decent sized heads. The plants are also ginourmous. I’d rather grow a monster head of cabbage than a huge mass of leaves with a modest head of broccoli in roughly the same space.
I also avoid broccoli raab, because we have a high sulfur content in our soil and even normally “mild” cole family crops tend to be quite pungent. Given that raab is already known for its strong flavor, I suspect it’d be nearly inedible grown here.
Some of the broccoli varieties recommended for large heads on the gardenwebs forums include:
- Green Goliath
- Early Dividend
- Blue Wind
- Southern Comet
- Green Magic
Broccoli Troubleshooting Tips
“My broccoli plants are tiny, but they’re already forming heads. What happened?”
Broccoli plants like it cool but not cold. According to Bonnie Plants, “If transplants sit exposed to cold below 40 degrees for a week or two, the chilling injury triggers heads to form way too early.”
If your small broccoli plant is already making a head of broccoli, you’re not likely to ever get a large head of broccoli from that plant. Consider it a learning year and try again.
“My broccoli plants were big and healthy, but they never formed a head of broccoli.”
Your broccoli may have gone blind. Seriously – as strange as it sounds, broccoli blindness is a real thing. If the growing tip of the broccoli is injured via rough handling, insects or weather, a head may not form.
“My broccoli has small yellow flowers. When will the heads form?”
Alas, the broccoli head ship has sailed. Once you see flowers, your broccoli head, even if it was very tiny, is already going to seed. You can still eat the broccoli once it is starting to flower, but the flavor and texture of the broccoli are better when the buds are nice and tight. A head of broccoli is just a big old cluster of tightly packed flower buds, and that broccoli plant wants to flower and produce seeds if you give it a chance.
Hot weather is likely the cause of your broccoli flowers. Once it gets above 80 F (26.7C), plants can bolt very quickly. Pick all heads and side shoots promptly, even if they are small.
“My broccoli stalks are hollow, so they collected water when it rained and started rotting. What can I do?”
Remember earlier where I mentioned boron? Hollow stalks mean your soil is lacking in boron. It’s too late for the rotting plants, but if you have some broccoli plants that haven’t been harvested, you can treat them and it may help prevent more rotten broccoli stems.
“My broccoli is covered in small green worms? How do I get rid of them?”
You have been visited by the infamous cabbage butterfly, whose larva are now devouring your broccoli. As I mentioned in the companion plant section, strong scented herbs may help keep them at bay, but they are not 100% full-proof.
The only sure way to keep cabbage worms off your plants is to isolate the plants under a floating row cover or mesh cages that surround the broccoli plants. We have too much wind for row covers, and my planting area is never the same size twice, so I haven’t used these methods, but a friend of mine with a crafty husband has some beautiful custom built broccoli cages covered in window screening. Cages would also work great if you had uniform sized raised beds.
My tactic to minimize cabbage worm damage is to simply fertilize the beejeezus out of the plants and give them lots of TLC so they grow vigorously enough that the worms don’t bother them much. There are cabbage butterflies all around, and the larva do nibble some, but I’ve only had severe infestations in years where the plants were exceptionally stressed due to drought or poor soil conditions, like the year we first broke ground here at our current home.
Some beneficial insects such as wasps will eat the cabbage worms. We also place sticks for bird perches and a bird bath around our cole plants, and have noticed the birds hunting down around the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
Once you’ve harvested your broccoli, you can use this simple method my mom showed me to remove the worms before serving or preserving, if desired. Read, “The Easiest Way to Get Worms Out of Broccoli“. The worms are edible, but I’m not that hungry.
Once you have your broccoli cleaned and ready to use, you may enjoy the following recipes:
- Cheesy Broccoli Soup with a Surprise Ingredient
- Broccoli, Bacon and Cheese Salad
- Easy Cheese Quiche Recipe with Fresh, Frozen or Freeze Dried Veggies
I hope this post helps you grow the best broccoli to ever grace your garden. If you have comments or other gardening questions, please share them below and I’ll do my best to answer here or in a future post.
Thanks so much for visiting! Shares and Pins are always appreciated.
Can I save this crop of broccoli that bolted early?
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What to Do About Flowers on Broccoli Sprouts?
Broccoli is one of America’s favorite vegetables. Broccoli consumption in the U.S. surpasses that of other vegetables of the same brassica family, such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Broccoli is a popular plant in home gardens. It grows easily from seed for those who like to start their own seeds early, and it is also available in garden centers as transplants.
Some gardeners are plagued with less than adequate growing conditions, resulting in broccoli that rushes into flowering. Drought and heat can be major contributors to early flowering. Correct the conditions when possible, and learn to use the flowers.
Broccoli is a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and A, beta carotene, calcium, folate and iron, plus other trace minerals and phytochemicals. One-half cup of steamed broccoli contains 2.3 g protein and 2.4 g fiber.
Tender stems, leaves, buds, and flowers are all edible.
Types of Broccoli
Traditional broccoli found in American supermarkets has a large central head. Raab broccoli, or Italian broccoli, grows with many branches and small, loose florets. The entire raab plant is harvested for the leafy greens and shoots. The green heads on any type of broccoli are clusters of unopened flower buds. Prime harvest time is just before the flower buds open. To avoid broccoli flowers, harvest the heads when the buds begin to swell.
The natural progression of a broccoli plant is to produce flower buds, bloom, and make seeds. The head of unopened buds, tender stems and leaves are what we typically consider the edible parts of the plant. If the bud clusters are not trimmed for consumption they will open into bright yellow flowers. The flowers attract a host of small bees and other pollinating insects. Once pollinated, the flowers will form seeds.
If your broccoli has tight buds except for a few flowers beginning to pop open, and if the open flowers bother you, simply pick off the open flowers and harvest the head. Prepare it as you normally would.
If your broccoli is flowering prematurely, one cause is too little water during the head formation stage. If the weather is still cool, trim off premature flowers and keep the plants watered to try to encourage more edible side shoots to grow.
The bright yellow broccoli flowers are edible and delicious. If you miss harvesting at the tight bud stage, you can still harvest broccoli, even with the flowers open. Broccoli flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. Use them as an edible garnish or include them as a nutritious and attractive addition to any salad. Completely opened flowers will wilt when steamed, but partially opened buds retain their shape.
Broccoli flowers have a pleasant, mild flavor. Some specialty markets sell yellow broccoli flowers in the produce section as a delicacy item.
Another use for broccoli flowers is to allow them to produce seeds. Save the seeds for next year’s garden. Always save seeds from open-pollinated varieties of broccoli, not hybrids. Hybrid broccoli will produce seeds, but the seeds will revert to one of the hybrid’s parents. Most seeds from hybrid plants are sterile, and if they do grow, they will not produce bud clusters or flowers.
Quick! Name an edible flower!
Ok, which once did you name: nasturtium, pansy, viola, marigold or lavender, day lily, carnation or sage? The petals of each of those can be added to a salad for both taste and show. There are dozens of flowers that are edible.
But did you name the most commonly eaten flower of all?
If you said broccoli, you’re right.
Millions of pounds of broccoli are eaten around the world every year. A relative of the cabbage, broccoli is one of the most accepted vegetables anywhere. If you think about it for a minute or two, it’s easy to understand why.
First, broccoli bears over a very long season. Generally, broccoli is a cool season vebetable, meaning it can get its start early in the year, even before the last frost in spring. As well, broccoli can be planted in late summer or fall for crops in witner or early spring. And where the summers stay cool, broccoli is very much a summer vegetable.
Second, broccoli is good for you. One large cooked stalk will provide one-and-a-half times the vitamin C needed every day, half the vitamin A, and a good portion of the riboflavin, iron, calcium, potassium and other nutrients you need. (A cup of fresh broccoli contains 19 calories.)
Third, broccoli tastes good. It’s good crunchy raw or cooked just to the point where it’s tender or “al dente.” But that’s nothing new. One of ancient Rome’s most famous food writers, Pliny the Elder, was raving about broccoli way back in the second century.
Broccoli is a biennial, which means it’s full life is about two years. But it’s in the first year, in fact, in the first 40-90 days, that most varieties of broccoli grow leaves and form flower heads. That’s the part you eat.
The key to buying broccoli at the farm market is to choose stalks that are tender and firm, not woody. The flower heads should be tight and compact; dark green or purplish green is fine–that’s simply a matter of the variety you have in hand. The tiny flowers that make up the head should be tightly closed. A broccoli head that has yellow buds, that has started to bloom, is too old.
When proudce inspectors grade broccoli they often look at size favorably. But when it comes to flavor, size is not the determining factor, freshness is. How do you know if broccoli is fresh? Well, it should smell fresh. A little practice and you’ll have it down perfectly.
Broccoli, like other cool season vegetables, will bolt into flower as temperatures climb. While that might be good for setting seed and keeping the family lineage in tact, remember, the best tasting brocolli has a tight, compact head with not even a hint of visible yellow bud.
As we approach mid summer and the temperatures climb, the local broccoli season is coming to a close. If you are craving tasty fresh broccoli and want to have yours in hand before it’s too late, get going.
No broccoli or cauliflower heads
From your photo it appears that you have a “front yard” vegetable garden. Normally the soil around a house is pretty poor as it is a mixture of sub-soil (with no nutritional value) and some top soil (if the builder didn’t haul it away during construction. It also appears that you have some very unhappy plants (poor soil could be a cause). The soil in the photo does not look as if you have added any supplements to it. Again from your photo it appears that you have planted your broccoli to close to each other. The recommended distances for broccoli is 12 to 24 inches apart and if you have more than one row of broccoli the rows should be 1 to 2 feet apart. Broccoli wants 6 to 12 hours of Sun a day or they will not produce well. Broccoli takes between 50 and 100 days (depending on the t, from planting, to mature. Neither broccoli nor cauliflower do well in the heat and dry weather that we have been having. With our current weather conditions you should be watering both plants several times a week. Watering in the early morning is best, with the water going on the soil at the base of the plant (not on the leaves). You do not mention fertilizer, or watering schedule both are required to make your plant happy and producing (thereby making you happy). I would say for you to give the plants a few more weeks before thinking of destroying it. I would fertilize and set up a water schedule. This should perk up your plants and they should start producing. Before you plant your next crop I recommend that you get lots of good compost and work it into your soil. Or another option is to build some raised beds and fill it with good fertilized and compost supplemented soil. Here is an excellent document from OSU on Home Gardening that should be very helpful in getting the most out of your gardening efforts.