How to grow broccoli?

Brassica oleracea var. italica

Are you a broccoli lover? Then it might be time to try growing your own!

This healthy green brassica is a member of the cabbage family, a close relative of Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, head cabbage, and greens like collards.

It’s also a cool weather crop – like beets and kale – that, when planted appropriately, can yield one or two main harvests and multiple mini-harvests per growing season.

What do we mean by appropriately? Let’s find out! Here’s what’s to come:

How to Grow Your Own Broccoli

  • Methods for Success
  • Crop Maintenance
  • Harvest Hints
  • Mid-Summer Planting
  • Recipe Suggestions
  • Affordable and Abundant

Ready to get started? Let’s talk about the basics of cultivation.

Methods for Success

Most seed companies will suggest that you start by selecting a location with full sun and organically rich soil that drains well. You may improve your soil with the addition of compost. In addition to fertile ground, broccoli requires a bit of acidity. A little lime or leaf mulch can sufficiently raise your soil’s pH level.

Next, consider your climate zone. Do you have hot summers? If so, get a jump on spring by starting seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost date for your region.

Keep in mind that because this is typically a cold weather crop, it can actually do well in partial shade. According to Just Plain Marie, growing in full, constant sun can actually ruin the flavor, since it encourages flowering.

Move seedlings outside when they are about six inches tall. Let them acclimate to the outdoors for a day or two, then plant them in the garden about an inch or two deeper than they are in the containers in which they sprouted. Leave two feet of space around each seedling.

Alternatively, select fast-maturing varieties to sow directly into the garden about five weeks before the last frost date, or as soon as the ground is workable. Thin seedlings to allow for two feet of space around each.

And, if you like to cultivate vegetables in containers on your patio, broccoli is one to try. Drill a few drainage holes in a large five-gallon bucket, and you’re good to go.

12-Inch CYS Clear Glass Cloche

With all three methods, you should be able to harvest before summer heats up. On the other hand, if there’s a cold snap, you may cover each plant with a glass cloche bell jar to prevent the premature formation of flower heads, which results in small ones called “buttons.”

A 12-inch cloche bell jar that’s perfect for this purpose is available on Amazon.

Here’s a little veggie science:

Broccoli is one of many plants that emit allelochemicals that may adversely affect other plants and future plantings on the same garden site.

Per Permaculture News, excellent companions are fragrant herbs like chamomile, dill, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, culinary sage, and thyme. Also recommended are beets, celery, hyssop, onions, potatoes, and wormwood.

Steer clear of beans, mustards, pole beans, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Crop Maintenance

As your plants mature, keep the ground moist, but not soggy, and never let it dry out completely. You may apply a generous layer of mulch to help keep the ground cool and moist as the temperature rises.

In addition, during the maturation phase, you may side-dress with a boost of veggie fertilizer. Place it on the soil around the stems, but without touching them, to add vital nutrients, and aid in moisture retention.

Try Down to Earth’s Bio-Fish 7-7-2. It’s available on Amazon.

Down To Earth 5-Pound Bio-Fish 7-7-2 Natural Fertilizer

Loosen the soil occasionally with your garden trowel and remove weeds that may harbor pests. Healthy plants are least vulnerable to insect damage and disease, so good drainage and air circulation are important.

An application of diatomaceous earth helps inhibit pests such as aphids, cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, and root maggots. Covering your plants with netting or floating row covers are also useful methods for deterring unwanted critters.

If your plants begin to wilt or discolor, they may be the victims of a fungal infection called “Black Leg.” It’s sometimes present in the seeds themselves, and we don’t know it until it’s too late. Per the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), infected plants must be destroyed, and crop rotation practices used.

Another reason for yellowing and wilting is simply too much sun. In this case, a tent of cheesecloth may provide enough shade to keep them on track.

Harvest Hints

Figuring out when it’s time to pick can be difficult for first-time growers, especially when it comes to green vegetables. Without a sudden color shift to indicate that it’s time to pick, what are you supposed to look for?

You’ll know that your crops are ready for the first harvest when heads have formed, and they’ve reached a diameter within the range of what’s indicated for the cultivar that you’re growing, usually around 4-7 inches across.

Check your seed packets for this information, as well as the average number of days to maturity. This is another helpful guideline to keep in mind.

When florets on the outside edge of the head are large and full, this is another helpful indicator that you’re good to go. But don’t wait too long. When they begin to turn from green to yellow, this is a sign that they’re beginning to flower, and past their peak.

If you notice this change taking place, your crops are still good to eat. In fact, the flowers are edible. But be sure to harvest them all right away, if you’re looking for the green florets that you know and love! And try to pick them before this happens in subsequent years.

As with all gardening endeavors, this is a learning process. We’re all too often tempted to keep berries on the bush and tomatoes on the vine longer than we should, in the quest for peak harvest perfection.

Pay attention to what your senses are telling you, and keep a gardening journal to cross-reference suggested indicators of maturity with your own experience. Gardening is a skill, and all of this accumulated knowledge can help you to pick the best harvest you’ve ever grown next year, and the year after that.

Though crowns are commonly available in grocery stores today, you want to harvest your haul with a longer stem intact. Using a sharp, clean knife, make a cut about 5-6 inches below the mature head. Try to do this smoothly, to avoid damaging the roots and remainder of the plant.

Broccoli can be stored in the refrigerator in the crisper bin in a loose plastic bag, but it’s best to enjoy right away, whenever possible. Wait to wash under cool running water until you’re ready to eat them.

And don’t forget that those nutritious stems and leaves are edible as well. You can even feed the leaves to your chickens!

After harvest, most cultivars will continue to develop smaller side shoots that are also good to harvest. Add a little nitrogen-rich fertilizer to encourage their growth.

They might be smaller than those initial heads, but they’re just as delicious as the larger initial crowns. Keep the indicators of ripeness described above in mind to determine when they’re ready to pick.

These side shoots will be in plentiful supply for as long as you keep cutting them. If you stop, the plant may “bolt” or flower, go to seed, and die. A bout of sudden heat may produce the same results.

Mid-Summer Planting

For a second crop, select varieties that are especially frost hardy. Sow seeds in mid-summer, and you’ll have veggies that can withstand a light frost or two and keep you supplied through fall.

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, available on Amazon

Many folks have better luck with fall crops because there are generally fewer hot spells and pests in the later months of the year.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living, available on Amazon

For more information on cultivation, I recommend consulting two of my favorite go-to guides, Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and The Encyclopedia of Country Living.

Dealing with worms?

Cabbage worms are not uncommon with broccoli. Chris of Joybilee Farm recommends a way to draw them out.

Simply place harvested heads into your clean kitchen sink. Fill it with cold water, 1/4 cup salt, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Soak between 20 minutes and one hour before rinsing well and preparing broccoli as desired.

Recipe Suggestions

Once you’ve exhausted your own repertoire of delicious recipes, try a few of these:

For a fresh and green side dish, try a simple broccoli salad, with asparagus and radishes. You can .

Endless Summer Broccoli Salad with Avocado Dressing is another tasty option, with roasted sweet potatoes, crispy shallots, and a creamy yogurt-based avocado dressing. Get the recipe on Hunger Thirst Play.

A healthier version of your favorite takeout, homemade beef and broccoli with homegrown vegetables is a weeknight standout. Wanderspice shares the recipe for this quick and delicious dish.

For Meatless Monday, or if you’re in search of the perfect party appetizer, you’re going to love the broccoli fritters with cheddar and scallions from Vintage Kitty. Or, for another cheesy combo, try the broccoli and cheese soup from the Gingered Whisk, a healthier, thick-textured version with added spinach to provide a vibrant green color.

Pasta night again? Step aside, marinara. “Creamy vegan” might sound like an oxymoron, but the quest for rich creaminess is pretty common in the realm of dairy-free recipes. The Fitchen has nailed it with their creamy vegan broccoli sauce recipe. Try this one served over your favorite pasta.

Affordable and Abundant

With these tips, you’re all set to add broccoli to your garden plan.

I’ve always enjoyed the taste of fresh broccoli from the garden, and I know you will, too. One of my favorite memories is of my father-in-law presenting my mother-in-law with a fresh “bouquet” for dinner.

Why should you buy broccoli seeds this year?

Here are three reasons:

  1. Seeds are reasonably priced and keep several years in a cool, dry location.
  2. This is a crop you can sow successively up to three times for an extended growing season with multiple harvests.
  3. A serving provides your family with vitamins and minerals like A, C, calcium, folic acid, and potassium in every cost-effective bite.

You’re going to love garden-fresh broccoli!

How does your vegetable garden grow? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments section below.

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© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published June 13, 2018. Last updated: January 5, 2020 at 14:31 pm. Product photos via CYS Excel, Down to Earth, Rodale Books, and Sasquatch Books. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

Quick Guide to Growing Broccoli

  • Plant broccoli during the cool weather of early spring and fall. Grow it in containers or an in-ground garden.
  • Space broccoli plants according to the label (usually 18 inches apart). Choose a location with full sun, easy access to water, and fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 (amend soil with lime if necessary).
  • Before planting, improve native soil by working in several inches of compost or other rich organic material.
  • Keep soil moist by giving broccoli plants 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week.
  • Make the most of your broccoli growing efforts by regularly feeding with a continuous-release plant food.
  • Lay down a thick layer of organic mulch made from finely ground leaves or bark to preserve soil moisture and prevent weeds.
  • Timing and temperature are critical for successful growth. The ideal growing temperature range is 65 to 80° F.
  • Harvest broccoli when the center crown is full of tiny, green, tightly-packed buds.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Broccoli needs cool weather, full sun, water, and rich soil. For best success, start with young, vigorous Bonnie Plants® broccoli plants, which will put you significantly closer to harvest than if you were to start from seeds. Plant your broccoli where it will get least 6 hours of sun daily and has fertile, well-drained, moist soil with plenty of organic matter. Mulch will help keep the ground cool and moist. The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0 for best growth and to discourage clubroot disease. To be sure about your soil pH, it is best to get the soil tested. You can buy a kit or have a soil test done through your regional Cooperative Extension office. Adjust the pH with lime, if needed, according to the test results.

For optimum growth in your garden, it’s important to use a combination of premium-quality soil and plant food to support your plants. Make big improvements your soil by mixing aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose In-Ground Soil in with the top few inches of native soil. If you’re growing broccoli in a container, be sure to choose a pot that is at least 18 inches in diameter (measured across the top) and fill it with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix (also enriched with compost) to provide plant roots with just the right environment. Wherever you choose to plant broccoli, you’ll also want to feed regularly with a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition Granules, according to label directions.

Plant at the spacing stated on the Bonnie label. Generally, broccoli plants should be 18 inches apart. If planted in rows, space rows 24 inches apart to give yourself enough room to walk between them, but you can plant two or three abreast in a row to minimize aisle space.

Broccoli likes steady moisture to grow fast and produce good heads, so water regularly, applying 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week if rain doesn’t cover it. You can measure the amount of water with a rain gauge left in the garden. An organic mulch of compost, finely ground leaves, or finely ground bark will help keep the soil cool and moist and keep down weeds. In cold climates, it’s the opposite, you may need to plant through black plastic in early spring to help warm the soil or leave the ground without mulch so that the sun can warm it.

The secret to the best-tasting broccoli is in the seasoning — not the spices, mind you, but the time of year. Broccoli that matures during cool weather produces healthy heads that taste sweeter than those you pick at any other time.

Broccoli grows best in fall because spring conditions may be unpredictable. Long, cool springs, for example, cause young transplants to form small, early heads. If temperatures heat up early in spring, heat-stressed broccoli opens its flower buds prematurely, and high temperatures as broccoli matures can cause bitter, loose heads to form, with smaller and less tasty florets.

Here’s what you need to know about planting the perfect veggies.

When to Plant

Norman Chan/

You can easily calculate the perfect time to plant broccoli seeds this fall. If you want to sow seeds directly in the garden, do so about 85 to 100 days before the average first fall frost in your area. If you prefer to grow from transplants, figure the date for getting your plants in the ground by adding 10 days to the “days to maturity” for the variety you’re growing and then counting backwards from your expected first fall frost date.

Where to Plant

I love photo/

Broccoli grows best in full sun and where the soil is slightly acidic — with the pH between 6.0 and 6.8 — fertile, and well-drained, yet consistently moist and rich in organic matter. The right pH and the organic matter help ensure that nutrients, particularly essential micronutrients like boron, are readily available. A boron deficiency can cause broccoli to develop hollow stems, but adding too much is toxic to plants, so a soil test is essential.

Fall broccoli has specific spacing requirements. If you’re gardening in a raised bed, space your plants 15 to 18 inches apart; for gardening in rows, set the transplants 18 to 24 inches apart within the row and space the rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Be sure to set transplants slightly deeper in the ground than they were in the pot.

Keep Them Nourished

Minerva Studio/

Broccoli is a moderately heavy feeder, so work in 2 to 4 inches of rich compost or a thin layer of well-aged manure before planting. Rabbit manure is a personal favorite, though most any aged manure or compost produces big and tasty heads.

After you’ve harvested a plant’s central head, you can encourage extended side-shoot production by scratching a little nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as fish meal or aged manure into the soil around its base.

Shelter From the Cold

akiyoko/

Freezing temperatures can cause chilling injury that turns buds purple and sometimes softens heads, though they are still good to eat. “I’ve had broccoli freeze solid, and when it thawed out it was fine,” says Atina Diffley, co-owner of Gardens of Eagan Organic Farm in Minnesota. Just don’t let heads freeze and thaw repeatedly.

Offer cold-weather protection with floating row covers, which provide an additional 4 to 8 degrees worth of warmth — shielding harvests from heavy freezes and extending the season by up to four weeks. You can also cover broccoli with tunnels or a cold frame, which can boost daytime temperatures by 10 to 30 degrees.

Protect Against Pests

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Row covers provide some protection from pest insects, but the best protection is to grow healthy plants — and that begins with healthy soil, says Colby Eierman, director of gardens at COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, in Napa. Insect pestsare generally less prevalent in fall than in spring.

But if your broccoli does suffer an infestation of destructive caterpillar pests such as cabbage loopers, you can control them with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, a naturally occurring bacteria that stops the pests from chewing but is harmless to beneficial insects.

ChameleonsEye/

For best flavor, harvest broccoli heads while the buds are just starting to swell but before the yellow petals start to show. Keep an eye on the head because when it begins to spread open, the individual buds start to flower. Harvest the central head by cutting the stalk at a slant, about five to eight inches below the head. This encourages side-shoot production for continued harvests.

Diffley says it’s important to harvest broccoli in the morning before the plants heat up, because broccoli has a really high respiration rate. “Once the heat sets in, you need to cool it down quickly, or it’s not going to hold up well and taste like it should,” she says.

Now that you’re set to grow the best-tasting broccoli ever, be sure to keep that flavor intact by not overcooking. Check out the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen’s favorite way to prepare broccoli below:

Broccoli is a cool-season crop. Grow broccoli so that it comes to harvest when temperatures average no more than 75°F (23°C) each day.

You can plant a spring and early summer crop in late winter or early spring. Plant a fall or winter crop in mid to late or summer or early fall.

  • Start broccoli seed indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring for spring planting.
  • Start broccoli in the garden in mid to late summer to grow a late fall or early winter crop. In mild winter regions, plant in fall for winter harvest.
  • Transplant broccoli seedlings to the garden when they are 4 to 6 weeks old, as early as the last frost in spring, after hardening off the seedlings for 4 days.
  • In mild-winter regions, start seeds indoors in late summer and set them in the garden in autumn for winter harvest.
  • Broccoli will come to harvest in 55 to 85 days when grown from transplants and 70 to 100 days when grown from seed.

About Broccoli. Broccoli is a hardy biennial grown as a cool-season annual. It grows 18 to 36 inches tall and has broad, thick leaves and a thick main stalk. Broccoli forms single or multiple flower “heads ” of tiny blue-green flower buds. The flower heads are eaten before they bloom; buds open to tiny yellow flowers. Broccoli will bolt and go to seed in warm temperatures or when daylight hours lengthen.

Broccoli Yield. Plant 2 to 4 broccoli plants for each household member.

Planting Broccoli

Site. Broccoli grows best in compost-rich, well-drained soil with a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Broccoli grows best where air temperatures range between 45° and 75°F. Broccoli is frost hardy and can tolerate temperatures as low as 20°F. In regions where there is heavy rain or sandy soil, aged-compost should be added to the soil to supplement soil nitrogen.

Broccoli Planting Time. Broccoli is a cool-weather crop that must come to harvest before temperatures rise consistently above 75°F. Start broccoli seed indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring. Transplant broccoli seedlings to the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost in spring after hardening seedlings off for 4 days. In mild-winter regions, start seeds indoors in late summer and set them in the garden in autumn for winter harvest. Whether that is too cold or too warm will cause broccoli to go to seed without forming heads. In cold-winter, short-season regions start broccoli in summer for fall harvest.

More tips: Broccoli for Cool Weather Harvest.

Planting and Spacing Broccoli. Plant transplants that are 4 to 6 weeks old with four or five true leaves. Leggy transplants or transplants with crooked stems can be planted up to their first leaves so that they will not grow top-heavy. Plant seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Plant seeds and transplants at the same time for succession crops or plant early and midseason varieties at the same time. Sow seed ½ inch deep and 3 inches apart. Transplant thinned seedlings to another part of the garden.

More tips: Broccoli Seed Starting Tips.

Companion plants. Beets, celery, herbs, onions, potatoes. Avoid planting broccoli near pole beans, strawberries, or tomatoes.

Container Growing Broccoli. Single broccoli will grow in an 8-inch container. Grow multiple plants in larger containers set 18 inches apart. Broccoli is very sensitive to heat so be sure to move plants into the shade on hot days.

Caring for Broccoli

Water and Feeding Broccoli. Keep soil moist during the growing season. Decrease watering when plants approach maturity. Water broccoli at the base of the plant. Side dress plants with well-aged compost at planting time and again at midseason,

Broccoli Care. Keep broccoli planting beds weed-free.

Broccoli Pests. Broccoli can be attacked by cutworms, cabbage loopers (preceded by small yellow and white moths), and imported cabbage worms. Control these pests by handpicking them off of plants or by spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis.

Broccoli Diseases. Broccoli is susceptible to cabbage family diseases including yellows, clubroot, and downy mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties, rotate crops each year and keep the garden free of debris to cut back the incidence of disease. Remove and destroy infected plants immediately.

More on broccoli pests and diseases: Broccoli Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.

Romanesco broccoli

Harvesting and Storing Broccoli

Broccoli Harvest. Broccoli grown from seed will come to harvest in 100 to 150 days. Grown from transplants broccoli will come to harvest in 55 to 80 days. Cut buds when they are still green and tight. Cut the central head with five to six inches of stem. Leave the base of the plant and some outer leaves to encourage new heads on secondary shoots. Heads that have begun to open showing small yellow flowers are past the eating stage.

More harvest tips: How to Harvest and Store Broccoli.

Storing and Preserving Broccoli. Broccoli will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen after blanching for up to 3 months.

Broccoli Varieties to Grow

Common name. Broccoli, Italian broccoli, Calabrese, brocks.

Botanical name. Brassica oleracea italica

Origin. Mediterranean

More tips: Planting Broccoli.

Grow 80 tasty vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

Healthy Heads & Fabulous Florets!

Talk about a superfood! Broccoli is easy to grow, incredibly healthy, and flavorful whether raw, steamed, or cooked as part of your favorite dish. Broccoli belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables, the largest vegetable family known, which includes cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, kohlrabi, turnips, and rutabaga. In fact, broccoli is nearly identical to cauliflower, the only differences being the green color of broccoli and the fact that cauliflower tolerates heat while broccoli does not.

For faster crops and a longer growing season, start broccoli seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. The seeds are ready to transplant outdoors when they’re approximately 6 inches in height. Set them 12-18 inches apart in rows spaced every 18-24 inches. If planting a second crop for a fall harvest, seeds can be planted directly into the garden in late July or early August (6-8 weeks before the first expected frost). Plant seeds ½ inch deep in rows 18-24 inches apart. Broccoli likes rich, heavily-mulched soil. When transplanting, add bone meal to the soil around the plant to encourage and support healthy growth.

Broccoli is a cold weather vegetable and can germinate in soil as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, making it easy to grow in a variety of areas. If seedlings are already in the garden and an unexpected frost is in the forecast, covering your plants will help them endure the temperature drop. As with all vegetables, provide consistent soil with regular watering and keep up with weeding to nurture the best growing conditions.

With sprouting broccoli specifically, harvesting frequently is recommended. The more sprouts that are harvested, the more the plant will produce. With heading broccoli, harvest the heads while the florets are still tight. Once the head begins to produce yellow flowers, the broccoli turns bitter to the taste.

Take a minimum of 6 inches of stem when removing broccoli from the garden. If side shoots have begun to grow, they will continue to do so. Broccoli plants will continue to grow new heads throughout the season, especially when planted in areas with cooler summers.

Did you know? Broccoli is a very disease-resistant vegetable and its love of cooler weather makes its growing season extra-long. You can even plant two crops, one in the spring for enjoying in late summer and one in the summer for fabulous feasting in the fall.

Broccoli seedling

Broccoli is a cool-season crop. It thrives in temperatures between 60° and 70°F (15-21°C). Mature plants can withstand cold temperatures down to 25°F (-4°).

Broccoli can be temperamental; if you plant too early plants may produce only small heads—called “buttons.” And if you plant too late—and plants mature in very warm or hot weather—heads may not form at all and plants may simply flower and go to seed.

Time spring planting so that broccoli will come to harvest before uniformly hot weather arrives. Time late spring or summer planting so that plants mature in cool autumn temperatures.

Broccoli Sowing and Planting Tips

  • Start broccoli from seed or transplants.
  • Seed is viable for 3 years.
  • For spring crop start seeds indoors 7 to 9 weeks before the average last frost date. For a fall crop, start seed indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the first fall frost.
  • Start seeds in individual pots
  • Sow seed ¼ to ½ (6-8 mm) inch deep in the seed-starting mix.
  • Keep the mix moist but not wet.
  • Seeds should germinate in 5 to 10 days at an optimal temperature of 77°F (25°C) or thereabouts.
  • Transplant seedlings into the garden when they 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) tall with 2- to 4-leaves.
  • Grow broccoli in full sun for best yield, but broccoli will tolerate partial shade.
  • Add 3- to 4- inches of compost and well-aged manure into planting bed, before transplanting; broccoli needs friable, moisture-holding soil.
  • Avoid planting where cabbage family crops have grown recently.
  • Space plants 18 to 24 inches (45-60 cm) apart; plants spaced 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm) apart will yield smaller heads.
  • Space rows 36 inches (.9 m) apart.
  • Protect seedlings from the cold for 2 to 3 weeks after planting covering them with a cloche or plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion at half strength.

Interplanting: Plant with bush beans, beets, carrots, celery, chard, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, and tomatoes.

Container Growing: Choose a container with a minimum depth of 20 inches (51 cm).

Broccoli Planting Calendar

  • 8-6 weeks before the last frost in spring: start seed indoors for transplanting to the garden late.
  • 6-4 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct-sow seed in a plastic tunnel or cold frame.
  • 4-3 weeks before the last frost in spring: direct-sow seed in the garden when the minimum soil temperature is 40°

For Fall and Winter Harvest:

  • 17-15 weeks before the first frost in fall: start seed of cold-tolerant varieties indoors for transplanting out at end of summer.
  • 14-12 weeks before the first frost in fall: direct sow seed of cold-tolerant varieties in garden for fall harvest.
  • 12-10 weeks before the first frost in fall: transplant seedlings into the garden.

More tips at How to Grow Broccoli.

Start broccoli seed indoors 7 to 9 weeks before setting out in the garden.

Broccoli Recommended Varieties

  • ‘Green Comet’ or ‘Premium Crop’ for spring planting.
  • ‘Gypsy’ is disease resistant and matures early. ‘Arcadia’ is mid- to late-season variety with big heads and cold tolerant.
  • ‘Belstar’ grows in warm winters.
  • ‘Nutribud’ is open-pollinated.
  • ‘Packman’ is an early producer.
  • ‘Small Miracle’ and ‘Munchkin’ are good for containers and small spaces.
  • ‘Waltham 29’ is a favorite for fall harvest.
  • ‘Purple Sprouting’ has small purple heads and comes to harvest in late fall.

Botanical Name: Brassica oleracea

Broccoli is a member of the Brassicacea (Cruciferae) or cabbage family.

Broccoli & Cauliflower: How to Plant and Tips for Growing

If you want vegetables that are loaded with vitamins and nutrients as well as delicious flavors and beautiful, eye-catching colors, look no further than our numerous varieties of Broccoli and Cauliflower! These really are“super-veggies”, packing a healthy punch in every scrumptious bite, offering heavy yields so you’ll have plenty of fresh produce for every meal, and proving hardy and versatile enough to satisfy everyone!

Choosing a Broccoli or Cauliflower Variety

All Broccoli and Cauliflower are packed with vitamins and nutrients, so when choosing what varieties to grow, you’ll base your decision mostly on size and color. There are several compact types that don’t require a lot of space, so they’re the best choice for a limited gardening area. Heat tolerance is also a factor, especially for those living in the south. And if you’re wanting to get your children to eat more healthy veggies, you might want to look at the more colorful, fun varieties!

When to Start Broccoli and Cauliflower

Broccoli seeds are best started indoors 7 to 9 weeks before the last frost, at a temperature of 70 to 75 degrees F. They can also be sown outdoors 2 weeks before the last frost. For a winter crop in zones 8 and warmer, sow in late summer. Expect germination in 10 to 14 days.

The same guidelines apply to Cauliflower, except when starting indoors, sow your seeds 5 to 7 weeks before the last frost. Expect germination in 8 to 10 days.

Since Cauliflower is more sensitive to cold than its cabbage-family relatives, you need to start it early enough that it has a chance to mature before the heat of the summer. Be careful, however, not to start it so early it gets damaged by the cold.

How to Start Broccoli and Cauliflower

Sow your Broccoli and Cauliflower seeds at a depth of 4 times the size of the seed, or ½ inch deep, and water thoroughly. Once the seeds have sprouted, be sure to keep the soil lightly moist.

Make sure the plants receive plenty of light — fluorescent light for around 14 to 16 hours a day is also ideal for the fastest growth. You will want to keep the seedlings just a few inches below the light so they don’t“stretch”and get“leggy”. If you don’t have fluorescent lighting, a south-facing window will do just fine.

Broccoli — 45 to 60 days from sowing to harvesting

Cauliflower — 30 to 80 days from sowing to harvesting

Transplanting Broccoli and Cauliflower Seedlings

Transplant your Broccoli and Cauliflower seedlings when they have at least two sets of true leaves. This should be done about 2 weeks before the last frost. Site them in full sun in a rich, moist, well-drained soil, spacing the young plants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 2½ to 3 feet apart. Feed both your Broccoli and Cauliflower with a low nitrogen fertilizer when first planting out. For your Broccoli, fertilize again when the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, 12 to 15 inches tall, and then when the buds first form. For your Cauliflower, fertilize again every 4 weeks. Keep the seedlings well watered and mulched to retain moisture and keep the roots cool.

Special Considerations

If your seedlings have been held too long or mistreated in some way before planting, they can create“buttons”, or small heads, that tend to flower prematurely.

Climatic elements such as extreme cold and drought can cause your plants to halt their full growth and form only “buttons”.

Don’t allow your transplants to get too mature before moving them to your garden. If you do, they may become stressed by transplant shock.

A starter fertilizer applied when you transplant your seedlings will get your Broccoli and Cauliflower off to a good start, but it will not compensate for all the possible problems just mentioned.

Beets, Onions, and Garlic are all good companions for your Broccoli and Cauliflower.

Growing Tips: Broccoli and Cauliflower

  • Broccoli — once the head is fully developed, but before the individual flowers start to open, cut the central head along with 5 or 6 inches of stem. Removing the central head will stimulate development of the side shoots, which will allow you to continue your harvest for several weeks.
  • Cauliflower — the heads (curds) develop quickly under proper conditions, typically growing to 6 to 8 inches within 7 to 12 days after branching begins. Harvest the mature heads (they should be compact and firm) by cutting the main stem. If the heads develop a coarse,“ricey”appearance, they have over-matured. Cauliflower does not typically have side shoots, so you can compost the plants after the heads have been harvested.
  • Store fresh, unwashed Broccoli in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper for 3 to 5 days. Put it in a loose or perforated plastic bad, being sure not to store it if it’s wet — wet Broccoli will quickly become limp and can get moldy. Its best flavor and nutritional value will be maintained if storage is brief.
  • Uncooked Cauliflower can be stored in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Place it stem side down to keep moisture from collecting in the florets.

Pests and Problems to Watch For

  • Aphids are often found on the underside of leaves. You can wash them off with a strong stream of water or use an insecticidal soap (be sure to follow the label instructions). Check the plants regularly, as aphids can be a recurring problem.
  • Cabbage worms tend to attack the leaves and heads of related cole crops. Cole crops are crops that belong to the mustard family and have similar cultural requirements. They’re hardy plants that prefer cool weather. The most commonly grown cole crops are Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Kale, Collards, and Kohlrabi.
  • There are three species of cabbage worms — imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and diamond back moth worms. They’re very destructive to plants, as they have a voracious appetite. Covering the plants with screening or a row cover can prevent the presence of these pests.

View All Know Before You Grow Topics

Grow Your Best Fall Garden Vegetables: What, When and How

You can also use vigorous leafy greens to “mop up” excess nitrogen left behind by spring crops (the organic matter in soil can hold quite a bit of nitrogen, but some leaches away during winter). Space that has recently been vacated by snap beans or garden peas is often a great place to grow heavy feeders such as spinach and cabbage family crops. When sown into corn stubble, comparatively easy-to-please leafy greens such as lettuce and mustard are great at finding hidden caches of nitrogen.

3. Try New Crops

Several of the best crops for your fall garden may not only be new to your garden, but new to your kitchen, too. Set aside small spaces to experiment with nutty arugula, crunchy Chinese cabbage, and super-cold-hardy mâche (corn salad). Definitely put rutabaga on your “gotta try it” list: Dense and nutty “Swede turnips” are really good (and easy!) when grown in the fall. Many Asian greens have been specially selected for growing in fall, too. Examples include ‘Vitamin Green’ spinach-mustard, supervigorous mizuna and glossy green tatsoi (also spelled tah tsai), which is beautiful enough to use as flower bed edging.

As you consider the possibilities, veer toward open-pollinated varieties for leafy greens, which are usually as good as — or better than — hybrids when grown in home gardens. The unopened flower buds of collards and kale pass for the gourmet vegetable called broccolini, and the young green seed pods of immature turnips and all types of mustard are great in stir-fries and salads. Allow your strongest plants to produce mature seeds. Collect some of the seeds for replanting, and scatter others where you want future greens to grow. In my garden, arugula, mizuna and turnips naturalize themselves with very little help from me, as long as I leave a few plants to flower and set seed each year.

With broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and their close cousins, hybrid varieties generally excel in terms of fast, uniform growth, so this is one veggie group for which the hybrid edge is a huge asset. Breeding work is underway to develop better open-pollinated varieties for organic growers, but for now, trusted hybrids such as ‘Belstar’ broccoli, ‘Gonzales’ cabbage or ‘Snow Crown’ cauliflower are usually the best choices.

Finally, be sure to leave ample space for garlic, which is planted later on, when you can smell winter in the air. Shallots, multiplying onions, and perennial “nest” onions are also best planted in mid-fall, after the soil has cooled. In short-season areas these alliums are planted in September; elsewhere they are planted in October.

Growing Guides:
Growing Chinese Cabbage
Growing Arugula and Turnips for the Table
Golden Corn Salad (mâche)
All About Growing Turnips and Rutabagas
All About Growing Garlic
All About Growing Broccoli

4. Watering Fall Garden Plants: Keep ’Em Soaked

Even short periods of drought stress can put a nasty kink in the growth curve of most fall crops. Dry soil can be murder on slow-growing beets and carrots, and any type of setback can devastate temperamental cauliflower. Your best defense is to install a soaker hose before you set out plants or sow seeds. Try laying out the hose in various patterns and turning it on to get a good look at its coverage first. If the hose won’t stay where you put it, use short stakes or wire staples to hold it in place.

Keeping newly planted beds moist long enough for seeds to germinate is easy with leafy greens such as arugula, Chinese cabbage, collards, mizuna or turnips, because the seeds naturally germinate quickly, in five days or less. But beets, carrots, lettuce and spinach are often slower to appear, which means you must keep the seeded bed moist longer. Simple shade covers made from boards held above the bed by bricks do a great job of shielding the germination zone from drying sunshine, or you can shade seeded soil with cloth held aloft with stakes or hoops. You may still need to water by hand to make sure conditions stay moist, but shade covers can make the difference between watering once a day or four times as often.

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5. Go Mad for Mulch

Whether you use fresh green grass clippings, last year’s almost-rotted leaves, spoiled hay, or another great mulch you have on hand, place it over sheets of newspaper between plants. The newspaper will block light, which will prevent weed growth, help keep the soil cool and moist, and attract night crawlers and other earthworms. To get the best coverage, lay down the double-mulch and wet it thoroughly before you plant your seedlings. Cover the soaker hose with mulch, too.

Mulching can have one drawback in that organic mulches are ideal nighttime hide-outs for slugs and snails, which come out at night and chew holes in the leaves of dozens of plants, and may ruin mature green tomatoes, too. Watch for mollusk outbreaks, and use iron phosphate baits or beer-baited traps, if needed, to bring problem populations under control.

6. Deploy Your Defenses Against Garden Pests

Luscious little seedlings attract a long list of aggressive pests, including cabbageworms, army worms, and ever-voracious grasshoppers. Damage from all of these pests (and more) can be prevented by covering seedlings with row covers the day they go into the garden. Use a “summer-weight” insect barrier row cover that retains little heat, or make your own by sewing or pinning two pieces of wedding net (tulle) into a long, wide shroud. Hold the row cover above the plants with stakes or hoops, and be prepared to raise its height as the plants grow. See The No-spray Way to Protect Plants for more details on using row covers in your garden.

Summer sun can be your seedlings’ best friend or worst enemy. Always allow at least a week of adjustment time for seedlings started indoors, gradually exposing them to more direct sunlight. Even transplants that are given a week to get used to strong sun appreciate a few days of shade after they are set out, which can be easily provided by placing an old sheet over the row cover. Or, you can simply pop flower pots over the seedlings for a couple of days after transplanting. In most areas, insect pressures ease as nights become chilly in mid-fall, but you might want to keep your row covers on a little longer if your garden is visited by deer, which tend to become more troublesome as summer turns to fall.

Fall Garden Planting Schedule

There is no time to waste getting your fall garden crops into the ground, but exactly when should you plant them? Exact dates vary with location, and we have two online tools to help you find the best planting times for your garden. See Know When to Plant What: Find Your Average First Fall Frost Date to find an article that includes a link to tables showing average frost dates for cities in your state. For fall gardens, we suggest using the date given for a 50 percent chance of having a 28-degree night — what gardeners call a killing frost. (Keep in mind that cold temperatures may come and go for several weeks in late fall. In most areas, you can easily stretch your fall season by covering plants with old blankets on subfreezing nights.) Also check out our What to Plant Now pages for monthly planting checklists of vegetables and kitchen herbs for your region.

12 to 14 weeks before your first killing frost

  • Direct-sow last plantings of fast-maturing, warm-season vegetables such as snap beans, cucumbers, and summer squash. Also sow parsnips and rutabagas, and begin planting cilantro, lettuce, and radishes.
  • Start cabbage family seedlings indoors, and set out the seedlings as promptly as possible.
  • In climates with long autumns, plant celery, bulb fennel, and parsley in the fall.

10 to 12 weeks before your first killing frost

  • Set out broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower seedlings, along with celery, bulb fennel and parsley.
  • Direct-sow beets, carrots, collards, leeks and scallions, along with more lettuce and radishes. In some areas, even fast-maturing peas and potatoes will do well in the fall garden.

8 to 10 weeks before your first killing frost

  • Direct-sow arugula, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, turnips, spinach, mustard, pac choi, tatsoi, and other Asian greens.
  • Sow more lettuce and radishes, including daikons.

6 to 8 weeks before first killing frost

  • Make a final sowing of spinach along with mâche, which matches spinach for super winter-hardiness. (In most regions, you can expect to enjoy these crops in your Christmas salads!)
  • Make a final sowing of lettuce beneath a protective tunnel or frame.

On or around your first killing frost date

  • Every fall garden should include garlic and shallots. If you love onions, be sure to try multiplying onions and perennial “nest” onions.

Getting the Most from Your Fall Garden

High-density planting in double or triple rows can increase your per-square-foot return by 40 percent with broccoli, or up to 70 percent with cabbage. Use a zigzag planting pattern to fit more plants into less space while allowing 18 inches between plants. Use dwarf varieties when spacing plants closer together, because too much crowding can lead to delayed maturation and low yields.

Cut-and-come-again harvesting can prolong the productive lives of heading crops such as spring-planted cabbage and Chinese cabbage. As long as the primary head is cut high, leaving a stout stub behind, small secondary heads often will develop within a few weeks. Many varieties of broccoli are enthusiastic cut-and-come-again vegetables, too. After the main head has been harvested (taking only 3 inches or so of stem), varieties such as ‘Belstar,’ ‘Green Goliath’ and many others produce numerous tender side shoots. The harvest will continue until temperatures drop into the teens, which seriously damages broccoli plants. In much of Zone 7 and 8, healthy broccoli plants will keep spewing out shoots for months, and sometimes all winter.

Transplant the untransplantable if that’s what it takes to get a good stand. For example, most gardeners have read that beets, carrots, and rutabagas should be sown directly in the garden, but I often get better filled, more uniform rows in late summer by starting seeds indoors and setting out seedlings when they show their first true leaf. If the seedlings are kept moist and shaded for a few days after transplanting, about 75 percent of them survive. If you feel the need to brush up on your seedling-handling skills, see Garden Transplanting: Expert Advice.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.

A Second Chance for Broccoli

Posted on Jul 6, 2018 in Fearless Food | 0 comments

If you were disappointed by your broccoli, cauliflower, or romanesco harvests this spring, good news – you have a second chance this year with a fall crop! Although we are just getting into what many consider the “taste” of summer with our first tomato, ground cherry, and zucchini harvests, July is the time to start planting fall crops. While it may be difficult to think about fall crops before Labor Day, Chicagoland doesn’t have quite enough long, warm days between Labor Day and the first frost to put off starting most fall crops after summer has nearly ended.

‘Snowball’ cauliflower in 2015.

This is also a good time to familiarize yourself with the information on your seed packet to best calculate seed starting dates for fall crops:

Days to germination – this is the average number of days it takes for the seed to germinate. Sometimes a temperature range will accompany this information. Generally, seeds germinating at warmer temperatures will germinate faster than seeds at cooler temperatures, until a point. When temperatures are higher than 90 degrees, many plants will lie dormant until it cools off, and vice versa for temperatures below about 60 degrees.

Weeks to transplant – this is the average number of weeks after germination it is recommended to grow indoors until the seedling can be transplanted outside. In the spring, this is typically sometime around the last frost date in late April/early May to avoid frost damage on tender plants and to give them a head start on growth before summer’s heat kicks in. In the summer, this is to give the gardener time to get a head start on growing seedlings while there may not yet be space in the garden for fall crops, and to allow plants to develop strong root systems before entering a hotter and drier outdoor environment. Four-to-six weeks after germination is a good time to transplant. Don’t forget to spend 5-7 days hardening off your plants before transplanting.

Days to maturity – this is the average number of days after transplant that it will take the plant to reach harvest size. This number is often confusing to gardeners, who mistake it for the number of days to harvest after planting the seed. This is commonly why gardeners may have plants that are too young and too small to produce a harvest before the first frost date in late October/early November.

Although the short day factor is almost never on seed packets, it’s important to consider that as we head toward the fall equinox, days are now growing shorter. Crops maturing in the fall need an average of two more weeks to reach harvest size than the same crops maturing in late spring, as they are reaching maturity during progressively shorter day lengths and cooler temperatures.

Broccoli heads forming, about a week from harvest.

To calculate a fall seed starting date for ‘Calabrese’ broccoli, first decide when you would like to harvest it. At the latest, choose a harvest date before the first average frost date, which is around Halloween. Your seed packet may only contain days to germination and days to maturity, so be sure to fill in the other information as discussed above.

Under optimal growing conditions, ‘Calabrese’ broccoli in Chicagoland can be expected to be harvested as soon as 108 days after starting from seed, and up to 131 days.

Now, count backwards your chosen harvest date to determine your seed starting date. This tells us to start seeds on July 9 for a mid-October harvest.

Other dates to mark on the calendar:

Week of August 6: begin hardening off broccoli seedlings
Week of August 13: transplant broccoli seedlings with fertilizer
Week of September 17: side dressing of fertilizer, begin heavier watering
Week of October 15: begin examining broccoli heads and harvest if ready. Harvest after the heads have stopped growing in diameter (but are still tightly held buds) and before they begin to loosen and the buds start to open.

While correct calculation of a fall seed starting date is the first step to growing full-size heads of broccoli, cabbage, and other Brassicas, keep in mind that these plants are considered heavy feeders, and should get an all-purpose fertilizer at transplanting time and again 4-6 weeks later. They will need plenty of water, particularly around the time they begin to develop their heads. These plants also need adequate space to grow large – a single broccoli plant will grow about 2 square feet to produce an 8″ diameter head. In less space, keep in mind the plant will be smaller and produce a smaller head. Finally, make sure that the variety planted meets your expectations for growth – some varieties produce smaller plants (and thus, smaller heads) and may be more appropriate for a small garden.

written by Breanne Heath

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