How To Grow Broccoli: Grow The Best Broccoli Plants


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Have you been wondering how to grow broccoli?

Broccoli is an easy to grow vegetable that loves cool weather making it perfect for spring and fall gardens. Transplant the seedlings into your garden 4 weeks before your first frost date in the spring for an early summer harvest 55 to 85 days later depending on your variety.

Like most kids growing up, I hated broccoli.

I thought it was tough and bitter and there was little you could do to make me eat it.

But all that changed when I started growing my own.

How To Grow Broccoli text overlaid on a photo of broccoli in the garden

If you’re wondering why I would grow broccoli when I hated it so much, it’s because it’s one of my husband’s favorite vegetables and surprise I loved it too!

Just like most vegetables homegrown tastes very different from what you buy in the store. Homegrown broccoli is sweet and tender and something that I can’t wait to harvest each year.

If you want to grow broccoli in your garden, I have to say it’s definitely worth it!

Types Of Broccoli

Fresh broccoli ready to harvest
Fresh broccoli ready to harvest

Did you know that there are 3 types of broccoli you can grow?

Calabrese

This is the most common variety of broccoli that you find in grocery stores. It has a thick stock with a large, dense head of tightly closed broccoli flowers and a very dark green color.

It’s really easy to grow and perfect for stir-fries, steamed, roasted or eating fresh.

Sprouting

Sprouting broccoli is ready to harvest very early in the growing season. It’s often planted in the late summer and overwintered so that it gets started growing very early.

Its best grown in zones 7 to 9 where winters are milder but there are some types that are more cold hardy.

Sprouting broccoli has a looser and more bushy growth than Calabrese does.

Romanesco

Also called broccoflower or Roman cauliflower this variety is just beautiful to watch grow. It makes large, lime green heads that are covered in spiral shapes.

How To Grow Broccoli

Planting

Broccoli prefers full sun so keep that in mind when picking out a place in your garden to grow it.

But I’ve had good success growing broccoli in the shade too, especially during the summer when the weather gets very hot and dry.

So if your whole garden is in shade or part shade don’t give up on growing broccoli.

It might take a few extra weeks to get to a good size for harvest but it does work.

How Much Broccoli To Plant

If you’re wondering how much broccoli you should plant a good starting point is 2 to 4 plants per person.

You can expect to harvest 4 to 6 pounds(1.8 to 2.7 kg) for each 10-foot (3.048 m) row you plant. So scale that up or down depending on how much broccoli your family eats.

Spring

Spring plantings of broccoli can be direct seeded in your garden 4 weeks before your last frost date or started by seed indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date.

Then after hardening off the seedlings, they can be transplanted into your garden 4 weeks before your last frost date.

In more northern growing areas you will get a harvest faster from transplanted broccoli seedlings than from direct seeding in your garden.

When you plant your seedlings in the garden, make the hole 2 inches (5.08 cm) deeper than they were in their pots. The extra depth will help to protect the delicate stems of young broccoli plants and encourage it to grow deep roots.

Broccoli is very hardy, cold-weather vegetables but if you are expecting some unusually nasty weather use a row cover to protect the plants.

Fall

If you would like a fall harvest of broccoli too, then start another batch from seed indoors about 90 days before your first frost date in the fall. In our zone 5 garden, this works out to be near the end of June.

Then transplant the seedlings into the garden in early August and they will start producing as the weather cools in the fall.

Spacing

Dark green broccoli crown
Dark green broccoli crown

How far apart you plant broccoli will depend on how much garden room you have and how large you want the heads to be.

The general recommended guideline for spacing is 12 to 24 inches (30.48 to 60.96 cm) apart. Plants spaced further apart will produce larger heads, but ones spaced closer together will still produce a good harvest.

I’ve found a good middle ground is 18 inches (45.72 cm) apart for growing large heads of broccoli but still fitting many plants in the garden.

Remember that many varieties will continue to send up side shoots even after the main head has been harvested.

This means you can still get broccoli for weeks after you’ve harvested the main one.

Growing

Broccoli plant starting to form its crown.
Broccoli plant starting to form its crown.

Fertilizing

Broccoli is a heavy nitrogen feeder so it’s a good idea to add 1-2 inches (2.54 to 5.08 cm) of compost to your planting bed in the fall or spring before planting.

When you make the planting hole fill it up with liquid fertilizer, I love to use fish emulsion then set the seedling inside and pack the soil around the plant firmly.

When you see the broccoli head starting to form it’s time to fertilize it again. After that follow suggested application rates on the brand that you’re using.

Later when you harvest the main head, give the plant another application of fertilizer to encourage side shoot growth.

Watering

Broccoli likes moist, cool soil so try to water often but don’t let the soil become soggy. Make sure the plants get 1 inch (2.54 cm) of water a week, more if the weather has turned hot and dry.

Mulching with straw, shredded leaves, or wood chips can help retain moisture and suppress weeds around your broccoli plants.

Harvesting

Freshly harvested broccoli crowns
Freshly harvested broccoli crowns

The best time to harvest broccoli is when the heads are close to the size your variety grows. Check your seed packet or seed catalog to find that out. But the flower buds are still tightly closed.

You’ll be able to tell when they are about to open as you’ll start to see little peaks of yellow showing on the buds.

Using a knife or strong scissors but the head off leaving 4-6 inches (10.16-15.24 cm) of stem attached.

Remember that the plant will continue to grow smaller side shoots for another 6-7 weeks. So if possible leave the broccoli to continue growing in your garden for a longer harvest.

Pests

Varieties To Try

Early Purple Sprouting – This early broccoli is very cold hardy and filled with flavor. Ready in 59 days this variety is perfect for spring and fall plantings.

Get Early Purple Sprouting seeds here.

De Cicco – This unique variety makes small 3-4 inch heads, but then produces side shoots heavily. Another great option for spring and fall gardens. Ready to harvest in 45-85 days.

Get De Cicco seeds here.

Calabrese – This old heirloom broccoli makes tight heads up to 8 inches in size, in a bluish-green color. It does produce side shoots after harvesting too. Ready in 60-90 days.

Get Calabrese seeds here.

Growing Time (earliest varieties)
55 days

Total Time
55 days

Difficulty
Easy

Instructions

  1. Broccoli grows best in full sun, but will also produce in a shady garden it just takes a little longer.
  2. For spring plantings start seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date. Harden off and transplant the seedlings into the garden 4 weeks before your last frost date.
  3. For fall plantings start seeds indoors 90 days before your first fall frost date. Then transplant into the garden when they are 4-5 weeks of growth.
  4. Make the planting hole 2 inches (5.08 cm) deeper than the plants were growing at. Burring the stem deeper helps to protect the delicate stem of broccoli seedlings and encourages deep root growth.
  5. Space plants 12 to 24 inches (30.48 to 60.96 cm) apart in your garden for best results. The closer the plants are together the smaller the broccoli crowns will be.
  6. Grow broccoli in rich fertile soil, fill the planting hole with liquid fertilizer before placing the seedling inside. Make sure to fertilize again when you harvest the crown. This will help encourage the plant to produce side shoots.
  7. Water regularly if you haven’t had enough rain. Make sure the plants get 1 inch (2.54 cm) of water a week.
  8. Harvest heads of broccoli when they have reached full size but the flowers are still tightly closed. Leave 4-6 inches (10.16-15.24 cm) of stem attached when cutting.

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