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How to Plant and Grow Broccoli

Avoid the produce section at your grocery store. Discover how easy it can be to plant and grow sweet, tender broccoli in your garden this season.

Debbie Wolfe

Broccoli florets grown in the garden are sweet and tender, with a taste that is hard to match in store-bought varieties. It is possible to grow broccoli from seeds or seedlings purchased from your local nursery with a bit of planning and good timing.

How to Choose the Best Broccoli Plants To Grow

Growing broccoli is fun, and so is shopping for seeds and seedlings. Some varieties are bred to produce large central heads, while others can form smaller florets and spears (in case of broccoli raab). Broccoli heads come in a variety of colors, including purple, yellow and green. There are varieties that are bred to look good, but there are also varieties that are resistant to heat and slow to bolt.

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Broccoli grows best in bright sunlight for at least six hours per day. Broccoli plants require fertile soils in order to thrive. They are heavy feeders. To add nutrients to the soil, mix manure, compost and cover crops in the garden bed. It will take a few weeks for the cover crop residue to be completely gone before you can plant broccoli.

A soil test is a great idea at the beginning of each season. This will allow you to determine the soil’s pH (level of acidity), nutrients available, and organic matter content. Many soil testing services provide detailed information on how to improve soil quality for specific crops and what fertilizer you should use.

Avoid planting broccoli where its cole crop cousins (including cabbage, turnips and Brussels sprouts) have grown in the past three years. Why? Why? You can group related crops together and plant them in a different place each year.

How to Plant Broccoli

What is the best time to grow broccoli?

Broccoli thrives at 60 to 75 degrees. However, it can also withstand colder temperatures. This makes broccoli a great candidate for both spring and fall vegetable gardening in all parts of the country. Broccoli can be grown in northern climates as a summer crop. In the Deep South, it can grow through the winter. To find out the best season to plant broccoli, check with your county extension.

For spring, start indoors

Broccoli plants can be grown from seeds. However, you might need to bring them inside to germinate for the spring crop. You should start your seeds indoors at least four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area. The seeds should start sprouting within a week. Place your broccoli seeds in direct sunlight.

You can “Harden off” your seedlings by increasing their outdoor time. Place young broccoli plants outside for a week before planting them in the garden. Then, bring them inside the next day. Keep plants indoors if temperatures drop below 45 degrees.

For Fall, Sow Outdoors

Broccoli seeds can also be planted in the garden to produce a fall crop. This is possible in many areas of the country. Plant seeds in the garden between your summer vegetables to start your fall broccoli succession. The broccoli seedlings will be shaded by the established summer crops, which will protect them from heat. Broccoli will be the main focus as warmer season vegetables decline in cooler temperatures. To find out when is the best time to plant fall-sown broccoli in your area, check with your extension.

Broccoli planting in the Garden

You can also purchase broccoli seedlings at your local garden center, rather than planting plants from seeds. For spacing instructions, refer to the seed packet or plant label when planting your broccoli. It is a good rule of thumb to leave about 2 feet between plants.

Broccoli plants: Growing and caring

Water Consistently

To develop sweet-tasting, firm heads of broccoli, you should give it between 1 and 2 inches water per week during the growing season. To encourage roots to grow deeper into the soil, water deeply. If you do not want to water deeply, sprinkling soil quickly will encourage surface roots that are more vulnerable to drought stress.

To water the soil, use a watering can or wand. Allow water to soak into the soil and then water again if it starts to run below the plants. To slowly bring water to the soil beneath the plants, you can use a soakerhose or drip line.

Fertilize when you are needed

You can enhance your broccoli’s growth by fertilizing your plants at the beginning of the season, and then again when they reach 4 inches in height. You can endanger your plants’ head development by over-fertilizing them.

You should be taking your vitamins regularly

Broccoli plants are in competition with weeds for sun, water, and nutrients. To eliminate competition and avoid damaging your broccoli plants’ roots, remove weeds as soon as they are small. To discourage weeds and conserve water, add organic matter to your garden, use a layer of compost around plants.

Scout for Health Issues

You should be aware of potential health issues such as flea beetles and cabbage worms and spiders and diseases like club root and hollow stem. To attract pests, repel predators, and improve soil quality, experiment with companion planting.

Protect your broccoli plants from pest pressures if you have had to deal with them in the past. Use a floating row cover. Choose resistant varieties of broccoli and rotate the area where they are grown each season.

How to Harvest Broccoli

Your broccoli plants will be ready for harvest approximately 12 weeks after they are planted, depending on the variety and the environmental conditions. Before the yellow flowers open from the buds, cut the broccoli heads. Cut the stem 6 inches below the head with a sharp knife. The side shoots will often produce smaller heads than the central head once the big, heavy head has been removed. To encourage more production, keep picking smaller florets. You can either pick the florets fresh out of the garden or store your broccoli for later.

Don’t wait until broccoli florets become available for harvesting. A few days can make all the differences, as the tightly packed buds will quickly open to produce yellow flowers. Boiling, or flowering before the florets are ready to be harvested, is a common problem in broccoli. Remove the flowering shoot from your broccoli if it starts to bolt. Keep an eye out for new florets growing up from the side shoots to ensure you harvest them as soon as possible. Look for heat-tolerant varieties that are slower to bolt if bolting is a problem in your garden.