Broccoli has never been the easiest vegetable for me to grow. For years, I tried with no success, and the plants grew without heads. If heads did form, they were small, barely worthy of a bite. I had no idea how to grow broccoli.
My failed harvest each year was a true disappointment. Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables, and one of the easiest to sneak into dishes for the kids. Whether it’s a side dish of broccoli and cheese or pasta primavera, I love making dishes with broccoli, and nothing tastes better than homegrown.
Because I enjoy broccoli in dishes, I went to work, researching ways to have a successful broccoli harvest each year. Here is what I learned.
- What You Should Know about Broccoli Plants
- Where is Broccoli Grown?
- How Long Does It Take for Broccoli to Grow?
- Common Varieties of Broccoli You Should Grow
- Green Goliath
- Green Duke
- How to Grow Broccoli
- Taking Care of Your Broccoli Plants
- A Few Common Broccoli Pests and Diseases
- Harvesting Broccoli
- Get to Planting
What You Should Know about Broccoli Plants
Broccoli is a hardy vegetable that grows best when planted during the chilly seasons throughout the year. When done correctly, you can harvest two crops of broccoli each year – one in the spring and one in the fall. It’s a member of the cole crop family, Brassica oleracea, so it’s also in the same family as:
- Brussels sprouts
This veggie is rich in vitamins and minerals, and it’s a fantastic source of potassium, fiber, iron, and vitamin A. It’s a vegetable with one of the highest levels of nutrition.
Where is Broccoli Grown?
At first, broccoli started as a plant native to the Mediterranean region. Ancient Romans cultivated broccoli, and we know that it was introduced to England around the 1700s. It wasn’t until the 1920s that broccoli came over to the United States.
That’s an interesting thought. We are accustomed to broccoli being a common vegetable in dishes and dinners throughout the US, but it’s been less than one hundred years since the introduction.
For gardeners, broccoli can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3-10. That’s a wide range of areas so that most people can grow broccoli in their backyard gardens.
How Long Does It Take for Broccoli to Grow?
Growing broccoli takes patience. Sometimes, watching the plants grow is like watching paint dry – boring! That’s why you need to add some faster-growing plants to your garden, like radishes and green beans.
On average, broccoli takes between 60 and 100 days to mature, but growing times will vary depending on the varieties you select. Some types take up to 120 days to reach harvesting time.
Common Varieties of Broccoli You Should Grow
You’ll find so many awesome varieties of broccoli. It’s hard to pick just one, so I have one standard variety that I grow. Then, I add one or two different ones each year. Variety is the spice of life.
Belstar is a hybrid broccoli variety that grows well in the south. It becomes six-inch, blue-green heads that take around 65 days to develop.
Green Goliath is my favorite broccoli variety, and it’s the one I grow each year. It’s heat-tolerant, so it’s a good choice for southern states. Gardeners like that the side shoots mature enough for additional harvest.
Here is another variety that handles the heat well. It’s an early maturing variety, so it’s a good choice for southern gardeners as well. You’ll have a broccoli harvest before the heat gets too intense.
Calabrese has a bit of a fanciful look to it, and it’s prolific Italian heirloom broccoli that has been around for decades. The side sprouts mature for harvest as well. If you want to plant broccoli in your fall garden, Calabrese is a good choice.
Flash, as you might imagine, is a fast-growing hybrid that is heat resistant. It also produces side shoots and a central head, so you can get plenty to harvest on one plant. You’ll find it does great in a fall garden because it multiplies.
How to Grow Broccoli
Ready to get started? Figuring how does broccoli grow takes some plotting and planning to be sure you have the right location and proper soil. You also have to plan when to plant your seeds and how to plant broccoli in your garden.
Here is everything you need to know.
The Right Location for Broccoli
The first thing you have to do is pick the right location to grow broccoli. The plants require a lot of sunshine, but they can adjust to partially shaded spots. If you plant later in the season than you planned, picking a partially shaded location will be a good thing to avoid some of the heat of the summer. That’s a mistake and remedy I learned after missing my planting deadline.
The Best Companion Plants for Broccoli
When you’re picking a location for your broccoli, you should also consider companion plants. Broccoli does best when put near these friends:
Herbs such as lemon balm, chamomile, mint, oregano, basil, and rosemary.
That list isn’t complete. Broccoli is a friendly vegetable, and it does well with a variety of plants, like bush beans, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, rhubarb, radishes, and Swiss chard.
Preparing the Soil for Broccoli
If you want a great harvest of broccoli, you need the right soil. Broccoli likes soil that drains water well and doesn’t allow standing water. A mixture between sandy and clay loam works perfect. The soil needs to be nutrient-dense with a soil pH level between 5.7 and 6.6, which means broccoli prefers more acidic soil.
You can use a soil meter to determine the pH level in our soil. If you need to adjust your soil and make it more acidic, a few additives you can put in the soil include:
- Sphagnum peat moss
- Elemental Sulfate
- Coffee Grounds
- Grass Clippings
To prepare your soil for planting, work in 2 to 4 inches of compost or a layer of manure a few days before you put the plants in the ground.
When to Plant Broccoli
Broccoli can handle cool weather, but they do need to be protected from a frost. Take a look at your USDA hardiness zone to find your final frost date for your area. This crop prefers temperatures between 65 and 75℉, which is another indicator that it’s time to plant broccoli.
For example, my final frost date is May 11. Broccoli can be planted 2 to 3 weeks before your last frost date so that I could plant my broccoli outside between April 20 and 27.
Here are some basic guidelines for each USDA hardiness zone.
USDA Zones 3-4
Plant in May
USDA Zone 5
Plant in April & May
USDA Zone 6
Plant in March & April
USDA Zones 7-8
Plant in February through April
USDA Zones 9-10
Plant in July through October
For a fall harvest, retake a look at your USDA hardiness zone. Your goal is to reach maturity by your first date of the year. Most broccoli varieties take an average of 90-110 days to mature. That means you have to count backward from that date to find when to plant broccoli in the fall garden.
Sound confusing? Let me break it down.
My average first frost date of the year is around October 13. I need to count back 100 days for the variety of broccoli I picked to grow this year. I would need to plant my broccoli outside around July 5 to reach maturity. Broccoli plants can handle a light frost.
You want to be able to harvest the broccoli before the weather gets too hot. Otherwise, your broccoli plants will go to bolt and develop seeds rather than give you the delicious heads you want for dinner.
Starting Broccoli Seeds Inside
Direct sowing broccoli seeds into the ground are possible, in particular, if you’re planting broccoli in the fall. For spring planting, you’ll want to plant the broccoli seeds inside and let them sprout under grow lights for a few weeks.
Start your broccoli seeds inside five to seven weeks before you plan to plant them outside in the spring for a summer crop. Follow these easy steps to start broccoli seeds inside.
- Fill the container of your choice with high-quality potting soil.
- Plant the seeds /12 inch deep and gently cover with soil.
- Water deeply and keep in a warm, humid location while you wait for the seeds to germinate.
- Once the seeds sprout, keep them under grow lights until it’s time to plant the seedlings outside.
How to Plant Broccoli
Broccoli isn’t a small plant, but they aren’t huge either. The correct broccoli plant spacing is to place your rows 3 feet apart, and the plants need to be 2 feet apart. That gives them plenty of space to grow and have adequate air circulation to avoid diseases.
To plant broccoli seedlings, dig a hole just a bit deeper than your container. Gently loosen up the roots at the bottom of the root ball. Place the seedling into the pot, and cover with soil. Water deeply.
Taking Care of Your Broccoli Plants
Taking Care of Your Broccoli Plants
Now that you successfully planted your broccoli, you have to take care of those plants now. How you take care of your plants often determines how well your plants do. My seedlings always looked perfect going into the ground, but part of the issues with my failed crops was my incorrect ways of taking care of my broccoli plants.
Let’s take a look at the relevant details if you want to grow large heads of broccoli.
How Much Water Does Broccoli Need?
All cool-season crops need plenty of water. Hot, dry weather isn’t the friend of broccoli or any of its family members.
For best results, broccoli plants should have a regular water supply that’s provided during the morning. The foliage should be dry before night comes to avoid diseases. Water sitting on top of leaves in the cool, night air is a breeding ground for diseases.
Water your plants so that the dirt is moist six inches deep or more. Sprinkling your plants isn’t a good idea; it leads to shallow roots that won’t be able to reach the nutrients in the soil needed for a good harvest.
If you experience drought conditions, you need to water more often. Broccoli isn’t a fan of dry soil, so be sure to pay attention by either checking the dryness of your soil or keeping a rain gauge in your garden.
Do Broccoli Plants Need to Be Fertilized?
Speaking of nutrients, fertilizing your plants is necessary. They’re heavy-feeding crops, so failure to feed those plants will result in a sad harvest. Ideally, you added fertilizer or compost to your soil before you planted them in the garden bed. That feeds the plant at the beginning of its growth cycle.
Fertilize the broccoli plants three weeks after you transplant the seedlings into the garden. That gives the plant the boost of nutrients needed after it’s gotten over the shock of being placed in the garden bed. Plants need a bit of time to get used to its new location before taking off and growing.
After this fertilization, use a complete 12-12-12 fertilizer once a month. You don’t need too much; 1 cup of fertilizer works for a 10-foot long garden bed.
Remember to Mulch
Mulching around your broccoli plants is a smart idea. I like to use grass clippings in my garden beds because it’s free and we have a constant supply available weekly as it decomposes. Plus, as the grass clippings degrade in the garden bed, it adds nitrogen to the soil, which is necessary for growth.
No matter what you pick for your mulch, make sure you use some mulch with your broccoli plants.
- Mulch plays many roles in the garden that benefit your plants, such as:
- Retains moisture in the soil, which we already know broccoli plants love.
- Regulates the soil temperatures, either keeping the temperatures cooler or higher depending on the season.
- Suppresses weeds that might compete for vital nutrients in the soil.
A Few Common Broccoli Pests and Diseases
Unfortunately, broccoli plants are susceptible to many different pests and diseases, making them a bit more complicated to keep in the garden. Pests were a problem I battled for years in my quest to grow the perfectly large broccoli heads.
Here are a few that you might contend with in your garden this growing season.
Aphids are a common garden pest that most gardeners will face a few times. I know I have!
Do you have curling leaves on your plant? If so, aphids might be the cause. They like to attach to the underside of the leaves and suck out the vital sap from the plants that provide food and energy.
Getting rid of aphids takes a few steps. First, use a hose to knock off as many of the aphids as possible from the leaves. You can use insecticidal soap and apply it to all sides of the leaves, wherever you see aphids.
Have you found small holes on your leaves between the veins? If so, you might have little, green, caterpillar-like pests called cabbage loopers. They like to cling to the underside of leaves.
The first thing you want to do is pick off the cabbage loopers as you find them on the plant. It can be a tedious process, but it’s a good start. Bacillus thuringiensis can be used; it’s a natural, bacterial pesticide that won’t hurt your plants nor you.
Downy mildew isn’t a pest but rather a disease that likes to take over your garden. It presents itself as yellow patches on the leaves. Downy mildew is typically caused by moist weather, so it can be hard to prevent that. If only we could control the weather!
The best defense against downy mildew is proper preparations. Broccoli leaves need to stay as dry as possible, so stick to the correct spacings between plants. That provides excellent air circulation.
Another frustrating disease that you might encounter is called clubroot. If you notice quickly wilting plants, it might be due to this fungus that likes to live in the soil.
Unfortunately, if your plant is infected with clubroot, you do have to remove it from the garden to stop it from spreading to your other plants. When you remove the plant, you’ll find roots that are twisted and strange looking.
Don’t put these diseased plants into your compost or you’ll spread the fungus throughout the entire compost. Once you removed the plant, increase the acid in your soil to 7.2 to help stop the clubroot fungus from living.
The most exciting part of all is when you finally get to harvest your broccoli. All of your hard work has paid off, and it’s time to have some fresh broccoli for dinner tonight.
When you’re ready to harvest broccoli from your garden, check out my easy guide on how to harvest broccoli to make sure you do it correctly and don’t miss a step.
Get to Planting
Broccoli might be troublesome at times, but it’s often due to our errors, such as forgetting to fertilize broccoli. That’s a mistake I made several times. Gardening is trial and error, and you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work in your garden beds.
Do you grow broccoli in your garden?