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How to Grow Broccoli: Gardening Guide

Broccoli is one of the most popular and nutritious vegetables to grow in the home garden. When properly cared for, broccoli thrives and produces an abundant harvest. Follow this comprehensive gardening guide for beginners from growing broccoli from seeds to harvesting successfully.

Choosing a Broccoli Variety to Grow

Selecting the right broccoli variety is the first critical step for a successful crop. There are many options to consider when it comes to hybrid vs. heirloom types, maturity dates, and head sizes. Do your homework to pick the best varieties suited to your growing conditions and needs.

Hybrid vs. Heirloom

When selecting a broccoli variety to grow, you’ll first need to decide between a hybrid and an heirloom type. Hybrids are bred for traits like disease resistance, uniform growth, and productivity. Heirlooms have more unique flavors and colors.

To help you select, here is a table comparing some top recommended hybrid and heirloom varieties for growing in the USA:

VarietyTypeDays to MaturityNotes
Green MagicHybrid68 daysHigh-yielding; heat tolerant
LuckyHybrid75 daysConsistent 6-8″ heads; good for spring/fall crops
GypsyHybrid60 daysFast-growing; produces side shoots after main head
WalthamHeirloom85 daysCold hardy; heirloom with great flavor
Italian Green SproutingHeirloom90 daysLarge central head; nutty flavor
Purple PeacockHeirloom70 daysStunning purple heads; disease resistant

The hybrids offer great productivity, consistency, and disease resistance, while the heirlooms provide more unique flavors and cold hardiness. Consider your climate and priorities when selecting among the top varieties for the USA.

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Maturity Date

Consider the number of days to maturity for the variety. Look for one suited to your growing season. Some mature in under 60 days, while others take 80 days or more.

maturity days broccoli
Broccoli seedlings.

Head Size

Broccoli varieties produce heads in different sizes, from 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) across. Pick a size appropriate for your needs.

When to Plant Broccoli?

Knowing the optimal time to plant is crucial for a successful broccoli crop. Broccoli can be grown in both spring and fall seasons in most regions. The key is timing your planting properly based on expected frost dates.

Spring Planting

For a spring crop in most regions, start broccoli seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost date. Use individual cells or containers and a seed starting mix. Transplant the seedlings into the garden about 2-3 weeks before the average last frost date for your area. The ideal soil temperature for transplanting is at least 40°F (4 °C).

Fall Planting

You can also plant a second crop of broccoli for fall harvesting. Sow seeds directly in the garden 10-12 weeks prior to the expected first fall frost. That will allow enough time for the plants to mature before cold weather sets in. Make sure to choose a quick-maturing variety for fall planting. The optimal soil temperature for direct sowing is 60-85°F (15-29°C).

Check your local frost dates and adjust planting times accordingly. With proper timing, you can harvest broccoli in both the spring and fall seasons.

when to plant broccoli
Broccoli seedlings.

Preparing the Soil to Grow Broccoli

Proper soil preparation is vital to growing robust broccoli plants. Broccoli thrives in nutrient-rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0-7.0. Before planting, take time to cultivate the optimal soil conditions.

Soil Nutrients: Broccoli needs nutrient-rich soil with compost worked in. Test your soil and amend it based on the test results.

Soil pH: Broccoli prefers a soil pH between 6.0-7.0. Add lime if your soil is too acidic. Learn more about how to measure soil pH.

Pre-plant Fertilizer: Till a balanced fertilizer into the top 6 inches (15 cm) of soil before planting. Compost also provides nutrients.

How to Grow Broccoli Step by Step

Planting is the next important step after selecting your broccoli varieties. Proper spacing, depth, and care when planting will give your broccoli seedlings the best start. Follow these key steps whether you choose to grow broccoli from seeds or seedlings:

Step 1: Decide whether to start from seeds or buy seedlings. Seeds are cheaper but take longer to grow. Seedlings are quicker but cost more upfront.

Step 2: If using seeds, start them indoors 4-6 weeks before your last expected frost. Use a seed starting mix in containers.

Step 3: If using seedlings, buy them about 3-4 weeks before your last expected frost date. Select stocky, green, healthy plants.

Step 4: Prepare your garden beds in advance, till the soil, and mix in compost. Ensure proper soil nutrients and pH.

Step 5: Space rows 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) apart. Measure and mark where each broccoli plant will go.

Step 6: Dig holes or furrows for seeds/seedlings 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) apart within each row.

Step 7: Sow seeds 1/4-1/2 inch (0.6-1.2 cm) deep if direct seeding into the garden, then water well after planting.

Step 8: If using seedlings, plant them at the same soil level as their containers. Water seedlings after planting.

Step 9: Add mulch around plants to retain moisture. Monitor watering needs in early growth stages.

Step 10: Fertilize plants according to packaging instructions to fuel growth.

how to grow broccoli step by step
Broccoli plant growing.

Caring for Broccoli

Proper care while your broccoli is growing will maximize your harvest. Pay close attention to watering, mulching, and fertilizing needs.

Watering

Broccoli requires consistent moisture, about 1-2 inches of water per week. Water stress can lead to poor head development. Use a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses to target the roots. Avoid wetting foliage, which can encourage disease. Learn more about the worst time to water plants.

Mulching

After plants are established, spread 2-3 inches of organic mulch like straw or leaves around plants. Mulch allows to conserve moisture, prevents weeds, and keeps roots cool. Replenish the mulch as needed throughout the season. Learn more about different types of mulches.

Fertilizing

About 3-4 weeks after transplanting or sprouting, begin applying a balanced vegetable fertilizer. Follow label instructions for dilution and application rates. Repeat every 3-4 weeks to fuel plant growth and head development. Too much nitrogen can cause excessive foliage instead of heads.

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Pests and Diseases Damaging Broccoli Plants

As a brassica, broccoli plants can be susceptible to certain pests and diseases. Being aware of potential issues and taking preventative action is critical.

Common Pests

Some insects that may attack broccoli plants include cabbage worms, aphids, caterpillars, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, and harlequin bugs. Visually inspect plants frequently and handpick pests. Row covers can exclude pests when plants are young. Use organic insecticidal soap or neem oil as needed. Learn more about how to mix neem oil for plants.

Preventing Disease

Practice crop rotation each season to prevent disease buildup in the soil. Avoid planting broccoli in the same spot two years in a row. Learn more about the best companion plants for broccoli.

Provide good air circulation between plants through proper spacing and pruning. That prevents moisture buildup that can harbor diseases.

Water at the base of plants rather than wetting the leaves. That helps deter fungal and bacterial diseases like downy mildew, Alternaria leaf spot, or black rot.

Remove diseased plants promptly to avoid spreading issues. Clean up all plant debris in the fall to remove overwintering sites.

Choose disease-resistant varieties when possible and use preventative organic fungicides.

With vigilant monitoring, cultural practices, and organic treatments, if necessary, you can protect broccoli from ravaging pests and diseases.

pests and diseases broccoli
Caterpillars infested the broccoli plant and fed on its leaves.

Harvesting Broccoli

Knowing when and how to harvest broccoli is essential to get the best flavor and yield.

Identifying Maturity

Check heads frequently as broccoli matures. Harvest when the head is fully formed and compact before individual florets start to loosen and flower. The head will look dark green and have tight bead-like buds. Stalks should be thick.

Knowing when to harvest broccoli is crucial to ensure it’s at its peak flavor and nutritional value. Harvesting too early or late decreases quality. Here are some indicators to help you determine when your broccoli is ready for harvest:

Head Formation: Look for a firm, compact broccoli head that is tight and dark green. The individual florets should be tightly packed together.

Size Matters: The size of the broccoli head is also an indicator. It should be of a decent size, typically around 6 to 8 inches in diameter, depending on the broccoli variety.

Check the Color: The color of the broccoli head is essential. It should be a dark green or purple hue, depending on the variety. Avoid harvesting if the color is yellowing, as it may indicate overripeness.

Inspect the Buds: Examine the buds within the broccoli head. They should be tightly closed. If you see open or flowering buds, it’s a sign that the broccoli is past its prime.

Timing: Most broccoli varieties mature within 70-100 days from planting. Check the seed packet or plant label for the expected harvest time. Start monitoring your broccoli as it approaches this timeline.

Use the “Fingernail Test”: Perform a “fingernail test” by pressing your fingernail against one of the florets. If it leaves an indentation but doesn’t break through the surface, the broccoli is ready. If it’s too hard or if the bud breaks apart easily, it may be under or overripe.

Harvest Before Flowering: Harvest broccoli before it starts to flower. Once the tiny yellow flowers begin to appear in the center of the head, the broccoli’s quality declines.

broccoli ready to harvest
Broccoli ready for harvest.

Cutting the Head

Use a sharp knife to cut the main head off the plant, leaving about 6 inches (15 cm) of stem attached. Cut at an angle. Be careful not to damage any side shoots near the head, as these will form smaller heads later.

Continued Harvesting

Within a week after cutting the central head, smaller side shoots will start developing along the plant. Monitor these shoots and cut them once the buds swell before flowering. Side shoots can be harvested for several weeks, extending the broccoli’s productivity.

Post-Harvest Care

After cutting, immediately place heads in a cooler or refrigerator to retain flavor and texture. Broccoli should not sit out in hot weather. Consume, freeze, or preserve harvested broccoli as soon as possible.

With the right timing and care in harvesting, one broccoli plant can provide an abundant ongoing harvest.

broccoli plant in garden
Broccoli plant.

Storing and Preserving Broccoli

Broccoli maintains its best quality when properly stored or preserved soon after harvest.

Refrigeration

For short-term storage, refrigerate broccoli immediately after harvest. Then, place florets and stalks in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Broccoli keeps for 7 to 10 days refrigerated at 32-40°F (0-4°C). Mist heads occasionally with water if they start to dry out.

Freezing

For longer-term freezing, first blanch chopped broccoli for 2-3 minutes to stop enzyme action. Blanching broccoli before freezing helps preserve its color, flavor, and nutritional value. Then, immerse in ice water. Drain, pat dry, and pack into freezer bags or containers, leaving 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) headspace. Blanching can be done before or after chopping broccoli. Blanching broccoli before chopping requires a few more minutes.

Dehydrating

Wash and trim broccoli, cut into florets, and slice stems. Blanch for 1 minute, then drain well. Arrange in a single layer on dehydrator trays and dry at 115-125°F (46-52°C) until crispy, about 6-15 hours. Store in airtight containers.

Pickling

Trim and slice stems and cut broccoli florets into pieces. Soak in brine solution overnight, then pack into sterilized jars with vinegar solution and process in a water bath canner. Refrigerate pickles after opening.

Canning

Cut broccoli into pieces and blanch for 3 minutes. Pack into hot sterilized jars, cover with boiling water or broth, and process in a pressure canner for safe long-term shelf storage.

Conclusion

Growing a healthy crop of broccoli takes some time and effort. Still, with the right variety choice, planting schedule, soil preparation, and care, you can enjoy an abundant harvest. Proper harvesting and storage methods will help you enjoy your homegrown broccoli for months to come. With patience and care, you’ll be rewarded with nutritious, flavorful broccoli.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do I Know When My Broccoli Is Ready to Harvest?

Harvest broccoli when the head is firm, compact, and dark green, typically 6-8 inches in diameter. Check for tightly closed buds and vibrant color, avoiding yellowing or flowering. Perform a “fingernail test” to gauge readiness. Harvest before flowers appear. Consult the expected maturity time on the seed packet. Regular monitoring ensures optimal flavor and nutritional value.

What Causes Hollow Stems in Broccoli?

Hollow stems are usually caused by growing broccoli in temperatures that are too high, uneven watering, or lack of boron in the soil.

Is Broccoli a Good Companion Plant for Other Vegetables?

Yes, broccoli makes a great companion for many plants. Some good options are potatoes, beans, onions, garlic, and thyme.

How Long Does Broccoli Last in The Refrigerator?

Properly stored broccoli will last for 7-10 days in the refrigerator. Mist the heads with water if they start to dry out.

Can You Grow Broccoli in Containers?

If your garden space is limited, you can grow broccoli in containers that are at least 18-24 inches wide and deep. Plant broccoli seedlings or seeds at least 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) apart in the container. This spacing ensures that each plant has enough room to develop a healthy head and prevents overcrowding, which can lead to competition for nutrients and hinder growth. Make sure to use potting mix and fertilize regularly in containers.

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About Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan is an agronomist horticulture founder of The Garden Style Company and The Garden Style Website. He previously worked for Mondelēz International as an Agronomist Engineer specializing in agricultural products management in highly populated areas. In 2000, Henry started working with farmer-producers in agricultural businesses selling wholesale fresh produce and retail plants in Van Buren, Arkansas. Nowadays, Henry lives in California, where he offers expert consulting services for organic vegetable gardening. As a science writer working with his wife, Julia, Henry shares his passion for gardening and farming, trying to reach and teach as many folks as possible.

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