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Complete Guide to Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Broccoli

Hardy, great-tasting broccoli plants will grow best in cool temperatures and rich soil. Here's how.

Broccoli

Backyard gardeners are growing broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) like never before.

Belonging to the cabbage or cole family, this popular dinner side dish tastes best fresh and is prized for its cool weather hardiness and ample production.

It’s a high-production vegetable that’s perfect for fresh eating, cooking, and freezing.

One of our favorite superfoods, broccoli is low in calories and chock-full of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, phosphorus, and iron.

It has high fiber content, and anti-inflammatory benefits and has been associated with a lower risk of cancer.

Fun Fact: This nutrient powerhouse is native to the Mediterranean where it is believed to have evolved from a wild cabbage plant.

One of the garden’s nutritious powerhouses, heirloom broccoli beats anything you get at the market, especially when harvested in cool weather.

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Broccoli

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A nutritious powerhouse, home-grown broccoli beats anything from the market.

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Common Name: Broccoli

Botanical Name: Brassica oleracea var. italica

Family: Brassicaceae

Plant Type: Biennial, annual, vegetable

Hardiness Zones: 2–11 (USDA)

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Type: Moist, loamy, well-drained

Soil pH: Acidic, neutral

Height: 18-30 inches tall

Native Area: Mediterranean, Asia

Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Broccoli

  1. Plant in cooler weather, spring or fall
  2. Can tolerate frost
  3. Needs full sun and loose, nutrient-rich soil
  4. Can plant outside 2 weeks before last frost
  5. Short-season veggie that matures in 55-75 days
  6. Freeze for meals year-round or eat fresh
  7. Pests and diseases include cabbage worms, flea beetles, root maggots, and cutworms

Broccoli Plant Care

Broccoli belongs to the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts. The buds of the broccoli flower are the part we eat. The broccoli head would open into tiny, greenish-yellow flowers if unpicked.

Although most broccoli is green, there are some delicious and stunning purple varieties.

Broccoli grows at a steady rate. It is typically planted in early to mid-spring for a harvest in early summer. In warm climates, planting in late summer can result in a fall harvest.

Light

Broccoli grows best in full sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days.

However, in extremely hot climates, the plant may need partial afternoon shade to avoid bolting, or flowering and seed production.

Soil

Broccoli grows best in rich loamy soil with plenty of organic matter. A good drainage system is also required. A pH range of slightly acidic to neutral is ideal for soil.

Water

Keep the soil damp, but never wet. Also, water the plant from the base up, as watering from above can promote rot. About 1 to 1.5 inches of water should be enough per week. Putting down a layer of mulch can help keep the soil moist.

Temperature and Humidity

Broccoli grows best in temperatures ranging from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Bolting can occur when temperatures rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

As long as there is adequate soil moisture and good air circulation around plants, humidity is typically not a problem.

Fertilizer

Before planting, incorporate compost into the soil to improve nutrient content and drainage.

After the seedlings have emerged after a few weeks, you can begin fertilizing with an organic low-nitrogen fertilizer.

It is important to continue fertilizing throughout the growing season as directed on the product label.

How to Plant and Grow Broccoli

Site Preparation

Broccoli is a cool season annual plant that requires full sun and regular water. It grows best in loose, fast-draining and fertile soils.

Dig in a legume cover crop or 30 lbs of organic compost per 100 square feet during the season prior to planting. Since broccoli is a heavy feeder, it thrives after a legume crop, such as peas.

Well balanced soil that is rich in nutrients will prevent many broccoli pests and diseases.

Humus is the key to a great broccoli harvest. Add ample amounts of organic matter to the soil prior to planting (Learn How to Prepare Garden Soil here).

How to Plant Broccoli

All cole crops can tolerate frost, so don’t be afraid to set broccoli transplants into the garden two weeks before the last spring frost date

When sowing seeds, plant them a few weeks before the last chance of a spring frost, and then transfer them to the garden once that chance has passed. Late summer or early fall is the best time to plant fall crops..

Space transplants 15-18 inches apart, allowing at least 2 feet between rows. If planting from seed, sow directly in fall for winter harvest, or early spring for a late spring harvest.

If you’re starting transplants indoors, get them going early — about 8-10 weeks before the last frost.

As temperatures warm, mulch the planting area with compost, leaves or straw to cool the soil, prevent weeds, and conserve moisture.

Promote healthy growth by feeding every 2-3 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Broccoli will mature 55-75 days from transplanting.

Seed Saving Instructions

This biennial plant will cross-pollinate with all other Brassica oleracea, so isolate varieties by one mile the second year when going to seed.

Don’t harvest the broccoli until it has grown past its normal size. Small yellow flowers will eventually appear, giving way to seed pods.

Carefully dig the plants and pot them in the sand. Store plants between 32-40˚F.

Plant back out in early spring and allow to bolt. Harvest seed pods when dry and clean by hand.

How to Harvest and Store Broccoli

The edible portion of the plant is the flower which is harvested before it actually blooms. Cut just below the point where the stems begin to separate.

After harvesting the main head of the broccoli plant, side shoots will develop with smaller heads so the plants will continue to produce over a long period of time. Cool season annuals will bolt (go to seed) quickly in warm weather.

Wash and store broccoli in the refrigerator — no longer than 10 days — for fresh use. It also freezes well right after harvest and will retain much of its nutritional value.

Companion Planting with Broccoli

When it comes to companion planting, remember that broccoli is one of many plants that emit allelochemicals that may have a negative impact on other plants and future plantings in the same garden.

Some great companion plants for broccoli include:

Avoid growing broccoli with beans, corn, cucumbers, brassicas, peppers, strawberries, squash, and tomatoes.

Common Disease and Pests Problem for Broccoli Plant

Broccoli is vulnerable to the same insects and diseases as other cabbage family members. Pests like cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, flea beetles, and aphids are the most common ones. Row covers can help to keep pests at bay.

Paper collars and barriers placed around the stem of each plant, on the soil surface, will deter cutwormsDamping-off disease is a common problem with seedlings. Remove and destroy all infected plants.

Among the most common diseases are downy mildew, black rot, white mold, and soft rot. For three years, avoid planting broccoli in the same place where rot has previously occurred. Use chemical control as needed and follow label instructions.

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One Response to “Complete Guide to Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Broccoli”

  1. Roy on April 12th, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    Great article. Thanks alot for sharing!

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