When summer ends, and the days turn shorter, many gardeners know that its time to start planting broccoli. Broccoli is a cool-weather vegetable that thrives in very early spring and late fall. It’s one of America’s favorite vegetables because it’s full of vitamins and minerals while still being low in calories. It also provides a healthy dose of fiber without adding empty fats or carbohydrates to your diet.

Planting broccoli is easier than you think, and you can grow this veggie in the ground and in containers. This means that even those with a tiny garden space can make some room for broccoli. And because it’s a winter vegetable, you’ll still have something to grow when the rest of your garden is fallow following summer crops.

When to Start Planting Broccoli

When to Start Planting Broccoli

If you garden regularly, you probably already know your growing and hardiness zone. If not, you can go to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) website for a map that provides that information. Once you know your location and zone, you’ll be better able to choose plants for your garden. Most plants and seeds indicate their hardiness zone. For planting broccoli, you’ll note that most vegetable seeds packets provide a time frame for when to plant them on the back. You may even see that they give one time-frame for starting seedlings indoors and another recommendation for transplanting those seedlings.

Planting broccoli in the fall

Planting broccoli in the spring

Why timing is so important when planting broccoli

How to Start Planting Broccoli

How to Start Planting Broccoli

You can start broccoli from seed or purchase seedlings from your local garden center. Purchasing seedlings allows you to get a head start on your winter garden, but you need to make sure you’re planting broccoli at the right time of year for your region.

Most local nurseries carry plants that do well in your growing zone and stock seedlings according to the season. But unfortunately, many big box home improvement centers and department stores often don’t follow the recommendations for their locations. This is because they often order from a central location that may be hundreds of miles and two or three growing zones from where you shop. So, make sure that if you shop in these types of stores that you choose your seedlings carefully. Make sure the variety you purchase is actually within your planting time-frame and does well under your local climate conditions.

Where to Start Planting Broccoli

Where to Start Planting Broccoli

Luckily, you can grow your broccoli either in the ground or in a container. While container gardening requires some initial investment in potting soil and pots, it also allows you the opportunity to extend your growing season to some degree. If you’re a bit late planting your broccoli and get an unexpected freeze, you can move them indoors if necessary. Sometimes, just moving them close to a sunny exterior wall helps protect them from a freeze, especially if you cover them overnight.

Whether you choose the garden ground or decide that planting broccoli in a container is the best way to go, you’ll need to locate your plants where they’ll receive at least four to six hours of sunlight during the day. You’ll also need to make sure you can keep them watered conveniently.

Planting broccoli and trying to grow it to maturity indoors is possible but can prove difficult. You’ll need an area that gets at least six hours of direct light from the sun. Barring that, you can install grow lights to give them 12 hours or more of artificial light every day. You’ll also need plenty of space for your plants. You’ll need pots that provide at least 8 to 12 inches of depth with diameters of 12 to 15 inches.

Preparing your garden for planting broccoli

Preparing your garden

This vegetable prefers rich, moist soil, so preparing your garden soil is important when planting broccoli. Add a layer of compost and dig well into your garden. Organic matter improves your soil quality, making it lighter and releases nutrients back into the soil. Broccoli also prefers slightly acidic soil, so you may want to purchase a soil test kit or contact your local extension office for assistance.

Because it requires plenty of water, consider adding a drip irrigation system or slow watering bottle if you're planting in the ground. You may need to water container broccoli plants every day or every other day if you have dry falls and winters.

Pay attention to spacing when planting broccoli

Pay attention to spacing when planting broccoli sprouts

Your broccoli heads need plenty of space to grow when you plant them in the ground. Depending on when you plan to harvest them, give them at least of foot or two between plants. If you provide at least 24 inches between plants, you can often “side harvest” your broccoli after you remove the main stalk head. That way, you'll get better production. If planting in several rows, plant for three feet between each.

Caring for Your Broccoli plants

Caring for Your Broccoli plants

After you’re done planting broccoli in your garden, you’ll need to care for them properly. Broccoli has a few special requirements that might surprise you.

Watering

Mulching

Fertilizing

Troubleshooting

Harvesting Your Broccoli Plants

Harvesting Your Broccoli Plants

Once the head is fully formed on your broccoli, it's ready for you to harvest. The heads should be firm and tightly formed right before they flower. They will be about 4 to 7 inches in diameter when ready. However, if you do see the yellow petals of the flowers start to form, harvest the heads immediately, regardless of their size.

Cut the head away from the plant, with at least six inches of the stem still attached. Cut the main stalk at an angle, since this helps your broccoli plant form side shoots, which you can harvest as they develop.

As long as the weather complies, you can harvest side shoots that form around the main head. If temperatures allow, you can continue to harvest the side shoots for weeks, even months. In warmer climates with few or no hard freezes, you’ll be able to harvest a fall crop all winter long by using a row cover or cold frame.

Time for Planting Broccoli!

Many gardeners feel down when the summer ends, but many vegetables are perfect for planting in the fall. Broccoli and other cabbage family vegetables grow beautifully in the colder months and will keep for a long time. Once harvested, you can blanch your broccoli in boiling water and then freeze it for up to a year.

Fall is the right time for planting broccoli, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and celery. You can also plant many leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and kale. So, your gardening fun doesn’t have to end just because summer is over. Plan some time to prepare your soil between summer crops and fall planting and enjoy more than just pumpkins now that autumn has fallen.

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