How to Grow Brussels Sprouts in the Home Garden
on Feb 22, 2024
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If you’re wondering how to grow brussels sprouts, you aren’t alone. These mysterious cool weather plants are delicious but they give even seasoned gardeners a run for their money. If you’d like to grow perfect tiny cabbages, here are some must know growing tips!
How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
Brussels Sprouts, Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera, are a cool-weather crop and a member of the cabbage family, closely related to cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.
It can be tricky to grow brussels sprouts in the home garden, but with these growing tips, you can be sure to have a lot of fresh sprouts ready to harvest either in early summer or late fall. The best thing about brussels sprouts besides eating them, is watching the small heads grow up the entire stalk all season!
Brussel sprouts are frost tolerant and will keep growing in most cold climates right up until a hard freeze. In areas with mild winters, they just keep on growing. For best results, the best time to harvest delicious brussels sprouts is after the first frost. The frost magically makes the sprouts sweeter and yummier.
Lots of people are surprised to see the little sprouts growing on a big stalk – if for no other reason than to see them growing, I recommend planting brussels sprouts in your garden!
Table of Contents
- How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
- What is the Ideal Climate for Brussels Sprouts
- Our Favorite Types of Brussels Sprouts
- When to Plant Brussel Sprouts – Zone 5
- How Long Do Brussel Sprouts Take to Grow
- Common Pests and How to Protect Against Them
- Companion Planting: Brussels Sprouts
- How & When to Harvest Brussels Sprouts
- How to Use Your Little Cabbages
What is the Ideal Climate for Brussels Sprouts
As we’ve said, brussels grow best in cool weather. Their ideal climate is found in the Pacific Northwest where cooler weather prevails. The prefer the hot summer days not to get above 70 degrees.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be grown in hotter climates. You’ll just want to time your growing season to the best of your ability and grow the type of sprouts best suited to your climate.
Our Favorite Types of Brussels Sprouts
- Long Island Improved – heirloom variety with tolerance for heat. Days to maturity: 85-110.
- Catskills Brussels Sprouts – semi-dwarf heirloom plants with about 90 days to maturity.
- Red Bull Brussels Sprouts – impress everyone with this deep red brussels sprout heirloom with milder tasting sprouts than their green counterparts. Days to Maturity: 100-110.
- Jade Cross – this is a hybrid variety (which means no seed saving) high-yield compact plant. It’s resistant to some diseases and is known for its tolerance for hotter weather. Days to Maturity: 90.
When to Plant Brussel Sprouts – Zone 5
In zone 5, Brussels sprouts are best as a cool season crop in the fall with a long growing season that starts 6 months before your first fall frost. You can plant them in the early spring too, but sprouts that ripen in the heat don’t taste nearly as good as those that ripen after a light frost. It can take up to 120 days for many brussels sprouts to grow.
My growing season is not long enough to directly sow seeds in my zone 5 garden. Since the best way to grow Brussels sprouts is as a fall crop, it’s best to start the seeds indoors in early May for planting in the garden by mid-June. Give yourself plenty of time to grow the seedlings to about 5 inches tall and make sure to harden them off properly before transplanting outside.
As an early spring crop before your last frost date
There is a second way to plant this cool-season crop, and that is to plant it as an early spring crop before your last frost date. Using this method, start seedlings indoors and plant them out in your garden four to six weeks BEFORE your last frost for an early summer harvest.
In a zone 5 garden, that means I would need to plant out seedlings by mid-March since my average last frost date is April 29-May 15.
Using this technique would give you an early summer harvest (hopefully by early to mid June). One drawback to this planting timeline is you miss out on any light frost benefits your plants could receive by using a later planting.
However, a benefit is that you potentially miss the extreme heat of hot summers and early autumn. Since brussel sprouts prefer cool soil and don’t like hot temperatures, this is one growing technique.
Note that you might need seedlings ready to go long before you’ll be able to buy them at the nursery, so your main option for this type of planting is to start the seeds yourself. You may also need to use frost blankets to protect your delicate seedlings from strong winds or late spring frosts.
General Growing Requirements
Brussels sprouts need to be planted in a slightly acidic (pH 6.5-7), well-cultivated and rich soil. Make sure the soil is also moist before planting. Well-drained soil is best for this cool season crop.
You’ll want to do a soil test to make sure your soil has the nutrients they need – too much nitrogen will discourage them from setting on any mini cabbages, so if you’ve had bad luck like I have, too much nitrogen might be the reason!
They need to be watered deeply each weekly. And since brussels are heavy feeders, so make sure to top dress them with organic matter compost each month or water weekly with a compost tea.
Brussels sprouts also need more boron than other plants. If you notice that your plants are developing hollow stems and small buds, mix 1 tablespoon of borax in 5 quarts of water and use this to evenly water 50 square feet around your plants. Be careful – though. Do not use more than 1 tablespoon of borax as too much can cause other problems.
Finally, these lovely brassicas also grow quite large, so make sure to give them plenty of room to grow, space plants 18-24” apart. This spacing is important. They really do grow quite large.
How Long Do Brussel Sprouts Take to Grow
Brussels sprouts are a slow growing vegetable with a long growing season. Most varieties take around 80 -100 days to grow.
Our favorite quickest growing variety of brussels sprouts is Long Island Improved, maturing in as few as 85 days. Red brussels sprouts take the longest time to grow, about 110 days from planting in late spring to being ready for an early winter harvest.
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Common Pests and How to Protect Against Them
Unfortunately, most common pests will eat your brussel sprouts, including aphids, harlequin bugs, cabbage loopers, and cutworms. It’s easiest to hand pick these nasty bugs off, or knock them into a garden bucket, and then feed them to your chickens.
You can knock the aphids off by hosing them down but do that in the morning so the foliage dries. Pick any leaves that are discolored and feed to the chickens or animals. Do not compost discolored leaves as that is caused by a bacteria and can spread.
Sometimes flea beetles also bother cole crops like brussels. Flea beetles are tiny, but prevalent and they can cause damage by chewing on the lower leaves to young plants
Covering all members of the cabbage family including brussels with row covers is also a great way to keep pests off them. Learn how to cover a raised garden bed here. You could also try to cover the whole stalk with plastic bags as a way to keep egg laying white butterflies off the brussel sprout plants.
Companion Planting: Brussels Sprouts
The practice of growing certian plants together to benefit one or more plants is called companion planting. Gardens are ecosystems where everything interacts with each other including:
- Underground networks
There are lots of companion plants your Brussels will like. Remember, companion plants are nature’s way to help repel certain pests from specific crops, and they can also enhance the flavor of certain crops as well. Other benefits of companion crops include
- Reduced weeds
- Reduced diseases
- Improved soil fertility or structure
- Improved pollination
- Improved biological control
- Improved aesthetics
Garlic, onions, shallots, chives, marigolds, mints, and nasturtiums make great companion plants for brussel sprouts. These plants help to ward off various pets like cabbage worms.
If you have a large bug problem (I do), you can also plant mustard to act as a trap crop. The hope is the trap crop will be more exciting to the pest than the plant you want to protect.
Learn more about mustard as a trap crop here.
Do not plant brussel sprouts with tomatoes or other nightshades like eggplants as they compete for the same nutrients.
How & When to Harvest Brussels Sprouts
You can begin harvesting when the heads are 1-2” inches in diameter. Just twist the little balls to remove the brussels sprouts from the stalk.
Also, make sure to harvest the lower sprouts from the bottom first and then work your way to the top of the plant. You can also pick the greens to eat.
Remove any yellowing leaves as you prune the leaves while picking. Continue picking as snow doesn’t have to stop production and it may be possible to get a winter harvest too, depending on your weather.
How to Use Your Little Cabbages
There are so many ways to cook sprouts. They can be steamed and smothered in cheese, grilled with rosemary, roasted, or sautéed. Some people (kids everywhere) complain about the small and bitter taste, but remember, they’ll be sweeter after a frost. And frying them on quickly on high heat gives them a rich, nutty flavor.
Brussels sprouts can also be fermented, canned or frozen for off-season consumption.
Here are a couple of of favorite recipes using brussels sprouts:
How to Grow Garden Vegetables Series
Want to learn how to grow all the garden vegetables? Check out my How to Grow Series and learn to garden like a champ! More posts coming soon!
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- How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
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