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How to Grow Brussels Sprouts, a Cool Season Vegetable

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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I love learning new things. Today, I learned that the vegetable that I have always called Brussel sprouts is actually called Brussels sprouts, like the city Brussels.

What are Brussels Sprouts?

Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea var gemmifera ) are members of the cabbage family, related to cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi and collard greens. Their ancestors were native to the Mediterranean region and familiar to the Romans. As the Roman empire expanded, they spread north as far as modern day Belgium. By the 16th century, they were associated with the city of Brussels which gave them their name.

The plants thrived in northern Europe because they are a cool season plant, needing cooler temperatures to grow their best. Their ideal temperature range is 45°F - 75°F. Fall temperatures of 59°F - 64°F have the highest yields.

French colonists brought Brussels sprouts with them when they settled in modern day Louisiana during the 18th century. In the 1920s, California farmers started planting them along the central coast because the cool weather and coastal fog mimicked their Northern European homeland.

Brussels sprouts are hardy in zones 2 – 9. They are large plants, growing 30 inches tall and 8 – 12 inches wide. The individual leaves resemble cabbage leaves. They are edible, usually prepared like other greens such collards.

Brussels sprouts do not flower. Instead, they develop small heads along a thick stalk that gives the plants their height. The heads, or sprouts, are best eaten when they are 1 – 2 inches around. Larger heads are bitter.

The leaves are also edible.

The leaves are also edible.

How to Plant Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are usually grown from seed. In colder climates, you can start your seeds indoors 14 – 21 days before your last frost for an early fall harvest. In warmer climates, you can plant your seeds directly in your garden in mid-summer for a late fall or early winter harvest.

Plant your seeds ¼ - ½ inch deep. If you are direct sowing your seeds in your garden, plant them 2 – 3 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart. Keep the soil moist. Germination should occur in 7 – 12 days. Outdoors, thin the plants to 12 – 24 inches apart when they are 6 inches tall.

Plants that are started indoors can be transplanted into your garden when they are 3 inches tall. Space them 12 – 24 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart.

The sprouts develop from the bottom up.

The sprouts develop from the bottom up.

How to Grow Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts require full sun which is a minimum of 6 – 8 hours of sunlight every day. They like rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.8. Have a soil test done of your garden soil in the fall. It will tell you what amendments you need to add to your soil to optimize it. You want to add the amendments to your soil in the fall so that they have all winter to become incorporated into your soil.

After planting your Brussels sprouts, add a 3 inch layer of mulch. A thick layer of mulch will help keep the soil cool, help retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing that will compete with your plants for sunlight, water and nutrients.

Water your plants thoroughly after planting, apply your 3 inch layer of mulch and then give your plants 1 – 1.5 inches of water each week.

Fertilize your plants with a high nitrogen fertilizer when they reach a height of 12 inches and then again a month later. Nitrogen encourages the growth of leaves. The sprouts that we eat are actually leaf buds.

The sprouts are easier to harvest if you remove the leaf below first.

The sprouts are easier to harvest if you remove the leaf below first.

How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts will start forming their heads from the bottom of the stalk first. Harvest the bottom ones when they reach 1 – 2 inches around. The heads form along the leaf axels of the stalk. It’s easier to harvest them if you remove the leaf below them first. Then grab the head and twist it off. Don’t pull it. You will break the stem. Just a quick twist should do it.

The stalk will continue growing as your harvest, producing new heads. If a light frost is predicted don’t worry. Like most brassicas, Brussels sprouts taste better after a light frost. By the end of the season when a hard frost has killed your plants, each one of them should have yielded 2 -3 pounds of sprouts.

How to Store Brussels Sprouts

You can store your freshly harvested sprouts, unwashed, in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to 5 days.

If you would like to freeze your sprouts, you will need to wash then blanche them before freezing. Brussels sprouts will keep for up to one year in your freezer.

© 2021 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on February 24, 2021:

Thank you Misbah. I hope you are inspired to grow Brussels sprouts in your garden.

Misbah from The Planet Earth on February 23, 2021:

OldRoses, Very Nice, detailed and informative article about How to Grow Brussels Sprouts and how to store them too.

You mentioned all the necessary information very nicely with good pictures.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful article

Blessings

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