Brussels sprouts look like miniature heads of cabbage and it’s no wonder. This vegetable is a close cabbage relative, descending from the cabbage plants found growing wild in Europe. Brussels sprouts plants were first cultivated in Brussels, Belgium, starting sometime in the 1500. Anyone who’s eaten boiled, mushy Brussels sprouts will agree they’re more palatable when roasted in the oven, drizzled with olive oil and finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are interesting plants for gardeners to grow. The tall stalks have thick stems, large leaves and many rows of small sprouts. These edible sprouts can be as small as ½ inch in diameter or grow to up 2 inches in diameter. The smaller sprouts are typically more tender.
Gardeners who grow Brussels Sprouts need plenty of patience because this cool-season vegetable is planted in spring, but won’t be ready to harvest until fall. Even “fast-growing” varieties can take 90 days.
- Prepare the garden soil by deeply working in organic matter like compost and well-aged manure. The soil needs to be rich and fertile to give the plants the best start possible.
- Most gardeners transplant young Brussels Sprouts plants into the garden in late spring, once the soil has warmed to about 60 degrees. If you’re planting from seed, you can direct sow seeds in spring and then plan on a late fall harvest.
- Space plants at least 18 inches apart in a row and space rows at least 24 inches apart. These plants can grow wide, so allow enough room to move down the rows for maintaining and harvesting.
- Consistent watering at soil level and adequate fertilizing are important for harvesting a good crop of Brussels Sprouts. Soaker hoses work well to keep plants watered and leaves dry. Without regular water and nutrients, plants may stop growing and no sprouts will form.
- Brussels sprouts take a long-growing season, so it’s a good idea to sidedress plants 30-40 days after transplanting. Use a balanced fertilizer like 5-10-10; too much can cause excessive growth with too few sprouts. To sidedress, use a dry fertilizer and scatter it on both sides of the rows of Brussels sprouts about 6-8 inches away from the plant. Rake the fertilizer into the soil and then water.
- Because this crop is part of the cabbage family, cabbage moths may become a problem. Use row cover cloth to prevent the moths from causing damage. Planting marigolds close by may also help.
- Keep track of the number of days to maturity for the variety you plant. The number of days (90-100) is a good starting point; however, the plant will send signals when it’s time to harvest the sprouts. Watch for the lower leaves to turn color from green to a lighter yellow green. That’s when to check to see if the lower sprouts are firm and around 1 inch in diameter.
- If the leaves turn yellow, you’ve waited too long to harvest and the sprouts will start to toughen.
- Start at the bottom of the plant and remove the lowest leaves and the sprouts when the color is right and the sprouts are ready. The sprouts may not all be ready at the same time. Continue harvesting as the leaves change color and the sprouts are ready. The plant will continue to grow leaves and buds at the top.
- An alternative is to remove the buds at the top of the plant to stop the plant from producing more buds and speed up the harvest.
- Store the Brussels Sprouts in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Prepare the sprouts as quickly as possible after harvesting because the longer they’re stored the tougher and less tasty they’ll become.
Plant Brussels Sprouts with these companions:
Avoid planting near strawberries.
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- High-quality compost and manure
- Dry, balanced fertilizer (5-10-10)
- Soaker hose
- Row cover cloth
To learn more about growing brussels sprouts or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.