Cauliflower belongs with the cabbage family, but its looks and flavors are distinctly different. Heads of cauliflower are formed from bunches of small florets (called curds) on a sturdy stem, which probably led to the “flower” in its name. While white cauliflower is the most familiar, this cool-season vegetable also comes in green and purple.
How to Grow Cauliflower
Cauliflower has a reputation of being a needy vegetable when growing in the garden. However, if you prepare for its soil, fertilizer, space and water needs, as well as protecting it against sunburn, you can grow this nutritious vegetable. Look for short-season varieties of cauliflower that can mature in as little as 60 days.
- Cauliflower is a cool-season crop for planting in spring or fall. Pay attention to soil preparation and deeply dig in compost and plenty of nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Nitrogen is the key ingredient to help plants fully develop firm heads of cauliflower.
- Set up a drip irrigation or soaker hose system to ensure adequate water while plants are growing and curds are forming.
- Cauliflower is planted from transplants, so either purchase transplants (available in the Garden Center) or start seeds indoors at least 4-6 weeks before the last average frost date.
- Move the cauliflower into the garden once the danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures have warmed to between 45 and 65 degrees. Dig individual planting holes and place transplants at soil level and firm soil around plants
- Place each plant 14-24 inches apart in rows and 24-36 inches between rows.
- The key to growing cauliflower is to grow it quickly. Fertilizer will give plants a boost. When plants are a few inches tall, sidedress with fertilizer by sprinkling it along the rows, away from plants. Rake in and water.
- Keep up with consistent watering to help plants form large heads. Mulch around plants to help maintain soil moisture.
- To grow the whitest cauliflower heads, you’ll need to protect them from sunburn by blanching. To blanch the cauliflower, tie the outer leaves over the head (curd) when it is several inches in diameter. As an alternative, you can plant self-blanching varieties that have leaves that grow over the curd to protect it.
- Keep checking the cauliflower as it develops because leaves may rot if tied up for an extended period in hot weather. If the weather is too cool, the cauliflower may flower.
- Keep track of the number of days to maturity for the cauliflower variety you planted. When the curd forms into tight bunches, about 6 inches in diameter, use a sharp knife to cut it from the stem and trim the leaves across the top. Be sure to allow enough leaves (½ inch) above the curd as protection.
- It’s important to harvest cauliflower as soon as it’s ready or even a bit early. If you wait too long, the curd will start to flower, making the curd inedible.
- Wrap the cauliflower tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Use cauliflower raw or cooked as soon as possible after harvesting for the freshest taste.
Plant cauliflower with these companions:
- Bush Beans
Avoid planting cauliflower near:
- Pole Beans
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- Soaker hose
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- High-nitrogen fertilizer
- Organic mulch
To learn more about growing artichokes or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.