Brussels sprouts are really delicious, tasting like a mild and firm cabbage—which is basically what they are! While Brussels sprouts are available year-round in our global food economy, they are really at their peak in the Northern Hemisphere in the late summer and fall months, which is why they are a cornerstone of fall cooking in the United States.
Like hearty, green leafy things like kale, collards, broccoli, and arugula (rocket), Brussels sprouts are part of the brassica family. As such, they tolerate cold well and taste more delicious after a frost or two (some say they’re even better after a hard freeze!), so they are suitable for most growing zones in the U.S. You can make Brussels sprouts part of your fall cooking next year by getting started with planning for planting Brussels sprouts now.
Lucky for you, Brussels sprouts are rather easy to grow, although they do have a long growing season of about four to six months. Read on to learn more about how to grow Brussels sprouts in your garden!
Planting Brussels Sprouts
Almanac recommends starting seeds six to eight weeks before the last spring frost or sowing four months before first fall frost. This is likely May-June, depending on your USDA zone.
When transplanting seedlings or starts they will need to be 12-36 inches apart—so hopefully, you have ample space in your garden or garden boxes! Gardening Know How suggests that they are best grown from starts to ensure longevity and durability in warmer months.
Growing Anything shares the following basic planting details for Brussels sprouts:
- Planting depth: about 1 inch
- Spacing in rows: about 16-24 inches
- Days to germination: 5-10 days
Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders, requiring supplemental natural phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers as well as plenty of water. Growing Anything recommends kelp or other organic fertilizers during germination and once or twice a month during growth stages. Be sure to keep the soil moist with frequent watering and choose a mulch to conserve soil moisture.
If you are in USDA Zone 4-7, your Brussels sprouts are not likely going to survive through the winter, although they might do well in a greenhouse. Warmer zones (zones 8 and above) should have no problem growing through the winter months.
Growing Brussels Sprouts In Containers
Don’t have a full garden? Brussels sprouts can also be grown in pots. This tutorial explains that because Brussels sprouts are so large, they need a large container, like a 5 to 7-gallon pot or bucket. Choose a spot that is sunny but not too windy; they are quite top-heavy, so wind can knock them down.
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Even when planting in pots, it’s a good idea to stake up your plants. Brussels can be grown indoors, although they do need ample sunlight (at least six hours each day) in order to thrive.
Harvesting And Storing Brussels Sprouts
Once most of the Brussels sprouts have reached about 1-2 inch in diameter, you can harvest the stalk at the base. You can also harvest individual heads, as the bottom ones will likely mature faster than the top. Use a sharp knife to remove from the stalk.
To ensure a better harvest, Mike at Garden’s Alive suggests “topping” the plant once it’s late in the season: This ensures that the plant gives all its energy into producing tastier sprouts from the bottom up. Brussels sprouts are annuals, so take the time to plant them right on the first planting, as they won’t carry over until next season.
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Before bringing your harvest inside, be sure to check for pests—I’ve often found aphids and other critters living inside the top layer, sometimes quite deep into the sprout—even from store-bought sprouts!
Kitchn recommends not washing your harvest before storing, as this can damage your Brussels sprouts. Your sprouts can be stored in the refrigerator in a loose plastic wrap or a resealable plastic bag for about five days. Although other sites suggest much longer—up to three weeks!
Sprouts should have firm, tight heads, so if you find them wilting in storage, be sure to use them quickly. If you have a huge harvest, you can freeze your Brussels sprouts by washing, blanching, and then freezing. If possible, you can harvest the whole stalk, which will keep them fresher for longer.
It’s also important to note that the leaves of these big plants are edible, too. Just like broccoli and cauliflower, the leaves are often discarded in favor of the other parts of the plants, but these hearty, leafy greens are excellent sliced and sautéed instead of kale or collards.
It’s recommended that you don’t plant your Brussels sprouts in the same area as other cabbages or kales. Keeping those crops far apart will ensure soil health and reduce the incidence of pests. Consider companion planting your Brussels sprouts with beets. Beets provide the soil with essential minerals that Brussels sprouts need to thrive.
Since Brussels sprouts are top heavy like kale and collards, they will likely thrive with some stakes or other supports to keep them upright and happy. Practicing crop rotation is a great way to ensure that pests do not stick around.
Like other Brassicas, Brussels sprouts are susceptible to aphids, downy mildew, cabbage moths and other pests. Watch your seedlings closely to ensure none of these set in to damage your future sprout crop.
So, whether you want a cool crop to keep you busy during the gardening off-months, or you want to provide your family with lots of healthy greens, consider growing Brussels sprouts!