If you love fresh, delicious vegetables in the summer, today’s post is for you. Learn the steps you need for How to Grow Cauliflower for beginners step-by-step, from planting to harvest.
Another great gardening 101 guide for your garden planner.
Cauliflower is gaining popularity as a healthy vegetable and a healthy substitution for carbs. It can be ground up, served as rice, or used to make a delicious pizza dough. It can also become a healthy alternative to bread crumbs when coating chicken tenders to add some crunch and vegetables to your family’s diet.
It’s a versatile vegetable and one that you can easily add to your meal plan for an inexpensive, healthy option.
How to Grow Cauliflower for Beginners – an Overview
Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) is part of the Brassicaceae family along with broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. It’s a cool-weather crop that prefers the spring and fall. It’s similar to broccoli in that it grows in a head and all parts of it, head, leaves, and stems, are edible. Unlike broccoli though, it has a domed head of edible flower buds. It’s dense and curd-like with a mildly sweet, nutty flavor.
There are several varieties including the most common white cauliflower and lesser seen purple, orange, and green varieties. Cauliflower is high in vitamins B, C, and K as well as fiber and beta carotene.
Green cauliflower, known as “broccoflower” is a hybrid of cauliflower and broccoli but most resembles cauliflower.
Cauliflower can be a little bit challenging for beginner gardeners because it requires consistently cool temperatures in the 60°F to grow well. If the temperature gets too warm or too cool, it can “button” meaning it will form small button-size heads instead of a single large head.
There are various types of cauliflower varieties including:
· Attribute Hybrid – an early variety that matures in 60 to 70 days. It has a bright white head that grows to about 7 inches in diameter. It will withstand a light frost and some heat, making it a good choice for beginners or areas where the temperatures fluctuate.
· Cheddar Hybrid – an early orange variety that also matures in 60 to 70 days. The heads grow to 4 to 7 inches in diameter. This variety is high in beta-carotene and they deepen in color when cooked.
· Depurple Hybrid – this purple variety takes a little longer to mature, about 80 to 100 days. It’s flavorful, is high in antioxidants, and grows to an average of 6 to 7 inches in diameter. It’s a taller plant and will grow up to 20 inches in height. It may turn green during cooking, but adding vinegar or lemon juice will help retain the color.
· Early White Hybrid – a faster growing variety that matures in 50-60 days. The white heads average 9 inches in diameter and it is more tolerant of cold weather. It will grow to about 30 inches in height.
· Flame Star Hybrid – a paler variety of the Cheddar Hybrid, it’s an early orange variety. Maturing in about 55 to 60 days, the heads are firm, dense, and about 7 inches in diameter. This variety is more tolerant of heat.
· Grafitti Hybrid – a purple variety that matures in 70 to 80 days and grows to an average of 6 to 7 inches in diameter. This variety is more tolerant of humidity and fungal disease and has a mildly sweet flavor.
· White Corona Hybrid – this variety is fast-growing and is perfect for a container or small garden. It will mature in 30-35 days and measures 3 to 5 inches in diameter. It will tolerate a light frost, and blanching may be required.
Seed, Bulb, or Plant?
Cauliflower starts as a seed, but will grow faster when started as small nursery plants. If you decide to start from seeds, plan to start them 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost of spring. For seedlings, you’ll need to plant them 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Planting sooner or later can have a negative impact on their growth.
What You Need to Grow Cauliflower
Cauliflower will need well-draining, yet moisture-retentive and fertile soil to grow well. You’ll need to test your soil’s pH level; cauliflower prefers soil with a pH of 6 to 7. You may need to add potassium and phosphorus according to your test results.
When to Plant Cauliflower
Cauliflower loves the sun and the cool temperatures so it grows best in spring and fall. For spring planting, you’ll need to start seeds 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost and seedlings 2 to 4 weeks before. For a fall planting, plant in early to late July, depending on whether or not you’re starting seeds or plants.
Cauliflower does best in temperatures that average 60° to 70° F. This makes early spring and fall the perfect seasons for a healthy harvest. Some varieties are more tolerant of colder or warmer temperatures so be sure to check the recommendations for the variety you plan to grow before planting.
Cauliflower plants prefer full sun, at least 6 hours per day. Plan your planting area around a spot that gets direct sunlight all day.
Soil needs to be well-draining while also retaining water to properly nourish the plants. Check your soil’s pH before planting and look for a pH of 6 to 7. You may need to adjust your soil before planting to insure healthy growth. Mix aged manure or compost into the bed to support the nutrients in your soil. You may need additional nutrients, if so, apply a 5-10-10 fertilizer.
Cauliflower plants need plenty of water, about 1 to 1.5 inches per week or either rain water or a soaking from your hose. It’s important to keep the soil moist, but not too wet. If the soil is too wet it will rot the roots so be careful of over watering.
Side dressing your plants with a high-nitrogen fertilizer 3 to 4 weeks after transplanting seedlings will help them mature healthy and full.
Cauliflower is a ground plant and doesn’t require support from a trellis or fence.
How Much to Plant
For a good size harvest, plan on planting 2 to 5 plants per person in your household depending on how often you plan to enjoy it.
When to Plant
For warmer climates, plan to start your cauliflower in fall or early spring. Colder climates can start the plants indoors in early spring then move outdoors as the temperatures warm up, or directly outdoors in the late summer. This will help to avoid the peak hot and cold temperatures.
How Long Does Cauliflower Take to Grow?
Growth time varies based on the variety you plant. Some early varieties can grow quickly, in about 30 days, others take up to 60 days, and still other varieties can take up to 80 to 90 days. Be sure to check the growth time for the particular variety you’re planting.
How to Plant Cauliflower
Let’s cover the best way to plant your cauliflower in your backyard garden.
Seedlings should be planted 18 to 24 inches apart with about 30 inches between the rows. Seeds should be sown in rows 3 to 6 inches apart and thinned out as they sprout.
Seeds should be started about ½ inch deep but seedlings about 1 ½ to 2 inches deep to ensure the roots are fully planted.
Growing Tips for Cauliflower
· After planting, water consistently with up to 2 inches of water per week during germination.
· Cauliflower doesn’t like change so any changes in the moisture, soil nutrients, or insects can cause the plant to develop to quickly or prevent it from fully maturing.
· It will start out as a loose head and will take time to fully form so be patient.
· When the head is 2 to 3 inches in diameter, you may need to blanch it. This is not necessary for self-blanching or colored varieties. To blanch, tie the outer leaves together over the top of the head and secure with string or a rubber band to keep the light out. The plants will be ready to harvest about 7 to 12 days after blanching.
· Brown heads mean there’s a boron deficiency in the soil. Drench the soil with 1 Tbsp or borax mixed with 1 gallon of water, avoiding the other plants. Repeat every 2 weeks until the symptoms disappear. You can also use liquid seaweed extract. For future plantings, add more compost to the soil before planting.
· For white varieties pink heads can mean the plant is getting too much sun or the temperatures are fluctuating too much. If there is a purple hue to a white head, it is usually caused by low soil fertility or too much stress from water, sun, or temperatures.
· Row covers can help control the temperatures and sun light. They can also help to prevent insect infestation. Place them as high as possible and leave the ends open to help keep the air circulating.
How to Harvest Cauliflower
Use the seed packet guide for the variety you’re planting to determine the approximate number of days until maturity so that you can harvest at the correct time. Once the time and head size has been reaching and you have a large head of dense curd-like flesh, you’re ready to harvest.
Use a knife to make a clean cut across the stem a few inches below the head. You can leave more of the stem attached and even some of the leaves if you plan to eat them. Leaving some stem and leaves behind can encourage some side shoots to grow although cauliflower usually only grows one plant.
How to Store Cauliflower
Freshly harvested cauliflower will keep up to a week if stored properly. Don’t clean it before storing, simply wrap it in damp paper towels and store in the low-humidity crisper in your refrigerator.
You can also freeze your crop if you’d like. If you plan to freeze, wash, cut, and blanch the individual florets in boiling water for 3 minutes then lay them out on a towel to dry. Spread the fully dried florets on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer, lying flat. Once they are frozen, you can move them to a zippered plastic freezer bag and store them in the freezer for up to a year.
Diseases and Pests to Watch Out For
There are a few pests and diseases to keep an eye out for including:
· Cabbage loopers
· Cabbage root maggots
· Black rot
· Powdery Mildew
· White rust
Some varieties are more resistant to pests and diseases; check the seed packet for the variety you plan to grow to see what it will resist. Row covers can also help to reduce pests and insects as well as companion planting of other insect and pest resistant plants and flowers. For instance, planting zinnias will encourage ladybugs which will then protect from cabbageworms.
Most disease is caused by over watering, not adding enough nutrients to the soil, and not checking for the proper pH in the soil. It is also caused by planting in soil that was previously home to another plant that was diseased or by adding compost from diseased plants. If another plant was diseased, do not add it to your compost pile, and do not plant in the same area for at least 3 years to help avoid this problem.
Cauliflower can be a great addition to your family meal plan and with so many varieties and so many different ways to prepare it, you’ll never get bored. As an added bonus, it’s full of good nutrients. And, since you can freeze it, you can enjoy it all year long, even when it’s not in season.
Enjoying cauliflower from your own garden will taste so much better than anything you can buy in the grocery store and you’ll be able to try several different varieties to find one you really enjoy.
I hope this guide on how to grow cauliflower for beginners will help you confidently add this versatile vegetable to your backyard garden.
More How to Grow Resources:
- Cauliflower Seeds or Seedlings
- High-nitrogen Fertilizer (optional)
- Garden or garden containers
- Plant seeds or seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart with about 30 inches between rows. Seeds should be sown in rows 3 to 6 inches apart and thinned out as they sprout. Seeds should be planted about .5 inch deep, but seedlings about 1.5 to 2 inches deep.
- Water up to 2 inches of water per week.
- When the head is 2 to 3 inches in diameter, you will need to blanch it. (this is not necessary for self-blanching or colored varieties.
- To harvest, use a clean knife to make a clean cut across the stem, a few inches below the head.
- To store, wrap it in a damp paper towel and store in the low-humidity crisper in your refrigerator. The harvest should be good for about a week.
- Row covers can help control the temperatures and sun light. They can also help to prevent insect infestation. Place them as high as possible and leave the ends open to help keep the air circulating.
- You can also freeze your crop if you’d like. If you plan to freeze, wash, cut, and blanch the individual florets in boiling water for 3 minutes then lay them out on a towel to dry. Spread the fully dried florets on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer, lying flat. Once they are frozen, you can move them to a zippered plastic freezer bag and store them in the freezer for up to a year.
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