Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea) have become a favorite winter vegetable. If you’re looking to cook with these veggies, you could buy “fresh” or frozen Brussels sprouts from the store, but that’s not as rewarding as growing your own and bringing them from garden to table. Continue reading as this article walks you through how to grow Brussel sprouts.
Named after the city in Belgium, the production of Brussels sprouts in the United States started in the 18th century and ramped up in the 1940s in California.
The area became an essential location for expanding the production of Brussels sprouts due to the cool year-round temperatures and developed into the primary source of Brussel sprouts in the United States.
What to Know about Brussel Sprouts
Because they belong to the Gemmifera group of cabbages, it’s no wonder that Brussels sprouts look just like mini cabbages. Brussels sprouts pack lots of nutrients into their edible buds like other cabbage family members.
Raw Brussels sprouts contain high levels of essential vitamins C and K, specifically over 100% of the daily value. To include them in your vegetable garden, keep reading to find out how easy it is to start growing Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts are slow-growing members of the Brassica family known as cole crops. Other important cole crops include broccoli, collards, kale, and cauliflower. These crops developed the”cole” nickname as a variation of the Latin word for stem.
How to Grow Brussel Sprouts
When wondering how to grow Brussels sprouts, it’s essential to know that Brussels sprouts enjoy cool weather.
Their preference for a cool climate makes the temperatures of coastal California ideal for mass production of these vegetables because of the fog that lingers in this area. However, don’t let this discourage you, as Brussels sprouts grow in nearly any growing zone outdoors or even in pots indoors.
There are many types of Brussels sprouts, but if you’re shopping for Brussels sprouts at the store, you’ve likely stumbled across Jade Cross or Long Island Improved. Jade Cross are bite-sized sprouts that keep their flavor well when frozen, and Long Island Improved is beloved for its extreme resistance to cold temperatures.
Regardless of the variety, the right conditions are essential to ensuring your heirloom seeds make it to harvest for you to enjoy them for dinner. Knowing how long do Brussel sprouts take to grow, temperature, soil conditions, pests, and diseases are all essential factors to keep in mind for a successful harvest.
Types of Brussel Sprouts
Brussels sprouts grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones three through nine no matter the variety. What makes some types stand above the rest are how they grow, taste, and what resistances they boast.
Churchill is a hybrid of sprouts that grows fast, which is relevant if you’re concerned about getting a good yield in your growing zone. Typically, the Brussel sprouts growing season is early spring or late fall, when temperatures are cooler. If sprouts are still growing in late spring as the weather warms, it may affect the yield as sprouts do not do well in the heat.
The downside to growing Churchill sprouts is that they tend to grow lateral branches, which grow out from the central vertical stem. These new branches cause a reduction in airflow, which is something to keep in mind when trying to avoid disease.
Diablo sprouts are a slow-growing hybrid, maturing around the 110-day mark but producing large yields. Because of its longer growing pattern, Diablo is a suggested variety for planting in late summer as temperatures drop, especially in warmer zones.
This variety of November vegetables also handles frost well, making its flavor more nutty and sweet if they’re still maturing when the first fall frost hits.
Green Gems are a great choice because they grow faster than other varieties, reaching maturity at around 85 days. They are known for their buttery flavor and grow to about three feet, making them great for growing indoors.
If you plan to grow them outdoors, make sure you include stakes on your shopping list as their stalks benefit from the support, primarily if your area is known for high winds.
The Mighty variety of Brussels sprouts has a deep green color, a nutty flavor, and grows in one-inch buds. This variety typically reaches maturity in 100 days and is resistant to mildew, leaf spot, and Alternaria.
A standout among the signature green buds, Redarling are purple-red buds that mature in about 140 days. Because of its longer growing habit, this variety is best grown in a cool zone with a long growing season where the threat of heat is minimal to non-existent.
Octia and Tasty Nuggets have the shortest growth rate, reaching maturity in about 75 days. The growth rate makes these great choices when growing Brussel sprouts in a warmer zone, and you can’t risk the heat wilting your sprout plants.
Soil Conditions for Growing Brussel Sprouts
The best conditions for growing Brussel sprouts involve soil temperatures between 45 and 80°F. If your desired variety has a longer growing period and during pre-planning, it doesn’t seem like the growing season will work in your favor, get a head start by purchasing young plants or starts instead of seeds.
Brussels sprouts do well in soil with a higher pH, with 6.8 being optimal for growth and discouraging clubroot. To provide all the nutrients they do, it’s no surprise that Brussels sprouts are voracious eaters while growing.
Combine a plant nutrition soil with the top six inches of existing soil in your home garden. Enriching the dirt ensures your sprouts are in a nutrient-rich environment with organic matter to provide your growing sprouts with as many nutrients as they need.
For home growers in cooler areas, plant seeds in early spring after the last frost date when the soil is workable to harvest before the summer heat. If you live in a warmer area, plant your seeds in late summer (six to ten weeks before the first frost) for a harvest in late fall or early winter.
Another factor for growing Brussel sprouts is location. Brussels sprouts thrive in full sun and moist soil, and to avoid unnecessary risk of disease, rotate your crop placement each growing season.
Brassica plants are susceptible to soil-borne diseases, so we do not suggest planting Brussels sprouts where you grew anything from the Brassica family last season.
Planting Brussel Sprouts
Sow sprout seeds ½ inch deep in the fertile soil with four inches of spacing between each seed. Water your seeds thoroughly after planting and rewater when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
Allow a week to pass for seeds to germinate, and once you see sprouts (with at least two sets of leaves), thin the seedlings so that there is one to two feet of space between each plant.
If you are growing Brussels sprouts across multiple rows, place the beds 30 inches apart to give yourself room to walk when it comes time to water and harvest.
Adding organic matter mulch around your plant helps your soil retain moisture and keep weeds at bay. Mulch keeps weeds and other grass from growing without access to the sun.
Fewer weeds growing around your sprouts means less competition for nutrients in the soil. For adequate moisture and weed control, lay a layer of mulch three inches thick.
When you start sprouts indoors, fill your pot with an all-purpose potting mix. Due to their size, select a pot with suitable drainage holes that is five to seven gallons, 12 inches deep, and 12-14 inches in diameter.
If you grow more than one plant in a pot, a larger container accommodates two plants. For more than one plant, select a container of at least 15-gallons with a diameter of 18 inches.
If transplanting is on your schedule, bring your sprouts outside to harden them to the weather conditions of your outdoor garden. We recommend allowing them to sit out for an hour each day, increasing the time outdoors by one hour until they remain outside for six hours.
For home growers living in a warmer climate, bring the plants outside in late summer. If you live in an area where frost is not a concern, bring the plants out in fall to harvest in winter or early spring.
Dig a hole in the garden bed to match the size of your container and replant your sprout. Cover the transplant with soil and water to help the roots acclimate to the hole.
Caring for Brussel Sprouts
After planting your sprouts, it is unnecessary to add stakes until they begin growing more and you notice them becoming top-heavy. Prop each plant individually with a wooden stake and a piece of twine to encourage growth against the stake.
A month after planting your sprouts, begin feeding your plants with fertilizer. Follow the label instructions by fertilizing evenly onto the soil, then water the area.
Brussels sprouts are unique among other vegetables in that they require boron to grow healthy stems and buds. If your previous sprouts suffered from these conditions, boost the amount of boron in your soil by creating your own mix.
Buy Borax from the laundry section of your grocery store, typically in a white box from the 20 Mule Team. Mix Borax with water until it dissolves, then sprinkle it evenly across your garden bed. This mixture covers 50 square feet of your garden bed.
Boron is crucial for the transportation of sugar in plants and is vital to cell division and seed development. Be mindful not to alter the ratio as too much boron becomes toxic to plants.
How Long Do Brussel Sprouts Take to Grow?
Although reaching maturity varies by type, all Brussels sprouts are slow-growing vegetables. The fastest-growing varieties reach maturity in about 80 days, while some may take up to 200 days, depending on the amount of light they receive.
Catskill is a newer heirloom variety developed in the 40s that grows two-inch buds on a compact two-foot stalk, great for container planting. Catskill does not tip over because it has a more robust and close stem.
However, the downside to this shorter growing stem is that Catskill does not produce a lot of buds and may take up to 110 days to mature.
Dagan is beloved for its appearance as centerpieces for the dinner table and takes a standard 100 days to reach harvest. These sprouts are known to hold well in the garden, so there is less risk of them going bad and losing flavor if you don’t harvest them right away.
Buds grown from the Gustus variety are dense and sweet and last well when stored in the fridge. Like some other varieties, Gustus sprouts reach maturity in 100 days.
The most popular sprout variety on the market, Long Island Improved, boasts high tolerance to the cold. These sprouts reach maturity in roughly 100 days and, once harvested, have a nutty-buttery taste.
For a high yield, Nautic sprouts reach maturity in 120 days. Nautic sprouts also grow well-spaced, helping with air circulation, which in turn helps common diseases that thrive in damp environments on plants.
Pests for Brussels Sprouts
Like other Brassica family members, cabbage worms or caterpillars are a threat. To reduce bug problems, avoid growing Brussels sprouts with other Brassicas. Don’t plant next to bok choy or nightshade plants.
Check your plants regularly for damage and remove worms by hand to keep the damage to a minimum. The only real way to tell if Brussel sprouts are bad on the inside is to cut into them. Even if there is outward damage, you may be able to remove a few leaves and salvage the interior.
Crush them in your gloved hand or drop them into a bowl of soapy water. Install plastic row covers to keep pests like aphids away from your plants until temperatures drop.
If you are growing Brussels sprouts without beneficial plants like tansy or marigolds, spray your plants with organic pesticide-containing neem oil to repel cabbage loopers and keep aphids away. Dust Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a biological insecticide, over your plants to kill cutworms and cabbage loopers.
Cabbage maggots are larvae of cabbage root flies that feed on the roots of your sprouts. Introduce beneficial nematodes to the area to eliminate them. Pick an early morning or late evening when temperatures are above 60°F to add a package of these roundworms to a bucket filled with two quarts of fresh water.
Stir lightly, then pour the solution into a garden sprayer and water the soil around your Brussels sprouts to dampen the soil. Spray the nematode mixture onto the ground. Add more water if needed to cover the entire area.
Once treated with the nematode mixture, water the soil again and continue to water the area with an inch of water daily for the first three days after nematode application.
Harvesting and Storing Brussels Sprouts
Sprouts grow from the ground up, so it would make sense that buds also mature in that pattern. Learning when to harvest Brussel sprouts is important. Brussels sprouts are generally ready for harvest when their buds are firm, green, and between one to two inches in diameter. The best-tasting sprouts are grown in dry weather and sun with light frosts at night to boost the flavor of the buds.
When you’re ready to harvest, grab the sprout and twist until it pops off the stem. As sprouts mature, you may notice a yellowing of the leaves. Once you remove sprouts from the bottom of the plant, snip off these leaves to allow your plant to continue growing taller to produce sprouts and leaves.
As cool temperatures drop for winter, if you are worried about not harvesting in time, fool your plant into maturing the rest of your sprouts by chopping off the top of the plant three weeks before you plan on harvesting.
Store unwashed sprouts in plastic bags in the refrigerator to keep them for about five days, although they taste best when fresh. Avoid washing your sprouts until you’re ready to use them. Due to the way they grow, moisture quickly becomes trapped inside, and the excess water causes them to wilt prematurely.
Before freezing, wash and clean your sprouts and remove any yellow or off-color leaves. Add your sprouts to boiling water, allowing them to boil for three to five minutes. After cooking, immediately place the sprouts in ice water to stop the cooking process. After they cool, place your sprouts onto a flat surface for drying.
Place your sprouts in a food-safe plastic freezer bag and squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing. Brussels sprouts can last up to a year in the freezer with proper storage.
There are other options for keeping Brussels sprouts until you are ready to eat them. Pressure canning Brussel sprouts is one method and pickling is another. Both are delicious.
Growing Brussels sprouts is a rewarding and easy gardening endeavor. With the proper pre-planning, you’re sure to have a high yield of sprouts to last you all winter and maybe even some for the following year.
If this guide helped you learn how to grow Brussel sprouts, share it with your fellow gardeners to answer their questions like “How long do Brussel sprouts take to grow?” on Facebook and Pinterest.