Growing Brussels sprouts is like growing tiny, snack-sized cabbages on miniature palm trees. A cool-season crop that’s relatively easy to grow, Brussels sprouts are nutritious, cruciferous (Brassica oleracea / Cruciferae) vegetables related to kale, cauliflower, broccoli, and (of course) cabbage plants.
But, while its pedestrian vegetable cousins grow on the ground in plump, round balls, Brussels sprouts grow on huge, crazy stalks that can tower over other fall vegetables.
How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
If you’re ready to give growing Brussels sprouts a try, remember that there are two main varieties: late-maturing cultivars that are taller and easier to harvest and early-maturing dwarf varieties that take up less space but are harder to harvest. (If you’re eager to grow Brussels sprouts in your garden throughout the year, try growing dwarf varieties during warmer months, when there’s less room available in your garden; then switch to taller, later-growing cultivars in the fall, when you have more room.)
In general, Brussels sprouts grow best in cool, evenly moist soil with pH between 6.0 and 6.8. They are relatively heavy feeders, and are susceptible to boron deficiency (a soil micronutrient that is often deficient in very acidic soils). To stave off deficiencies, be sure to supplement soil or use compost regularly.
Tips to Growing Brussels Sprouts
- Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart, and space plants in rows 24 to 36 inches apart.
- For a fall harvest, plant mid-to-late summer in the North and late summer in the South (after heat has passed).
- Remember that Brussels sprouts are cold-weather crops whose flavor sweetens after a frost. So, for best flavor, pick bright green and firm sprouts after a light frost or two.
- To speed maturity, pinch off the tops of plants when they reach between 15 and 20 inches. Sprouts will grow a bit smaller, but they’ll mature in just a couple weeks after pinching.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
Unfortunately, harvesting Brussels sprouts isn’t quite as easy as eating them. Brussels sprouts plants are huge, so harvesting them can be a bit of a chore. In general:
- Pick lowest sprouts first (as Brussels sprouts plants mature from the bottom up).
- The sprouts (buds) improve in flavor after a frost, so it’s usually best to wait until after the first frost or two before harvesting.
- Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest when the sprouts are firm and measure about 1/2″ to 1″ .
- To harvest, break off individual buds or break off or cut the stem; then snap off or cut off the buds from the stem.
For growing specifications for growing Brussels sprouts (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and germination rates), check out the Gardening Guides page.