If you’re looking for another fall vegetable to plant in your garden, consider growing cauliflower (Brassica oleracea / Cruciferae). Because this cruciferous vegetable is the most tempermental member of the Brassica clan, growing it is harder than growing cabbage plants and Brussels sprouts, but with the right planning and pampering, it’s definitely do-able.
How to Grow Cauliflower
Once cauliflower seedlings begin to mature, growing cauliflower heads (called curds) sit on top of sturdy, low-growing stalks and look a lot like broccoli, with a central head that sits nestled in a bed of thick, cupped leaves that help shield the tender middle from harsh conditions and dirt. And, while most people think of cauliflower as only coming in the common creamy white cultivar, green and purple cauliflower also exist (and are just as tasty).
Unfortunately, cauliflower is a bit tempermental. So, unless you have an innately green thumb, getting cauliflower to grow in your garden may take a bit of work. In general, cauliflower tends to be sensitive to temperature and soil conditions, and it will only tolerate temperatures between 45° and 75° F. If exposed to temperatures outside of that range for extended periods, it won’t produce usable flower heads.
Tips for Growing Cauliflower
If you’re serious about growing cauliflower, you’ll need to keep a watchful eye on temperature, watering and soil quality for this finicky grower. If any one of these variables falls outside of cauliflower’s preferred growing conditions, your plants may never develop edible heads.
Before you try and grow this persnickety plant, consider the following:
- Only plant cauliflower in well-drained, fertile soil that’s high in organic matter and has a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Use nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
- Plant cauliflower in full sun but avoid temperature extremes. To successfully grow cauliflower, plants need at least two months of temperatures between 55° and 80° F, with 60° to 65° F being the optimal range.
- To keep soil cool and moist, water well and mulch.
- Warm temperatures make curds less presentable and “ricey” so consider growing cauliflower as a fall crop only.
- If your cauliflower seedlings or transplants are leggy, provide extra support by collaring soil around the base of the stalk up to the lowest leaves.
- To keep the heads of white cultivars clean and cream-colored, tie or fasten inner leaves over the curd. This is called blanching.) Check occasionally for pests and yellowing and, in warmer climates, regularly sprinkle heads with water to keep cool and prevent browning.
- Protect from garden pests like cabbage worms, root maggots and cabbage loopers by covering plants or collaring stalks with gardening fabric.
- Consider using cloches and bell jars to protect early plantings and seedlings from frost.
Harvesting cauliflower is relatively straightforward. Cauliflower is ready to harvest when the head is grown, tight and fairly round. If you wait too long to harvest cauliflower, the heads separate, becoming “ricy.”
To harvest, pull a few layers of the bottom leaves up (to protect the head), and use a knife to cut the head from the stem. Fresh cauliflower can be stored for about a month but flavor will suffer. For best flavor, eat or prepare shortly after harvesting.
For growing specifications for growing cauliflower (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and germination rates), check out the Gardening Guides page.