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My husband and I are huge fans of brussel sprouts. We frequently make them as a side dish for dinners throughout the week. While our kids may not love brussel sprouts as much as we do, they are an essential part of our garden.
The first year that I grew brussel sprouts, I was confused. It doesn’t look or grow like any other plant. Brussel sprout plants are unique. As you watch the sprouts grow up the stem, it is an amazing plant. The stem becomes shockingly thick, and it rarely needs staking. That is shocking, considering our plants reach three to four feet tall!
Years later, I learned how to grow brussel sprouts. They aren’t as hard as I once thought. Here is what you need to know!
Growing Brussel Sprouts from Seeds
One of the disadvantages of brussel sprouts is they are a slow-maturing plant. It can take 120+ days for a plant to mature. Consequently, gardeners typically are not advised to sow seeds directly into the garden. You will want to start seeds indoors.
To grow brussel sprouts from seeds, you first have to determine your USDA Hardiness Zone and find your final frost date for the year. In Zone 5B, my last frost date is typically around May 10-15. Brussel sprouts can go outside two weeks before the final frost date. You want to plant your seedlings four to six weeks before the date you want to put them outside. So, six to eight weeks before your last frost, start your seeds!
Tips for Planting Brussel Sprouts Outside
Before long, the time to transplant your seedlings outside will arrive. By now, your seedlings should be four to six weeks old, and you spent a week hardening the plants off. Hardening is the process of slowly introducing your plants to the weather outside. I start by placing my plants outside for two to four hours in the shade or a cloudy day. The next day, I leave them outside for another hour long, more in the sun. Over the next days, I allow the plants to stay outside for a long time and in more direct sunlight.
Once you finish hardening your seedlings, here are some tips for a smooth sailing transplant for your brussel sprouts.
- I add fertilizer to the soil before planting them outside. Compost is ideal because it gives a nutrient boost to the soil, which increases the plants’ growth. Brussel sprouts love nitrogen, so ensure you pick a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. You can also add natural fertilizers like manure or grass clippings with additional nitrogen.
- Scope out your planned location before planting. How much sun does the area receive each day? Brussel sprouts require at least six hours of sunlight each day. At the same time, the plants will appreciate some shade, especially during hot weather.
- You will need to plant each brussel sprouts 12 to 24 inches apart. By the end of the season, you will be surprised at the size of your plants. They easily reach two to three feet!
- Add mulch around the base of your plants. Organic mulch is an ideal choice because it helps to retain moisture, control soil temperature and add nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes.
- The soil should have a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8, which is more acidic than average.
Caring for Brussel Sprout Plants
As I mentioned before, brussel sprout plants are slow-growing, slow-to-mature plant. It can be frustrating. You might think you did something wrong. Why is nothing growing? I know I felt that way a few times, but just have patience with your plant!
- Fertilize your plant twice a season – once when the plant is close to a foot high and before harvesting. The second application may not be necessary! Slow-release fertilizers are a popular choice among gardeners, lasting an entire season.
- If your plant becomes top-heavy, add stakes for additional support or mound dirt around the stem. If a brussel sprout plant falls over, it will break.
- Your plant will slowly form sprouts, starting from the bottom and working upwards. As the sprouts form, break off the lower branches. This practice allows the plant to focus its energy on growing taller and forming the sprouts. Don’t toss out these stalks! They are edible and can be cooked down like any green.
- Always remove any yellowing leaves that appear on your plant. The yellowing typically appears at the bottom of the plant as the sprouts mature.
- If you need to extend the season due to unexpected colder temperatures, mulch around the base to protect the plant from the frost. Brussel sprouts are frost hardy, but you don’t want to leave them in temperatures too low, below 28 degrees F, for an extended time.
When and How to Harvest
You’ll know that it is time to harvest your sprouts when they are two inches in diameter. Some people prefer to harvest them when they are one inch in diameter. The sprouts feel tender and are bright green. Most sprouts are ready 120 to 180 days after planting. That requires a lot of patience on your end!
Harvesting sprouts are easy! You can twist or cut them off. You need to remove the outer leaves and then store the sprouts. They do great when stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Don’t wash the sprouts after you harvest them. The best time to wash them is right before you eat, cook or freeze them!
Brussel sprouts are a fantastic fall crop. You will want to harvest them after a light frost. The sprouts have an amazing flavor after a frost! You might notice a second crop developing at the base of the stem. That is normal, and those sprouts are edible!
Brussel sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables to grow. I love the look of the plant as it grows, with dozens of sprouts dotting the stems. Brussel sprouts are a unique plant, making them an awesome addition to your vegetable garden. Just remember they are slow growing, but also heavy producing! Each plant produces, on average, a quart of sprouts. You will have plenty for the months to come!
Do you grow brussel sprouts? If so, leave some advice for other gardeners!