Named after the Belgian town of Brussels, where they were first cultivated, Brussels sprouts are healthy green vegetables that look like tiny cabbages. Though they are not actually baby cabbages, they do belong to the same Brassica family as cabbages, broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi. This cool-weather crop is not the easiest to grow, but it’s worth the time and effort to have garden-fresh produce on your dinner table all winter! If you’re ready to make this unique vegetable a staple in your diet and your garden, read on to learn how to grow Brussels sprouts!
Prepare Your Garden for Planting
Don’t put the cart before the horse! The success of your Brussels sprouts depends on their environment. If you want your seeds to germinate and survive, first, you must make sure your garden is ready.
Brussels sprouts can be grown in an outdoor garden, inside, or in containers. Indoor growing primarily depends on whether your indoor space can support their need for full sun. For this article, however, we’ll focus on growing them in the ground outside. Ideally, you’d start your Brussels sprouts journey by picking a plot of land receiving more than 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
The next step is to make sure your soil can support Brussels sprouts. First, beware that the spot you pick has not been used previously to grow anything in the Brassica (cabbage) family. This is because Brussels sprouts are highly susceptible to soil-borne diseases.
Second, you will need to use rich, fertile, well-draining soil with a high level of acidity, around 6.8 pH. If in doubt, you can get your soil tested or opt to grow your Brussels sprouts in raised beds of nitrogen-rich soil and compost products. Next, treat your soil with a mixture of water and one tablespoon of dissolved borax. This will ensure your Brussels sprouts are getting enough boron, a type of plant nutrient that they need more than other plants.
Timing & Season
Brussels sprouts are a cool-weather crop that grows best in moist climates like the Pacific Northwest. As such, their growing season can be pretty long, and they mature best in colder temperatures. Count about four months backward from your first fall frost date. Depending on your climate, this may have you planting your Brussels sprouts anywhere from early summer to late summer.
If you live in a warmer climate, it’s a good idea to start your seeds indoors to keep them out of the heat. However, direct sowing is perfectly fine, too – but keep in mind that this will add about 3 weeks of time to maturity. A general rule of thumb is to plant your Brussels sprout seedlings at least 6 to 10 weeks before the first fall frost for a late fall harvest.
Planting Brussels Sprouts
Once you have a sunny planting site chosen, your soil prepared, and your timing determined, you’re ready to plant your Brussels sprouts! Sow your seeds about a half-inch deep and 3 inches apart in rows along your raised beds. If transplanting seedlings, plant them 1 to 2 feet apart in the rows. Cover the base of the plants with mulch and water generously.
Growing Brussels Sprouts
Some regular maintenance will be required to keep your Brussels sprouts happy and healthy. If planting from seed, you will need to thin the seedlings to 1 to 2 feet apart once they reach 6 inches in height. Keep your plants well-fed with plant food, nitrogen-rich soil, and a top layer of mulch to help retain moisture. Most importantly, water your plants 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, and make sure you are consistent about it. Inconsistent water can significantly hinder their growth.
Brussels sprouts can grow up to 3 feet in height. If your plants look like they’re about to topple over, reinforce their posture with some stakes. However, be careful not to disturb the plants’ root systems, which do not run very deeply into the soil. As they grow, you will need to prune any yellow leaves from the base to encourage focused growth on healthier leaves. About a month before you plan to harvest them, cut off the topmost layer of leaves to promote even more growth.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts grow and mature first at the base of the stalk, moving upward. The individual sprouts are ready for harvest when they reach 1 to 2 inches in diameter — after about 80 to 90 days. To remove the sprouts, use shears to snip them off or simply twist them off gently with your hands.
A healthy Brussels sprout plant will continue producing sprouts through the fall season’s light frosts until a heavy frost comes along. That said, some gardeners are able to prolong the Brussels sprout harvest through the winter by covering the plants from head to toe in hay or leaves.
Storing Brussels Sprouts
If possible, don’t harvest the sprouts until you are ready to use them. They taste best when they are freshly picked. However, you can store them unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about 5 days.
Alternatively, you can also harvest the entire Brussels sprout stalk. Pull up the entire stalk, trim off the roots and leaves, and then hang the entire thing upside down in a cool, dry place. Don’t waste the leaves, though – they can be cooked just like any other type of hearty green.
Often roasted or sautéed to a savory crispness, Brussels sprouts make a nutritious and delicious side dish for any weeknight meal. While you can find them in most grocery stores and farmers’ markets – amazingly, they always taste best when picked straight out of your home garden! Once you understand how to grow and store them properly at home, you can enjoy garden-fresh Brussels sprouts all year long.