How to Grow Cauliflower

Three Parts:Planting CauliflowerCaring for Growing CauliflowerTreating Common Cauliflower Ailments

Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be enjoyed in soups, stews, stir-fries, as a steamed vegetable, in a salad, or on its own. However, this plant is a temperamental one, requiring careful maintenance and care to yield a delicious product. See Step 1 below to start learning how to grow cauliflower, a skill that takes a fair bit of dedication, love, and TLC.

Part 1
Planting Cauliflower

  1. Image titled Grow Cauliflower Step 1
    Plan to plant your cauliflower so that the plants will experience cool weather as they mature. Most cauliflower varieties will require about 1.5-3 months of consistently cool weather to mature properly. Ideally, the daytime temperature while the cauliflower is maturing will be around 60o F (15.5o C).[1] This means that, depending on the climate where you live, you may need to plant your cauliflower at a different time of the year than in an area with a different climate. Generally speaking, gardeners in warm climates should plan to grow cauliflower as a spring crop, while gardeners in cooler climates should plan to grow it as a fall crop. See below for more detailed growing plans:
    • For warm regions: Sow cauliflower seed in trays in early/mid fall. Transplant the seedlings to the garden in late fall or early winter for an early spring harvest.
      • For exceptionally hot regions: You may need to plan to transplant the seedlings to the garden slightly earlier so that they will mature throughout the late fall and early winter for a mid-winter harvest.
    • For cool regions: Sow cauliflower seed in trays in late winter/early spring and transplant the seedlings to the garden in late spring. This will produce a late summer/early fall crop.
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    Choose a growing site with at least 6 hours of full sun. Though they require cool weather, paradoxically, cauliflower also require a fair amount of full sun during the day. Choose a spot for planting in your garden that receives full sun and isn't shaded by trees, tall grass, or other crops.
    • You'll also want to make sure that your growing site has ample room for your cauliflower crop. Generally, cauliflower plants will need to be spaced about 18-24 inches apart.[2]
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    Choose a spot with rich, moisture-retaining soil. For a good cauliflower crop, the plant's growth must be completely uninterrupted. This means that the plant must receive consistent moisture and have access to sufficient nutrients as it matures. A good soil makes meeting both of these requirements much easier. Ideally, your cauliflower's soil should have the following qualities:
    • High organic matter content. This enhances the soil's ability to hold moisture.
    • High potassium and nitrogen content. Potassium and nitrogen are nutrients vital for the cauliflower's development.[3] If these are not present in the soil, it may be necessary to use fertilizer.
    • A pH of between 6.5 and 7.[4] This "sweet" pH range minimizes the danger of a cauliflower disease called clubroot and maximizes nutrient availability.[5]
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    If you can, start with transplants or grow your own indoors. Cauliflower has a reputation for being somewhat fragile. Though it's arguable whether this reputation is earned, it is true that cauliflower plants almost always do better when they're introduced to the garden as transplants, rather than as seeds. You may be able to buy seedlings for transplanting at a local garden store, but if not, you grow your own indoors in a planting tray from seeds. See below:
    • To transplant a seedling, carefully remove it from its container, being sure not to break its roots. Make a small hole in the ground and bury the seedling up to its stem. You may want to make a shallow, saucer-like depression around the seedling to help the surrounding soil retain water. Firm the soil and water the seedling. [6]
    • To grow your own seedlings, plant each seep in its own peat or paper cup. Press the seed about 1/4 - 1/2 inch (0.6 - 1.25 cm) deep and cover it with dirt. Provide consistent moisture but don't create waterlogged soil - this can lead to a variety of problems including root rot. You may also need to keep the soil at 70o F (21o C) with bottom heat from a warming plate.[7]
      • Transplant these seedlings as above.
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    If you have to start with seeds, give them attentive care. As noted above, typically, transplanting is the best option for growing cauliflower crops. If however, you must plant your cauliflower seeds directly into the garden, you'll want to start several weeks to a month earlier than you normally would to account for the extra time it will take for the plant to mature.[8] Plant the seeds in rows, placing each seed 12 - 24 inches (30.4 - 61 cm) apart. Push the seeds about 1/4 - 1/2 inch (0.6 - 1.25 cm) into the soil and water the seeds immediately.
    • Don't forget to water the seeds before they become seedlings. You won't be able to see the plants before they emerge, so you may find that it is a wise idea to label the rows when you plant the seeds.

Part 2
Caring for Growing Cauliflower

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    Water consistently, providing 1 - 1.5 inches (2.5 - 3.75 cm) of water per week. The most important idea when it comes to growing cauliflower is that of consistency. Cauliflower plants need consistent access to moisture and nutrients or their growth won't be consistent. If the plants' growth isn't consistent, the final product that you eat won't have as good of taste or texture. After planting your cauliflower plants, ensure that each receives frequent watering so that its soil is consistently damp (but not waterlogged). This usually means that the plants should be receiving roughly 1 - 1.5 inches of water per week and that the moisture should be penetrating roughly 6 inches (15.2 cm) deep.
    • Note that rainfall can contribute towards this watering goal. Thus, if you experience frequent rainfall, it's possible that you may rarely need to water.
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    Be ready to protect young cauliflower from pests. When cauliflower seedlings are young and fragile, they are vulnerable to a variety of garden pests, including cabbage worm, aphids, harlequin bugs, and more.[9] This especially true in cases where cauliflower is being planted as a spring crop, as the end of the winter months usually coincide with a surge in insect populations. Some of these pests can interfere with the cauliflower's growth cycle - others can eat the plant to ground, ruining your crop entirely, so managing these pests at the first sign of trouble is a top concern for serious gardeners.
    • Plant-friendly pesticides that are formulated to kill the pests attacking your cauliflower are a valuable tool. Most pesticides will contain information about which plants they are safe for use on and which pests they are designed to kill on the label.
    • To prevent pests from reaching your cauliflower, try cutting old milk jugs in half and laying them over the seedlings for protection.
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    Fertilize to supplement the cauliflower's growth. As noted above, cauliflower requires relatively high nitrogen and potassium content in its soil. Adding these nutrients to the soil in the form of fertilizer can increase the plant's growth. You'll want to use a fertilizer containing nitrogen and/or potassium administered every two to three weeks.[10] For the purposes of home gardening, a mixture of 5 quarts of fertilizer mixed with 2 tbsp of borax (to supply boron, an important nutrient) should be used for every 100 feet (30.5 m) of crop row.[11]
    • Use a technique called side-dressing to administer your fertilizer to the maturing plant. Dig a shallow, narrow furrow parallel to each row of plants about 6 to 8 inches away from the plants' stems. Pour the fertilizer into this furrow, rake the soil, and then water. This ensures that the fertilizer can be administered in equal, constant proportions to each plant and helps minimize the danger of over-fertilizing.
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    Blanch the head to prevent it from darkening. As the cauliflower grows, a small "head" will begin to form at the center of its leaves (note that this is sometimes also called the "curd"). For ordinary white cauliflower, if this head is exposed to light while it is growing, it will yellow and darken. Though a darkened head of cauliflower is still edible, it is less visually appealing and will have a less-tender texture.[12] Thus, it's important to use a process called "blanching" to keep the head pale and white. When the head is roughly the size of an egg, bend the plant's own leaves over the head so that it is shaded from sunlight. If necessary, use twine or rubber bands to hold the leaves in place.
    • Ensure the head is dry when you begin to blanch it. Trapping moisture around the head can cause the plant to rot. Don't bind leaves so tightly around the head that air cannot reach it.
    • Note that non-white varieties of cauliflower (like purple, green, or orange cauliflower) do not need to be blanched. Additionally, some varieties of white cauliflower are bred to be "self-blanching", with leaves that naturally protect the head as it grows.
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    Harvest when heads are large, white, and firm. After blanching, continue caring for the plant as normal, occasionally removing the leaves around the head to monitor its growth and allow moisture to escape after watering. When the head is large (roughly 6 inches (15.2 cm) across), white, and firm, it is ready to be harvested. This can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after blanching, depending on your climate (growth is generally faster in hot weather). Cut the head from the base of the plant with a knife, leaving a few leaves attached to protect the head. Rinse, dry, remove the leaves, and enjoy.
    • Cauliflower can be stored in a variety of ways. It will last for roughly a week in the refrigerator and can be frozen or pickled for long-term storage. Alternatively, cauliflower can also be stored by pulling the plant up by its roots and hanging it upside down in a cool place for up to a month.[13]

Part 3
Treating Common Cauliflower Ailments

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    Treat boron deficiency with seaweed extract. If cauliflower doesn't have access to boron, an essential nutrient, it will begin to experience a variety of unappealing symptoms. Its head will turn brown, its leaf tips will die and its leaves will distort, and its stem may become hollow and brown. To treat this problem, boron must be introduced into the plant's soil immediately. Feed the plant with seaweed extract immediately and repeat every two weeks until symptoms disappear.[14]
    • For subsequent crops, add boron to the soil by mixing in compost or planting cover crops of vetch or clover.[15]
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    Stop clubroot by eliminating infected plants. Clubroot is a fungal infection that causes large growths on the roots of plants in the family Brassicaceae (which includes cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and other plants). These root growths interfere with the plant's ability to absorb water and nutrients, causing it to grow asymmetrically, wilt, and eventually die. Worst of all is the fact that clubroot is contagious and can easily spread from plant to plant. To prevent a case of clubroot from ruining your entire cauliflower crop, swift, aggressive action must be taken. Pull infected plants up by their roots and discard them (don't compost them). Be sure to remove the entire root system - any fungus left in the ground can release spores and continue spreading.
    • To prevent clubroot from returning, use one of the following methods:
      • Improve the drainage of your soil by adding organic matter (clubroot thrives in moist environments).
      • Plant a cover crop of winter rye and till it into your soil before planting cauliflower
      • Increase the alkalinity of your soil by mixing in hydrated lime in the fall (clubroot thrives in acidic soils)
      • Lay thin sheets of clear, construction-grade plastic over infected soil during sunny weather. Leave in place for 1 - 1.5 months. The plastic acts as a sort of "greenhouse", trapping the sun's rays to heat the soil and kill the fungus.
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    Prevent blackleg by practicing crop rotation. Another common fungal disease of cauliflower is blackleg. Blackleg causes irregular grey lesions or holes in the leaves and is sometimes accompanied by root rot. Like clubroot, this disease is difficult to treat, so preventative cures are the best bet. In particular, crop rotation is an effective technique for reducing the chance of blackleg. Don't plant cauliflower (or another member of the Brassicaceae family) in the same location more than one year in a row - this gives any remaining blackleg fungus in the growing site a year to die off.
    • Additionally, in the event of blackleg, remove all plant debris left over after a harvest. This dead or dying plant material can contain live fungi for months, leading to the re-infection of the next crop.[16]
    • If you have any doubts about whether certain seeds are contaminated with the fungus or not, washing the seeds in hot water can help remove the fungus prior to planting.[17]

Things You'll Need

  • Cauliflower seeds
  • Well rotted manure
  • Compost
  • General purpose fertiliser
  • Liquid fertiliser

Article Info

Categories: Growing Vegetables