A Flavor You’ve Come to Love: How to Grow Brussels Sprouts

Brassica oleracea ‘gemmifera’

Show of hands: How many of you detested Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea ‘gemmifera’) when you were a kid?

A woody stalk with Brussels sprouts attached in a backyard garden.

And how many of you love them now, spritzed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted in a hot oven? Or sauteed with bacon and fennel?

Yum!

Want to ensure that these delicious dinner sides are just steps away? Grow your own Brussels sprouts – even if your kids carry on the tradition of hating them!

As opposed to the bushels of heat-loving tomatoes and peppers grown in backyard gardens, Brussels sprouts prefer a nip in the air. These are a perfect cool-weather crop, when the salsa fixin’s are but a memory.

Let’s toss out a wild hunch as to where this plant originated, and then we’ll dig into how to plant, care for, and harvest it.

You’ll Never Guess Where They Came From

By vegetable standards, Brussels sprouts are quite youthful. According to Michigan State University Extension, the plant was unknown until about 400 years ago.

Growing Brussels sprouts at home | Gardener's Path

It is thought to have descended from wild Mediterranean kale, developing near Brussels, Belgium — and thus, unsurprisingly, the name.

The first rough description of this cute green sphere was recorded in 1587, according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. Respected botanists as recently as the seventeenth century referred to it only as something they had heard of, but had never seen.

The plant made its way to North America around 1800, and has been distressing American children ever since.

Brussels sprouts and their cousins cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli are colloquially referred to as “cole crops”  – all members of the Brassica family.

Can You Get Two Crops In?

Most varieties of this plant have an extremely long growing season with a lengthy interval between planting and harvest, as much as 130 days. Though there are some shorter-season varieties, which will have your kids singing the blues in as few as 80 days.

Or, maybe they’ll even learn like them. Repeat exposure is key when you’re aiming to adjust a picky palate to new veggie flavors.

Learn how to grow Brussels sprouts at home | Gardener's Path
This little persnickety veggie prefers temps between 45 degrees Fahrenheit and 75°F, and will tolerate a day or two down around 20°F, but not long.

Oh, and did we mention that they greatly appreciate a little nip of frost to really enhance their flavor?

So, that means very northern gardeners can plant as early as mid-June, reap the taste-enhancing benefits of a frost or two, and enjoy these tasty treats at Thanksgiving.

Gardeners further to the south can almost certainly get a fall crop in, though the sprouts might not be ready for Turkey Day. Things get tricky when these southern gardeners get a little cocky and think maybe they can also get a spring harvest in.

If you think you can plant a spring crop early enough to enjoy a bit of frost, but not too much chill, and have them vegging out before daytime temps get above 75°F, go for it!

Play with different varieties to get the timing right, according to your local weather patterns. According to Cornell University, shorter plants tend to mature earlier and be more cold tolerant.

Northern gardeners have good luck with ‘Long Island Improved,’ available from Mountain Valley Seed Co. This variety produces tightly packed one-inch veggies. Kids in northern climes might lobby for ‘Rubine,’ as this red-hued variety takes a leisurely 105 days or so to mature.

Southern gardeners might also like ‘Long Island Improved,’ as well as ‘Jade Cross.’ And gardeners looking for a quick fix might want to try ‘Oliver,’ which matures 85 days from transplant.

Also suitable for the South are ‘Diablo,’ ‘Royal Marvel,’ and ‘Tasty Nugget,’ according to Texas A&M Agrilife extension.

Let’s Get Going

If you want to grow your own transplants, plant seeds ¼- to ½-inch deep in small containers indoors about 3 or 4 weeks before you plan to transplant outdoors — the seedlings should be about 3 inches tall.

Grow Brussels sprouts in your back yard | Gardener's Path

Plant transplants 14 to 18 inches apart in full sun. These veggies will tolerate light shade, but this will slow their maturity. They prefer well-drained fertile soil with lots of organic matter and a pH of 6 to 6.8.

Apply a thick layer of mulch for moisture retention and weed suppression.

Water and Food

Keep soil moist, but not soaked.

This cabbage mini-me is a heavy feeder and appreciates a side dressing of a balanced fertilizer two to four weeks after planting, or when they’re about 12 inches high. Four weeks later, apply a second round of fertilizer.

These plants have a shallow root system, so you’ll want to be careful with the hoe to avoid damaging the roots.

With Thanks to Their Cousin, the Cabbage

Brussels sprouts are susceptible to the same bugs that plague other cole crops. If you suffer an infestation of cabbage aphids, wash off with hard stream of water.

Use Bacillus thuringiensis to get rid of cabbage worms, and spray insecticidal soap to kill flea beetles. If you see cutworms, your best bet is to hand pluck them off.

Grow, harvest and eat Brussels sprouts from your back yard | Gardener's Path
Luckily, this plant is fairly disease free. Powdery mildew is occasionally a problem, but it’s usually not too severe.

Practice crop rotation to help prevent diseases. Cover cropping also serves as a great way to revitalize the soil between veggie plantings.

Call the Kids – It’s Time to Eat

Some gardeners remove the lowest leaves on the stalk to speed up development of the edible orb.

Brussels sprouts are easy to grow at home | Gardener's Path

Twist, snap, or cut off sprouts when they are hard, compact, deep green, and reach mature size, depending on the variety.

Generally, these cruciferous vegetables are ready to harvest when they’re 1 to 1½ inches in diameter.

Pick after frosty weather for the best flavor.

The lower vegetables mature first, and you’ll want to pluck the globes of goodness before they turn yellow. Yellow leaves are bitter and unappealing, even to adults.

If you didn’t remove the lower leaves to quicken development, remove them after the first harvest to encourage the plant to grow taller and produce additional fruit.

Near the end of a growing season, when you know it’s about to get too cold or too hot for the plant to continue producing, you can harvest the entire stalk.

The stalk is actually edible as well, but it has a tough outer layer you might want to remove.

Read more about harvesting here.

Recipe Ideas

Try some of these tasty recipes for our favorite balls of green goodness found on our sister site, Foodal.com.

Caramelized Red Chili Brussels Sprouts

Brussels gets a major makeover with this caramelized red chili version.

Caramelized Red Chili Brussels Sprouts.

This side dish is simple to make, and it goes with just about any type of protein. It’s a spicy and flavorful way to enjoy Brussels sprouts that you’ll want to make over and over again!

Get the recipe now on Foodal!

Brussels Sprouts Sautéed with Bacon, Fennel Seed and Dill

If you have picky eaters in the family that won’t normally eat sprouts, try adding bacon. Bacon makes everything better and the Brussels are cooked to al dente (still firm) rather than being squishy.Top down view of sauteed Brussels sprouts with bacon and dill in a white porcelain bowl sitting on dark maple cutting board.

And the added fats helps your body absorb the nutrients packed into the sprouts. That’s what we call a win-win!

Get the recipe now on Foodal!

And for more even ideas, you can take a look at all the Brussels sprout recipes we have on Foodal.

Fresh Sprouts in May?

While Brussels have a reputation for being tricky to grow, it’s quite possible to grow these tasty treats in the home garden if you simply give them what they need – assuming the weather gods cooperate, that is.

Who knows, if you’re really lucky, you might start a new Memorial Day tradition: Brussels sprout salad to go along with your burgers and grilled corn. Won’t the kids just love that?

Have you grown this plant? In the comments section below, tell us what zone or region you’re growing in, when you plant, and when you harvest. We’d love to compare notes!

Want some more garden inspiration? You’ll need these growing guides:


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different views of Brussels sprouts growing in a garden.

Photo credit: Shutterstock. Recipe photo by Mike Quinn.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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Karan J Barrow
Karan J Barrow (@guest_576)
3 years ago

Always eager for gardening information!

Sophia Hope
Sophia Hope (@allneedoff)
Member
1 year ago

What a great informative post! I’ve never grown brussels sprouts as I always thought they were a little complicated… but after reading your post, I feel confident to try. I started my brussel sprouts indoors a few weeks ago and a few of them have sprouted. However, they are about two inches tall, skinny and fragile and keep flopping over in their seed starting-size pots. Do they need more or less sun, more or less water? This happened with my lettuce I started indoors last year as well and I’m totally puzzled. I so want them to grow from seed… Read more »

Will
Will (@guest_5154)
1 year ago

I have big leaves and strong stocks but no robes planted from seed too early before Memorial Day 2019 I’m in ny should I leave them be out fall is approaching

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Adrienne Pickens
Adrienne Pickens (@guest_5389)
11 months ago

I planted my seeds doing a winter sowing they grew into lovely stalks, However my sprouts are as big as 1 in. all of them. I wonder is it type of brussel sprout I grew or that this is normal? Mz Adrienne

Adrienne Pickens
Adrienne Pickens (@guest_5390)
11 months ago

For a do or die project, I cut the stalk and it is now in my hydroponic garden and is rooting very well with little nubs that look like brussel sprouts buds!

Debra D Rawls
Debra D Rawls (@guest_5442)
11 months ago

I planted seeds in a pot in May, not one brussel yet and it’s November. I’m in Texas east of Dallas. I do have a greenhouse that I’m going to move them to when temps are going to be 32°, can you tell me what I’m doing wrong and if they’ll do OK in greenhouse? First time I ever grew them so not sure when they should have the sprouts on them. Thanks for any help.

Linda Catlin
Linda Catlin (@guest_5809)
8 months ago

I’m in zone 8 East Texas about 3 hours from you in Austin. This past October I planted a few Brussels sprout plants. They are still in the ground, but their growth seems stunted. I have tiny sprouts from marble to pea size. Other than fertilizing what can I do to encourage them to get bigger? Or is it time to give up on them?

s wils
s wils (@guest_7407)
5 months ago

Great article. How do you “beat the squirrels” to ANYTHING! They’re treacherous.

Karlynne
Karlynne (@guest_7526)
Reply to  s wils
5 months ago

I had to put a small rabbit fence around mine and then two layers of small netting to keep them out. They were eating all of my leaves and since I did that, they havent been able to get in

azri
azri (@guest_7714)
5 months ago

how about the tropical temperature

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  azri
5 months ago

Brussels sprouts appreciate cool temperatures with a max of 75°F and a bit of occasional frost, and they do best in Zones 2-9. In more tropical climates, like those some parts of USDA Hardiness Zones 10 and 11 fall into (and comparable locations throughout the globe), it isn’t impossible to grow these vegetables, but you’re not likely to get the best results. You will need to provide extra care in the form of protection from the sun, as well as adequate space between plants and maintenance to promote proper airflow to reduce the humid conditions that encourage pests and disease… Read more »

Carol Kruger
Carol Kruger (@guest_8153)
4 months ago

My plants produced lots of yellow flowers. How long before sprouts set?

Lorna Kring
Lorna Kring (@lornakring)
Member
Active Member
Reply to  Carol Kruger
4 months ago

Hey Carol, glad to hear your plants flowered freely – you should have an abundant crop!
 
The sprouts begin to set approximately 50 days after planting. But these plants require a long growing season and harvesting will depend on the variety you have – most species can be harvested at 100 to 120 days, although some short-season varieties can be picked after only 85 days.
 
Thanks for asking, and enjoy your harvest!
 
 

Suzanne
Suzanne (@guest_8601)
3 months ago

I planted a huge crop probably too late. It’s now July in New Jersey and I have huge Brussels sprout plants, but absolutely no brussels sprouts themselves. Not even flowers. It’s been months. What can I do to salvage this crop? Can I start new plants from these for the fall? Should I just try to eat the stalks?

Lorna Kring
Lorna Kring (@lornakring)
Member
Active Member
Reply to  Suzanne
3 months ago

Hey Suzanne, these plants take a long time to mature, some as long as 130 days, so it may be that you just have to be a bit more patient until they form.   Or, it could be that you’ve planted too early. Sprouts are a cool weather crop that are usually planted mid-summer for harvesting after a touch of frost. Trying to grow them through the heat of summer often results in small, misshapen fruits or plants bolting to seed.   Another problem could be fertilizing – lots of leafy growth without fruit can mean they’re receiving too much… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon (@guest_9198)
2 months ago

I’m just an amateur gardener but on a whim I bought a couple of Brussels at a garden center. I really didn’t do much to help them but all of a sudden I saw sprouts! My plants are putting on a second crop. My question is about the top of my plant. A large sprout has developed on the very top. ( in addition to the sprouts on the stem) Is that what it’s supposed to do? Is it edible? Are the plant leaves edible?
By the way, I’m in the upstate of SC.

Lorna Kring
Lorna Kring (@lornakring)
Member
Active Member
Reply to  Sharon
2 months ago

Yes Sharon, your topmost sprout and the ones on the stem are all edible…typically, they form on the stem although a topknot is not unheard of.

Most people don’t bother with the leaves as they’re quite bitter. But, the stem itself is edible after your crop is finished – you just have to peel off the tough outer skin.

Thanks for asking!

Linda
Linda (@guest_9579)
2 months ago

I have 4 big brussel sprout plants and if I am reading this correctly, I should take off the bottom leaves as well as the top leaves, and pick the big Brussels and let the plants continue to grow? I am in Montana.

Kristine Lofgren
Kristine Lofgren (@kristinelofgren)
Member
Reply to  Linda
2 months ago

Hi there! Yes, you should remove the bottom third of the leaves as the sprouts develop, as well as any yellow leaves. You should also harvest any as they mature – don’t let them turn yellow. Don’t take off any of the top leaves – those need to stay in place until you’re ready to harvest the whole stalk. After pruning the lower leaves, the plant should get taller and produce more sprouts for you. Enjoy!

Last edited 1 month ago by Allison Sidhu
Frances Ryan
Frances Ryan (@guest_10125)
30 days ago

First time growing Brussel Sprouts. I am in Pearland near Houston zone 9-10. I bought plants rather than seeds and planted today. Hope I will have some success.