Bok choy is probably my favorite vegetable. I love cooking Asian-style dishes, but I have a tough time finding some Asian ingredients at the supermarket – so, I grow them! I first started growing bok choy when my husband and I moved into our home. My gardening efforts began with a raised bed on the porch where I grew greens and cherry tomatoes.
It’s now nearly 5 years later, and bok choy, also called pac choy or bok choi, is a regular feature in my home cooking and a staple in my garden. Luckily, I live in a climate that’s relatively choy-friendly.
If I ever end up with too much on my hands, I happily share the bounty with my father, who has an equal affinity for the green vegetable. This year, I’m growing two types of bok choy, and it’s going splendidly, but I’ve faced challenges in the past, so I know how to tackle this temperamental veg.
Below you’ll find a bunch of tips to help you grow your own bundle of bok choy, so you too can enjoy this delicious, delicate-tasting vegetable.
Bok Choy Varieties
When I discover a vegetable that thrives in my climate and garden, I tend to go a bit wild and order as many seed varietals as I can. I love to experiment with different types of kale, collards, and bok choy because they grow so well where I’m located. Here are a few varieties of bok choy that I've found are ideal:
This is a variety I’m currently growing in my garden. I picked it because of its coloring. I enjoy seeing the contrasting colors in my garden because it adds visual interest. This type of bok choy is squat with dark, almost black leaves. The little rosettes are highly attractive and taste great, too. In my experience, this bok choy variety grows exceptionally well from seed.
Prize choy is a full-size variety with a white petiole (this is the stem portion) that’s less likely to bolt in hot weather than other types.
Shanghai green is a compact, dense plant that grows equally well as full-sized or baby plants. It has a mild flavor that's excellent for stir fries.
White stemmed choy has tasty leaves and thick white stems, as the name implies. You can harvest this variety early for its tasty baby leaves.
Joi choi is of my favorite varieties because it's slow to bolt and cold hardy.
Mei Qing Choi
This bok choy has greenish stems and a compact growth habit. It can be picked at baby size or when fully grown.
Planting Bok Choy
With the right planting strategy, growing bok choy can be a breeze.
Boy choy grows in zones 4-7. In warmer areas, it will bolt to seed as temps heat up.
When to Plant
Plant bok choy indoors in the spring 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date. You can do a second planting in the fall 4 to 8 weeks before the first frost date. This plant prefers cold weather and tends to bolt when it gets too hot outside. Some varieties are slower to bolt than others.
While you can start bok choy plants indoors, I prefer to direct sow this plant. You can put it in the ground as soon as the soil can be worked. Bok choy grows reasonably quickly, and it’s often the first vegetable I sow in the spring (along with peas, kale, and other greens). Bok Choy prefers cooler weather, which is why it’s necessary to sow seeds early.
Germination and Transplanting
Bok choy grown indoors tends to sprout rather quickly. Once you have a few true leaves forming and all danger of frost has passed, harden the seedlings off for a week and then put in the garden.
Bok choy enjoys full sun, but you can also grow it in partial shade. Because summers are so hot where I’m located, I plant greens in an area that doesn’t receive direct sunlight to prevent early bolting. If this isn’t possible, I use a shade cloth to introduce dappled light to the area.
Bok choy likes soil with a pH of between 6 and 7.5. While the roots of this plant are shallow, it’s a heavy feeder and requires fertile ground to thrive. It also needs soil that drains well.
I usually plant my bok choy in raised beds. This year, I’ve covered all my brassicas, including all my choy-type plants with netting to help reduce instances of bolting and prevent insect damage. Bok choy is also suitable for container growing.
Space plants according to the size you intend to harvest at. For harvesting baby plants, space them closer together. I like to space my choy plants at 9 per square for square foot gardening. I plant full-size plants at 4 per square.
For row planting, put plants 8 inches apart with 24 inches between rows.
Caring for Bok Choy
Once your bok choy plants start to grow, here’s how to keep them happy before they end up on your dinner plate:
Water evenly without soaking to prevent excess moisture, which may attract pests. Keep plants moist in hot weather.
Bok Choy prefers cooler weather. Keep this in mind when working out your planting schedule for this plant.
I always mulch my bok choy to conserve moisture and keep the soil cool. I add a layer of compost and then a layer of straw.
In my experience, a heap of compost worked into the soil before sowing seeds is enough nutrition to keep my choy plants happy. If you’re noticing a potential nutrient deficiency (e.g., yellowing leaves), test your soil and fertilize using a balanced formula if needed.
Densely spaced bok choy shouldn’t require intense weeding. This is one of the reasons I space my plants close together. It keeps the weeds at bay. If your plants are further apart, be diligent about weeding to prevent diseases and pests.
Succession Planting and Crop Rotation
Avoid planting in the same spot where you planted brassicas in the previous year. I succession sow this crop multiple times, but often a mid-summer planting isn’t particularly successful due to early bolting. I always believe it’s worth a try, though, and sometimes I’ll get a few baby plants for my efforts. In the late summer, plant another round of seeds for a fall harvest.
Bok Choy Problems and Solutions
Ah yes! Bok choy problems. I’ve not experienced any disease issues with my choy plants in the several years I’ve been readily growing this Asian vegetable. That isn't to say that they don't have diseases, but you're more likely to encounter pests.
While brassicas are my favorite family of vegetable, they’re also the toughest to grow because of pest issues.
White Cabbage Moth
The peskiest pest of all is the dreaded white cabbage moth, which lays eggs on the underside of brassica plant leaves. The larvae hatch and quickly go to town on young plants. In the past, preventing a total crop failure required diligent visits to the garden to inspect every single brassica leaf. While cabbage worms were less interested in my bok choy plants, they eventually gravitated there in the end.
Picking off the worms is gross and annoying, but aside from that, there’s little to do. Most suggestions are ineffective. Once you have an infestation, manual removal is your best bet. Diatomaceous earth is a solid temporary solution but washes away in rainy weather.
The best permanent solution? Crop cover. This year I finally decided to use insect covers to avoid a struggle with cabbage worms. My brassicas (bok choy, kale, and collards) are all tucked away under netting. My fingers are crossed that this protection will be the answer to my yearly pest issue.
I’ve also encountered aphids attacking my bok choy plants, but those were isolated cases that I found easier to deal with, and a simple, strong spray from the hose dislodged them. When I had aphids to deal with, I also quickly realized the issue was that I left my choy too long in the ground.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs are slow and, in my opinion, easy to deal with using manual removal. You can also use your favorite bait control.
The flea beetle is a tiny jumping beetle that nibbles shot holes in your growing bok choy leaves. A severe infestation can skeletonize your plants, but the biggest risk is that they spread disease.
You can use white sticky traps to control them. You can also make a homemade spray of 2 cups rubbing alcohol, 5 cups water, and 2 tablespoons liquid soap to kill them.
Whiteflies hang out in groups and suck the life out of your plants. They can reduce your yield and make plants susceptible to disease.
Use yellow sticky traps to capture this pest, and encourage natural predators like lacewings and ladybugs. Spray them with neem oil or Safer Soap.
Leafminers got their name because they chew tunnels through the mid-material of plant leaves. You usually won't spot the flying adults in the garden because they're so small, but you'll know you have them when you see the tell-tale squiggly lines in your growing bok choy.
You can use pesticides to control leafminers, but natural predators like parasitic wasps are an excellent form of control. You can also spray plants with neem oil on a regular schedule.
Cutworms are the larvae of several species of night-flying moths. They nibble on the stem of plants near the base, which is where they get their name. You can be sure you have cutworms if you spot a worm in the garden that curls up into a tight C-shape when you disturb it.
Keep your garden weeded to reduce the places this bug can hang out, and place cardboard collars around your plants.
Tarnished Plant Bugs
Tarnished plant bugs suck the juices out of plants and the inject plants with a toxic substance that can cause them to suffer. They can cause cat-facing, scabs and scars on fruits, but they cause distortion and browning of leaves when they nibble on bok choy.
Keep weeds away from your garden and use white sticky traps to keep them under control. There are also some insecticides that are effective against these pests.
Downy mildew shows up as yellow patches on the top of growing bok choy leaves and white fuzz on the underside. You'll usually spot it during the cooler, wetter months – just the type of conditions that bok choy prefers.
Give plants plenty of space, water in the morning, so plants have time to dry by the evening, and keep the ground around plants clean of any debris. Use a copper spray to keep this disease under control.
Clubroot attacks plants in the brassica family. It's caused by a fungus that makes roots distorted and misshapen. You might not know you have it until you notice your plants drooping during the day and perking up at night, despite having enough water.
The best way to handle clubroot is to prevent it. Rotate your crops, keep weeds away, and sterilize your garden tools. If you have infested plants, toss them.
This virus causes wrinkled, discolored leaves and yellowing of the veins of your bok choy leaves. There's no cure, so prevention is key. Plant resistant varieties, keep bugs away, weed your garden regularly, and sanitize your tools in between use.
Alternaria Leaf Spot
If you have brown, ring-like spots on your growing bok choy leaves, you might have Alternaria leaf spot. This fungus can be treated with copper fungicides.
Companions for Bok Choy
I prefer to plant bok choy with other brassicas. This strategy is helpful for crop rotation. Or I plant near spinach and lettuce in the early spring. Bok Choy is a pretty easy going plant, though, so it pairs well with several other vegetable and herbs.
Here are a few friendly companion plants for this vegetable:
- Spinach Lettuce
The worst companions for bok choy are strawberries and tomatoes.
Harvesting & Storing Bok Choy
The leaves are ready for harvest after about 21 days and the head is ready 45 to 60 days after planting. Be sure to harvest in cool weather.
I like to harvest bok choy when I need it in the kitchen, but if you’re afraid of potential bolting, harvest plants and store in the fridge for up to a week or so. Store in a ventilated plastic bag.
My absolute favorite way to cook bok choy is to stir fry it with a bit of chili oil, mirin, and sesame oil. It tastes delicious steamed, too.