Roasted, fried, microwaved or boiled, just the thought of the nutty, cabbage-like flavor of Brussel sprouts has my mouth watering. While they're delicious from the store, there's something so much better about growing Brussel sprouts in your own garden. Watching the little heads mature into the familiar balls is extremely rewarding.
The Brussel sprout plant is not the easiest plant to grow, but it's worth the effort. I've grown Brussel sprouts a few times and managed to get some sprouts for harvest, but often they were tiny.
The reason? I was growing in a garden that was semi-shaded and never in full sun. Growth for all my plants was slow, including sprouts. Thankfully, the constant partial shade kept the area cool, which the Brussel sprout plant loves.
In my current garden, where full sun is available nearly everywhere, it’s actually a bit tougher to grow cool-season crops. Our summers are hot-hot-hot, and our winters are freezing. The ideal cool temperatures don’t last too long, so planting at the right moment is crucial. I finally nailed the trick, though, and now we have Brussel sprouts from the garden all the time.
If you've also struggled to get this plant to take off, or if you want to take a stab at it for the first time, this guide will give you everything you need to know to make the veggie thrive in your garden.
Brussel Sprout Plant Info
- Hardiness Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
- Soil: Loam, Sandy, Clay, PH between 6.5 to 7.0, fertile, well-drained
- Sun Exposure: Full sun, at least 6 hours per day
- Start Indoors: 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date
- Start Indoors (in fall): 12 to 16 weeks before the first frost date
- Hardening Off: 7 to 10 days before transplanting
- Transplant Outdoors: When seedlings are 3 inches tall
- Spacing: 2 to 3 inches between plants and 2 to 3 feet between rows
- Depth: ¼ to ½ inches seed depth
- Best Companions: Onion, corn, potato, celery, dill, peppermint, rosemary, sage, chamomile, peas, tomato, bush beans, spinach, garlic
- Worst Companions: Pole beans, strawberry, kohlrabi, lettuce
- Watering: Water thoroughly during transplanting, 1 to 2 inches per week during dry weather
- Fertilizing: Apply nitrogen fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks after transplanting
- Common Problems: Flea beetles, aphids, clubroot, downy mildew, cabbage root maggots, white mold, cutworms, thrips, leafminers, bolting
- Harvest: After 80 to 90 days of planting, when the tiny heads are green, firm and 1 to 2 inches thick
Brussel Sprout Varieties
First, you’ll need to decide which variety to grow based on your goals and needs. Here are a few you might want to consider.
- Nautic – This is the type to grow if you’re concerned about disease resistance. It's also flavorful and cold tolerant. Matures in 120 days and produces particularly sweet buttons.
- Dagan – With this variety, the sprouts will be ready to eat in 100 days. It also looks particularly pretty on the stalk if you want to sell or display your sprouts because it produces bright, uniform, medium-sized veggies on a tall, straight plant.
- Doric -This variety matures in 120 days. It produces uniform, dark-leafed sprouts with a strong stalk. It's cold hardy, and the flavor improves after being exposed to cold. Disease resistant.
- Red Ball -For the gardener looking to add color to their plot and dinner plate, this is the variety to check out, since it has pretty purple leaves that get more vibrant as the plant grows. Matures in 120 days.
- Tasty Nuggets – This variety is quick to mature. It takes just 78 days to grow small, nutty 1-inch balls. It has a reputation as a reliable grower that is easier than some others.
- Oliver – If you are growing Brussel sprouts with the plan to freeze them, try this variety. The flavor actually improves as it sits in the freezer. It's also a dependable grower that matures in 90 days.
How to Plant Brussel Sprouts
While growing Brussel sprouts is a bit more challenging than, say, growing lettuce, being armed with information about this brassica will help you care for and get the most from this plant.
When to plant
The goal is to have Brussel sprouts planted out at least two months before the first frost in the fall. Since this date varies depending on your location, count backward to decide on the optimum seed starting and translating dates. Brussel sprout plants require a long growing season to reach maturity. In some areas, gardeners may have better luck with direct sowing.
Where I am (Zone 5b), I need to start Brussel sprouts indoor before my last frost date and transplant around May or June for plants to reach maturity by the first frost. The challenge in my climate is the scorching summer. Some years, I’m lucky, and the summers are cooler than usual with lots of rainfall, which is ideal for growing plants like cabbage or Brussel sprouts.
You can also start these indoors in the fall 12 to 16 weeks before the last frost date, or direct sow outdoors in the fall in warm areas.
They'll be ready to plant outdoors when they are about 3-inches tall.
Brussel sprouts are generally ideal for planting in zones 3-10, depending on the variety, though you can even find some that will thrive in zone 2. This is a cool-season vegetable and tolerates a light frost. Some varieties even taste better after exposure to a freeze.
They prefer full sun, but I've had some luck growing Brussel sprouts in partial shade. Just be aware that with less sun, the harvest won't be as impressive.
Ideal Soil Condition and Temperature
Brussel sprouts prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.5 to 7. They like fertile, well-drained soil, but can handle a little bit of clay or sand.
Cool soil temperature is important early on in the plant’s growth cycle. Too much nitrogen isn't good for this plant.
Ways to Plant
They are best grown outdoors in beds (raised, or not). Containers are fine, but choose ones that are at least 12-inches wide and plant only one brussel sprout plant per pot.
Plant Brussels sprouts in firm soil or provide some type of support or wind shelter if you reside in a windy area. The plants grow tall but aren’t always good at supporting themselves in the wind.
I’ve had issues with wind toppling over plants, and it’s incredibly frustrating. If the stalk snaps in half, you’re out of luck. If the wind is a concern for you, you can also plant wind blocking plants like corn alongside your Brussel sprouts to keep them sheltered from strong gusts.
Expected Germination Time
While this depends on the variety and particular conditions, seeds should germinate within a week or so.
Leave about 18-inches between plants when setting them out in their permanent location, with 3-feet between rows. Or plant 24-inches apart in a grid. Plant seeds about 1/2-inch deep.
How to Care for Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts like moist, well-watered soil. Moist soil helps maintain ideal soil temperature. Give at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week during dry weather. Make sure to give it plenty of water during transplanting.
The key to growing Brussel sprouts is to keep them from getting too warm. These plants prefer cool weather, but not freezing. To germinate, seeds require soil between 50-85 degrees Fahrenheit. While most varieties are cold hardy, Brussel sprouts won’t survive once the temperatures hit below freezing unless protected in some way. With a cold frame or greenhouse, however, you can enjoy freshly picked sprouts all winter long.
Mulch around the base of these plants to help retain moisture and keep the soil cool during hotter days.
This plant is a heavy feeder, but watch out. Too much nitrogen can cause misshapen tiny sprouts to form. Brussel sprout plants are hungry for boron, though.
Low boron content in the soil will cause the stalk to develop small sprouts. Always perform a soil test before fertilizing to prevent nutrient imbalances. Never make assumptions based on observations.
In general, apply fertilizer every four weeks.
I’ve never felt the need to prune my Brussel sprouts, but if you find the leaves are crowding out nearby plants, it won’t hurt to trim them. Some gardeners prune the leaves from the bottom up as they harvest the sprouts. If any leaves are turning yellow or shriveling, remove them.
Mulching around the base while your growing Brussel sprouts will help to suppress weed growth. Make sure to keep weeds away from the base, or you'll likely have a smaller plant.
Crop Rotation & Succession Planting
Brussel sprouts are not a good candidate for succession planting. Instead, we suggest planting extra plants in case of wind damage or pest issues. Rotate these plants to a new bed each year to prevent clubroot and reduce the chance of disease proliferation.
Common Problems Growing Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts can be prone to bolting, which is when the plant grows flowers and goes to seed. If this happens, they won't produce those delicious little mini-cabbages. Grow varieties that are bolt-resistant and keep young plants warm if temperatures drop below 50 degrees for too long.
Rust is a fungal disease that causes rust-colored bumps in the leaves of plants. Plant rust resistant sprout varieties if you struggle with this in your garden. Water in the early hours and avoid overhead watering. Space plants so they get plenty of air circulation.
Powdery Mildew (White Mold)
Prevent the spread of disease by sanitizing tools and seed starting equipment. Destroy any infected plant and remove and replace the soil it was growing in. Water in the morning and keep plants spaced out. Don't allow weeds to encroach on plants, because they can carry the disease.
Clubroot is a soil-borne fungus that can decimate crops. Make sure to rotate your crop location each year to prevent it. Remove infected plants and replace or solarize the soil.
Brussel sprouts belong to the same family as kale, collars, and broccoli. Anyone who loves these vegetables knows that brassicas are a magnet for quite a few pests.
My biggest nemesis, the cabbage worm, is the bane of my existence each year. The small green worms wreak havoc on seedlings, and row covers or other protection are essential to prevent large infestations and devastation of brassica-family veggies.
I have a patch in my garden dedicated to brassicas (it changes each year, of course) and I’ve begun using a pop-up insect cover to prevent the worms from munching away at leaves.
While picking them off and dumping them in soapy water can control the issue, I prefer to prevent it altogether since the worms can easily ruin an entire bed of seedlings in less than a week.
Aphids are another issue that may affect Brussel sprouts and other brassicas. Use a soapy water spray to control the pests or directly spray strong jets of water from the hose to force the insects off your plants (just be careful not to use too strong a spray and knock over your top-heavy plants).
Use row covers to protect your sprouts from this beetle-like pest. Mulch also helps limit populations. Use naturally derived spinosad and permethrin to kill them. You can also use diatomaceous earth and neem oil.
Cabbage Root Maggots
This pest impacts all cole crops. Use sticky traps and cabbage collars to control them. If things get bad, you can pull up plants, swish the roots in clean water and replant in clean soil.
You'll know you have leafminers when you see the squiggly white tunnels running through your leaves. Unless the infestation is extreme, this is really just a cosmetic problem in Brussel sprouts. Try row covers to prevent them.
Thrips dine on the sap of plants. Keep your tools sanitized to prevent them from taking hold in the first place. You can control them with sticky traps or neem oil.
Companion Plants for Brussel Sprouts
Plant near herbs such as sage or rosemary to ward off annoying pests. When they are small, you can plant short-season crops like peas in between sprouts. The best companion plants for Brussel sprouts include:
Keep away from the following plants:
- Pole beans
How to Harvest and Store Brussel Sprouts
When to Harvest
It's best to harvest in the late fall or early winter. Buds will be large enough to eat – around 1-2 inches in size – depending on the variety. Plants mature from the bottom up, so you may want to harvest only part of the plant at a time. Grab the sprouts and twist to remove. Plants will continue to grow so that new sprouts may form. Days to maturity vary but it can range from 80-120 days after planting.
Brussel sprouts last up to a few weeks kept in the fridge. Freezing is possible, but for most varieties, the taste and texture will suffer. If you cut off the entire stalk rather than harvesting just the buds, you can put the stalk in water as you would a cut flower.
Once spent, remove the plants that have not performed well in terms of yield. You don’t want to save seeds from underperforming plants. Let the successful plants overwinter.
In the spring of the plant's second year, a seed stalk will form and produce seed pods. Once dried out and audibly rattling they can be removed and allowed to dry out completely. Remove the seeds from the pods and store properly for future use.
If you keep your Brussel sprout plants around other brassicas, you may want to cage them to prevent cross-pollination. Otherwise, plant them away from each other.
A Tasty Brassica Worth the Effort
Brussel sprouts have a bad reputation as a vegetable. Kids apparently hate them, and I know plenty of adults who still shove them to the side of their plates. This negative association confounds me.
I think that many vegetables are disliked because people don’t know how to prepare them correctly. If your only introduction to b-sprouts has been via a frozen package from the grocery store, it’s no surprise that you cannot stand them. Frozen Brussel sprouts are mushy and lack texture. Nothing beats freshly-picked sprouts, though.
My husband, who is a self-professed Brussel sprout hater now eats them when I prepare them sautéed in a pan with a bit of honey to add sweetness and some cranberries to add tartness.
Caramelizing Brussel sprouts softens their strong cabbage-like flavor and mellows out the bitterness. They’re also equally enjoyable roasted in the oven or shaved raw into a salad.
My favorite way to eat them in roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper until crisp and added to a harvest bowl with shredded chicken, cranberries, mashed carrots, and gravy.
Looking for some recipes for your fresh brussel sprout harvest? Here are a few ideas:
Don't forget that you can eat the leaves of the plant as well. Treat it like kale.
Brussel sprouts are worth the effort once harvest time comes and you're crunching into them at the dinner table. Armed with a little knowledge, you'll find the little cabbages aren't as challenging to grow as you may have heard. We'd love to know how you eat your sprouts – tell us in the comments.