Brussels sprouts are hardy, cool season, slow growing vegetables that are a part of the cabbage family. Despite their reputation for being despised by children, many people consider Brussels sprouts to be a delicacy. When cooked properly, they are a tender, delicious vegetable. Brussels sprouts are high in protein and contain significant amounts of vitamin A and C along with other vitamins and minerals. Growing Brussels sprouts can be a bit tricky compared to other garden vegetables due to their temperature and soil requirements. The edible part of the plant, the small cabbage-like head, grows in the axis (of middle) of the plant.
Growing Conditions of Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts do best in cooler temperatures and do not tolerate heat well. The quality and taste can be affected when grown in hot, dry conditions. Brussels sprouts also need uninterrupted growth for a high quality crop. Because of their long growing season and cool climate requirements, they can be difficult to grow in hot southern states. Planting in the summer for a cooler fall harvest will give the most successful results in most parts of the county.
The soil should be well drained, moist, and high in both organic matter and nitrogen. The soil should be in the pH range of 6.2 to 6.5. Before amending your soil, have a soil test performed. You can contact your local university extension office for a soil test.
Brussels sprouts need a constant supply of nitrogen; they can receive this either from periodic application of compost, manure, or a nitrogen fertilizer side dressing. A side dressing is simply an application of nitrogen fertilizer around the base of the plant (about 3 inches out). Use about one tablespoon of dry fertilizer per plant.
Planting Brussel Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are usually transplanted from seedlings in early to mid-summer or about 90-100 days before the first frost date in the fall. Starting the seed indoors where you can control the climate and later transplanting to your permanent garden space will bring the best results. You may also purchase seedlings to set out in the garden.
For a summer harvest, you need to transplant seedlings very early in the spring and select a heat-resistant variety. If Brussels sprouts grow in hot, dry conditions they can take on a bitter flavor; for this reason it is usually best to plant in summer for a fall harvest.
Fertilize the soil with a general fertilizer (5-10-10) prior to planting at a rate of about 5 pounds per 100 square feet. A side dressing of nitrogen can be applied at planting and three week intervals.
Place your transplants 24 to 36 inches apart with 30 inches between each row. Water the plants well after transplanting. Using a starter solution will help to establish the plants more quickly. You can purchase a starter solution or make your own by using a 5-10-10 fertilizer and mixing it with 12 quarts of water and letting it sit for a few hours before using. Add about a cup of solution around the roots prior to covering.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are ready to harvest at about 85 to 95 days after setting plants out. Early, tender sprouts will be picked several times. When harvesting, pick the sprouts that are lowest on the plant first. You can determine harvest time by visual inspection, but be sure to harvest once the lower leaves begin to turn yellow. Once the lower leaves start to yellow, the sprouts will quickly over mature and loose their tender texture and delicious flavor.
To pick the sprout you will break the leaf directly below the sprout and carefully remove the sprout from the plant. Picking the leaves and sprouts will send out a signal to the plant to continue to produce new sprouts. You may also choose to harvest the entire plant. If you do not consume the sprouts right away they can be refrigerated for 7-10 days or stored at 32 degrees with high humidity (around 95%) for several months.
Brussels Sprouts Diseases and Pests
Some common pests and diseases of Brussels sprouts include:
- Cabbage loopers
- Root maggots
- Dampening off
Daily visual inspection of your plants can help to prevent heavy infestations. Physical removal and disposal of the pest may be all that is needed. If the infestation is larger there are commercially available products (pesticides) that may be used.
Dampening off is caused by overly wet conditions that promote fungal growth. Use treated seed and do not over water your seedlings.
Common Questions and Answers About How to Grow Brussels Sprouts
Are Brussels sprouts a perennial?
Brussels sprouts are biennials, meaning they will grow for two years before producing seed and requiring replanting.
Are Brussels sprouts easy to grow?
Brussels sprouts are pretty easy to grow if you know what their preferences are. They need to be started indoors about four weeks before your last frost date, as it is not recommended that you plant Brussels sprouts seeds directly into the garden. They are a long season crop and they need the extra time that starting indoors provides, and they should be transplanted outdoors in the spring for a fall harvest, so a little bit of patience is also required when growing Brussels sprouts.
Are Brussels sprouts heavy feeders?
Yes, Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders, so you will want to provide nutrients at several different points during their development. Amend your soil with well-rotted manure prior to planting time and side dress the plants either with compost or manure or with balanced fertilizer 3-4 weeks later after transplanting. Feed again when they’re halfway grown, applying a fertilizer like 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 according to the instructions on the product. You can also feed this vegetable crop with liquid fertilizer instead of time-based every other week.
Can I cut Brussels sprouts the night before?
Certainly, cut Brussels sprouts will only stay fresh for a short period of time, but as long as you use your pre-prepared sprouts within one to two days, they should still be nice and crisp, as long as they are preserved in an airtight container in the fridge until you are ready to use them. Preparing your sprouts the night before you plan to cook them will save you some time when cooking.
Can I eat Brussels sprout leaves?
The leaves of Brussels sprout plants are often overlooked and sometimes even tossed out unknowingly. However, Brussel sprout leaves are not only edible, but they are just as tasty as thAe sprouts themselves. Stack, slice and saute the sweet and nutty leaves with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Steam then whole, then stuff and roll them for a tasty snack, as they make a healthy wrap alternative for bread to house your favorite sandwich fixings. Add them raw or gently steamed to smoothies and green drinks. Shred and use the leaves in slaws and salads. Whatever you do, don’t throw them out.
Can I freeze Brussels sprouts without blanching them first?
Yes, not only can you skip the blanching when storing Brussels sprouts, but doing so will actually make them taste better and look better when thawed. Just wash the heads, dry them off, bag them up, and stick them in the freezer. Frozen sprouts are usable for 10 months to one year.
Can I plant Brussels sprouts with tomatoes?
Brussel sprouts and tomatoes should never be planted near each other in the garden, as they both commonly attract whiteflies and cabbage loopers, common pests that can severely damage both crops if left untreated.
Can you eat Brussels sprouts with worms?
Brussels sprouts taken from plants that have been ravaged by worms are said to be safe to eat, as long as they are washed and thoroughly examined. Should you eat them? Well, that’s another question entirely, and one you will have to decide for yourself.
Can you eat the stalks of Brussels sprouts?
Though Brussels sprout stalks are not widely used in the culinary arts, they are edible, if you don’t mind taking the time to remove the bamboo-like outer layer of the stems to retrieve the soft inside layers. Using a cleaver, chop the stems into four inch (or smaller) pieces and steam them for 25 minutes or more. There is a thin outer skin that can be eaten off or peeled off first, then pull off the woody outer layer to reveal the soft, meaty, supposedly tasty sprout stalk. After they are steamed and separated from their tough exterior, the edible inside portion of Brussels sprout stalks can be eaten all by themselves, shredded and used in a coleslaw or salad, or added to a vegetable stock to infuse the stalk’s rich, sweet, and creamy flavor. They can be used like the tender parts of broccoli stems in recipes.
Can you freeze Brussels sprouts after cooking?
Raw Brussels sprouts can be frozen without blanching and it is actually the preferred method recommended for long term Brussels sprout storage, as unblanched sprouts are said to have a better texture and taste after thawing, than sprouts that were blanched.
Can you prep Brussels sprouts ahead of time?
As long as you use your pre-prepared sprouts within one to two days, they should still be nice and crisp, as long as they are preserved in an airtight container in the fridge until you are ready to use them. Preparing your sprouts the night before you plan to cook them will save you some time when cooking.
Do Brussels sprouts come back every year?
Brussels sprouts will survive for one more year, as long as you live in a zone where temperatures never drop below 15 degrees F. Brussels sprouts are a biennial, and their natural growing cycle is two years long. After the second year’s fall harvests, your Brussels sprout plants will start to produce seeds, and are then ready to be replaced by new plants, or harvested for seed for future plantings.
Do Brussels sprouts go bad in the fridge?
Brussels sprouts, like any other perishable food, will go bad in the fridge, eventually. However, storing your Brussels sprouts in the refrigerator in an airtight plastic bag, will help to maximize their shelf life. Raw brussels sprouts will last for three to five days when kept cool in the fridge.
Do Brussels sprouts need a cage?
Though a growing cage is not essential to growing Brussels sprouts, they can benefit from being grown in a cage to keep the plant’s stalk erect and protect the plant from damage, as Brussels sprout plants can grow two to three feet tall when spaced properly.
Sprouts form along the plant’s stem in place of the leaves and become heavier as they mature. As the sprouts grow bigger, the stem will start to lean and soon, without a support structure, lower lying sprouts will drag the ground, where they are likely to rot. Using a cage is one of several ways to provide support to your Brussels to avoid this issue.
Do Brussels sprouts need full sun?
Like most garden vegetables, Brussels sprouts need full sunlight exposure and at least six hours of direct sunlight per day in most climates. In especially warm climate areas, pick a location that is partially shaded during the temperature peaks in the mid to late afternoon, however, even warm climate Brussels still need at least four hours of full sunlight to thrive.
Do you have to prune Brussels sprouts?
Pruning your Brussels sprouts is not required, however, you can begin pruning when you see at least one sprout develop in order to promote a longer crop and more robust sprouts. The moment when the sprouts are ready for harvesting is the exact time that you should also prune the leaves of the plant. As you are twisting off the sprouts on the lower portion of the plant by hand, also remove any yellowing or deteriorating leaves using a pair of scissors or garden shears.
Do squirrels eat Brussels sprouts?
Luckily, squirrels do not normally eat Brussels sprouts, but they are known to pick and eat the leaves of the Brussels sprout plant, which results in the formation of fewer heads during the growing season.
Do you have to trim Brussels sprouts?
Before cooking or eating Brussels sprouts, clean the heads and slice off about one fourth of an inch at the bottom of the core. Leave smaller sprouts whole before cooking and halve or quarter larger heads into similarly sized pieces. The outer leaves of the heads will most likely fall off when you cut the sprouts down to the prefered size.
Do you remove leaves from Brussels sprouts?
Though removing leaves from your Brussels sprout plants is optional, doing so will help to encourage a longer crop season and more robust sprouts.
How deep should soil be for Brussels sprouts?
Brussel sprouts only need to be planted one-fourth of an inch beneath the soil, however, these tasty veggies have a pretty deep root system which will develop beneath the soil’s surface. For optimal growth, plant Brussels in a location with at least 18 inches of soil depth, but preferably around 36 inches of depth for the roots to develop at full capacity. Healthy roots will go a long way towards a prolific yield.
How do you cook Brussels sprouts without the smell?
To dissipate the strong odors of cooked Brussels sprouts, put a few drops of vinegar into a pan and simmer it on the stovetop. Fast cooking will reduce the smell of Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. Adding a few drops of vinegar into the water before boiling or steaming your sprouts, cabbage, or broccoli helps as well.
How do you grow Brussels sprouts at home?
Plant Brussels sprouts during the cool temperatures of early spring and early autumn. Give them plenty of room to spread out as they grow, spacing plants about two feet apart in a sunny location with well-drained, fertile soil with a pH around 6.8. Before planting, improve the soil by mixing in several inches of compost or another form of rich organic matter. Feed regularly with a continuous-release plant food. Mulch your beds or containers to boost water retention, to keep the plant’s roots from overheating, and to prevent weeds. Harvest your sprouts when the heads are firm, green, and one to two inches in diameter.
How do you know when Brussels sprouts are ready to pick?
Generally, Brussels sprouts take around 3 months of time after transplanting to mature, depending on the variety. Harvest the sprouts from the bottom up as they will mature earlier than the top ones, picking when they are 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and looking firm and green.
Pick the sprouts by turning and twisting them carefully without damaging the stems.
How long do Brussels sprouts keep on the stalk?
Brussels sprouts that are still attached to the stalk will stay fresh for a little bit longer than those stored individually. For short term storage, put unwashed, untrimmed, fresh sprout covered stalks and individual heads into an airtight plastic bag and put the bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Brussels sprouts, especially those which are still on the stalk, will keep for up to one week in the fridge, they start to lose flavor and are best when prepared within three to four days after you harvest or purchase them.
How long does it take to grow Brussels sprouts?
Brussel sprouts are a slow growing vegetable, and growing them in the garden requires some patience on your part. Brussels typically take anywhere between 26 and 31 weeks to fully develop and become ready to harvest sprouts.
How many Brussels sprouts do you get from one plant?
If ideal growing conditions are provided, you should be able to harvest about 50 Brussels sprouts for each plant that you grow. During warm weather periods, you can harvest each plant every four to six weeks and each harvesting should yield between two and six sprouts. The main harvest for Brussels is slightly delayed until the preferred cool weather temperatures take place, in which Brussels sprout plants will typically produce 10 to 15 sprouts. Each plant accounting for around 50 sprouts is a loose estimation, as there is no set number of sprouts that each plant will produce, however, each plant is usually responsible for an average of about 3 pounds of sprouts.
How many people does a pound of Brussels sprouts feed?
One pound of Brussels sprouts will feed two people, each receiving an eight ounce serving.
How much room do Brussels sprouts need to grow?
Brussel sprouts need quite a bit of room to themselves, so space out each plant 18 to 24 inches apart to give them plenty of space to grow unrestricted by crowding.
Keep the soil surrounding Brussels sprouts evenly moist, but keep the foliage of your plants dry by watering deeply at the base of each plant. Provide sprouts with at least one inch of water each week, and more will be needed during the summer in order to keep the soil from drying out between waterings.
How often do you water Brussels sprouts?
One or two deep waterings during a week with no rainfall, should be sufficient throughout most of the year, but you may need to increase watering regularity during the summer to keep the soil moist.
How tall do Brussels sprout plants grow?
When properly spaced, Brussels sprout plants will grow to two and a half feet tall.
Is it okay to eat yellow Brussels sprouts?
Brussels sprouts left at room temperature will start to turn yellow once they have gone bad. If you notice brussels sprouts that are yellowing, toss them immediately.
Should Brussels sprouts be washed before cooking?
Yes, prior to cooking, wash your Brussels sprouts, trim the ends and rinse in a bowl of cold water. Though sprouts aren’t generally a very dirty vegetable, any sediment that is lodged inside the layers of the compact heads should float to the surface with a quick cool water bath.
Should you cut Brussels sprouts in half before cooking?
Halving, quartering, or leaving Brussels sprouts whole before cooking is a matter of personal preference. Generally, it is recommended that smaller heads be left whole and larger heads cut down to your preferred bite size.
Should you stake Brussels sprouts?
Yes, Brussel Sprouts require staking as they start to develop heads. Otherwise the plant becomes top heavy and begins to droop. This can lead to heads dragging the ground where they may rot and are more susceptible to pests and disease.
What animal eats Brussels sprouts?
Rabbits, voles, chipmunks, deer, woodchucks, and squirrels are all known to pick and eat brussel sprouts, taking the fruits of your labor before you have a chance to harvest. You can prevent getting your sprouts hijacked by putting a wire mesh row cover over your plants. Row covers will also keep away flying insects and other pests which are not soil-borne.
What do Brussels sprouts look like in the garden?
Brussels sprouts transplants look like their close relative cabbage. As plants grow upward they form big leaves on long stems. Buds form first near the bottom of the plant on the central stalk and continue forming up to the top of the plant.
What do Brussels sprouts taste like?
Brussels sprouts have a nutty, savory flavor and a crunchy, yet tender texture.
What is the best fertilizer for Brussels sprouts?
A time-based granular fertilizer with an NPK of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 or 5-10-10, or a liquid fertilizer are both great choices for feeding Brussels sprout plants.
What month do you plant Brussels sprouts?
Plant your Brussels in early spring in regions with cool summers. In warm and moderate climates, start growing Brussels in mid to late summer or even as late as early fall for fall and early winter harvests. If you live in a frost free climate with mild winters, fall and winter is the best time to start growing Brussels sprouts in pots to bring a winter or spring harvest.
Why are my Brussels sprouts yellow?
Yellow Brussels sprouts in the garden are usually not an indication of disease or pest infestations, but simply leaves that have started to decay. Any yellow leaves should be removed from the plant immediately so that the plant can focus on growing and developing newer leaves and heads.
Brussels sprouts in room temperature storage will start to turn yellow when their shelf life has expired and should be discarded immediately.
Want to learn more about growing Brussels sprouts?
Check out these additional resources:
West Virginia University Extension Service’s Growing Brussels Sprouts
North Carolina State University’s Brussels Sprouts
I live in las vegas, not really a brussel sprout climate, however i planted small brussel plants in my garden in sept of 2010..they did nothing but grow huge leaves and grow to about 3ft tall….I just kept watering them over the winter and into the summer..Its now June 4th 2011 and i noticed they have brussels on them..about 3/4 of an inch at the bottom to marble size and to pea size at the top…I don’t know what to think, can i eat them…what should i do?…Dee
My guess is that’s probably as good as it’s going to get in your climate. It wouldn’t hurt to try them. Worst case scenario, they just won’t taste right or they’ll be too fibrous or something, and you can throw them out.
Dee ,I would next time put in pots and bring in and grow by a window with not full sun it worked great for me.
Deborah Boyle says
This is my first year growing Brussel Sprouts.
I’m in Zone 5B, Northern Colorado, East side.
New house for me from sellers who neglected the yard and beds.
I didn’t amend my soil (Clay) with the exception one a 2 inch layer of compost worked into the soil.
I never fed them but once when I first re-planted the 2 inch sprout outside in the spring.
It took about 5 weeks to see any further growth. Then all of a sudden, they shot up and are now about 3’ tall and 3’ around.
They are barring from marble size to golfball size, sweet, nutty sprouts.
Im writing it off to beginners luck.