Spindly Broccoli

July 9, 2007

Here’s a gardening question about growing and harvesting broccoli that was sent in by Joyce from Inman, Kansas:

“I started broccoli plants in the spring and they are now sprouting and not forming heads. From what I have read, fall broccoli is the best.”

“Can I keep these plants alive until I want to produce in the fall, or do I need to plant again? If yes, do I continue to cut off the spindly heads?”

Two Broccoli Harvests are Better than One

The short, quick answer to your question is that yes, you will have to plant your broccoli again if you want to harvest a productive crop in the fall.

Healthy Heads of BroccoliI don’t know about fall Broccoli being the “best,” but in many growing regions, including my own Zone 6 garden, you’ll get better results and more consistent production from broccoli that grows and matures as a fall crop.

That’s not to say that you can’t grow a productive crop in the springtime as well. Broccoli loves to grow in cool weather and if timed correctly you can get two harvests from separate plants; one crop cultivated in the spring, the other in the fall.

Sprouting Broccoli

If your spring sown broccoli plants grow properly and are now producing small, spindly heads there’s not much that can be done to salvage a productive harvest from these particular plants now or later in the season. It sounds like your plants may have gotten off to a late start in the spring.

Once the plants begin to sprout, they are attempting to go to seed, which is when they produce the florets or large cluster of buds that the gardener desires. If your broccoli plants are producing tiny buttons of broccoli that is probably the best that you are going to get out of those plants.

The small buds are perfectly edible and there are even a few varieties of “sprouting broccoli” that are bred to produce large quantities of small and tasty florets. So go right ahead and harvest the broccoli buds before they loosen up and the flowers begin to blossom.

Raising Fall Broccoli and Cauliflower

For great fall broccoli use seedlings that are started during mid summer and grown specifically for a fall harvest. I plant seeds of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower indoors under lights in July to transplant out into the garden in August for harvesting later that fall.

Many nurseries and greenhouse also sell cole vegetable crop transplants for the fall and you can find them for sale in late summer. Check with your local greenhouse to find out if and when they will they will have fall broccoli transplants in stock, or grow your own plants from seed.

Plan your broccoli plantings for the appropriate times in your growing region, raise them in fertile, well composted soil, provide adequate moisture to keep the plants growing steadily, and those tiny, spindly heads will be a thing of the past, replaced by large, healthy heads of delicious homegrown broccoli.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Got my fall broccoli started, can’t wait.

    I’ve nominated you as a blogger for postiive global change: Positive Change Nomination

  • For what it’s worth…My experience has been that while summer broccoli will grow, it also attracts a lot of unwanted pests to the garden that wouldn’t otherwise visit. In the fall, these bugs aren’t a problem.

    Robin (Bumblebee)

  • Liz Lawson

    Why does the broccoli start having flowers instead of the head.
    What come be causing this.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Liz, that means you waited too late to harvest the broccoli. The flowers develop as the heads ripen and then open up into those little yellow blossoms.

  • Ruthan Stevens

    Why does my broccoli taste bitter compared to store bought. What am I doing wrong.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Ruthan, are you timing your broccoli plantings so that the crop is growing and maturing during the cooler times of your seasons? Summer heat and drought could cause the broccoli to be bitter. Other than that you may want to experiment with growing some different varieties in your garden.

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