Overview:Brussels Sprouts are a long season crop that actually tastes better when hit with a slight frost. So although they are a late harvest, they are a relatively long one. Because of their fondness for cool weather, Brussels Sprouts are a fall crop in warmer climates. As with broccoli, warm weather and long days will cause the “sprouts” to open and be unsuitable for eating.
Latin Name:Brassica oleracea
Common Name(s):Brussels Sprouts
Size:2-3' (60 to 90 cm) tall x 8 - 12" (20-30 cm) W. Sprouts are about 1- 1 ½” (25 to 40 mm) in diameter
Exposure:Full sun to Partial Shade
Days to Harvest:Begins about 3 months, from transplant
Description:Named after the city of Brussels, Brussels sprouts were first made popular in Belgium, where they’ve been grown since about 1200. The sprouts are buds that grow in the axils of each leaf. They look like tiny cabbages and are considered a type of wild cabbage. The plant itself looks like a small palm tree and the sprouts grow along the trunk-like stem. The green variety is the most commonly grown, but there are red Brussels sprouts too.
When to Plant: In colder climates, start seeds indoors and set outside when there’s no threat of a hard frost. Be sure to allow the full time outdoors for required days to harvest.
In warmer climates, fall planting is preferred. You should be able to direct seed in mid-summer for a late fall/winter harvest. You may also be able to squeeze in a second, early spring crop, direct seeding in February and harvesting in May. Hot climates where the temperature never approaches freezing are not really suitable for growing Brussels sprouts.
Seeding: Direct seed in warm areas. Otherwise start seed indoors approximately 5-7 weeks before last expected frost. Cover seeds with 1/4 - ½” soil and keep moist. Transplant when the seedlings are about 3" tall. Don’t allow seedlings to become root bound or the plant will remain stunted when transplanted.
Transplanting: Brussels sprouts like the soil around them to be firm, but not compacted. Pat it down lightly.
Spacing: Space plants about 2' apart with 3' between rows or stagger plants 2' apart in each direction, for a grid.
Feeding: Fertilizing twice a season (once when the plants are about 12" high and again about a month before harvest) is often recommended, but if you have a fertile soil to begin with, it doesn’t seem to be necessary. I prefer a slow release granular fertilizer that feeds most of the season.
Tip: When the Brussels sprout plants are small, you can plant a short season crop between the rows. Bush peas and beans are a good choice, because they provide extra nitrogen to the soil.
Maintenance:Brussels Sprouts are prone to the same problems as cabbage and broccoli. The most common pests are: Cabbage looper, imported cabbage worm, cabbage root maggot, aphids, and Harlequin bug. Since this is a late season crop, you have time to monitor for problems before the crop develops.
Diseases include: blackleg, black rot and clubroot. Disease control is best obtained by rotating the crop each year. Clubroot is diminished when you raise the soil pH to about 7.0.
Harvesting:Each sprout grows in the leaf axil or joint. They begin maturing from the bottom of the plant upwards. You can start harvesting when the lower sprouts reach the size of large marbles. Just be sure to pick before they get too large and start cracking and turning bitter. Some people prefer to cut, rather than pull the sprouts. Pulling is easier if you remove the leave below the sprout first, then twist and pull the sprout. Each plant yields approximately a quart of sprouts total.
To extend the harvest in cold seasons, mulch plants with straw and/or cover with a row cover for protection. Whole plants can be pulled, potted and stored in a root cellar. Bare root plants can be stored in a cool cellar for an additional 2-3 weeks of harvest.
A second crop may begin to grow at the base of the stem. These will not be as tight as the first buds, but they are still edible.
The leafy tops are also edible and can be cooked as greens. Cutting the tops is a good way to speed up the development of the remaining sprouts, at the end of the season.
- ‘Bubbles’ F1 (85-90 days) Early and easy. Tolerates heat and drought. 2" sprouts. Resistant to Powdery Mildew & Rust.
- ‘Jade Cross’ F1 and ‘Jade Cross E’ F1(90 days) Jade Cross was a 1959 All-America Selections Winner. Both are compact plants good for windy locations. Sprout are slightly larger on Jade Cross E. Good disease resistance.
- ‘Long Island Improved’ OP (90 days) High yield. Another small plant that stands up to wind. Freezes well.
- ‘Oliver’ F1 (85 days) Early producer. Easy to pick, 1" sprouts. Compact, disease resistant plants.
- ‘Royal Marvel’ F1 (85 days) Early and productive. Resistant to bottom rot and tip burn.
- ‘Rubine’ (85 - 95 days) Red Plants. Late maturing and lower yield than green varieties, but good flavor. 1 ½” sprouts. Heirloom