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Growing Brussel Sprouts: They’re Nutritious and Delicious!

Everything is cuter when it’s tiny, right? Well, that makes Brussels sprouts the cutest veggie around! Sadly, despite their adorable size, these baby cabbage look-alikes often get a bad rap, but that can usually be chalked up to user error. When overcooked, Brussel sprouts release sulfur, which is why so many people complain about the smell. When cooked correctly though, you’ll find that they have a palatable, nutty flavor. With just a little love, care, and seasoning, growing Brussel sprouts can make them the stars of your garden and your kitchen, so let’s give them a try!

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Brussels Sprouts gained their popularity, and their name, in Brussels, Belgium. Though they date as far back as the 1200s, these little veggies weren’t brought to the United States until the 1800s. Today, California grows most of the US Brussel sprout supply. You don’t have to live in the Golden State to cultivate these cute veggies though.

In this guide, we’ll teach you how to grow Brussels sprouts, as well as harvest and prepare them. Follow our tips, and you may just change your mind about these delightful baby cabbages.

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Quick Care Guide

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Growing Brussel Sprouts
Growing brussel sprouts in the cool months gives you great veggies. Source: clurross
Common Name(s) Brussel sprouts, Brussels sprouts, sprouts
Scientific Name Brassica oleracea var. gemmifera
Days to Harvest 90-110 days
Light Full sun
Water: Consistently moist
Soil Fertile, loamy, well-draining
Fertilizer At least 2x per season, possibly more
Pests Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, root maggots
Diseases Blackleg, black rot, Alternaria leaf spot

All About Brussels Sprouts

They look different, but Brussels sprouts are very closely related to kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. These are all varieties of Brassica oleracea, which is wild cabbage. Wild cabbage has been cultivated into several groups, including our beloved sprout Gemmifera.

When you look closely, you’ll see that Brussel sprouts have many similarities to the other Brassica groups. These veggies store nutrients like nobody’s business, making them some of the most healthy foods you can eat. They also produce seeds through silique fruit, which are dry valves that seed internally. Brassica veggies are also typically biennials, meaning they flower after two years of growth.

Brussels sprouts in particular resemble cabbage at first. As they grow though, the cabbage-like leaves shoot up on a sturdy, main stem that reaches 24-36 inches tall. The leaves continue to grow and hang over the stem. When you push those leaves aside, you can see a tiny round Brussel sprout growing right out of the stem. By harvest time, the entire stem will be shrouded in sprouts.

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There are lots of Brussel sprout cultivars to choose from. For some classic green medium-sized sprouts, try the Dagan or Jade Cross cultivars. You can also choose an early-blooming variety such as Churchill or Tasty Nuggets (the former bearing very small sprouts).

Of course, you can add a little more excitement to your garden by choosing a colorful cultivar. The Red Rubine and Redarling plants feature beautiful reddish-purple coloring. Or you can go for a more blue hue with the Falstaff cultivar. Most colored cultivars feature a slightly sweeter taste and keep their color when cooked.

Planting Brussel Sprouts

A single sprout plant developing
A single brussel sprout plant developing. Source: el cajon yacht club

We’re aiming to harvest just after the first fall frost, so you need to plant the seeds about 4 weeks before that date. In most climates, that means planting the seeds in-ground in June or starting late-bloomers indoors in May. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll be planting the seeds mid-summer and harvesting in late fall or early winter.

Start off with well-draining soil and add in some organic material to boost fertility. Then, plant Brussels sprout seeds ½ inch deep and 3-4 inches apart. When the seedlings have grown 5-7 strong leaves, you can transplant them outside or, if they’re already there, thin them to 18” apart.

Make sure your Brussel sprouts are in a location that gets lots of sun but not direct heat. You may also want to spread mulch around the base of the plant. This will help conserve moisture and keep the weeds away. Mulch or not, the soil should be pressed down firmly without being compacted.

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Brussels Sprout Care

Baby Brussels sprout plants
Young plants before being spaced out for full growth. Source: metaphoricalplatypus

You’ll need to pay special attention to your baby cabbages for them to thrive. Trust us though, it’s well worth the effort!

Sun and Temperature

Grow Brussel sprouts in a place where they’ll get at least 6 hours of full sun. Keep them out of the shade, as this can stunt their growth. These are cool weather crops, so they grow best in zones 2-9. The ideal temperature range is 45-75° F, though they are a bit flexible. However, prolonged heat waves can turn the sprout flavoring bitter.

The Brussels sprouts plant can tolerate light frost, so they usually overwinter well in warm climates where the winter doesn’t get much lower than 20°F. In locations colder than that, they’re best grown as annuals.

Water and Humidity

Strike a balance by keeping the soil consistently moist without overwatering. Depending on the temperature, you should be giving the Brussel sprout plants 1 to 1.5 inches per week. To keep the plants healthy, water only at the base so the leaves and stem are left dry. A soaker hose is really useful for this task.

It’s also recommended to hydrate your plant in the morning so your plant has the moisture it needs for the day. These sprouts need a lot of water when the weather is warm, so if you’re starting them in the summer, be sure to keep the soil moist until the weather cools down.

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Soil

Plant in a loamy soil that drains quickly. If it isn’t already organic-rich, work in some well-composted organic matter before planting. These plants love both cow manure and horse manure as well as plant-based composts. This veggie prefers a neutral or slightly alkaline soil pH, but will grow well in soil as acidic as 6.5.

Fertilizing

Young brussels sprouts
When the plant has become established, it sends up a tall stalk. Source: yarnivore

Fertilize your Brussels sprout plants at least twice during the growing season. Side-dress once when the plants are about a foot tall. After that, you can apply fertilizer every 3-4 weeks, or every 3 weeks if it’s raining consistently.

Aim for a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, but try not to go overboard. Too much nitrogen will result in a lot of leafy growth and not enough sprouts developing along the stem. A 10-20-10 or 13-13-13 will work. For organic options with lower NPK, go for a 5-5-5 or a 5-7-5 and apply about every two weeks. The addition of blood meal prior to planting can provide an initial spike of nitrogen for the plants to use for development.

Pruning

Pruning isn’t a necessary part of Brussels growing, but it can help out when applied at the correct stages of brussel sprout growth. You can extend the growing season and encourage your plants to grow better sprouts by using pruning to redirect the plant’s energy.

When the first sprouts start growing at the bottom of the stem, clip off the lower 5-8 leaves of the plant. Brussels sprout will take the energy and nutrients being sent to those leaves and put it into sprout growth. Continue this process periodically as the lower leaves turn yellow and start to die. However, remember to never remove more than ⅓ of the leaves or you could damage the plant.

Propagation

The Brussel sprout plant is a biennial, meaning it takes two years to mature and go to seed. In order to save seeds from your plant, you’ll have to let it overwinter and flower the following fall. The top of the plants will bloom with yellow, cross-shaped flowers (hence the name cruciferous). As they mature, seeds will form in siliques, the dry, valve-like fruit.

If left alone, the siliques will eventually crack open so the seeds can spread. You’ll need to harvest the siliques before this happens or you may be fighting the birds for the seeds! Simply cut off the siliques and crack or slice them open. Store the seeds in a dry location and use them within 4 years.

Some gardeners have had luck with propagating the actual sprouts – even ones bought at the grocery store! The process is simple but may take a while since Brussels sprouts are slow growers. 

Cleanly cut off a sprout as close to the stem as possible. Then, place it upright in some clean water so only the base is submerged. An easy setup is to fill a plastic bottle to the top and set the sprout on top of the opening. Keep the water level high and the sprout will start to grow white, fibrous roots. At this point, you can transplant the cutting into the ground or move it to a permanent hydroponics setup.

Harvesting and Storing

Stalks cut up for harvest
It’s easier to remove the sprouts from smaller sections of stalk. Source: umami

Who would’ve thought that early fall would bring pumpkin, squash, and sprout harvests? Your veggies will go from ground to plate in no time!

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Harvesting

Frost actually improves the flavor, so wait until after the first fall frost to harvest Brussel sprouts. As it prepares for winter, the bottom leaves will turn yellow and the plant will go to seed if it’s in its second year of life. The sprouts will mature from the bottom up and should be about an inch long, depending on the variety. If left on the stem too long, they may crack and develop a bitter taste.

Harvesting Brussels sprouts is simple. You can pick the sprouts one by one by snapping them off the stem with a twisting motion. Or, you can cut off the stem at the base and keep the sprouts attached until you’re ready to use them. You may also want to harvest the leaves, which are an excellent substitute for cabbage.

If you’re lucky, you might get a second, smaller crop after harvesting. You can encourage this by using straw mulch and row covers to extend the growing season a bit more.

Storing

Brussels sprout grow stronger and more bitter in flavor as they mature, so they taste best when eaten within 3-4 days after picking. However, they can last a week or more if kept in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Before storing them away, discard any rotting or yellow leaves. Avoid washing the Brussels sprouts until you’re about to use them. Keeping the Brussels sprouts on the stalk until you cook them will keep the sprouts fresh for longer.

You can store Brussels sprouts in the freezer for up to a year with ease. If you want optimal flavor, blanch the sprouts beforehand. If not, simply soak them to remove any dirt. Pat the sprouts dry and place them in a resealable freezer bag. 

Troubleshooting

Most issues with learning how to grow Brussels sprouts can be cured by following the care directions and rotating the crops each year with non-cruciferous plants. Accidents happen though, so here’s what you should be on the lookout for.

Growing Problems

If your Brussels sprouts plants aren’t growing and/or are producing few sprouts, they most likely need more nutrients. Keep the soil chock-full of organic matter and apply fertilizer as needed. 

Another potential issue is fluffy or non-compact sprouts. This usually leads back to soil infertility, too-loose soil, or the variety. Brussels sprouts need to be firmly secured in the soil so that you can tug off a leaf without the whole plant coming up. It’s also been found that hybrid varieties are typically the best at producing compact sprouts.

Harvesting before the weather turns cold often results in bitter-tasting sprouts. For the best flavor, wait until after the first frost to harvest and plan your planting around that. You may also want to check if the variety you’re using matches the sweetness you want.

Pests

Cabbage worms and cabbage loopers love their cruciferous plants, and Brussels sprouts are no exception! These larvae chew holes through the leaves and cause spotting on the undersides. If you notice these worms hanging around your plants, use some BT or pyrethrin spray to eliminate them.

Flea beetles lay their eggs in the soil and proceed to wolf down leaves. You can wipe them out with spinosad or pyrethrin spray. Prevent them from attacking your plants in the first place by using floating row covers or neem oil.

On the other end of the Brussel sprouts plant, root maggots like to set up camp underground. These immature flies will feed on the plant, causing it to yellow, weaken, and eventually die. You can prevent these pests by rotating your crops each year and tilling the ground after harvesting Brussels sprouts. For existing populations, beneficial nematodes can assist you in controlling your maggot problem.

Diseases

Blackleg is a dangerous fungus that prefers warm and wet conditions. It can stunt your sprout’s growth, reduce yield, and even kill the plant. There isn’t a foolproof cure for this fungus yet, so it’s essential to take preventative measures. Keep your plants dry and clean up any debris on the ground. Also be sure to clean your gardening tools after each use, as the fungal spores can easily jump board on them.

If you still end up with a black leg problem, destroy all the infected plant matter and don’t replant in that soil for at least 4 years. You may want to solarize the soil as an extra precaution.

Black rot is a bacteria that causes a v-shaped yellowing in the leaves. If left untreated, it can prove fatal to the plants. Like with blackleg, you should keep your plants dry. Infections may be treated with copper fungicide, though prevention is the best cure.

Brussels sprouts are also susceptible to Alternaria leaf spot. You’ll notice soggy, dark-colored spots on the plant, often with a yellow ring around it. Focus on prevention by applying neem oil or Bacillus subtilis spray. If the disease has already invaded your plants, treat them with copper fungicide or a sulfur-based fungicide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Full stalks of sprouts
Many farmers just cut the stalk and sell it, sprouts and all. Source: sreherdina

Q: Do Brussels sprouts make you fart?

A: Brussels sprouts have a lot of cellulose, which is difficult for our digestive systems to break down, so yes, this can happen. The good news is that if you consistently eat lots of veggies, your system will adapt and you won’t have to worry about being gassy anymore.

Q: What country eats the most brussel sprouts?

A: The UK loves their sprouts! In 2015, just one town consumed 1.4 million Brussels sprouts.

Q: Are brussel sprouts just small cabbages?

A: No, though they’re closely related. Unlike cabbage, which grows settled on the ground, Brussels sprouts grow on the side of a long, flower-topped stem.

Q: How many Brussel sprouts do you get from one plant?

A: It depends on the cultivar, but most will produce 50-100 sprouts. That’s 3-4 pounds of green goodness!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:


Rachel Garcia
Succulent Fanatic

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

This post was first published here

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