How To Grow Broccoli in Your Garden

Broccoli can be grown in early spring to harvest in early summer, and in late summer to harvest in early fall.

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Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush put broccoli in the headlines in 1990 when he declared on Air Force One that he never liked broccoli and didn’t want it served on the plane anymore. Whether you like broccoli or not, you should grow your own before completely dismissing it from your dinner table. There are many kinds to try, including early and mid-season varieties, plus purple broccoli and broccoli rabe.

How To Plant Broccoli

Spring planting

Broccoli seeds are tiny so most gardeners start the seeds indoors, at least four to six weeks before their usual frost-free date.

  • Sow seeds in a seed starting mix, barely covering them. Plant a few seeds in individual biodegradable pots to make it easier to transplant them later.
  • Water well and cover to keep the soil moist until seeds germinate.
  • Place seedlings under grow lights or in a bright south-facing window.
  • After seeds germinate, remove extra seedlings to leave just one to grow in each pot. Continue to water.
  • Prior to planting broccoli seedlings in the garden, gradually harden them off by placing them outside for a few hours at a time on mild days in a protected location.
  • Plant broccoli seedlings in a sunny location with well-draining soil one to two weeks before your usual frost-free date. Space broccoli plants about one foot apart.

Or you can purchase broccoli seedlings at a local garden center. Broccoli tolerates light frost so it can be planted several weeks before your usual frost-free date.

Fall Planting

Broccoli can also be planted later in the summer to harvest in the fall. Following the same instructions as for spring seedlings, except start seedlings indoors in July and then plant them in the garden once they have several leaves.

How To Grow and Care for Broccoli

heap of fresh organic green broccoli stalks at marketCatherine McQueen/Getty Images


Broccoli needs an inch of rain in a week. Water if you get less.


Many spring weeds will compete with broccoli for soil nutrients. Remove any weeds that spring up by hand pulling or lightly hoeing.


If you decide to sow broccoli seeds directly in your garden, thin to about one foot apart.


Once broccoli seedlings have several leaves, apply a balanced fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. After planting, continue to fertilize following directions on the package.

Insect prevention

Broccoli is not generally bothered by plant diseases in most gardens. But it’s almost certain your broccoli will become a host plant for one of several butterflies and moths, such as the imported cabbage butterfly. This white butterfly lays its eggs on the underside of the broccoli leaves. After the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the leaves and get up into the crown of the broccoli.

To prevent the butterflies from laying their eggs, cover broccoli with a floating row cover until harvest. You may need supports to keep the row cover high enough for the broccoli plants to grow. Some varieties may grow up to three feet tall.

Always remove broccoli plants from your garden as soon as they are no longer producing. Also, plant broccoli in different parts of your garden each year.

How To Harvest Broccoli

Broccoli is ready to harvest when the flower head or crown is still tight, with no color showing. Depending on the variety, the head can be three inches across or wider.

To harvest, cut off the broccoli with a sharp knife. Most broccoli plants will then produce smaller shoots with smaller florets, which can be harvested later.

Once a broccoli plant has bolted (i.e. when the flower head shows color or the flowers grow up from the crown of the plant), it’s too late to harvest. Remove those plants promptly.

After harvesting, soak broccoli in cold water to clean it, carefully inspecting to remove any dirt. If you suspect your broccoli may have been infected by cabbage butterfly or similar larvae, soak the broccoli heads in warm salt water and pick off any larvae that float out of the head. Then rinse well with cold water. Your broccoli is now ready to be eaten raw or cooked.

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Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is an award-winning author of several books including five gardening humor books and one children's book. As the holder of degrees from Purdue University in both horticulture and computer technology, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She started writing about gardening on her blog called May Dreams Gardens which lead to numerous magazine articles, her books, and a podcast called The Gardenangelists. She was recently named a GardenComm Fellow by Garden Communicators International.