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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Cauliflower

Cauliflower in garden1
Grow cauliflower in the garden
Cauliflower head near harvest

Cauliflower is grown for its edible flower buds that form a solid head atop single stalks. The heads are edible raw or cooked.

While cauliflower is perhaps the most delicious member of the cabbage family, it is also the most finicky to grow in the home garden. When the conditions are right, even the novice can grow cauliflower successfully; otherwise, even the most skilled grower may fail.

Cauliflower is a cool-weather half-hardy biennial grown as an annual. It requires 55 to 100 days of cool, even temperatures to reach harvest. The plant resents heat and dryness; it is a voracious but “choosy” feeder requiring deep, rich loamy soil abundantly supplied with quickly available plant food.

As cauliflower will not stand the heat, it will also not tolerate frost. A frost-free cool location with plentiful moisture is ideal. In warm locations such as the South, cauliflower must be grown only in the cool seasons. In the North, it can be grown as an early and late crop, just like cabbage.

Cauliflower flower heads are sometimes called curds. Heads can be cream, white, purple, or green colored. Broccoflower is a hybrid cross between cauliflower and broccoli. Broccoflower has green heads.

Cauliflower Quick-Growing Tips

  • Start cauliflower seed indoors 6 to 10 weeks before the last frost in spring. Transplants can go into the garden 2 to 6 weeks before the last frost, usually 6 weeks after sowing.
  • Direct seed cauliflower into the garden where the soil temperature is between 65°F and 75°F (18-24°C) and the weather will remain cool.
  • Crops for a fall harvest can be direct-seeded 8 to 12 weeks before the first expected frost in fall. Transplants come to maturity in 55 to 80 days; from seed, cauliflower requires 70 to 120 days.
  • Cauliflower yield: Plant 1 to 2 plants per household member.

Where to Plant Cauliflower

  • Plant cauliflower in full sun. Broccoflower prefers partial shade.
  • Cauliflower grows best in rich, well-drained, moisture-retentive soil. Any good soil that is cool and moist can grow cauliflower.
  • Cauliflower prefers a soil pH within the 6.5 to 8.0 range.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds before planting.
Cauliflower seedlings
How to Grow Cauliflower: Cauliflower is a cool-weather crop that requires 55 to 100 days of cool, even temperatures to reach harvest

When to Plant Cauliflower

  • Cauliflower requires 55 to 100 days of cool, even temperatures to reach harvest.
  • Cauliflower is usually grown from transplants. Start cauliflower seed indoors 6 to 10 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Seedlings started indoors can go into the garden 2 to 6 weeks before the last frost when plants have 4 to 5 true leaves.
  • Cauliflower seeds germinate in about 10 days at 45°F (7°C).
  • Direct seed cauliflower into the garden where the soil temperature is between 65°F and 75°F (18-24°C) and the weather will remain cool.
  • Cauliflower for a fall crop can be direct-seeded 8 to 12 weeks before the first expected frost in fall. Cauliflower does not like extremes of temperature, hot or cold; it does not tolerate dry conditions.
  • In mild frost-free winter regions, plant cauliflower in autumn for a winter harvest. Extreme temperatures will cause cauliflower to bolt and go to seed.

More tips: Planting Cauliflower.

Planting and Spacing Cauliflower

  • Sow cauliflower seeds ½ inch deep and 2 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6cm) apart.
  • Thin young plants to 15 to 24 inches (38-61cm) apart; space rows 24 to 30 inches (61-76cm) apart.
  • Set leggy or cooked-stemmed transplants deeply, up to their first leaves, so that they will not grow top-heavy.
  • For succession crops, plant a couple of heads at a time or plant early and midseason varieties at the same time.

More tips: Cauliflower Seed Starting Tips.

Cauliflower Companion Plants

  • Grow cauliflower with beets, celery, herbs, onions, and potatoes. Avoid pole beans, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Container Growing Cauliflower

  • Grow cauliflower in a container at least 8-inches (20cm)  deep.
  • In large containers, plant cauliflower on 18-inch (45cm) centers.

Watering Cauliflower

  • Cauliflower requires evenly moist soil for uninterrupted, vigorous growth and head formation. Do not let the ground dry out.

Feeding Cauliflower

  • Cauliflower is a heavy feeder. Add aged compost to the planting bed before planting or place aged compost at the bottom of the planting hole and cover it with a bit of soil. The roots will get a boost when they reach the compost.
  • Side-dress cauliflower again at midseason with aged compost or foliar feed with seaweed extra or fish emulsion every three weeks if possible.
Keep cauliflower well watered

Cauliflower Care

  • Keep cauliflower planting beds free of weeds. Avoid deep cultivation which can damage roots. Keep the area around young plants weed-free especially.
  • If the weather gets too dry or hot, the button-like center of the plant will “break,” send up a flower stalk, and ruin the plant.
  • To force the plants to produce a solid white head (the curd) tie the outer leaves over the center of the plant as soon as the first button-like swelling appears. Don’t tie the leaves so tight that you injure the leaves which must still keep on growing. Leaves bent over the developing head will shield it from the heat of the sun, and gradually (due to the lack of light) turn it white.
  • Cauliflower heads will stand no frost.

Blanching Cauliflower

  • White cauliflower is often blanched to keep the heads white and to protect the heads from rain and too much sun; blanching does not improve flavor greatly.
  • Blanch white cauliflower varieties when the head gets to be about the size of an egg: draw three or four outer leaves over the head and secure them with a rubber band or clothespin.
  • Check the heads weekly to make sure pests are not hiding under the leaves.
  • Self-blanching cauliflower does not need to be tied but it will not blanch in hot weather.

Cauliflower Pests

  • Cauliflower can be attacked by cutworms, cabbage loopers (preceded by small yellow and white moths), and imported cabbage worms (caterpillars). These pests can be controlled by fine mesh row covers, handpicking, and spraying with Bacillus thuringiensis.

Cauliflower Diseases

  • Like other members of the cabbage family, cauliflower is susceptible to black rot, clubroot, damping off, downy mildew, leaf spot, yellows, and fusarium wilt.
  • Cauliflower is susceptible to root rots–an initial symptom is the yellowing leaves.
  • Plant disease-resistant varieties, keep the garden free of debris, and avoid handling plants when they are wet.
  • Remove and destroy infected plants immediately so they cannot spread the disease to healthy plants.
  • Downy mildew which occurs in cool, wet conditions can cause cauliflower heads to brown.
  • Ensure proper drainage; avoid constantly wet conditions; don’t work with plants when they are wet.
  • Rotate cabbage family platings to avoid soil-borne diseases.

More on cauliflower pests and diseases: Cauliflower Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.

HarvestingCauliflower

  • Cauliflower grown from transplants will come to harvest in 55 to 100 days.
  • Cauliflower grown from seed will come to harvest in 85 to 130 days.
  • Under good growing conditions, cauliflower heads develop rapidly to about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The mature head should be compact, firm, and white.
  • Cauliflower heads will stand no frost, and when they are ready to be picked–when plump, firm, and white–they cannot be left on the plant as a =cabbage head can be. Harvest at once by cutting well below the head.
  • If freezing weather is likely, all remaining heads should be harvested.
  • Cauliflower heads are easily damaged and must be handled with care.
  • Cut the whole head from the main stem. The leaves can be harvested and cooked like collards or cabbage.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Cauliflower.

Storing Cauliflower

  • Cauliflower will keep for one week in the refrigerator unwashed and wrapped in plastic.
  • Cauliflower can be frozen, and pickled.

Cauliflower in the Kitchen

  • Serve cauliflower raw or cooked.
  • Serve cauliflower as a vegetable side dish or add it to soups, stews, pasta, omelets, souffle, or quiches.
Broccoflower and purple cauliflower
Purple cauliflower and green broccoflower

Cauliflower Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can cauliflower be grown where summers are hot?

A: Start cauliflower indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost or in late summer 80 to 100 days before the first killing fall frost. In spring, cauliflower seedlings can go into the garden two weeks before the last expected frost. Cauliflower will do best when it matures in cool weather.

Q: How much water does cauliflower need?

A: Cauliflower must have a regular supply of water so that it grows quickly. Never let the soil dry out, but don’t overwater. Cauliflower grows best when the weather is cool. Keep cauliflower plants cool during hot weather by sprinkling the plants with water; this will keep the air around cauliflower humid.

Q: How can I make sure cauliflower is sweet flavored?

A: Blanch the stalks by bending the outer leaves together over the curds; do this when the curds (center head) are about 3 inches in diameter. Leave them in place until the head matures. Arrange the leaves so that the head stays dry.

Q: When is the right time to harvest cauliflower?

A: Cut the heads from the stalks when the curds are still tight, about two weeks after tying the leaves over the curds. If the weather is warm, check the curds every day or two to make sure they don’t swell and form flowers.

Q: What is self-blanching cauliflower?

A: Self-blanching cauliflower varieties naturally grow leaves over the curds; you don’t need to tie the leaves.

Cauliflower Varieties to Grow

Check the cultivar to be sure it is suited to the growing season: spring, summer, and autumn, or winter.

  • White: ‘Candid Charm’ (75 days); ‘Cashmere’ (52 days); ‘Dominant’ (68 days); ‘Inca White’ (70 days); ‘Incline’ (76 days); ‘Majestic’ (66 days); ‘Ravella’ (70 days); ‘Rushmore’ (51 days); ‘Self-Blanche’ (70 days); ‘Serrano’ (63 days); ‘Sierra Nevada’ (68 days); ‘Siria’ (65 days); ‘Snowball’ (59 days);’ Snow Crown’ (50-68 days); ‘Snow King’ (60 days);’ Pak’ (62-85 days); ‘Solide’ (67 days); ‘Starbrite’ (68 days); ‘Super Snowball’ (55 days); ‘White Rock’ (69-100 days); ‘White Sails’ (68 days); ‘Yukon’ (71 days).
  • Purple: ‘Burgundy Queen’ (70 days); ‘Sicilian Purple’ (85 days); ‘Purple Cape’ (200 days); ‘Violet Queen’ (55-65 days).
  • Green and Broccoflower: ‘Chartreuse’ (62 days).

About Cauliflower

  • Common name. Cauliflower
  • Botanical name. Brassica oleracea botrytis
  • Origin. Europe, Mediterranean

Handy tips to take to the garden: Cauliflower Growing Quick Tips.

Grow 80 vegetables and herbs: KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

Comments

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  1. Hello, thanks very much for providing this helpful information. I put four cauliflower plants purchased from a nursery in organic soil about 60 days ago. I ensure they receive sufficient water. And initially the plants grew pretty rapidly, However, to date, there isn’t any sign of cauliflower on any of the plants, just leaves. Colorado has been pretty hot this summer. Do you think that is the cause? Do you think my plants could still yield cauliflowers?

    Thank you for any info you can lend.

    • Cauliflower is unlikely to form a head if temperatures have been greater than 75F on average. Cauliflower prefers cool weather; replant when temps are in the 70sF moving towards 60sF at days to maturity or harvest.

  2. Can you use diematheous earth-food grade for pests?
    I’m in SC wirh first attempt of some veggies other than tomatoes & beans.
    I have one cauliflower with short stalk and what appears to be several small heads forming, does this sound right?

    • Yes, food-grade diatomaceous earth is commonly used in the garden to control insects. It is a desiccant when insects come in contact with it. YOu can spread it around crops as a barrier or you can sprinkle it on crop leaves.

  3. Can I use a milk spray on most vegetables to kill aphids and other soft body insects? I use it on roses, and I know its safe for tomatoes. Could I use it on cauliflower etc?

    • Milk is often used as a fungicide. Insecticidal soap can be used on insects: Combine one cup of vegetable, peanut, corn, or soybean oil with one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid or other “pure” soap. Add two tablespoons of this mixture to every cup of warm and water and apply it with a spray bottle.

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