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Growing Cauliflower: Planting & Care Tips

Densely packed clusters of vitamin-rich cauliflower can be grown right in your backyard garden. Cauliflower is a cool-weather crop that grows best in the early spring, through the fall, and even into the winter months in some climates. While growing cauliflower is possible in the summer months, if the temperatures are too hot, cauliflower tends to bolt.

Cauliflower plants produce compact florets with a milder, sweeter taste than other brassicas. While cauliflower heads are predominantly white, there are some exciting color variations of this vitamin-rich crop. No matter what color you grow, the nutritional value is generally the same. All varieties are rich in vitamins C, K, and E, antioxidants, folate, and fiber. Plants grow 18 to 36 inches tall and have broad, green leaves and a generous central stalk with flower buds that will be harvested as food before they go to flower.

Cauliflower is a beneficial addition to any vegetable garden and can be somewhat tricky to grow unless you know how to care for them and what red flags to watch out for as they grow. Check out our guide for growing cauliflower: planting & care tips so that you too can reap the rewards of this gorgeous, nutrient-rich crop.

Young Cauliflower growing in an organic garden

Ideal Soil Composition for Growing Cauliflower

Amend your garden soil with rich organic matter and well-decomposed compost. Cauliflower grows optimally in nutrient-rich, well-draining soil with a pH range of about 6.0 to 7.0.

If you are unsure of your pH, you can obtain a soil test kit from your local garden center or bring a soil sample to your local extension office to have it tested.

Where to Grow Cauliflower

Cauliflower can be grown in raised beds, containers, or in-ground in a backyard garden. It is paramount that the plant roots remain cool, which will make for a happy plant with successful growth. Mulch well around the plants to help regulate temperature and moisture levels.

How to Grow Cauliflower

Cauliflower can be started from seed indoors or sown directly into the ground. Combining the practice of both methods can ensure the successive harvest of these vitamin-rich garden treasures.

  • Plant seeds indoors approximately 6 weeks before the final frost of spring to ensure an early summer harvest.
  • Plant seeds directly in the garden bed from mid to late summer to grow a fall or early winter crop.
  • If you are lucky enough to live in a mild winter zone, you can also plant in the fall for a winter harvest.
  • In colder zones, you can extend your growing season by utilizing row covers and cold frames.
  • Transplant seedlings into the garden when they are 6 weeks along in the growing process and have 4 or 5 leaves.
  • Harden the seedlings outside for a few days to get them acclimated and then plant them in the ground using the spacing guidelines below. If your cauliflower seedlings are leggy, plant the seedlings so that the plant’s stem is buried just below the lowest leaves to help the plant’s stability.
Growing white cauliflower with leaves

Ideal Cauliflower Plant Spacing

Plant transplanted seedlings approximately 18 to 24 inches apart from each other in rows that are spaced 24 to 36 inches apart. If sowing seeds directly, plant the seeds ½ inch deep and approximately 4 inches apart. Thin out seedlings to 18 to 24 inches.

Cauliflower makes a quintessential succession crop that will keep providing nutrient-rich vegetables all year long. Consider planting seeds directly into the garden concurrently in a bed next to your transplanted seedlings, or try planting different varieties with varying maturation dates.

The Best Temperature for Growing Cauliflower

Cauliflower should be planted when temperatures are a minimum of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, although many varieties can withstand temperatures that drop a little lower from time to time. When growing this brassica plant, the average daily temperature should be no higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise, the plant can bolt and go to seed prematurely.

How to Water Cauliflower

Water regularly, ideally watering from the base of the plant. If cauliflower plants receive too much water on their flowering heads, it can cause undesirable mold to form on the florets. Consider watering via a soaker hose irrigation system.  As the plant starts to reach maturity, water less frequently.

Nutrients Needed for Growing Cauliflower

Cauliflower plants are heavy feeders of nitrogen, and they require a side-dressing of fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen for optimal growth. The addition of well-decomposed compost, fish meal, worm castings, blood meal, or bat guano will keep plants growing strong.

Problems With Growing Cauliflower

Cabbage loopers from cabbage moths that lay their eggs on the plant’s leaves’ undersides are the most common pest that plague cauliflower plants. The larvae that hatch and crawl up into the small spaces in the cauliflower heads and can be very hard to see.

  • Deter moths from laying eggs on your plants by using row covers over your crops.
  • Upon harvest, it is recommended that you soak your heads in a saltwater solution for at least ten minutes. This method will eliminate any worms that may be lurking in your cauliflower head before it’s time to eat the florets.  The larvae will actually float up to the water’s surface as they cannot survive in the salt solution.
  • You can also pick worms off the plants by hand, but this can be difficult since they hide very well in plants’ florets.
  • Another option to manage such pests that plague cauliflower plants are to use an organic pesticide called Bacillus thuringiensis as a spray on plants.
  • Companion planting is a helpful deterrent to dissuade cabbage loopers. Try planting celery near your brassica plants. This cauliflower companion planting method can keep the white cabbage moth from infiltrating the garden bed, as celery’s aromatic leaves repel the pest.
Close-up of Multicolored Organic Cauliflower

How Long Does Cauliflower Take to Grow?

Knowing when to harvest your cauliflower is key to your crop’s success, and it can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what to look for.  Harvest your cauliflower crop when the crowns are large, full, and very firm.  If you see the edges of the head loosening up a bit or yellowing, it’s pertinent to harvest it immediately. The best time to pick is when the flower is tight and firm to the touch.

If you let the growing cauliflower florets remain on the plant past its prime time for picking, the head will start to bloom. Don’t fret too much if this happens, as long as you spot this change early. Although the taste won’t be optimal, you can still consume the produce, but it will not be suitable for storage or freezing, and it should be used right away.

Harvesting Cauliflower

To remove the cauliflower from the stalk, either snap off the stem about 5 inches down from the crown’s last buds or use a sharp knife to cut the entire crown from the plant. Remove the main compact head of buds and leave the remainder of the plant, as small shoots may continue to form for later.

Recommended Cauliflower Varieties

While the cauliflower plant’s color doesn’t affect the sweet, mild flavor of the flesh, it’s exciting to grow a mix of eye-catching varieties.  Check out some of our favorites:

  • Mulberry Hybrid‘ produces eye-catching purple heads.
  • Flame Star Hybrid‘ produces lovely yellowish orange heads.
  • Snowball‘ produces while tight clusters of buds.
  • Cheddar Hybrid‘ produces orange heads that resemble cheddar cheese.

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close up of purple cauliflower growing in garden.
bunches of purple cauliflower

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