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Growing Broccoli for Beginners

Broccoli is an easy vegetable to grow and packs a punch of nutrition! 

broccoli on a wooden cutting board

This green veggie contains loads of antioxidants, including vitamin C and beta-carotenes, and also is a great source of fiber, potassium, iron and calcium. Broccoli is part of the Brassicaceae family, along with cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radishes and collards. Broccoli and similar crops thrive in cooler temperatures.

It is perfect to add diversity to your garden. Adding broccoli will allow you to have an early crop to harvest in the spring and if replanted, another crop to harvest in the fall. It allows you the opportunity to add to you crop selection and participate in spring and fall farmers markets.

Varieties Recommended for West Virginia

Variety

Days to Maturity

Comments

Gypsy

58 days

Strong root system for plantings in below-average fertility;

well-domed and uniform with small to medium bead size and medium-sized stem; large, healthy plants have intermediate resistance to downy mildew and good heat tolerance; suitable for bunching or crown cut; good side-shoot production.

Lieutenant

75 to 80 days

Flavorful dark green heads on solid stems; more tolerant of warm temperatures than some other varieties; harvest heads before the buds begin to swell.

Imperial

71 days

Best heat tolerance; heads are dark green with small, attractive beads.; best suited for harvest in summer and early fall in areas with long days and moderate heat; grows slowly in cold weather.

Arcadia

63 days

Best cold tolerance for fall and winter production; a rugged, vigorous broccoli; big plants with heavy, very firm, dark green, domed heads with a "frosted" appearance.

Emerald Crown

59 days

Bright green heads tolerant to purpling; best for crown cut and a great option for fall.

Green Magic

57 days

Side shoots; heat tolerant; heads are smooth, well-domed and very attractive; extremely uniform in maturity; similar to Gypsy, but with a smaller plant, smoother heads and better uniformity.

Planting

Broccoli’s optimum growing conditions include a location with well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 and at least six hours of sun. Soil test your location several weeks prior to your planting date to adjust and apply amendments accordingly. Avoid soils that are sandy or hold too much moisture. Raised beds with drip irrigation are ideal for broccoli production to flourish.

Broccoli can be direct seeded or planted from transplants. It is most ideal to transplant in the spring to avoid the extreme heat and either direct seed or transplant in the fall. Transplants can be purchased, or seeds can be sown in mid-February through March into flats with controlled indoor or greenhouse environments.


In the spring, transplants can be planted after the threat of hard frost has passed, typically mid- to late April through May. Consider utilizing successive plantings to allow for multiple harvests during the peak season. Transplants will need to accumulate to the outdoor environment before planting directly into the ground. One week prior to planting, place transplants outdoors in a safe location for a few hours. Each day, gradually increase the amount of time transplants spend outdoors. After several days, transplants should be spending 24 hours outdoors and will be ready to be planted into the ground.

In the fall, if garden space allows, broccoli can be direct seeded into the ground or seeds sown in trays for transplants in mid- to late July. A fall crop also can be planted via transplants in August through September, variety dependent, after another crop has reached the end of its production cycle, utilizing all space in the garden.

Plant broccoli 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are spaced 36 inches apart. Provide plenty of water during the first week to help establish plants. After establishing, provide water at least every four to five days. Watering may become more frequent as the main head of broccoli develops. Two to three weeks after transplanting, apply a side dress of nitrogen fertilizer.

Common Problems and Considerations

  • High temperatures and increased day length can cause broccoli plants to bolt. Bolt refers to the premature seed or flower stalk production before harvest of the vegetable and typically renders the crop unusable.
  • Broccoli has a shallow root system. Be cautious when cultivating ground near plants. Consider mulching around plants for weed control.
  • Broccoli thrives in growing temperatures from 65 to 75 F.

Disease and Pest Control

Pest Management

The most common pests for broccoli plants are caterpillars and aphids. Caterpillars can be quite detrimental to the plants, and the crop can be significantly reduced. Most damage is done early on young plants. The common caterpillar pests are cabbage looper, imported cabbage worm and diamondback moth worms. These insects also can cause damage to other cole crops, such as cabbage and cauliflower. Prevent and control these caterpillars by using a lightweight floating row cover in the early spring and fall, monitoring plants often and checking under leaves for signs of insects, handpicking and removing visible caterpillars, and using chemical control as needed. It is best to control caterpillars early before they mature.

Aphids are attracted to young and over-fertilized broccoli plants. Severe aphid damage will cause wilt and stunted growth of the plant and crop, if it survives. Prevent aphids by planting aphid-free transplants and attracting natural predators and beneficial insects with attractant plants. Inspect the underside of leaves for aphid clusters, and if damage and infestation become severe, proper chemical control may be used.

Disease Management

To assist with disease management, use disease-free transplants and seeds or disease-resistant varieties. When planting and throughout the growing season, remove debris, such as leaf litter, from garden beds. Preventative measures also include crop rotation and properly sanitizing equipment. Some common diseases include downy mildew, black rot, white mold and soft rot. Do not plant broccoli in the same location for three years where rot has occurred previously. Use chemical control as needed and adhere to label directions.

Harvest

Cut the central stem at least 6 inches below the fully developed head before it starts to separate and flowers open. Harvesting heads at an early stage will allow for a better tasting crop. Certain varieties will produce additional smaller heads from the side shoots after the main head has been cut. These smaller heads can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Storage

Broccoli can be stored in loose plastic bags in a refrigerator for three to five days. An easy, efficient way to preserve your broccoli for later use is to freeze it. When freezing your broccoli, be sure to wash and remove all leaves and woody portions. Separate the heads into bite-size pieces or a size that works best for your family’s needs. Blanch for three minutes, cool and place into freezer bags. 

Sources:

Broccoli. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/broccoli

Broccoli. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from  https://www.johnnyseeds.com/vegetables/broccoli.html

Freezing. (n.d.). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/broccoli.html

Jett, L., & Porter, J. (2016, March). Growing Broccoli in West Virginia [PDF]. Morgantown: WVU Extension.

Jett, L. (n.d.). Vegetable Varieties Recommended for West Virginia. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://extension.wvu.edu/files/d/efe1bf03-9296-449c-8027-fff3e359d769/vegetable-varieties-recommended-for-west-virginiazx.pdf

Lyon, E. (2017, October 10). Growing Broccoli in the Home Garden. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1605


Tasha Harris, WVU Extension Service Agent - Upshur County

Jesica Streets, WVU Extension Service Agent - Tucker County