Growing Brussels Sprouts
Growing Brussels Sprouts in West Virginia
Brussels sprouts are a cool weather crop from the Brassicaceae family of vegetables, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi and kale. While they can be cultivated in some areas in the spring, production in West Virginia is typically in the fall. Sprouts are tolerant of frost but are susceptible to high heat if planted too early in the summer. Clusters of small, tight buds form on the center stalk surrounded by larger leaves that can be prepared and eaten like collard greens. The sprouts are nutrient dense and form from the bottom of the stalk upward.
Brussels sprouts thrive in loose, fertile, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Adding compost or using a green manure cover crop, such as wheat mixed with peas or clover, will increase the organic matter content, which will help water retention and soil texture. Gardeners should soil test annually. The WVU Soil Testing Lab offers free testing to West Virginia residents – forms and information are available at https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/. Brussels sprouts need fertilizer applied throughout the growing season, so it is best to apply a small amount at planting and side dress with additional nitrogen every few weeks to continue plant growth.
Sufficient water and cool weather are needed for sweet and tender sprouts. Mulching plants also can help retain moisture. Soil pH should be between 6.0 to 7.0. Direct seed outdoors in early July. If you would prefer, you can start seeds indoors for mid- to late July transplanting. Seeds should be seeded approximately 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep and will germinate in two to three weeks. Transplants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Mulching will help prevent weed growth and encourage water retention but ensure grass clippings or vegetative material has not been treated with herbicides.
In October, when plants have reached at least 24 inches, the top portion of the plant can be pinched or cut off to decrease vegetative growth and force more nutrients into sprout production. Sprouts can be harvested throughout November, depending upon maturity date of the variety. Frost and light freezes will not damage plants, however temperatures under 20 F will harm them. Flavor of some varieties may improve if a frost occurs before the sprouts are harvested.
Sufficient water is essential for both sprout development and to ensure that sprouts are sweet and tender. Dry, drought conditions can lead to underdeveloped or bitter sprouts. Irrigation, drip tape or soaker hoses may be needed if plants do not receive enough rainfall, especially in warmer weather. Sandy soils will drain quicker and will need watered more frequently.
Brussels sprouts are a long-season crop, which can increase the likelihood of disease and insect issues. The best way to avoid many problems is to practice crop rotation by selecting an area of your garden that has not had cole crops, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage or kale, in the past three years. Remove all crop debris at the end of the season, and if a disease is detected, immediately remove all diseased plant material and burn it. Identifying insects and insect damage early and hand removing insects at the first sign can be helpful to prevent population increases. Scouting also can help determine when levels are getting to the point that insecticides are necessary. Cutworms, cabbage worms, aphids and cabbage loopers are a few of the pests that can affect Brussels sprouts. Floating row covers early in the season can prevent some infestation. Planting a trap crop, such as mustard, also can be effective as it is more attractive to some insects than Brussels sprouts. Proper watering is essential to help prevent fungal diseases – cool, wet leaves increase the risk of disease. Fungicides may be necessary. Selecting disease resistant varieties of Brussels sprouts is also beneficial.
Harvest and Storage
Brussels sprout varieties vary significantly in the days required to mature with 85 to 110 being the common range. They produce small buds similar to tiny cabbages all along the stalk, which enlarge from the bottom of the stalk upward. As previously mentioned, topping the stalk late in the season will lead to larger sprouts. Leaving sprouts on the stalk until a frost will lead to sweeter, more flavorful sprouts. Proper nutrient and water availability are also necessary to prevent bitter sprouts. The goal for commercial sprouts is to be harvested at a diameter of 1 to 1 1/2 inches, but for home gardeners, size is more dependent on variety, production considerations and personal preference.
Sprouts must be harvested before temperatures reach 20 F; however, if a row cover or frost blanket is used, the crop can be successfully overwintered. If a frost has occurred, but the temperature is not that cold yet, gardeners may harvest sprouts a little at a time or harvest the entire plant. If cold weather is coming, the entire plant can be harvested by pulling it up by the roots, removing the leaves, and hanging the plants in an area like a garage or cellar where they will stay cool but not freeze. Sprouts can be harvested and processed for longer storage. If small amounts are desired while the plant is growing, trim lower leaves off the plant, then remove lower sprouts off the plant close to the stem by snapping them off by hand, working your way up the plant. Sprouts will keep around two weeks in the refrigerator, or they can be blanched and frozen for up to a year.
Days to Maturity
Varieties Selected for West Virginia
|Jade Cross E||95 days
||Dark Green||High yield of solid, deep green buds, averaging 1 inch in size; less susceptible
to wind damage; disease resistance to fusarium yellows (FY)
|Prince Marvel||110 days||Light Green||
High yield of evenly spaced, lighter green buds that set uniformly in size from the
bottom to the top of the plant
||100 days||Dark Green||
All-America Selections Winner with excellent uniformity and vigor
Brussels sprouts are low in calories but nutrient dense. They are high in vitamins C and K and are good sources of potassium and vitamin A, as well as riboflavin, iron and magnesium. Vitamin K and iron are essential for blood cells and clotting. Vitamin C is necessary for immune function, tissue repair and the body’s absorption of iron. Antioxidants, including vitamins A and C, prevent oxidative damage to cells and may help fight of damage by cancer-causing agents. The high fiber content in Brussels sprouts is needed for a healthy digestive system and feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Increased fiber intake also is associated with reduced heart disease risk¹ and increased blood sugar control².
Nutrition Facts: Brussels Sprouts
|Nutrient||Amount||% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat||0.3 g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate||7.9 g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber||3.3 g||12%|
|Total Sugars||1.9 g||4%|
|Vitamin C||74.8 mg||83%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|
Brussels sprouts are a versatile side dish that can be seasoned with various herbs and spices depending on the occasion or combined with other vegetables to provide variety and crunch. One of the most popular ways to cook sprouts is to roast them, which provides a delicious caramelization. Cut sprouts in half, toss with olive oil and seasoning, such as garlic, salt and pepper or your choice of herbs, and place in a shallow pan to roast at 400 F for 15 to 20 minutes. Another option is to slice thinly and stir fry with other vegetables with soy, ginger, or sweet and sour. Brussels sprouts also can be steamed in a steamer basket for approximately 10 minutes, or until the desired tenderness is achieved. Another popular option is grilling them on a skewer, which adds a nice smokey flavor. It is best to pre-cook the sprouts by steaming first, then skewer and lightly brush spouts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. This prevents them from being crispy on the outside and raw in the middle. Grill over medium heat until lightly browned.
Brussels sprouts can be stored on the stalk in a cellar for a short period of time, but they should be kept from freezing. Small quantities can be kept loose and unwashed in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Washing them first will speed their decomposition. When you are ready to process them, peel off damaged or dry outer leaves, trim stalk if needed, and wash. Blanch by placing sprouts in boiling water for three minutes, then transfer immediately to ice cold water. Small sprouts (1 inch or less) can be frozen whole, but larger spouts freeze better if cut in half. Seal enough for one meal in freezer bags or freezer containers.
Brussels sprouts also can be cut in thin slices and dried at 140 F in a dehydrator. They make a crunchy addition to salads or can be rehydrated in soups or stews. Pickled Brussels sprouts are an acquired taste, but there are recipes available for sweet, hot and garlic varieties.
Diseases and Insect Pests
|Phytophthora root rot
||Attacks the roots of the plant
Plant cannot absorb nutrients and foliage yellows, then plant withers and dies
Soil likely has poor drainage (needs organic matter)
The best treatment is to rotate crop to another location with higher quality soil with suitable texture
||White or gray powdery growth on leaf surface
May lead to defoliation
|Practice crop rotation
Destroy infected plant tissue to prevent fungal spread and control weed species nearby
Allow for enough space between plants for airflow
Avoid watering in the evening or at night
Fungicides are available for treatment and prevention
Horticultural oil products labeled for treatment
||Fungal disease that causes yellow mottling and can cause fluffy gray fungal
New growth is stunted and discolored with the fuzz of fungal spores
||Small purple spots surrounded by a “ring” of water-soaked tissue or brown spots
with green borders
Leaves are dry and curl inward
|Cool, wet weather increases incidence
Rotate crops as condition will persist
Sanitize tools and equipment Destroy infected tissue
Fungicide spray is needed once disease is detected
Small, gray-green bodies that damage plants by sucking sap and cause stunted plant growth or death
|Prune off areas with aphids if it is a light infestation or spray plants with
hard water spray
Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can control aphids
Destroy infected plants so eggs don’t overwinter Insecticides, such as malathion, are approved but may not be necessary
||Green caterpillar with white stripes that leaves holes in leaves; white or
pale green eggs are laid individually instead of in groups
||Insects overwinter in plant debris; destroying plant matter after harvest and
crop rotation is beneficial
Hand pick insects before population increases
Bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis is an organically approved option that will kill larvae feeding on leaves
Spinosad is another organically approved option
||Large jagged holes in leaves, in stalks or sprouts; green cabbage worm looks
velvety and may leave greenish frass (excrement) near the holes
||Hand pick caterpillars and scrape off eggs; heavy infestation may require insecticide
||Create a cluster of tiny holes that create a shot-hole appearance; tiny black
insects that jump like fleas when disturbed
||Row covers early can act as a physical barrier to prevent infestation
Trap crops work well for flea beetles
Thick mulching may prevent beetles from reaching plants
Insecticides, including Spinosad, bifenthrin and permethrin, provide control but need to be applied every seven to 10 days, depending upon weather
Brussels Sprout nutrition label https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrition-facts/170383/wt1/1
Vegetable Varieties Recommended for West Virginia https://extension.wvu.edu/files/d/efe1bf03-9296-449c-8027-fff3e359d769/vegetable-varieties-recommended-for-west-virginiazx.pdf
How To Cook Brussels Sprouts Four Ways- Taste of Home https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-cook-brussels-sprouts/
¹Threapleton, D. E., Greenwood, D. C., Evans, C. E., Cleghorn, C. L., Nykjaer, C., Woodhead, C., Cade, J. E., Gale, C. P., & Burley, V. J. (2013). Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 347, f6879. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6879² Wolfram, T., & Ismail-Beigi, F. (2011). Efficacy of high-fiber diets in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Endocrine practice: official journal of the American College of Endocrinology and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, 17(1), 132–142. https://doi.org/10.4158/EP10204.RA
Author: Jodi Richmond, WVU Extension Agent – Mercer County
Last Reviewed: April 2022
Trade or brand names used in this publication are for educational purposes only. The use of such product names does not imply endorsement by WVU Extension to the exclusion of other products that may be equally suitable.