A slow-growing, cool-season plant in the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts bring an interesting visual character to the garden with their tall, upright stems studded with small, green, edible orbs. This tasty vegetable is also full of vitamins and minerals.
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As a garden plant, Brussels sprouts has a striking appearance because of its relatively large leaves, much like its cousins cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. As it grows, Brussels sprouts shows off a thick stalk where the sprouts, which look like miniature heads of cabbage, form just above where the leaves attach. A healthy, well-grown plant may reach up to 3 feet tall (depending on variety) and bear as many as a hundred edible sprouts. Brussels sprouts' distinct look makes it a perfect partner for colorful Swiss chard, feathery carrots, and cabbage.
Brussels Sprouts Care Must-Knows
A relatively slow-growing vegetable, Brussels sprouts loves cool weather. Plant it in late spring, and watch it grow all summer long. Harvest Brussels sprouts in fall, but wait until the plant has been exposed to a couple of light frosts; the cool weather enhances its nutty flavor and reduces bitterness. Like most vegetables, Brussels sprouts does best in full sun (at least 6 hours of direct light per day) and moist, well-drained soil that's rich in organic matter. If your soil has lots of sticky, heavy clay or sand that dries out fast, add plenty of compost before planting. Or, for an interesting display, plant Brussels sprouts in large containers.
Brussels sprouts isn't a drought-tolerant plant. So keep it well watered, especially during periods of hot, dry weather. Want to water less? Spread a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch over the soil. This will help keep the plant's roots cool and moist, allowing it to thrive during the heat of summer. As you see the sprouts begin to develop along the stem, start to remove the lower leaves.
Like many leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts is considered a heavy feeder. It does best in rich soil and with regular applications of a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. If you don't want to worry about feeding your Brussels sprouts throughout the summer, use a time-release fertilizer at planting time. This type of fertilizer slowly breaks down to add nutrients to the soil over time.
If you want to grow Brussels sprouts from seed, start the seeds indoors about four weeks before your region's last average frost date in spring. Because these plants are slow to mature, you may not have enough time to develop a harvestable crop if you plant seeds outdoors. Save time by getting transplants in the spring. If you live in a warm-winter area, you can plant Brussels sprouts in the fall and harvest it as a spring crop.
Several types of pests enjoy Brussels sprouts, too, so keep an eye out for invaders. Using row covers can help protect plants early in the season. Row covers are fabric tunnels that allow light, air, and moisture to reach the plants while keeping harmful pests out. Watch for insects, such as cabbage worms, later in the summer after you have removed the row covers. Hand-pick the sprouts or treat with an organic or synthetic insecticide or insecticidal soap as necessary.
Harvesting Brussels Sprouts
Once the sprouts studding the stems reach about ½ inch wide, you can harvest them for eating. (You can also wait to harvest until they get as large as 1 or 2 inches wide.) Twist the sprouts to pull them off the stem, and refrigerate them if you don't plan to use them right away. Don't harvest in hot weather; warm temperatures make them bitter.
At the end of the season, just before killing frost, you can pick Brussels sprouts' young leaves and enjoy them as cooked greens.
Eating Brussels Sprouts
Use Brussels sprouts in a wide variety of dishes. Sprouts can be eaten fresh, but many people find they're much more satisfying when grilled, roasted, steamed, or sautéed.
More Varieties of Brussels Sprouts
'Red Rubine' Brussels sprouts
An heirloom variety of Brassica oleracea prized for its purple-red color. In addition, the colorful sprouts are higher in antioxidants than green varieties. Start harvesting about 85 days after transplant.