Growing your own cauliflower requires a little bit of science and a little bit of luck. Meaty, mild, nutty-sweet heads of cauliflower develop in cool weather. An early summer heat wave can thwart the most carefully tended spring cauliflower crop. Similar challenges exist in the fall. But don’t let that stop you from growing this vegetable with its complex flavor and delightfully tender texture. It is worth the effort!
Garden Plans For Cauliflower
What to Plant With Cauliflower
Great cauliflower planting partners for spring crops include tomatoes and peppers, which will expand after heads of cauliflower are harvested. Fall crops thrive when planted alongside greens and spinach. To prevent pest problems, plant cauliflower in a garden space that hasn't hosted these crops in at least four years. Although it is tempting to tuck a small, young plant in a tiny space in early spring, be mindful of the mature size of this robust crop. Plant it where it has at least 3 feet to expand.
Cauliflower grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soil and full sun—at least 8 hours of bright sun each day. Consistent moisture and nutrient-rich soil are key to good cauliflower growth. Enrich the area prior to planting by incorporating a 3-inch layer of well-decomposed compost into the soil. Make plans to irrigate plants with a drip hose or overhead watering, such as a watering can, prior to planting.
Cauliflower is related to cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, turnip, and rutabaga. But it's more finicky about its growing conditions than many of its veggie cousins. It has less cold tolerance than cabbage and broccoli, and it tends to bolt when temperatures climb. Long, cool growing seasons—rather than unpredictable periods of hot and cold weather—hit cauliflower's sweet spot. In many areas of the country, the best time to plant cauliflower is mid- to late summer so the crop matures in cool fall temperatures. Start seeds indoors or sow seeds directly in the garden. Outdoors, sow groups of two to three seeds 12 to 18 inches apart and ¼ inch deep. Thin seedlings to one strong seedling per group when they are several inches tall.
Water cauliflower regularly, providing 1 inch of water per week via irrigation if it does not rain. Some varieties of cauliflower have outer leaves that wrap around the developing head, preventing light from entering. This is called self-blanching. For varieties that lack the tightly wrapped outer leaves, watch for the head to begin forming. Once it is visible, gather outer leaves and tie them together over the head with string or rubber bands. The head will be shaded and the curds will stay white. Do not tie leaves of colored cauliflower varieties because they need sunlight to develop their orange, purple, or chartreuse hues.
Since each cauliflower plant can be harvested only once, extend your harvest by planting different varieties that mature at different times. Harvest cauliflower when the head reaches a useable size and before the flower buds open. Cut the head above ground level and remove the leaves. Store cauliflower in the refrigerator up to one week.