Field Guide to
Broccoli is a cool-weather, hardy vegetable that can in a wide range of areas. The plant is a heavy feeder that needs neutral soil to thrive, as well as plenty of moisture and sunlight.
Type of Plant
Soil Type & pH
Sandy soil, neutral or mildly acidic pH
3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Quick Tip: Broccoli is really good at growing in cold temperatures. You can have a good crop in temperatures down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Gardeners with limited space can successfully grow broccoli in containers, as long as the containers are large enough. Under the right conditions, you might be able to grow the plant indoors as well.
You can successfully grow broccoli if you live in USDA zones 3 through 10, according to the Older Farmer's Almanac. The plant is a biennial, meaning that it lives for two seasons, but is often grown as an annual, or for a single season.
When you can plant broccoli depends in large part on where you live. If you live in a colder zone, either 3 or 4 or in a warmer zone, 9 or 10, you have small windows of time for planting broccoli each season, according to the National Gardening Association.
For example, if you're in zones 3 or 4, you'll want to start broccoli seeds inside about six weeks before the last frost in your area. Transplant the seedlings to the garden about three weeks before the last frost. They should be ready to harvest by early summer.
If you're in a slightly warmer area, zones 4 through 6a, you can start broccoli in early spring for a summer crop, then plant again in the early summer for a fall crop. The weather usually warms up too quickly for gardeners in zones 6b or 7 to get a spring crop in. But these gardeners are often able to plant throughout the late summer into fall, enjoying a harvest from October through January.
Gardeners in zones 7b and above might be able to plant broccoli in the fall and have it overwinter, for harvest in the spring. If you live in zones 9 or 10, overwintering the plant is often your only option if you want to enjoy home-grown broccoli.
Broccoli can be somewhat picky about its soil. The plant prefers soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5, according to Cornell University. Soil that's too acidic can harbor a fungus, Plasmodiophora brassicae, which causes a disease called clubroot.
Broccoli plants with clubroot develop growths on their roots. Those growths can stunt the plant's growth and cause the leaves to yellow. One way to eliminate the clubroot fungus from the soil is to make the soil more basic. Adding lime to the soil is a good way to boost its pH.
Along with having an ideal pH, Broccoli prefers soil that is fertile and well-drained. Adding compost to the soil before you plant will help increase its nutritional value.
One nutrient to be particularly aware of when growing broccoli is boron. If there's not enough boron in the soil, the stems of broccoli will be hollow. But, too much boron is harmful to the plant, according to Rodale's Organic Life. Instead of adding nutrients to the soil at random, it's ideal to have the soil tested, so that you know exactly which nutrients it needs.
LIGHT & WATER
Broccoli is a thirsty plant, so it's important to keep it well watered. Don't let the soil dry out between waterings, especially if you're growing in a container. You don't need to water too deeply, as broccoli has a shallow root system.
One way to help make sure growing broccoli has an adequate amount of moisture is to mulch around the plant. The mulch helps trap moisture in the soil, avoiding drought-like conditions.
Mulch can also be helpful for controlling weeds around the plant. If you till or cultivate the soil around broccoli, you risk damaging the plant's shallow roots. Mulch suppresses the weeds and will help protect your plant.
For the most part, broccoli plants do best in full sunlight. It is possible to grow broccoli in a partly shaded area, but doing so might slow its growth. If you live in an area where it gets hot quickly in the spring and summer, planting in part shade might allow you to get one harvest in, even after the weather has warmed up.
Like most vegetables, broccoli has friends in the garden and it has its enemies. Companion planting is the practice of planting two or more friendly plants near each other. Broccoli's companions include a number of leafy greens, such as chard and lettuce. It also grows well along side of dill, mint and garlic.
If you have a history of pests, such as aphids, in the garden, it can help to plant some nasturtiums near your broccoli. Nasturtiums are a trap plant. Aphids are attracted to them and will leave your other plants alone.
Some plants should be kept far from broccoli, as they compete with each other for water and nutrients in the soil. Don't plant broccoli near its relatives, other members of the cabbage family.
Members of the brassica family, such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale, tend to be hungry plants that demand a lot from the soil. Unless the soil is very well fertilized, the competition between broccoli and other cabbage plants can be fierce enough that both plants suffer.
Other heavy feeding plants can also compete with broccoli and should be kept far away. Keep plants such as asparagus, melon, and corn on the opposite end of the garden.
WHERE TO GROW
If you have the space in your garden and have well-drained healthy soil, the ideal location for growing broccoli is often outdoors, in the ground. But that doesn't mean that gardeners with less space or gardeners with no outdoor area can't try their hand at growing broccoli.
It's possible to grow broccoli in a container. In fact, growing in a container can be preferable if your garden soil is low quality, dense or very acidic. Container growing success starts with choosing the right pot.
Bonnie Plants recommends choosing a container that can hold at least 5 gallons to grow broccoli. You'll want to plant just a single broccoli in a 5-gallon pot. If you choose a larger container, such as a 15-gallon pot or grow bag, you can grow two or three plants per container.
If you're into growing broccoli in containers, here's a great video from Burpee Gardens.
If you don't have any outdoor space at all, you can try to grow broccoli inside. You'll need the right set-up to do so, especially when it comes to giving the plants enough light.
Depending on the amount of sun your windows get, the broccoli might get sufficient sunlight if you put the container in a south-facing window. It's more likely that you'll need to put the plants under a grow light, so that you can be sure they are getting at least six hours of light daily.
There's a lot to know about growing broccoli. You'll find lots of in-depth articles on the subject over in the sidebar. Whether you want advice on planting broccoli, advice on harvesting it, or tips for choosing a variety, we've got plenty of information for you.
Did you know?
The U.S. is the largest producer of broccoli worldwide, producing 2 billion pounds in 2011.
want to dig deeper?
Broccoli fact source: Penn State Extension.