Bok choy is one of my favorite greens to grow in the garden. It’s been cultivated in Asia for hundreds of years, and I’ve been excited to see it grow in popularity here over the last few years.
Also called pak choi, this delightful little green is basically a smaller spinoff of Chinese cabbage. It’s in the brassica family alongside cabbage, kale, and so many of our other favorite leafy greens to grow in the vegetable garden.
Bok choy is frost tolerant, grows to maturity in about 45 days, and only takes up 4″ to 6″ of space in your garden. The glossy leaves are super smooth and shaped like spoons; honestly, I’d grow bok choy for its beauty alone.
Bok choy will make a great addition to your cool season garden.
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MY FAVORITE VARIETIES OF BOK CHOY TO GROW
You really can’t go wrong with any of these seeds.
- Bok Choy Choko – This is a type of baby bok choy that’s perfect for containers or the edges of your raised beds. It’s a little more heat tolerant than other types of bok choy, so you might even be able to grow it during the summer, depending on your climate. You’ll get lots of smooth leaves growing in a cluster around pale green stems.
- Rosette Tatsoi Bok Choy – Tatsoi is said to be even more nutritious than traditional bok choy, and if you like the flavor of mustard, then you definitely want to give this variety a try. This plant is super cold tolerant, and the dark green leaves are a perfect replacement for spinach.
- Toy Choy – This is another baby choy variety that grows just 5″ tall—so cute! You can grow your first crop in just 30 days. These little guys have thick white stems and a cluster of glossy green leaves. Like bok choy choko, this is a great variety to select if you’re gardening in containers.
WHEN TO GROW BOK CHOY
Bok choy is a cool-season crop. Its ideal temperature range is about 45°F to 75°F. If you want to push into warmer weather, grow smaller varieties like toy choy, which tend to be more heat resistant. If you want to grow these greens during the winter, stick with tatsoi, which can actually withstand temps down to 15°F. That means you could be harvesting leaves well after your first frost of fall, even when there’s snow on the ground!
In the spring, you can sow bok choy seeds in the garden about 2 to 4 weeks before your last frost date. Keep planting bok choy until the time period when you can expect your temps to stay above 85°F for the next couple of weeks.
Begin sowing bok choy seeds again for a fall harvest as soon as your temps fall below 85°F. Plant your bok choy in a spot that receives afternoon shade, or cover the planting area with some shade cloth until cool weather arrives. Those of you in hot climates can grow bok choy all winter long.
If you plant more rounds of bok choy every time you have 6 weeks of nice, cool temperatures up ahead, you can probably grow way more of this leafy green than you might expect. That’s especially true if you use garden covers like shade cloth and frost cloth to extend your growing seasons. Most of us can grow bok choy for at least 6 months out of the year, whether that’s in the spring and fall or from November to April.
Is Bok Choy a Perennial or Annual Plant?
Bok choy is actually a frost-tolerant biennial, just like its cousin kale. I love biennials because they’re super motivated to spend as long as possible in your garden. They’re willing to put up with a lot to make it to their seed-producing year. Most people grow bok choy as an annual because they harvest the entire plant when it has grown to full size.
WHERE TO GROW BOK CHOY
I love to grow bok choy in my raised beds, where it thrives thanks to the well-drained soil rich in organic matter. You can also grow bok choy in large pots, containers, or grow bags.
Growing bok choy in containers
I recommend looking for dwarf varieties if you plan to grow in a container or grow bag. Look for a container that’s at least 6″ deep and 12″ wide so that you can grow several plants in the same container. Good drainage is also important to keeping bok choy happy, so make sure the pot or container you choose has at least one drainage hole at the bottom. (Check out some quick buying options for containers in our Amazon Shop.)
Fill your pot or container with equal parts high-quality potting soil like Fox Farms Ocean Forest potting mix and compost for the best-tasting leaves.
Don’t be afraid to add other plants like herbs and flowers to your container as companion plants for bok choy. This past fall, I set up a planter for the cool season in this grow bag from Epic Gardening. I filled it with bok choy, purple choi (a type of bok choy), and other greens, and I love how it turned out.
Find more tips for container gardening.
How Much Sun Does Bok Choy Need?
Bok choy can grow in partial shade. It only needs about 4 hours of sunlight a day to produce leaves. This is a great plant to grow on shaded balconies or patios or even on sunny windowsills. Just know your leaves won’t grow as fast with 4 hours as they would with 6 hours. Bok choy prefers some afternoon shade as the weather warms.
3 SIMPLE STEPS TO SOW BOK CHOY SEEDS
Bok choy grows so quickly from seed that it’s not really worth it to start it by seed indoors unless you just really can’t wait to have these tasty leaves in your life. I typically direct sow my bok choy in the garden as soon as the weather is right.
Follow these simple steps to grow your own organic bok choy from seed.
Loosen up the top couple inches of soil in your raised bed or container with a little hand rake. Add a couple inches of fresh, finished compost, a dash of worm castings, and/or an all purpose fertilizer such as Microlife to the surface of the planting area. This gives your young leafy greens all the nutrients they’ll need to grow and produce lots of leaves for you. Press lightly on the soil surface to make it level.
Use your finger or a dibber to draw a shallow trench in the planting area. The key word here is shallow. Bok choy only needs to be planted 1/4″ deep, which is really not all that deep. These are tiny seeds, and if you bury them under too much soil, they’ll tire themselves out trying to reach sunlight and never grow.
Space your seeds every 4″ to 6″ along the trench, depending on the anticipated width of the full-sized plants. For tatsoi, you might want to give each plant more like 8″. This spacing encourages the plants to produce wider rosettes.
If you’re planting in rows, space your rows about 6″ apart and stagger them so that the next line of seeds is in the windows of the first.
Wait until all of your seeds are placed before you pinch the planting holes closed with your fingers.
Give your bok choy seeds a nice watering in. Keep the soil evenly moist while you’re waiting on the seeds to sprout. You can typically expect to see your first little green shoots in just 5 to 10 days.
Every couple of weeks, sow more bok choy seeds so that you have a more continual harvest of delicious leaves. If any plants pop up too close together, thin extra bok choy seedlings by cutting them at their base. Enjoy these thinned plants as bok choy microgreens.
Plants in the brassica family are prone to pests, and bok choys, especially young plants, are no exception. Pests range from aphids to cabbage worms and cabbage loopers and everything in between. If you’re worried about pests on your leaves, there’s an extra step you can take to protect your tender young leaves. But you have to do this the very day you plant your baby brassicas for it to be effective. This step involves covering your entire bed with garden mesh or row covers so that insect pests never have access. Use garden hoops to hold the mesh over your raised garden beds.
This organic pest control method is extremely effective against pests like leaf miners or flea beetles that like to lay their eggs on your leaves (it’s really their offspring that do all the damage). It can also keep out larger pests like squirrels and rabbits.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR BOK CHOY PLANTS
Bok choy is pretty easy to grow. Your main tending tasks will be watering consistently, pruning leaves, using protective covers when needed, and ensuring your plants have enough organic matter to thrive.
Watering bok choy
Keep the soil moist for your bok choy seedlings until they develop some longer roots. Once your leafy greens are more established, check the soil with your finger; if it’s dry 1″ down, then go ahead and water deeply at soil level. I can’t recommend an automated drip irrigation system enough if you’re growing in a raised bed. It makes your life so easy and keeps your greens super happy.
If you’re watering by hand with a hose or watering can, make sure to aim your water at the roots of the plant instead of the leaves to prevent fungal diseases.
Pruning bok choy
Keep your bok choy plants healthy by picking off any damaged or yellowing leaves. If you notice that your plants are sprawling out and touching leaves with their neighbors, go ahead and harvest some of those outer leaves. This will maintain good air circulation and help to prevent fungal disease.
Covering bok choy
Bok choy can handle a touch of frost, but if you’re expecting temps below 26°F, it’s best to cover your plants with frost cloth. Make sure to cover younger bok choy plants if any kind of freeze is expected in the spring, since they’re not established in the garden yet. Cover your garden with shade cloth to extend your growing season in the late spring or early fall.
Fertilizing bok choy
The organic matter you added at the time of planting will likely provide enough nutrients, but if you think your plants need to be fertilized, you can feed your bok choy every couple of weeks with liquid seaweed to encourage lots of healthy leaf growth.
HOW TO HARVEST BOK CHOY
Your bok choy will be ready to harvest about 30 to 55 days after planting, depending on which type you’re growing. To harvest an entire head or rosette, use a clean pair of pruners or a sharp knife to cut the base of the plant.
You don’t have to wait until you have mature plants to take your first leafy harvest though. You can actually take a couple of the older, outer leaves from each plant after they’ve been in the garden about 3 weeks.
Harvest individual leaves all the way down at their base since those stems won’t regrow. (New growth comes from the heart of the plant.)
The best time to harvest leaves is in the morning. That’s when their water content is highest.
Bring your harvest inside, dunk your bok choy in some cold water, and allow it to drain before storing it in the produce drawer of your fridge.
HOW TO ENJOY BOK CHOY
Bok choy has such a wonderful but mild flavor, and its crisp stems add so much texture to your meals. I love to cut up and toss individual leaves into salads for some crunch.
Bok choy holds up to heat really well. You can cook the leaves and stems with some sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, a dash of salt, and just a little bit of garlic and ginger—so delicious! The leaves and stems also add so much wonderful texture to stir fries and soups. (You can use the stems as a substitute for celery in soup recipes.) If you’re up for making your own dumplings, spring rolls, or potstickers, you’ll need bok choy for the filling. You could even use bok choy to make your own bok choy kimchi if you’re into fermenting.
Time to Grow Your Own Bok Choy!
That’s pretty much all there is to growing your own delicious supply of bok choy for half the year. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments!