Broccoli is a real treat to grow during cooler weather here in the greater Austin area.
It might not have been your favorite veggie as a child, but we guarantee you’ll love the taste of homegrown broccoli!
broccoli side shoots

Broccoli Growing Season in Central Texas

Broccoli, like many of its fellow brassica family members, thrives in cooler weather. It needs cool air and soil to germinate, and then continues to grow best when the temperature is below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
Here in Central Texas, we have two opportunities to grow broccoli each year: first in late January/February for a spring harvest and then again in late September/October for a winter harvest. Thanks to our hotter climate, these seasons are blink-and-you-miss-them short, so make sure you time your broccoli planting right or wait for the next quick chance to grow this vegetable.

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how broccoli grows

How to Grow Broccoli from Seed

If you’re planting in the spring, it’s best to start broccoli seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before our last frost date in mid March (so mid to late January/February). Follow the steps in our indoor seed starting guide to ensure success.
 
In the fall, you can direct sow broccoli seeds in the garden in September or start seeds indoors under grow lights so that your plants can grow as the weather finally cools. Once your seeds sprout, you may need to protect them with some shade if September is still well into the 90s for the daily high temps. These plants should be ready to harvest in December.
 
Choose a spot for your broccoli plants that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight each day.
 
Add a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost to the top of your soil before you sow broccoli seeds or transplant seedlings. This gives young plants a nice little nutritional boost.
 
Plant one broccoli seed per hole when you’re starting seeds or sowing directly. Keep the soil moist to aid germination. If you’re direct sowing, space each seed 1 foot apart.
 

How to Grow Broccoli from Transplant

Whether you have grown your own broccoli seedling indoors or have bought some young plants from the local nursery, you can start to plant these in the garden from September through October.
 
If you’re transplanting broccoli you’ve grown from seed indoors, make sure to harden them off to prevent transplant shock. Bring seedlings outdoors to a shaded spot for about an hour in the morning before returning them to their cushy spot under a grow light. Raise the outdoor time to 2 hours on the second day, 3 to 4 hours on the third day, and 5 hours on the fourth and fifth days, avoiding harsh sunlight. Leave your seedlings out all day and night on the sixth day, before moving them to their new home on the seventh.
 
Again, plant each seedling about 1 foot apart to give broccoli the room it needs to grow. Make sure to dig a hole that’s slightly deeper than the root ball of the plant and then plant the broccoli all the way up to the first set of leaves. Remember to provide shade if you see your plants struggling in the heat of September.
how broccoli is grown

Broccoli Growing Stages

Broccoli goes from seed to a mature plant ready for harvest in 50 to 100 days, depending on the variety and our weather. During that time, broccoli passes through the following stages of growth:
 

Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli seeds typically take about 7 to 10 days to germinate, or sprout. The first set of leaves that you’ll notice on the plant will look nothing like the frilly-edged leaves of the maturing broccoli plant.
 

Broccoli Leaves

The growing broccoli plant will produce leaves that are edible and taste a bit like spinach when they’re still young and tender.
 

Broccoli Head

As you may know, the broccoli part that we typically eat is actually a cluster of closed flower buds that we harvest before those flowers bloom. We’ll talk about harvesting this flower head below.
 

Broccoli Side Shoots

Once you’ve harvested the main head, the plant will develop side shoots off of the main stalk. These side shoots will develop into more heads of broccoli you can harvest and enjoy.
 

Broccoli Flowers

The little green buds you picture when you think of broccoli open up to reveal pretty little yellow flowers. When the weather warms, the plant will grow taller and focus on seed production instead of producing more heads for you to enjoy. This is typically when gardeners pull the broccoli plant from their gardens, though I like to leave some flowers for the pollinators.
broccoli harvest

How to Tend Broccoli Plants

Broccoli is pretty easy to grow, but follow these tending tasks to keep your plants healthy.
 

Water

Keep soil evenly moist throughout the broccoli plant’s growth cycle.

Fertilize

Apply an organic all-purpose fertilizer such as MicroLife Ocean Harvest every 2 weeks. Once the plant begins to form its central flower head, switch over to MicroLife Maximum Blooms every 2 weeks.
 

Protect

Slugs, snails, and cabbage loopers have been known to prey on broccoli plants. The best way to protect your plants from pests is to use garden mesh or fabric tulle as a physical barrier.
 
If you notice a silvery trail on the leaves, scan the area for slugs or snails, and pick them off by hand. You most likely have a cabbage looper issue if you notice round holes on the leaves. Check the back of leaves often for these small green caterpillars and their eggs. Pick them off and check daily for more. Because cabbage loopers can decimate your crops, consider using Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) on your plants to kill pests. Spray the back and front of the broccoli leaves.
 

Cover

If we happen to get a freeze while your broccoli plants are still growing, use old sheets, frost cloth, or row covers to protect your plants. Broccoli can tolerate temperatures as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit without damage.
 
Use a shade cloth to keep the air and soil underneath cooler during warm days. “Buttoning”, or producing a smaller head than expected, occurs when broccoli is stressed by the heat.
broccoli shoot harvest

When to Harvest Broccoli

We usually harvest broccoli once the central head has formed but before the flowers open. The goal is a compact head with tight green buds. Each floret will be about as long as your thumb.
 
If you miss your window and notice yellow flowers appearing, don’t worry—the head is still 100 percent edible.
 
To harvest your broccoli head, use a clean knife to cut at the base, just below the head. Remember, if you leave your plant in the garden, it will produce more side shoots for you to enjoy.
 
It’s best to harvest during the cool morning hours and refrigerate as soon as possible. Broccoli heads can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Blanched broccoli freezes well and maintains its quality for up to 12 months.
broccoli head harvest
If you’re feeling nervous or impatient while your broccoli heads are forming, just remind yourself how incredible it will be to cut your own little green bouquet and enjoy your homegrown veggies!
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