Growing kale is super easy and can provide you and your family with tons of nutrient-dense food in a small space. There are so many varieties of kale in different colors, shapes, and flavors. One thing they all have in common, kale is a very easy crop to grow, even from seed!
When to Grow Kale
Kale is a cool-season crop which means it likes to grow in cooler weather with ample moisture. In Zones 9 and 10, kale can be grown year-round because of our mild weather. In other areas of the United States, you can grow kale during the cool months of the fall, spring, and even into early summer if you give it a bit a shade. That’s one advantage of growing kale in a pot, you can move it!
There are lots of different varieties of kale available in seed.
Dinosaur kale is a type of kale that often includes varieties like:
Each variety has slightly different characteristics.
Frilly leaf kale includes varieties like:
There are also several varieties of “kale” that are very different. We carry an extremely tasty and prolific variety called Ethiopian kale.
Growing Kale from Seed
Growing kale from seed is simple, quick, and economical. Seeds can be started indoors in late spring if you get frost in your area. If you do not get frost and the temperatures are between 60-80 degrees, you can start your kale seeds outside. We recommend that you start seeds in a good seed starting mix soil. Seed starting mix is formulated to help seeds easily sprout through the soil and stay moist during the germination process.
Kale seeds, like the seeds of all brassicas, should sprout in 3-10+ days. The key to helping your seeds sprout quickly is to make sure you do not plant them too deeply and that you cover the seeds with a finely sifted soil of about ¼”. By sifting your soil, you can guarantee that no large pieces of soil, mulch, or other particles are covering your seeds, making it hard for them to sprout. If you are planting in the ground or in trays or pots, the soil should remain moist continuously until the seedlings have sprouted, which should be between 3-10 days. If your seedlings have not sprouted, consult our troubleshooting guide to figure out what you may have done wrong.
Growing Kale Plants
Once your kale has sprouted, you need to get it growing! The first leaves you see on your sprouts are called cotyledons. These are the leaves that are stored inside the seeds and are part of the embryo of the plant. The leaves that follow are called first true leaves. These are the signal to you that you need to fertilize. The best fertilizer for your baby plants is a liquid fertilizer with an even number of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. For example, a good product is a liquid fish emulsion with 2-2-2. Harsh chemical fertilizers can burn your plants so use a natural or organic fertilizer if possible.
Kale Companion Plants
Kale is a leafy green that can be susceptible to insects that also love their tasty leaves. To help with this issue, companion flowers can be planted to bring in beneficial insects to the garden. Flowers like Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Gaillardia, and Borage all do particularly well around kale plants. They also look beautiful! The blooms of nasturtiums and borage can even be added to your kale salad!
Pro Planting Zone 9 & Planting Zone 10 Tip
For those gardening in planting zone 9 or planting zone 10, starting kale in warmer months can be challenging. If you are trying to start kale during the warmest months of August through October, use shade cloth to protect your baby seedlings until they are well adjusted to the heat or until the days cool off. Layers of mulch and compost help to keep the soil cooler while also retaining moisture.
Growing Kale in Containers or In-ground
Kale is an easy plant for growing both in-ground or in containers. Kale generally stays tidy and will not sprawl like other plants, making it great for planting in containers or raised beds. One advantage of growing kale in a container, like a pot that can be transported, is that it can be moved to shadier areas during hot months. When growing kale in the ground, especially in Zones 9 and 10, place it in an area that it can be happy for at least 9 or more months.
We have had kale grow in the same spot on the farm for several seasons, resulting in kale that is over 6’ tall! This type of kale, called walking tree kale, is a really neat kale variety to grow in children’s gardens as they can see how tall the plant will get after a few seasons.
You can harvest kale at any size that looks tasty! Many salad mixes contain baby kale leaves which are tender and delicious. If you want to let your kale grow tall, harvest the leaves from the outside of the plant, allowing the center stalk to keep growing and growing. You can harvest the leaves by simply tugging them downward and away from the plant.