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Cauliflower is an excellent crop for backyard growers because you can plant seeds of many different types of cauliflower. While you are likely to find only white cauliflower at the store, you can choose from a wide range of colors, flavors, and textures when growing cauliflower of your own.
When to Grow Cauliflower
Cauliflower is a cool-season crop, meaning it likes to grow in cooler weather with ample moisture. In Zones 9 and 10, cauliflower can be grown in the late winter into early spring or as a fall crop that overwinters. In other areas of the United States, you can grow cauliflower during the cool months of the fall, spring, and even into early summer if you give it a bit of shade. That’s one advantage of growing cauliflower in a pot. You can move it into a cooler location if needed! Cauliflower, like all vegetable crops, enjoys full sun during its appropriate growing seasons. When growing cauliflower off-season (during hot times of the year), you can give your plants some shade to protect them from the high temperatures.
Growing Cauliflower from Seed
Growing cauliflower from seed can be easy, but remember that cauliflower, like all brassicas, are heavy feeders and will need to be fertilized often. Seeds can be started indoors in late spring if you get frost in your area. If you do not get frost, and temperatures are between 60-80°F, you can start the seed outdoors. We recommend that you start seeds in a quality seed starting mix. Seed starting mix is formulated to help seeds sprout easily through the soil and stay moist during the germination process.
Cauliflower 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 them with finely sifted soil of about ¼”. By sifting your soil, you can guarantee that no large pieces of soil, mulch, or other particles cover your seeds, which would make it hard for them to sprout. If you are planting in the ground or trays or pots, the soil should remain moist continuously until the seedlings have sprouted. If your seedlings have not sprouted, consult our troubleshooting guide to figure out what could have gone wrong.
Transplanting Cauliflower Seedlings
Once your seedlings have gotten to a healthy size of about 4-5” tall, you can plant your cauliflower plants in your garden. Make sure you water the planting area before and after. When you take the transplant out of the pot, you will likely disturb the roots, and that will cause the plant to be more susceptible to wilting. By watering before and after planting, you can ensure the plant does not wilt too much. Cauliflower requires a spacing of at least 12” between plantings.
Growing Cauliflower Plants
Once your cauliflower has sprouted, you need to get it growing! The first leaves you see on your sprouts are called cotyledons. These are the leaves stored inside the seeds that are part of the plant’s embryo. The leaves that follow are called first true leaves. They 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 choice 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.
Cauliflower Companion Plants
Cauliflower is a leafy green that can be susceptible to insects that also love their tasty leaves. As a help to this issue, plant companion flowers to bring in beneficial insects to the garden. Cool-season flowers like nasturtium, gaillardia, and borage all do exceptionally well around cauliflower plants. They also look beautiful! Nasturtium and borage blooms are edible and can be used in cauliflower dishes too!
Pro Southern California Tip
For those in Zones 9 and 10, starting cauliflower in warmer months can be challenging. If you are trying to start cauliflower 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 keeping moisture in.
Growing Cauliflower in Containers or In-Ground
Cauliflower is an easy plant for growing in-ground and in containers. Cauliflower, like broccoli and cabbage, can get quite large; it will need ample space. If you are growing cauliflower in a container, do not crowd the cauliflower with other plants.
Cauliflower can be harvested when the head is at a size that is worth cutting. Look at the variety description to see how big the cauliflower head will get, and try your best to harvest at the optimal time. It is generally not a good idea to wait too long on harvesting, as the best quality flavor and texture for cauliflower is when it is at its peak ripeness—harvest cauliflower by using a sharp knife to cut the main head from the plant. The leaves can be composted or given to chickens. They are also quite tasty when added to stir-fries or soups.