Brussels sprouts are one of the hardiest crops in the cool-weather garden. They’re champions when it comes to frost tolerance and are commonly harvested from into late fall, but hot and dry conditions can be a challenge with some newer hybrid varieties doing better in warmer temperatures.
To keep your sprouts growing their best, let’s go over some basic plant care tips for brussels sprouts.
Do Brussel Sprouts Need Full Sun?
Brussels sprouts love the sun and need a full-sun location to grow their best. These plants like to grow in sunny spots with at least 6 hours of direct light per day, but 8-10 hours is ideal.
Brussels sprouts planted in midsummer spend a lot of their growth period in the fall. Because the sun is lower and days get shorter heading into winter, even your sunniest spot will get less direct light in the fall. Keep this in mind when planning your brussels sprout plot.
Plenty of sun is extra important if you plan to remove leaves from your brussels sprouts. Some gardeners remove leaves as they harvest from the bottom of the stalk to improve sprout size, but don’t forget those leaves are what make energy. If your plants only have their top leaves, they’ll need all the sun they can get.
Like other cole crops, brussels sprouts will tolerate partial shade (4-6 hours of direct sun). Keep in mind this will slow their maturity, and brussels sprouts are already slow growers. If you have to plant brussels sprouts in a shadier spot, make sure their soil is extra rich and well-draining.
Although brussels sprouts love the sun, they are sensitive to heat and drought. A sunny spot can aggravate both issues and result in loose leafy sprouts instead of compact dense sprouts.
Make sure your sprouts get 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Use a hand shovel to test the moisture depth after watering; you want to see 6-10 inches of moist soil.
Check out “Watering Brussel Sprouts” for more on the matter.
If your plants’ leaves start to yellow or they aren’t forming tight sprouts their sunny location might be too hot. Adding mulch around your brussels sprouts and possibly using a shade cloth will keep the plants cool.
Do Brussel Sprouts Need a Trellis?
Brussels sprouts usually won’t need the support of a trellis. However, certain varieties of brussels sprouts might require staking, especially as they reach maturity.
Unlike its relative the cabbage, the brussels sprouts plant can grow several feet high. Its cabbage-like buds sprout along one tall central stalk.
At maturity, these sprouts will be heavy and densely-packed along the stalk, which can make the plant unstable.
Since brussels sprouts mature from the bottom up, heavier sprouts are found lower to the ground. This means younger plants can usually stand on their own. Staking can be necessary close to harvest, once mature upper sprouts threaten to tip over the plant.
It’s easier to stake your brussels sprouts if you strip the outer leaves. This sounds extreme, but it’s actually common practice; many commercial farmers remove all but the topmost cluster of leaves as cold weather nears.
This practice helps direct sunlight reach the sprouts, which hurries along their harvest period. It also gives easier access to the stalk so you can stake your brussels sprouts and protect your harvest!
Do Brussel Sprouts Survive Winters?
In many regions, yes! Brussels sprouts are one of the hardiest vegetables in the garden. Depending on what region you’re growing in brussel sprouts can continue to produce through winter months or go dormant and start to grow again in the spring.
In this brussel sprout grow trial in Santa Clara County, California, brussel sprout plants were planted in April and harvested from 6 times over the next 10 months with the last time coming in February of the following year.
Not only can brussels sprouts survive winter, they may even produce a crop once temperatures rise. Where I live in Southwest Michigan brussel sprouts and other brassicas will commonly make it through the winter and start growing again in the spring.
The harvest the second year is about half what it is the first year in my experience so you may just want to grow them as annuals if you have a cold winter.
Some gardeners will do a second planting of sprouts between August and October in hopes of a spring crop. It’s a gamble, but if the winter is mild enough, it might pay off.
Brussels sprouts are actually biennials, meaning the plants stay alive for two years to complete their life cycle. They’re traditionally grown as annuals mostly because of their sensitivity to heat, not cold.
Hot, dry weather during maturity will yield poor-quality sprouts. The sprouts also taste sweetest if they’re harvested after a frost. So although some gardeners do a late planting for spring sprouts, holding over a summer planting is usually more trouble than it’s worth.
If you do want to harvest brussel sprouts throughout the growing season inlcuding the summer look for varieties that do well growing in warmer temperatures.
Do Brussel Sprouts Produce Their First Year?
Yes! As long as they’re planted by summer, brussels sprouts will produce in late fall of their first year. This is usually the most successful way to cultivate brussels sprouts, unless your region has mild winters.
Brussels sprouts are long-season vegetables; they grow slowly and require a lot of patience. Some varieties need 180 days from planting until harvest. Thankfully, there are newer hybrid varieties that have cut this time in half.
Check out “How Long Do Brussel Sprouts Take To Grow” for more on that.
If you want brussels sprouts the fall after planting, use your region’s frost dates to time when to plant. Count backward 90-100 days from the date of your first frost (or longer, depending on your variety’s growth time). This is the date when you should get your seedling brussels sprouts started.
It’s also possible to get a fall crop from seed starts! Like the rest of brussels sprouts’ life cycle, germination moves slowly, so give yourself an extra month to get things started.
To get brussel sprouts as early as possible plant your seeds indoors 4 weeks before your garden planting date. And if they’re growing in summer heat look for varieties that do well with warm temperatures.
Do Brussel Sprouts Grow Back After Harvesting?
Sadly, no. brussels sprouts won’t grow back at harvested sections of the stalk. The sprouts are technically axillary buds meaning they contain a special type of growth tissue that the stalk doesn’t. Once they’re severed from the plant, the stalk can’t generate more at that spot.
Although brussels sprouts won’t grow back from harvested spots on the stalk, there are other ways to maximize your sprout yields. One of the easiest methods is to remove the top section of stalk.
It’s a common problem: your lower brussels sprouts mature too quickly, getting large and tough before the upper sprouts are even big enough to harvest. The solution is to cut off the plant’s flower stalk, called the apical meristem. This is also called “topping” the plant.
This apical meristem blocks the hormone that makes sprouts grow. Topping your brussels sprouts 1-2 months before harvest will kick every sprout into growth mode ensuring that the sprouts that are on the plant fill out completely.
In fact, topped plants yield larger and heavier sprouts, while untopped plants will continue to grow sprouts. If your growing season is coming to a close in the next 2-3 weeks topping the plants so they can fill out is a good idea.
Can You Grow Brussel Sprouts From Scraps?
Have you ever tried to root a brussel sprout? Under the right conditions, you can indeed grow a new plant from brussels sprout cuttings. To explain how, let’s dig into the botany within your vegetable scraps.
To a botanist, the “sprouts” of the brussels sprout are called axillary buds. A bud is the site of future growth; it contains the type of tissue that can produce new plant cells. Brussels sprouts are “axillary” because they grow on the sides of the stalk, at the axils between leaves.
Remember that as long as the plant has a terminal meristem (that top flower stalk), growth of those axillary buds will be limited by the hormones being mainly sent to top growth.
Once they’re removed from the terminal meristem, either by topping the plant or taking a cutting, those axillary buds will start to grow on their own.
Since they’re technically buds, brussels sprouts also contain meristem tissue. This is that special type of plant tissue that can develop into new stems, leaves, and buds.
It’s possible to “root” a sprout on its own in water. However, you might have more success by taking a complete cutting from an existing plant.
To do this, cut through the stalk just above a brussel sprout, leaving the nearest leaf and several inches of stalk below. Leave this stem cutting in water until roots develop, then transfer to a container.
Why is this method more successful? Leaving a mature leaf that can “tend” your sprout gives it a head start, since growing a new plant takes a lot of energy. This strategy allows you to multiply your best brussels sprout plant into many young copies.
Do Brussel Sprouts Grow Well In Containers?
Believe it or not, brussels sprouts can grow quite well in a container! If you’re short on garden space, this vegetable is a solid option to grow in a container.
Thanks to their vertical growth, brussels sprouts don’t require as much space as their cabbage-family relatives, but they still need about 18″ on all sides. If you want lots of brussels sprouts, be ready to give each plant its own container.
Brussels sprouts’ shallow roots are surprisingly well-suited for container growing, since they don’t demand deep soil. The bigger concerns to watch for are heat and moisture.
Brussels sprouts need plenty of moisture from their dirt. Lack of water equals bitter, loosely-formed sprouts. An inch of rainfall per week is the minimum, and they’ll need more in containers. Supplement if needed by soaking the brussels sprouts’ roots once a week.
Container planting also offers less protection from hot weather. Although brussels sprouts like direct sunlight, their shallow roots will be more exposed in a pot. Too much heat will accelerate drying and ruin your sprouts’ flavor.
Mulch is a good solution to both problems! Mulching your container can help keep the soil temperature low and reduce moisture loss. It also controls weeds, which are tricky to remove without damaging brussels sprouts’ roots.
Please comment below about anything above or your own thoughts about growing brussel sprouts.