How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Cauliflower in Your Garden

Looking to try a new vegetable in your garden this season? Cauliflower can make an excellent addition to just about any vegetable garden. It's versatile, easy to care for, and is great for gardeners at all skill levels. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey walks you through how to plant, grow, and care for Cauliflower in your garden.

Cauliflower Head Growing in Garden

Cauliflower is broccoli’s denser, creamier cousin with a reputation for being rather difficult to cultivate in the garden. This brassica is grown for heads of tightly packed florets that can be enjoyed raw, roasted, fried, steamed, or even as a rice and grain alternative.

While this cool-weather crop takes up a bit more space than roots or greens, the prolific plants can yield heads up to 1 or 2 pounds! Once harvested, many cauliflower varieties also give you plenty of delicious shoots called “sprouting cauliflower”: tasty florets atop tender, sweet stems. The abundance of biomass is also the perfect addition to your compost pile.  

Cauliflower is notoriously expensive at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. Plus, it is often difficult to find those specialty varieties of vibrant purple, orange, and green heads. Why not try your hand at growing it in the garden? With a few simple tips and tricks, your garden beds will be bursting with nutrient-dense cauliflower for a vast range of recipes and snacks.

Cauliflower Overview

Maturing Plants
Plant Type Biennial grown as annual
Plant Family Brassicaceae
Plant Genus Brassica
Plant Species oleracea var. botrytis
Hardiness Zone USDA Zones 2-11
Planting Season Spring, Summer, Fall
Plant Maintenance Moderate to High
Plant Height 12 to 30”
Fertility Needs High
Temperature 50° to 80°F
Companion Plants Sweet alyssum, dill, marigold, yarrow
Soil Type Fertile, well-drained, slightly alkaline
Plant Spacing 12-18” plants, 24-36” rows
Watering Needs High, needs consistent moisture
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Days to Maturity 60 to 80 days
Pests Flea Beetles, Aphids, Cabbage Worms
Diseases Black Rot, Club Root

History and Cultivation

Plantation Growing
From classic to modern uses, this vegetable does not disappoint.

Whether the classic cream of cauliflower soup, grilled cauliflower, and cauliflower au gratin, or the modern cauliflower rice, pizza crusts, cauliflower “wings”, and gluten free cauli substitutes, there’s no denying that this vegetable has come a long way from its wild cabbage ancestors.

Cauliflower is one of the hundreds of offshoots of the Brassica oleracea plant. Its close cousins cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, collards, and kohlrabi are all variations of the same species, often collectively referred to as “cole crops” or “crucifers”.

Some are bred for tasty large leaves like kale and collards, whereas others are bred for dense clusters of leaves (cauliflower and brussel sprouts). Still, others are bred for bulbous roots like kohlrabi, and then there are the modified flower cousins: broccoli and cauliflower.

History of Cauliflower

Small Head with Healthy Leaves
The first official mention of this edible flower was by a Roman naturalist named Pliny the Elder.

Most of us think of cauliflower as a vegetable but botanically speaking, it is an edible flower, perhaps the most famous of all time. Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder is credited with the first official mention of cauliflower in his book Naturalis Historia. At the time, cauliflower was called cyma and most often lumped into the same category of its cabbage relatives. He wrote “of all the varieties of cabbage, the most pleasant-tasted in cyma”.

Pliny was crazy about cauliflower, though he lamented the foul-smelling water that came from boiling it (which is easily solved with a colander and a nice rinse by the way). Without any other archeological proof, this mention serves as our first evidence of cauliflower in ancient Rome.

Where does cauliflower originate?

Hands Around Fresh Transplant
It took many generations of breeding to serve up this delicious, creamy vegetable.

Cauliflower has a blurred and uncertain origin. At some point, a farmer or gardener gathered seeds from a wild Brassica plant (likely wild cabbage) and bred it over many generations to produce small heads. To this day, you can find the vibrant yellow flowers of wild Brassica oleracea blooming along the rocky coastlines and roadside ditches of Europe.

Scientists have made several attempts to figure out where exactly cole crops originated and hold contrasting hypotheses about either a Mediterranean or North Atlantic origin. The jury is still out as to which is correct, but we do know that the lordly white cauliflower as we know it today first arrived on English tables in the 1720s.

They called it “sprout cauliflower” or “Italian asparagus” and served it in elegant royal dishes to King Louis XIV. The term “cauliflower” is a derivative of the Italian caoli fiori, translated to “cabbage flower”, which is exactly what this vegetable is.

What came first, broccoli or cauliflower?

Comparison with Broccoli
Wild cabbage brought both of these flowering vegetables to life.

Technically, broccoli came before cauliflower, but they both have their roots in cabbage ancestry. In spite of cauliflower’s royal treatment in 16th century Europe, Mark Twain’s contention that “a cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education” holds some truth. Really, neither broccoli nor cauliflower came first. It was their cabbage predecessor that brought these ubiquitous veggies to life!

The Etruscans (an ancient Italian civilization) were the horticultural geniuses that first began breeding wild cabbage varieties for denser floral heads. The term broccoli came from the Italian word broccolo, which means “flowering crest of a cabbage”. Next came more crossing, seed-saving, and breeding to create the cauliflower we know today.

Innovation continues to yield new varieties of cauliflower with purple, orange, or green heads, as well as the gorgeous fractals of Romanesco cauliflower and the tender sprouting cauliflower stems known as Fioretto.

Versatile Nutritional Superstar

Blender with Cutting Board
Packed with vitamins and incredibly diverse, this vegetable adds cream and texture to any dish.

For a while, kale was the trendiest Brassica cousin. But now cauliflower is taking back its crown! Cauliflower pizza crust, mashed cauliflower (instead of potatoes), cauliflower rice, and even cauliflower “chicken wings” have taken the veggie world by storm. This veggie is the perfect gluten-free substitute for many wheat products, while sneaking in an abundance of nutrition and health benefits.

Cauliflower is high in vitamins C, K, B6, and folate. It is a low-calorie food with many unique compounds linked to reduced risk of heart disease. It is also a great source of antioxidants glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, which have been shown to fight cancer.

Like most of its brassica relatives, cauliflower is high in fiber and acts as prebiotic in the gut, fueling healthy gut microbiome and promoting digestive health. That being said, raw cauliflower can cause an upset stomach in some people who aren’t used to such high levels of fiber. It is usually recommended to eat cauliflower cooked for better digestion

Cauliflower is also one of the rare food sources of choline, which is an essential nutrient needed for brain development and a healthy nervous system. Many people are deficient in choline and may have a higher risk of liver and heart disease, as well as neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Growing cauliflower lets you have all these health and flavor benefits at a fraction of the cost. Plus, garden-grown brassicas tend to be significantly more nutrient-dense than their grocery store counterparts.

Propagation

Seedlings in Flats
Start indoors or buy starts from your local nursery.

Propagating cauliflower is very similar to seeding kale, broccoli, or cabbage. Cauliflower seeds are vigorous and easy to start indoors with a simple nursery setup. You can also buy cauliflower starts from most garden stores and nurseries, but they may not offer the same diversity and vigor of varieties you can seed yourself. 

How to Seed Cauliflower

Hand Holding Seeds Over Flat
Use plug flats to easily start your seeds indoors before transplanting in your garden.

Starting indoors and transplanting into the garden is the most recommended and effective way to propagate cauliflower. These plants are best started in flats or cells about 4 to 6 weeks before transplanting out. Don’t start too early or you’ll end up with unhappy cauliflower plants!

Begin with 6-packs or 72-cell plug flats filled with a high quality organic seed starting mix. Sow 2-3 seeds per cell about ¼” to ½” deep. Cover lightly with soil and keep them consistently moist until germination (usually just 8-10 days). Brassicas tend to germinate quickly and are very rewarding for beginners.

The ideal soil temperature for germination is about 70°F, which is best accomplished with a seed heating mat. However, be sure to remove the heat mat after the seedlings emerge and keep temps around 60°F.

Thin plants to 1 per cell and maintain good air circulation and light. Do not forget to thin, as cauliflower needs plenty of space to grow and will not “head up” later on if it is crammed against a neighbor!

If you are growing cauliflower seedlings in the heat of summer to prepare for fall plantings, you may need to use shade cloth to moderate the temperatures. Even as baby plants, cauliflower doesn’t like ultra hot temperatures above 80°F.

Can you direct seed cauliflower?

Sowing Directly in Garden
Plant 3-4 seeds in each hole to increase the odds of a good harvest.

Though it tends to perform better when transplanted, cauliflower can also be directly seeded in the garden. Sow seeds about ½” deep in clusters of 3-4 seeds every 18”. Rows should be 24-36” apart. Once they germinate and the first true leaves appear, thin cauliflower seedlings to 1 plant every 18”.

Succession Planting

Four Growing Heads
Stagger your seeding dates so you will have a consistent supply of this delectable vegetable.

It’s best to plant cauliflower in succession, meaning you stagger your seeding dates throughout the season. This allows you to try several varieties of cauliflower in your garden and also maintain a near-continuous supply of this delicious veggie.

Seeding a few plants every 2-3 weeks (depending on your family’s appetite) from spring through summer will keep staggered planting of cauliflower maturing at just the right times.

Spring and Summer Crops

For summer harvests, start your seeds indoors in early spring (March-April in most regions) about 4-6 weeks before the last frost. The seedlings need to be well established but not root-bound or overgrown in their containers, as this can lead to stress and decreased performance once in the garden.  

While it may seem counterintuitive, spring-sown cauliflower varieties should be the most heat-tolerant seed types because they will be maturing as temperatures warm in the early summer.

Fall Crop

Fall cauliflower is the easiest for beginners because it can be grown in pretty much any location. Seeds are started in June-July and ready to transplant about 4 weeks later. If you prefer to direct sow cauliflower, this time frame will offer you the most success because the temperatures are settled and you won’t risk losing your seedlings to late frosts.

Winter Crop

If you live in an area with mild winters that don’t receive hard frosts, you can grow cauliflower throughout the cold season. Seeds need to be started in late summer and transplanted between September and February. Because cauliflower is less cold hardy than other brassicas, the plants need to reach 60-70% of their mature growth before entering the winter.

Planting

Baby Plant
Once your seedlings mature indoors for about 4-5 weeks, it is time to transplant.

Once you have happy seedling starts, planting cauliflower is a breeze. Based on the guide above, decide what time of year you will be planting and be sure to time your seeding accordingly.

In general, older transplants won’t perform as well as actively-growing seedlings. The best stage to plant cauliflower seedlings is when they are around 4-6” tall and no more than 4-5 weeks old. This is why you have to map out your seeding and transplanting dates ahead of time. Planning is key for more challenging crops like cauliflower!

Hardening off Seedlings

Using Row Cover
Row cover will help your seedlings adjust to their new home.

About a week before transplanting, gradually introduce your cauliflower seedlings to cold temperatures. I like to do this in a protected outdoor space beneath a light row cover. This will ensure that your plants don’t get shocked by the nighttime temperatures once in the garden. Remember, cauliflower is not nearly as cold-hardy as cabbage and its other brassica cousins.

How to Transplant Cauliflower

Transplanting Seedlings in Moist Soil
Prepare appropriately spaced holes in advance to make the transplanting process smooth.

Prepare your garden beds and use a hori hori or hand trowel to make a hole slightly larger than your cauliflower seedling. Hold the plant by its base and gently wiggle it out of the container, placing it in the hole and backfilling around the base until the roots are covered. There is no need to tamp down or compact the soil. Be sure that the soil line remains at the same level so that the baby plants don’t get girdled or rot off at the stem base.

Thoroughly water cauliflower transplants and consider feeding with a diluted kelp solution to help them get established quickly. I like to cover newly transplanted brassicas with a light row cover to keep the flea beetles away and help them establish in a cozy environment.

Spacing

Make sure to give your seedlings plenty of room to grow.

Cauliflower should be transplanted about 18” apart in rows 24-36” apart. This may seem like a lot of space for those baby seedlings, but these plants grow pretty large and need plenty of room to properly head up. If you have known disease pressure in your garden, you can go for even wider spacing to ensure adequate air flow between plants.

For mini heads, lower the spacing to about 12” apart and rows 18-36” apart. These cauliflowers are often harvested a bit younger whenever they reach your desired size, but before they start bolting.

How to Grow

Head with Green Leaves
Beautiful, white cauliflower heads do take a little extra TLC, but are certainly worth the effort.

Growing quality cauliflower is definitely a bit more challenging than other vegetables because of the critical timing and temperature needed for proper head development. If you aren’t as concerned with growing picture-perfect cauliflower, the steps are simpler and your veggies will taste just as good. But, with proper timing and care, you can have the best of both worlds in any home garden!

These cool-weather plants need to mature at temperatures between 60° and 80°F. If it’s too cold in the early seedling stages, they may form premature heads that won’t be very good. If it’s too hot in the maturity phase, the crowns can end up distorted and sad.

There is also this process called blanching or “tying” that is primarily for aesthetics, but helps you get those pearly white cauliflower heads like you find in stores. If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry! I’ll walk you through each of these details to make it as easy as possible.

Light

Transplanted in Loose Soil
Make sure your plants aren’t in the shade unless you’re growing in the hot summer months.

Cauliflower plants require lots of sunlight to thrive, typically 6-8 hours of full sun per day. While they can grow in shadier conditions, they will not thrive as they will with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Avoid planting in shaded areas of the garden unless you are trying to grow in ultra-hot summers (which may warrant use of shade cloth or a dappled sunlight area).

However, when it comes time for maturing, white cauliflower heads usually need to be protected from sunlight. This is most often done with the “blanching” or “tying” technique described below, or by growing a “self-wrapping” variety. Essentially this process keeps the sunlight from discoloring the pearly florets, however it is not necessary for colored cauliflower types.

A common misconception is that the whole cauliflower plant needs to be shaded, but the leaves definitely still require full sun to photosynthesize and develop that central growing head!

Water

Drip Line for Transplants
Be sure to keep your soil moist, but not soggy.

Cauliflower is a thirsty plant that needs a continuous supply of irrigation throughout its lifecycle. Consistent moisture is really important for getting good “curd” development because any volume of water stress can lead to low quality heads.

I prefer to water cauliflower with a soaker hose or drip line instead of overhead sprinklers. This is because overhead irrigation tends to promote more disease issues in the plants. You definitely don’t want any mold forming on those precious florets because of excess overhead moisture.

Depending on your weather conditions and soil water-holding capacity, cauliflower typically needs to be irrigated at least 3-4 times per week. Check soil moisture levels with a probe or your finger and ensure that it never dries out nor gets soggy wet.

Soil

Planted in Moist Soil
Add quality compost to your soil before transplanting your seedlings.

Like most garden veggies, cauliflower loves a very fertile, moist, and well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. The ideal pH for brassicas is slightly alkaline, between 6.0 and 7.5. Cauliflower is more finicky than other crops and will not perform in poor soils.

Sandy soils may work, but you will have to irrigate more regularly. Organic matter both improves water-holding capacity in sandy soils while also improving drainage in heavy clay soils. Either way, it’s recommended to amend with plenty of quality compost before planting to ensure that cauliflower has the soil structure it needs.

Climate and Temperature

Multiple Cauliflower Plants Growing in Garden
This vegetable does best in moderate temperatures.

Let’s be honest, cauliflower is a bit of a whiny baby about temperature. Kind of like celery, it doesn’t like it to be too hot or too cold and it will stubbornly fail to perform if it doesn’t get what it wants.

So what temperatures are best? Above 55°F but below 75°F, ideally a nice pleasant temperature around 70°F. See? I told you cauliflower is a bit of a diva.

Heat Problems

Since cauliflower is a cool-weather crop, temps above 80°F are not ideal. Occasional heat spikes won’t necessarily destroy your crop, but it can lead to speckly or “ricey” curds that are not as creamy-textured and beautiful as a quality cauliflower head. However, persistent hot weather can cause crop failure or really low quality crowns. Heat stress may also cause more summer pest and disease problems. 

If you live in a hot climate, it is important to plant very early in the spring or late in the summer to avoid growing cauliflower in the heat. You should also select heat-tolerant varieties. Sprouting cauliflower tends to be the most heat tolerant but can still get a bit “ricey” textured if the temperature swings are too extreme.

Cold Problems

Excess cold weather is also problematic. You have to time your seeding and transplanting dates so that baby cauliflower plants aren’t exposed to anything below 50°F.

Prolonged cold temperatures for more than a week could cause your plants to prematurely try to develop heads and ultimately fail to yield. This is called “buttoning up” and it can also happen due to nitrogen deficiency or water stress.

Baby cauliflower plants are not frost tolerant. Fall cauliflower crops can withstand light frosts as long as they have had plenty of time to mature in the late summer. 

Fertilizing

Fertilizing When Planting
Add and organic fertilizer in the hole when transplanting your seedlings.

Cauliflower needs plenty of fertility to grow big happy leaves and gorgeous well-formed crowns. The best fertilizer is liquid fish that is diluted and applied at the base every 2-3 weeks. You can also put a granulated organic all-purpose fertilizer in the planting hole for a slow-release source of NPK throughout the growing season. High quality compost and diluted kelp are a great source of micronutrients to apply in the early spring.

Maintenance

Self Wrapping Variety
Buy a self-wrapping variety if you are a beginner gardener.

If you are growing colored cauliflowers (orange, purple, green, etc.) then no special maintenance is necessary. But if you are growing white cauliflower, either choose a “self-wrapping” variety or use the “tying” method to blanch your heads.

Blanching produces the highest quality white cauliflower because it prevents discoloration from the sun. It keeps the protected head safe from excess heat. This results in a better texture and appearance.

Self Wrapping: Self-wrapping is when the plant variety naturally curls its inner leaves over the developing floret head. This protects it from the sun (best for beginners/low-maintenance gardeners).

Tying: a method of cauliflower blanching done by wrapping the inner head with outer leaves. Then, gently securing the tips with a rubber band or twine (best for advanced or market gardeners).

If you are using the tying method, you will need to start blanching when the head is about the size of a baseball. Gather some large outer leaves and pull them gently toward the center. These will cover the head loosely. Then secure it on top with twine or a rubber band.

Do not tie too tightly or it will stop air circulation. This prevents the florets from developing to their full size. There needs to be plenty of room for the head to keep maturing. You also want to have enough room for enough protection from the sun to keep it cool and white.

Harvest

Time for Harvest
Check your heads regularly to track their growth so you don’t miss the best time for harvest.

Most cauliflower varieties are ready to harvest when they are 5-6” across the center. It is important to check your garden regularly once harvest time nears because the heads can quickly get “too far gone”. If you wait too long to harvest, they stop growing larger and instead get oversized, loose, or “ricey” in texture. They are still edible, but not as prime.

Standard Heads

Harvesting Cauliflower
To harvest, cut right at the base of the head.

To cut the cauliflower heads, loosen the tied leaves (if blanched). Then, gently hold the crown and cut at the base, leaving a few inner leaves if desired. The heads are susceptible to bruising. They should be handled with care if you want them to last in the fridge. Wash and cool as soon as possible.

Sprouting Cauliflower

Sprouting Cauliflower
Cut or snap off each branch one at a time when harvesting.

Sprouting cauliflower is designed to produce high quality curds on long branches. You should begin monitoring these types when they have the same appearance as standard cauliflower. Over the course of a week, they should begin to evenly open and sprout upwards. Branch lengths around 4-8” are typically the best texture and flavor. Simply cut at the base or snap off and come back for repeated harvests until the plant expires.

Storage

Drawer Storage in Fridge
Store in a crisper drawer with your other favorite veggies.

Cauliflower is great because it can last 2-3 weeks or more in the fridge. Ideal conditions are just above freezing (32-35°F) in high humidity such as a crisper drawer. Perforated plastic bags are great for storing cauliflower. Sprouting varieties won’t keep as long and are best enjoyed fresh.

Best Varieties of Cauliflower

Different Colorful Varieties
Make sure you choose seeds that line up with your desired growing season.

Choosing the best cauliflower variety is all about timing. Most cultivars are bred to succeed in specific harvest slots based on seasonality. For example, summer cauliflower and fall cauliflower are bred for different growth habits and temperature tolerances. There has been a lot of innovation in the realm of beginner-friendly cauliflower seeds. Here are a few of my favorites:

Spring Planted (Summer Harvest) Varieties

Self-Wrapping Bishop
This white Bishop endures the heat by wrapping its leaves around the crown.

Cold and heat tolerant, these cultivars are great for early plantings.

  • ‘EarliSnow’: One of the most adaptable and reliable early varieties, this bright white average-sized cauliflower performs well in both spring and fall, and matures in just 45 days.
  • ‘Snow Crown’: Another F1 hybrid, ‘Snow Crown’ has a lot of vigor and yields medium-sized heads for summer or fall harvest (some tolerance for light fall frosts). It is bright white, except when under fertility or water stress which may result in purplish coloration. Matures in 50 days.
  • ‘Bishop’: A vigorous white hybrid with well-wrapped heads and wide adaptability to most regions. 65 days.

Summer Planted (Fall Harvest) Varieties

Big White Synergy
Only 60 days from seed to table to enjoy this Synergy variety.

With better heat tolerance and longer maturity windows, these types are best planted out in June-July and mature into the fall.

  • ‘Synergy’: One of the most brilliant white and rounded heads, this hybrid grows big sturdy plants for fall production. 60 days to maturity.
  • ‘Mardi’: The perfect mid-season variety, ‘Mardi’ grows smooth, heavy white crowns with excellent “self-wrapping” leaves. Great for fall harvests in northern regions. 62 days to maturity.
  • ‘Twister’: This cultivar is well-adapted to summer and fall in the northeast and midwest, as well as winter in the desert. It is one of the best “self-wrapping” types that yields excellent colored high-quality heads.
  • ‘Denali’: Heavy, large white heads perfect for summer sowings and fall harvests. This variety takes just over 70 days to mature and has a deep root system for growing in soils with lower fertility.

Uniquely Colored Varieties

Uniquely Colored Varieties
Although these varieties take a bit more time to mature, they are certainly worth the wait.

If you want to spice up your cauliflower game, grow some of these vibrant rainbow cauliflower types.

  • ‘Flame Star’: This pastel orange cauliflower is great for early plantings and has nice heat tolerance. Medium-large plants are vigorous and great for spring or fall. Matures in 62 days.
  • ‘Lavender’: Beautiful violet colored heads are amazing on veggie platters. Great for fall crops but can also be grown in summer. 70 days.
  • ‘Vitaverde’: A vibrant chartreuse green cauliflower, ‘Vitaverde’ is adapted to cool and warm-weather in areas with moderate heat. 71 days.
  • ‘Puntoverde’: This fractal-spiraled Romanesco type is sure to stun both in the garden and the kitchen. It is reliable for fall and summer crops without extreme heat. Rugged plants take 78 days to mature.

Sprouting Cauliflower Cultivars

Sprouting Variety
As these are difficult to find in the store, growing them in your garden may be the only way to try these tender sprouting varieties.

For tender fresh eating, dipping, and unique grilling, try out sprouting cauliflower in the garden. Due to storability, these are hard to find in stores and make for a special summer treat.

  • ‘Fioretto 70’: This gorgeous sprouting type is reliable and flavorful. The stems are light green and tender with bright white florets perfect for light cooking or dipping raw. They can be harvested any time up to 8” long. Better for experienced gardeners and requires moderate heat (ideal temp 60-80°F when maturing). 70 days.
  • ‘Song TJS-65’: Popular in Asia this is a green stem, early, sweet cauliflower that is easy to prep in the kitchen and performs well in hot weather. Sometimes called “loose curd” cauliflower, it isn’t technically a sprouting type nor is it a regular head. Fastest maturing option at 42 days.

Pests and Diseases

Diseased Leaves
Unfortunately, cauliflowers are not immune to pest and disease problems.

Cauliflower is affected by all the common pests and diseases that attack its Brassica cousins. Exclusion, prevention, and organic control methods are the best means of keeping them under control.

Flea Beetles

Flea Beetle Eating Leaf
These tiny beetles leave holes all over your growing leaves.

Flea beetles are annoying shiny beetles that chomp at brassica leaves and can cause some real damage. You will notice lots of tiny speckly holes all over cauliflower leaves and leaping tiny fleas around the plant when you touch it.

Fortunately, they are easily excluded by simply laying row cover on top of the crop with or without hoops. You can also use talc or fine clay dusted on the leaf surfaces to repel flea beetles. Sticky traps will trap adult beetles, but won’t cut down on immature populations. Or a diluted neem oil mixture can be sprayed directly on flea beetle infested leaves.

Flea beetles also overwinter on crop residues, so it’s always best to remove cauliflower leaves and stems after harvest and thoroughly hot-compost them away from your garden beds.

Aphids

Aphids on Leaf
Check the underside of your leaves to make sure you don’t have an aphid problem.

Aphids are the bane of any gardener’s existence and they unfortunately have a special love for cauliflower. You will find these annoying grey-whitish bugs on the undersides of leaves and sometimes buried in the crowns. They emit a sticky sap and damage plant tissues, sometimes to the point of ruining the crop.

There are various biological control methods for aphids. Ladybugs are by far the most voracious aphid-eaters. Planting flowers and herbs that attract ladybugs is one of the best long-term ecological control methods for aphids.

Some of my favorites include sweet alyssum, marigolds, dill, calendula, yarrow, phacelia, parsley, and feverfew. You can also use the “trap cropping” method of planting a crop that attracts lots of aphids (like radish), letting them infest the plant, and then removing it promptly to cut down on populations. Just don’t forget to dispose of it!

Cabbage Worms

Cabbage Worm on Leaf
If you start to notice holes in your beautiful green leaves, cabbage worms may be the culprit.

Cabbage worms are the larvae of the cabbage white butterfly[1]  (Pieris rapae). These annoying velvety green worms are extremely damaging to cauliflower. Just like flea beetles, it is best to exclude them in the first place by laying a light row cover over the top of your cauliflower seedlings at the time of planting. This prevents the butterflies from laying their eggs to begin with.

If you are already dealing with a cabbage worm problem, you have a few options: hand pick them, use a Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) biocontrol spray, or apply a diluted neem solution directly to the infested area once a week. 

Black Rot

Black Rot
Practice crop rotation and purchase resistant seeds to avoid Black Rot.

Black Rot is a serious bacterial disease that infects brassicas. It looks like dull yellowish spots on the leaves that are often V-shaped. As the disease progresses, leaves may turn brown or black, or die off completely.

Warmth, humidity, fog, and excess moisture favor black rot infection. It is best prevented by buying disease-free seed and practicing crop rotation. There’s not much you can do once it has taken hold. 

Club Root

Club Root Disease
Crop rotation is key to avoiding this brassica disease.

Club Root is another unfortunate brassica disease that causes the roots to become malformed and distorted like a “club”. The easiest way to prevent club root is through diligent crop rotation. Avoid growing brassicas in the same part of the garden for 3 or more seasons. You should also remove all crop residues and maintain a thriving soil microbiology through regular use of compost and compost teas.

Plant Uses

Cut Cauliflower on Cutting Board
From creamy soups to low carb pizza crust, this vegetable has endless possibilities.

Cauliflower is a nutritious food used to help with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Moreover, it is deliciously incorporated into a wide range of dishes in many different cuisines. The head (sometimes called a crown or “curd”) is the most coveted portion of the plant, however the leaves are also edible like collard greens.

Try cauliflower pickled on veggie platters, raw with dip, mashed as a potato substitute, shredded like a rice substitute, ground into flour for pizza crust, or even roasted with buffalo sauce as “cauliflower wings”. When roasted and pureed, cauliflower makes a creamy base for soups and sauces. It stores well in the fridge and can also be sliced and frozen for cooking all year round.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you grow cauliflower successfully?

Cauliflower requires rich, well-drained soil and moderate temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold (preferably between 55° and 75°F during maturity).

Begin with strong seedlings, transplant at the proper time (depending on varietal), use proper spacing (12-18” between plants and 24-36” between rows), provide plenty of fertility and moisture, and use a “tying” technique to blanch the cauliflower crown for ideal white color.

Cauliflower is a slightly finicky crop that needs to be harvested in the perfect window when the crowns are firm and round, but not over-ripe or sprouting.

Is cauliflower difficult to grow?

Cauliflower is moderately difficult to grow and not recommended for beginner gardeners. It is very sensitive to temperature and requires proper timing to be successful. However, once you get the hang of it, you can grow this delicious crown all season long.

How long does it take for cauliflower to grow?

Most cauliflower varieties take 60 to 80 days to mature from the seeding date.

How many heads of cauliflower do you get from one plant?

Cauliflower produces one head per plant. It requires ample garden space and is best planted in successions (seeding every 2-3 weeks) for a continuous supply).

Final Thoughts

In spite of its pickiness, garden-fresh cauliflower is outrageously delicious and far more affordable than its grocery store counterparts. It is one of the healthiest and most versatile vegetables you can grow. It may take some trial and error to get the perfect crowns you’ve been dreaming of, but anyone can learn to grow cauliflower. May your brassica patch yield in abundance!

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