Kale Garden Spacing: How Far Apart Should You Plant Kale?
Not sure how much space you should give kale in your garden this season? Kale is pretty low maintenance once it's taken root, but as a garden vegetable it doesn't love to be crowded. In this article, gardening expert Merideth Cohrs walks through how much space you need to provide kale in your garden beds.
It’s almost a given that you should consider including kale for a fall planting this season. While this leafy green brassica doesn’t inspire the kind of love gardeners give to tomato and pepper plants, it has grown in popularity thanks to its incredible nutritional value.
I have grown kale in both my spring and fall gardens every year. But before sowing kale seeds this fall, take a moment to map out your garden. Mature kale plants can grow relatively large, and you’ll want to ensure they’re not overcrowded.
Your young seedlings will need space to spread out if you want to maximize your harvest. And if you’re interested in growing deliciously sweet and tender baby kale, you’ll need some square footage to ensure you have enough to harvest! Let’s take a deeper look at how much space kale actually needs between plants, and rows.
The Short Answer
If you’re planning to grow full-sized bunching kale, plan to space them 18-24 inches apart from one another. This spacing will allow the plant not to feel crowded when it reaches mature heights of one to three feet. This is the spacing you should use between both plants and rows.
If instead, you want to be able to harvest baby kale or microgreens, you can seed them just like lettuce. The young plants will grow very close to one another, naturally limiting their size and allowing for easy harvesting.
The Long Answer
When you plan out your cool-season vegetable garden, leave enough room for kale! But to maximize your harvest of this nutrient powerhouse, you’ll need to provide plants enough space.
No vegetable wants to be crowded, and kale is no different. So what exactly is the magic formula for spacing kale? Let’s dive in and find out.
Reasons To Avoid Overcrowding
All plants require a certain amount of space to spread their roots and foliage. Proper spacing allows sunlight to filter down to lower leaves, rain to reach the soil, and enough nutrients to be available.
Vegetable plants will start to exhibit some noticeable problems if they are overcrowded. Kale is not an exception. In fact, you’ll need to start thinning them out if they get too crowded, too quickly.
Nutrient deficiency is the number one issue an overcrowded garden faces. Especially if you are gardening in raised beds or containers, there is only so much soil available to hold onto macro- and micronutrients. If too many roots compete for soil space, none of the plants will thrive.
Although you can somewhat mitigate this problem by using fertilizers, it’s better to spread things out to avoid problems in the first place. Plants suffering from nutrient deficiencies can develop yellowing leaves, fail to thrive, or produce low yields.
While kale doesn’t flower or produce fruit, the leaf is what we harvest and eat. If the leaves don’t develop well, there will be little to no harvest.
Issues with pests and diseases are also common in an overcrowded garden. Poor air circulation can lead to an increase in fungal diseases like powdery mildew. And pests, like aphids, cabbage worms, and spider mites, can easily move between plants that are too close together.
Moisture issues are also common in an overcrowded garden. Similarly to nutrients, soil can only hold on to so much water at a time. The soil will dry out quickly if too many plants compete for that moisture. And it can be difficult to water an overcrowded garden bed unless you’re using a drip system or soaker hose. Dense foliage will prevent water from reaching the soil line, exacerbating the problem.
Spacing for Full-Sized Varieties
If you love cooking with kale rather than eating it raw in salads, you’ll want to plan for full-sized plants. Mature plants will provide an abundance of large leaves perfect for cooking.
These leaves won’t be as sweet or tender as baby kale, but since you are using them in hot preparation, it won’t matter. Just like spinach, kale sautees and steams beautifully and will take on the flavor of any spices you want to use.
There are some exciting kale plants available to the home gardener. We encourage you to try and plant a few different types of kale this fall to see what colors, flavors, and textures you prefer.
If you have a large garden and want to plant in rows, plan to give your kale plants 18-24 inches of room. Space requirements will largely depend on the variety you grow, so be sure to look at the recommended spacing on seed packets to be sure. Rows are traditionally placed 2-3 feet apart to give you enough room to walk and work between plants.
If you’re gardening in raised beds or containers, you can try your hand at square-foot gardening if you’re feeling adventurous. Each plant should take up one square foot of space. Place your transplant (or seeds) in the center of the square so that each plant has 12 inches before it starts to crowd into another plant’s space.
If you’re new to the square-foot gardening method, choose a smaller kale variety. A smaller plant will give you a little wiggle room until you have more experience with the technique.
Your kale plants are mature in 50-65 days, but you can begin to harvest leaves once they reach the desired size.
Plant baby kale if you enjoy fresh salads. You can create a never-ending salad bar by succession planting it throughout the fall.
Baby kale is nothing more than a young version of the mature plant we talked about above. The difference is that you sow seeds more closely together and harvest young leaves when they’re only 2-4 inches tall.
The benefit of baby kale is that the leaves are more tender and have a sweeter flavor than mature leaves. This flavor is why they’re desirable in a salad where they’re eaten raw.
Like seeding lettuce, space your seeds about an inch apart. As they begin to grow, you can thin them out a bit and enjoy those microgreens in a salad, sandwich, or on top of eggs. Eventually, you’ll want each plant to be spaced about 2-4 inches from the next one. Each young plant will have its own space but cannot grow too large.
You’ll be able to continually harvest your crop, giving you a never-ending source of salads. We recommend succession planting a new crop every one to two weeks during the fall for maximum yield.
Baby kale will be ready to harvest in as little as 20-30 days after sowing.
You may want to opt for microgreens if you’re going to add them to salads, flatbreads, or pizzas or if you want to add flavor and color to an omelet. Microgreens are also excellent as an alternative to lettuce in sandwiches or wraps.
The rules for spacing are very different when it comes to microgreens. You’ll want to plant the seeds very closely together so that you end up with a dense carpet of tiny kale sprouts. And since you harvest microgreens almost immediately after they sprout, you don’t need to worry about spacing at all. Most microgreen setups are quite small but produce a nice yield.
Microgreens will be ready to harvest about 10-15 days after sowing. If you want a continual supply of microgreens, you can succession plant a week apart in the same container or purchase two.
Now that you’ve grown your kale plants, it’s time to harvest those leaves and get cooking!
Harvesting could not be more simple. For a full-sized plant, begin cutting the oldest leaves from the lowest section of the plant first. Move your way up the stem and take as many leaves as you want. The only caveat is to leave the top 4-6 leaves in place. This allows the growing crown to remain intact so the plant can continue producing new leaves.
For baby kale, you can harvest in one of two ways.
The first way is to cut a few leaves off of multiple plants. Harvesting only a few leaves will allow each plant to continue to grow uninterrupted. You’ll be able to harvest from those plants again and again.
The other way is to grab a bunch of baby kale leaves and sheer off the tops together. This option is ideal for making a large salad or smoothie. If you choose this option, be sure to leave several inches of the stems behind to allow new growth to develop.
For the second method, plan to add a light nitrogen-rich fertilizer after harvesting to encourage quick regrowth.
Microgreens harvesting is the easiest of all. Once your microgreens have sprouted, they’re ready to harvest! Simply cut the tops off of your kale sprouts and enjoy. You can immediately plant new seeds.
Growing kale could not be any easier. It’s a beginner-friendly vegetable that even the newest gardener can successfully grow at home. Choose whether your family will enjoy full-sized, baby, or microgreen kale and plan your garden from there. Now that you know how to properly space and harvest kale at any stage, you’re ready to get planting!
But most importantly, have fun with this. Kale is a nutrient-packed powerhouse that is easy to add into so many dishes. And your kids may even get in on the action if they get to help grow it.