Mastering Brussels Sprouts Growing Stages for a Bountiful Harvest

    growing stages of brussels sprouts

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you’re a proud member of the group of people who love Brussels sprouts! I’ll be honest, I didn’t eat one until adulthood when I became a gardener. In that way I’m spoiled because I never had to suffer through frozen or grocery store sprouts.

Mine have always come fresh from the garden, and wow, what a difference (especially if they’re frost sweetened).  

If you know a bit about me as a gardener, you may know that fall is my favorite season in the vegetable garden. And Brussels sprout are the quintessential fall vegetable. In fact, I only start harvesting mine when I feel mentally ready to fall to begin, which usually isn’t until October after the first frost. 

Brussels sprouts, with their distinctive flavor and miniature cabbage-like appearance, are a popular vegetable in many gardens. However, successfully growing these delicious greens requires a bit of knowledge and patience.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the Brussels sprouts growing stages, from planting to harvesting, and address common questions and challenges.

how to grow brussels sprouts

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How Long Do Brussels Sprouts Take to Grow?

Brussels sprouts are not the fastest-growing vegetable, so if you’re looking for a quick harvest, you might need to consider other options. 

In my Smart Start Garden Planner book, I talk about learning the characteristics of the different vegetables so you can decide what’s worth it to grow in your own garden. One of the characteristics is how many days it takes to get a harvest.

I often use Brussels sprouts as an example of a vegetable that takes a long time from planting a seedling to harvest- at least 80 days, but usually longer than 100 days to reach harvest size.

I don’t think this necessarily means you shouldn’t grow them in your garden, it all depends on how much you love Brussels sprouts. We’ll talk more about this below, but one thing to keep in mind is that the plants will take up space in your garden from spring through fall, the entire growing season in many regions.

However, you may decide that the wait is well worth it for these delectable little vegetables.

brussels sprouts plant growth stages

Grow Brussels Sprouts from Seeds

The days to harvest we talked about above (80-120 days) is the time from planting a seedling in your garden, not direct seeding, which I don’t recommend for Brussels sprouts. 

If you do decide to grow Brussels sprouts, you should either start your own seeds in advance of spring or purchase plants from a local farmers market or nursery. Read more about where to buy vegetable plants.

Growing brussels sprouts (and all vegetables!) from seed at home is a rewarding experience that allows you to witness every stage of their development. You’ll need to plan ahead and sow the seeds indoors about 8-10 weeks before your region’s last frost date. 

There are a lot of things to learn when starting seeds for the first time, but once you get through the learning curve it’s an easily repeatable process year after year.

If you’d like a little guidance in your seed starting journey, you can check out all of my seed starting articles and my Super Easy Seed Starting Masterclass.

How Much Sun Do Brussels Sprouts Need?

If you live in a northern climate, pretty much every vegetable your grow in your garden does best in full sun. Think about a vegetable farm if you’ve ever visited one. There are little to no trees or shady spots in the growing area.

Brussels sprouts thrive in full sun, which means they need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Choose a well-draining location in your garden with plenty of sunshine to ensure robust growth and the development of these sought-after sprouts.

If you live in a hotter climate with intense summer sun, planting in fall is your best bet.

growing brussels sprouts

When to Plant Brussels Sprouts

Timing is crucial when planting brussels sprouts. They are a cool-season crop, so it’s best to plant them in early to mid spring for a fall harvest. In my zone 5 garden in Wisconsin, I plant my Brussels sprouts around the end of April. 

They’re frost hardy, so you don’t need to wait until after your average last frost date. The earlier you get them into the ground the more time they’ll have to grow and mature. Don’t wait too far into the spring or summer to plant or it will be too late.

In areas with mild winters, you can experiment with planting them in fall for a late winter or early spring harvest. 

How to Plant Brussels Sprouts

When planting your Brussels sprouts seedlings, space them about 18-24 inches apart in rows that are 30 inches apart. Most of my raised beds are 3 1/2 to 4 feet wide, so I plant two staggered rows down the length of the bed with 18 inches between each plant. Make sure the seedlings are at the same depth they were in their containers, and water them thoroughly after transplanting. 

I highly recommend mulching around the base of the plants to help conserve moisture and control weeds.

Read more about the 8 steps to expertly plant a seedling, where I happen to use Brussels Sprouts as my example. 

This is one of the most important steps in the Brussels sprouts growing stages because how and when you plant and the health of your soil determine the success of your crop later in the season. 

Fertilizer for Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are heavy feeders, so providing them with the right nutrients is essential for a bountiful harvest. I recommend adding a small scoop of an organic garden fertilizer to the planting hole. I like this one and this one.

If you’ve struggled with growing Brussels sprouts in the past, you can also side dress the plants with more fertilizer several times during the season. I simply pull back the mulch, spread a ring of fertilizer around the plant and scratch it into the soil. I replace the mulch and give the bed a deep watering. 

harvesting brussels spouts

When to Pick Brussels Sprouts

The most awaited time of Brussels sprouts growing stages is the harvest! When fall arrives, you may start wondering how you know when it’s time to harvest your brussels sprouts.

If you take a close look at the plant, you’ll notice that the sprouts on the bottom of the plant near the ground are the biggest, and they get smaller as you move up the plant. 

You can start harvesting from the bottom when the sprouts are about 1-2 inches in diameter and feel dense and firm when you touch them. Continue picking upwards as they mature, but be sure to harvest them before they become too large and loose in texture.

Like other vegetables in the garden such as carrots and spinach, Brussels sprouts get sweeter as the nights turn cold and frost hits. This is because they produce sugars that act as a natural anti-freeze for protection against low temperatures.

I personally like to leave my Brussels sprouts in the garden until at least the first few fall frosts. The plants are hardy down to around 20 degrees, so you can let them hang out in the garden throughout the fall.

I’ve been known to harvest the remainder of my plants in November or even early December. I love serving food from my garden for Thanksgiving, so I try to leave at least a few plants in the garden until right before the holiday.

Once the nighttime temperatures reach 20 degrees, you should harvest the remainder of your Brussels sprouts or they will begin to get damaged by the cold temperatures.

harvesting brussels sprouts in cold weather

How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts

To harvest Brussels sprouts, simply snap the individual sprouts off with your hands or cut the them from the stem using a sharp knife or garden pruners.

After harvesting, you can store the sprouts in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for several weeks. I think they taste best when used within a few days of harvest. Why store them in your fridge if you can just leave them on the plant outside in the natural refrigeration of fall?!

Do Brussels Sprouts Come Back Every Year?

Brussels sprouts are an annual crop, which means they do not come back on their own each year. To enjoy a continuous supply of Brussels sprouts, you’ll need to replant them each growing season.

cabbage worm

Brussels Sprouts Growing Problems

While growing them can be rewarding, there can be challenges throughout the Brussels sprouts growing stages. The most common issue in my garden is cabbage worms.

To combat these pesky insects that attack most of the vegetables in the brassica family, you can immediately cover your plants with row cover after planting. Read more about dealing with these gross little bugs

The other issue I deal with when growing Brussels sprouts is the sprouts not growing very big. This is something I’ve struggled with over the years. First and foremost, you need to make sure your soil has plenty of fertility for the plants. Using an organic garden fertilizer should help with this.

I don’t usually re-fertilize my vegetables after planting, but because I’ve had challenges with Brussels sprouts I do try to remember to apply some extra fertilizer around the plant several times throughout the summer. 

Another technique I’ve used to try to encourage the sprouts to grow bigger is chopping off the top of the plant near the end of the summer.

Theoretically, this should prevent the plant from continuing to put it’s energy towards growing taller, and instead channel it towards plumping up those sprouts. 

I have had mixed results with this technique, but I think it’s worth a try. 

Around this time you can also prune off some of the lower leaves of the plant in an attempt to get more sun to the sprouts.

brussels sprouts varieties

Purple Brussels Sprout Plant

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you likely know that I love experimenting with growing unique varieties of vegetable and flowers. Well, guess what?! There’s such a thing as a purple Brussel sprout!!

I stumbled upon Baker Creek’s Red Rubine variety at a local nursery one winter and just had to try them.

They’re beautiful, although I don’t think they were as productive as the green varieties I’ve planted. The sprouts were smaller than my other plants, but were they fun to mix into cooking with the green ones.

brussels sprouts in a bowl

Are Brussels Sprouts Worth Growing?

As with gardening in general, what’s worth it to grow is a highly individual preference. So, I can’t give you a straightforward answer. You’ll have to decide for yourself after digesting the information in this article and experience all of the Brussels sprouts growing stages yourself.

I will share my personal opinion though! Brussels sprouts are one of the quintessential vegetables of fall for me. I love eating them and have some favorite recipes I’ve found over the years.

I find that they’re very expensive at the farmers market and the ones at the grocery store don’t have that fresh garden flavor I’ve grown to know and love.

So, even though they take a long time to grow, which mean they’re taking up valuable real estate in my garden for the entire season, I do generally plant about six seedlings each spring.

If I had a bigger garden I’d plant a huge row of them. But, even with a 1600 square foot garden, I have to be choosy about what I grow because I can’t fit everything.

I prefer to devote more space to higher priority crops like onions, garlic, kale, carrots and beets instead. Brussels sprouts fall into a middle category for me – fun to have, but not worth giving up too much space for them.

Growing brussels sprouts definitely requires patience and proper care to produce a successful harvest. Hopefully, by understanding the various Brussels sprouts growing stages and following these guidelines, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of these delicious and nutritious vegetables in your own garden.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, Brussels sprouts can be a delightful addition to your homegrown produce. Happy gardening!

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