by Jennifer Poindexter
Cauliflower has made quite a comeback in recent years. There was a time it was viewed as the “knock-off” to broccoli. Now, it’s the keto replacement for potatoes and rice, and more people are trying it every day.
Whether you’ve loved cauliflower for a while or have newly discovered it, you might be interested in growing it yourself.
I’ll be the first to tell you, it’s not an easy crop to grow. However, if you’re a seasoned gardener or someone who enjoys a challenge, it could still work for you.
Here’s what you might want to know when growing cauliflower.
Growing Conditions for Cauliflower
Cauliflower is a cool-weather crop. It’s best if grown in the spring or fall. In some warmer climates, you might be able to overwinter the plants if you can provide cover such as a greenhouse or cold frame.
However, cauliflower doesn’t like extremely hot or cold weather. It’s ideal grow time will include temperatures which hang around sixty to seventy degrees Fahrenheit.
Cauliflower should also be planted in full sun with well-draining soil. This crop grows well in planting zones two through eleven, but you should base your plant time around typical weather patterns.
For instance, if you live in a warmer location with milder winters, you might want to plant in the fall to enjoy an early spring harvest.
However, if you live in a cooler climate with brutal winters, it might be better to plant in late summer to harvest in fall. This will avoid extreme dips in the temperature.
If you have a location where this crop can receive ample sunlight and have quality soil, which drains well, this would be a great spot to try your hand at growing cauliflower.
How to Plant Cauliflower
When planting cauliflower, your first step is to amend the soil. The plants thrive in nutrient-dense dirt.
You can choose to purchase seedlings of cauliflower to speed-up the growing process, or you may choose to grow them from seed. This is a personal decision based upon your comfort level with gardening.
Plant the seeds, outdoors, four to six weeks before final frost in the spring. You should plant the cauliflower seeds a month prior to frost in the fall.
Prepare your garden bed and plant each seed a ½ inch deep. There should be six inches of space between each plant and three feet between rows. After your seeds have sprouted, thin them to where there’s two feet between each plant.
If you choose to plant seedlings you’ve purchased, plant them two weeks before final frost. They should be planted with two feet between each plant and three feet between the rows.
Once your cauliflower seeds or seedlings are in the ground, it’s time to learn how to properly care for them to increase your chance at a great harvest.
Caring for Cauliflower
As mentioned previously, cauliflower isn’t the easiest crop to grow because it can be quite fussy. It also takes a while for the crop to be ready to harvest.
It could take anywhere from eighty-five to one hundred days to reach a harvest. This is a great deal of time for things to go awry for a fussy plant.
Caring for cauliflower is vital to your harvest. Let’s start with ensuring you cover your cauliflower crop in the event of frost.
Though cauliflower likes cooler temperatures, it isn’t frost resistant. Therefore, if frost is on the way, pull out your cold frames or row covers to keep it off your plants.
Next, you must give cauliflower plenty of water. It needs up to two inches of water per week. It’s wise to use the deep watering method.
This allows you to water the crops two to three days per week for longer periods of time. It ensures water reaches the roots of the plants and encourages a stronger root system.
If you’re concerned about your plants needing water, stick your finger into the soil next to the cauliflower. When the soil is dry to your first knuckle, it’s time to add more water. If it’s still wet, you can water at a later time.
Mulching is also vital to the care of cauliflower. It helps to keep weeds down and moisture in place around the crop.
You must also fertilize cauliflower. It doesn’t need it regularly, but it should be fertilized one month after planting. Use a balanced fertilizer for this step in the care process.
Finally, you must understand, there are some things you can’t control when growing cauliflower. If there’s a sudden, unexpected, swing in temperatures it could cause you cauliflower to “button.”
This is when small heads quickly close and should be harvested. They won’t grow any larger from that point forward. Do your best to plant when you think temperatures have leveled off, and be sure to protect your crop from frost.
Understanding how to properly care for cauliflower, and the limits of your care, are key to making it to harvest.
Garden Pests and Diseases for Cauliflower
Cauliflower faces quite a few threats each growing season. Common pests which invade the crop are aphids, thrips, cabbage root maggots, cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and flea beetles.
Aphids can be treated with an insecticide or sprayed with forceful, soapy water. It dislodges the pests from the plant.
Keep in mind, aphids are persistent. Therefore, the treatment may need to be applied more than one time.
Thrips tend to make your plants have a silver tint because they feed in large groups. These pests can be sprayed with water, forcefully, to remove them from your plants. You can also treat them with an insecticide.
Cabbage root maggots are more common in cooler climates. If you live in an area where you’ve noticed the maggots feeding on other cole crops, below the soil in the past, apply a cardboard collar around the base of your cauliflower plants when planting.
This deters cabbage flies from laying their eggs in the soil next to your crops. The eggs will later hatch into cabbage maggots.
You can use sticky tape, available at many garden stores, to catch the parents of the cabbage maggots before they ever lay in your garden to begin with.
Cabbage worms are another pest which attacks cauliflower. This is a difficult pest to get rid of. Therefore, it’s wise to treat the problem with an insecticidal soap.
Cabbage loopers and flea beetles can also be treated with specific insecticides. Read the packaging to ensure the insecticide you choose treats each common pest listed.
As far as common diseases, cauliflower can be impacted by powdery mildew, white rust, clubroot, and downy mildew.
Powdery mildew and downy mildew can be treated with specific fungicides. Ensure the fungicide you choose works on both types of mildew.
White rust is a tough pill to swallow. If caught early, the same fungicide you use to treat downy mildew might be able to ward off the fungus which causes white rust.
However, once white rust has taken over, there’s no way to treat it. You should pull up the infected crops and destroy them to stop further infestation.
Finally, clubroot is a fungal disease. It’s spread by wind, through infected garden tools, and even water. When clubroot impacts your crop, you should pull up any impacted plants and destroy them.
Ensure you remove the entire root system of the plant, or the disease will spread to other plants in the surrounding area.
This is a highly contagious fungal disease which should be dealt with immediately. There are a few other issues when raising cauliflower that gardeners might want to be made aware of.
At times, you’ll notice your cauliflower heads become different colors. Though this isn’t a disease causing the issue, it’s important to understand why it’s happening.
When your cauliflower heads turn pink, they’re receiving too much sun or there’s been a swift change in temperature.
If your cauliflower heads are purple, they’re either stressed or growing in low quality soil. When cauliflower heads are brown, they have a boron deficiency.
This can be treated by watering with one tablespoon of Borax to one gallon of water every two weeks. You should also amend the soil further for future plantings.
Cauliflower faces a series of threats when growing in the garden. By staying alert, you stand a greater chance at defeating these problems before they spread.
How to Harvest Cauliflower
Congratulations! You’ve survived difficult temperatures, frost, along with many pests and diseases which can cause your cauliflower to button or become too damaged to make it to harvest.
Now what should you do?
It’s time to harvest your crop. When the white head of the cauliflower is approximately three inches around, wrap the outer leaves over the head of the plant. Tie it with twine or a rubber band to keep the leaves in place.
Leave the plant like this for one week. This process is known as blanching. After the week is up, it’s time to harvest.
When the cauliflower heads are white, approximately eight inches around, and dense, cut them from the plant. You’ll need a sharp knife or gardening shears.
If the heads are coarse, throw them out. Even if the heads are smaller than eight inches and opening, you can still harvest them. Do so quickly before the window passes.
Once harvested, store the heads of cauliflower in your fridge for up to a week. For longer-term storage, cut up the heads, blanche them in boiling water for one-minute, place them in cold water to cool rapidly, and drain the water from the heads.
Place the cauliflower in freezer bags and freeze for use in the coming months. This should help you enjoy your harvest a little longer.
Cauliflower isn’t one of the easier vegetables to grow. It’s temperamental and there are many things which could negatively impact your harvest which are out of your control.
However, once you’re aware of this, you may be able to notice potential threats a little easier and stand a greater chance at producing an abundant cauliflower harvest. Hopefully, this information will help you become a gardening pro when raising this crop.