Growing Cauliflower

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Cauliflower plant with white head formed

To ensure that you get a pretty white head of cauliflower like this one, you may need to pull the leaves up over the head and tie them together to shade, or blanch, it.

Cauliflower is a cool-season crop in the cole family (Brassica oleracea), which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi. However, it is more temperamental than its relatives. The trick to growing cauliflower is consistently cool temperatures, which is why almost three fourths of commercial cauliflower is grown in the coastal valleys of California. However, you can try growing it at home no matter where you live, but timing is important to catch the temperature just right. It also needs rich soil and a steady supply of water and nutrients.

Cauliflower likes temperatures in the 60s. In young cauliflower plants there is a fine balance between leaf and head growth. Any stress tips the balance toward premature heading, or “buttoning,” when the plant makes tiny button-sized heads.

This can happen when it’s too hot or too cold. This also happens if plants sit in packs too long, or are stunted by drought or poor soil.

Now that you know the challenges, allow us to equip you for success.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Like most vegetables, cauliflower needs at least 6 hours of full sun each day; more is better. It also needs fertile, well-drained, moist soil with plenty of rich organic matter. The soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8 for optimum growth and to discourage clubroot disease. To be sure of soil pH, test the soil. You can buy a kit, or get a soil test through your regional Cooperative Extension office. Apply fertilizer and lime according to test recommendations. Add nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure to the soil or work a timed-release vegetable food such as 14-14-14 into the soil thoroughly before planting. For a boost, use Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food at planting and again after plants begin to develop new leaves and again when they start forming heads.

Cauliflower plant growing in a field before the head forms

Before the head forms, a cauliflower plant looks much like collards, its close cousin.

Set out spring plants early enough that they can mature before the heat of summer, but not so early that they freeze; 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost is about right. Be prepared to protect them from cold weather with a cover. You can use fabric row covers or homemade items such as old milk jugs.

Set out fall crops about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Be prepared to shade them, if needed, to protect from heat.

Space cauliflower plants about 18 inches apart in the row with 30 inches between rows to allow room for walking. Remember, plants need an even moisture supply to avoid stress. Organic mulch will help keep the soil cool and moist and will suppress weeds. Apply 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week if rain falls short.

When the cauliflower heads are about 2 inches wide, you may need to pull the leaves up over each little head and fasten with a clothespin or twine. This shades the head to ensure it will be white and tender at harvest (called blanching). Plants are supposed to “self-blanch,” in which the leaves naturally curl over the head, but watch them because they often need the help of a clothespin.

Troubleshooting

Besides avoiding stresses, watch for cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms, cabbage root maggots, aphids, and flea beetles. Possible disease pests include black leg, black rot, clubroot, and yellows. Contact your regional Cooperative Extension office for more information on pest identification and current control recommendations. The best way to minimize problems is to keep your plants healthy and your garden clean.

Harvest and Storage

The head is usually ready about a week or so after you tie up the leaves. Leave the head to grow as long as it stays compact (ideally, it will grow to 6 to 8 inches in diameter). You can untie it to peek and tie it back if needed. If the head begins to open up, cut it from the plant at the base of the neck no matter how small it is because it will only decline in quality. The head should keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks.

FAQs

When is the best season to grow cauliflower?

It depends on the area. Cauliflower does not grow well in hot or in severe cold temperatures. Grow in fall, after the temperature is below 75 degrees F, and in winter in locations where the temperature does not fall below 25 degrees.

What does “blanching” mean, and how is it done?

Blanching is the process done to protect the cauliflower head from sunlight. It is done by pulling the outer leaves up over the head of the cauliflower and tying the leaves with a rubber band or soft twine.

Why do my cauliflower plants have small heads?

Cauliflower needs fertile soil that is rich in organic matter in order to hold moisture that will encourage uninterrupted growth; this will prevent heads from forming prematurely.

63 thoughts on “Growing Cauliflower

  1. Hey I planted a couple of cauliflower transplants in a 2 foot square container, the greens are growing like crazy, but I see no heads yet, when should I get worried? They’re a similar size to the plants in your ‘before the head forms’ photo.

    • Hello Dean,
      Don’t get worried! I do not know how long your plants have been in the ground, but it usually takes at least 75 – 85 days until harvest. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Hunter,
      Cauliflower can get 1 1/2 wide and 1 1/2 feet tall (and sometimes a little bigger). – danielle, Bonnie Plants

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  3. planted cauliflower ~ 2 weeks before Easter- then had 4 nights below freezing; but I covered. Plants showed some blanching. Same time had planted Brocolli and brussels Sprouts. All are now growingfoliage well. But for the brocolli, others show no signs of head growth. How long does it take for the cauliflower and Brussels to start the head growth? I have heard the stress can cause them to not produce fruit.

    • Hello Jim,
      Brussels sprouts is a long, slow growing vegetable – taking about 90 days in perfect weather to mature! Cauliflower is usually 65 – 80 days until harvest. These are all cool season crops, but weather patterns that go from freezing to warm and warm to cold do stress the plant. You may see the plants start to stretch and flower. Broccoli and cauliflower should be harvested before any flowers appear – the harvestable parts are the unopened flowers :)- Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. Hi, I have some cauliflowers growing and am glad to find your advice to growers. I have some pics to show, is that possible? They are looking great but we are watching for when the heads appear.I did not know you have to tie the leaves up. Gad to find your web site. Thanks, geno

    • Hi Geno,
      We love for you to brag about your plants. You can upload some pictures to the Bonnie Plants facebook page. Great job! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. I planted green cauliflower, & it turned out fabulously. After I harvested the heads, the plants grew like they were on steroids. I just took them out of the ground today & noticed that several of them produced dozens of children (shoots) from the roots. If I cut off the section of the plants above the soil to cook & put the roots back into the soil, will I enjoy more cauliflower babies from these?

    • Hi Ellen,
      It is possible, but warm summer temperatures may do them in.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  6. We started a vegetable garden in our new home and planted a random assortment of veggies with the kids. We forgot we even planted cauliflower until we noticed the white one day. I think we let it grow too long because now the heads are big and seperated. Can we still eat it even if it has flowered? Thanks!

    • Hi Jackie,
      Ideal harvest time is when the head, or curds, are tight. You can still eat them when they’ve begun to loosen. If it’s now fully flowering, the choice is yours. If you define “edible” as “it won’t kill you” then any part of the plant is edible! (You can also eat the leaves.) Most folks don’t like to eat the flowers, but others — including talented chefs — use the flowers of broccoli, cauliflower, and kales as edible adornments to salads. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  7. Hi, i’m from Philippines. I’m a college student, and i am having a big trouble about growing cauliflower in our school to do my thesis. The first student who conducted it if cauliflower is adoptable in our place leads leads them to failure because of our warm condition here. I would like to ask if you have a tips on growing cauliflower in our place?

    • Hi Jayson,
      We wish you lots of success with your research and thesis on cauliflower. We do not grow in or supply the Philippines, so unfortunately we are not familiar with your region’s climate. If you can adapt our step-by-step instructions here and heed the temperature advice, you’ll note that it’s a plant that prefers cool seasons. Thanks for writing. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  8. This is my first time growing cauliflower; my first head was large and white, however the other heads were smaller and had purple extensions coming out of the white head. What does that mean, and are they safe to eat with these extensions? When should you plant cauliflower in North Florida?

    • Hi Audrey,
      Long days and hot weather in the summer cause cauliflower curds to develop a red-purple discoloration and leaves through the center of the head. It’s not picture-perfect but safe to eat. Here’s a Florida vegetable gardening guide from the University of Florida Extension Serviced that includes planting dates: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021 Cauliflower can be planted in North Florida January to February and August to October. You can try again now, too, for your second crop. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  9. I live in zone 10, I have a 70′ x 35′ garden I have 3 rows of 8 of cauliflower there growing great but no heads. I planted in late October and it is now mid January when or what do I need to do for the heads to grow ?

    • Hi John,
      What a nice space of garden veggies. We’d love to see photos on our Facebook page. Cauliflower can be a little finicky. In cauliflower plants there is a fine balance between leaf and head growth. Any stress tips the balance toward premature heading, or “buttoning,” when the plant makes tiny button-sized heads. Cauliflower takes 75 days or so to mature after transplant. It will have to form a head and then will flower.
      The cauliflower will have to form a head at some point. Some of these plants may have been acclimated to the outside while the others were not yet – depending on when they were purchased in the store. A delayed head development in cauliflower can occur if the roots are shocked at transplanting. Timing is everything with these plants, and odd weather patterns kept you guessing… ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  10. I planted my two surviving cauliflower transplants out last fall…. obviously not in enough time for it to get big before the winter. They survived the winter as little plants, got huge over the summer and now (that they are over a year old) have starting making heads….. but we are going to have heavy frosts all week…should i cover these behemoths. (they were an over winter variety) pull the fairly small, but edible sized heads or let them be?
    seriously though…..they are like stinkin toddlers…..:)
    oh, im just south of seattle…

    • Hi Candice,
      Congrats on getting them to pull through! Cauliflower is one of the most finicky for timing and weather. Since you’ve gotten them this far, try keeping them a little longer to fill out and go the extra cautious step of using frost cloth. Why not? Those toddlers need a little more TLC. :) ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  11. It’s the 1st time I’ve grown cauliflower and I got 1 beautiful, delicious head. Can I expect more on that plant or is it finished? thanks.

    • Hi Diane,
      That’s the goal – that one beautiful, delicious head. It will not produce another one. You can, however, harvest and eat the leaves as you would other greens like cabbages, kale, broccoli leaves and more… And if that doesn’t float your boat, it will enrich your compost pile nicely. :) ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  12. We live in North Texas, planted our fall garden in late August, My cauliflower plants have not started making the heads yet. The plants are huge but no sign of cauliflower heads.
    We’re already harvesting our broccoli and I thought the cauliflower would be harvested around the same time. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Hi Annette,
      Cauliflower does take about 3 weeks longer than broccoli to head, so perhaps it’s simply time and patience vs anything you’ve done wrong. Also, cauliflower is trickier for your Texas climate, since it does not like to be in warm temps above 75 degrees when developing. That can cause leafy plants and small heads or buttons. You can read more about that in Troubleshooting and FAQ tabs in this article. Since you’re having great success with broccoli, it may just be time… Hope you get a good harvest! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  13. My cauliflower seems to be doing well but the bottom leaves are yellowing & dying? Your thoughts, & thanks!

    • Hi Wayne,
      Have you fertilized recently? Yellowing can be a sign of lack of proper nutrients and cauliflower is a heavier feeder. Yellowing can also mean both too little or too much water. If you can solve your problems from these clues, that’s great. If not, it’s most helpful to share a photo and details with our online Ask An Expert service who can assist by seeing visuals. Thanks and happy Thanksgiving. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  14. I live in South Florida (zone 10b) and planting cauliflower for the first time. It seems I will have my work cut out for me here. My planting site has some shade and we are expecting a cooler winter this year. Any suggestions to increase my chances (other than move north)?

    • Hi Ted,
      May the force be with you. It sounds like you may be a little hesitant to grow cauliflower in your region’s temperate climate. Read this helpful advice from the Extension service in South Florida, specific to your region. The best part of gardening is just trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Slight shade and a cooler winter might be just the trick. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  15. This is my first year as a vegetable grower and am not sure if my cauliflowers have started producing the heads. I have new growth little leave in the centre all curving over one another in a protective way. Is this the head forming? I would love a reply as a planted a LOT of cauliflower.

    • Hi Jaslyn,
      Yes! That surely sounds like it to me. Here’s a better picture that may help you. Scroll down to the area describing tip burn, which is not your worry, but does show an immature head. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

      • Thank you so much for your reply. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and pray… if my cauliflowers looked like that, I’d be doing a victory dance! I see sweet little pretentious leaves but no white. I transplanted them from the nursery exactly two months ago, so I think they should be showing some interest by now? What do you think? I do believe in miracles ;-)

        • Miracles happen every day! Just give it a little more time and we hope you will be rewarded. Post a pic on Facebook if it does! We’ll all celebrate with you. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  16. My cauliflower LOOKED teriffic!!!! Big, beautiful white heads. Took some leaves away and cut and brought into house. Couldn’t wait to try it and YUK. It was SOOOO BITTER!!!! Anyone know why this happened??? I was so disappointed.

  17. I planted my cauliflower seeds in peat pots then transplanted to my garden. Weather was cool and we gave lots of water, but all I ended up with was super plants and not one head out of about 30 plants. The plants are award winning except for the one minor thing…not one head. Could use and educated guess before I try again next year. Thank you Vince

    • Hi Vince,
      I’m so sorry you’ve been disappointed, but we love to hear that you are ready to try again. I will tell you that cauliflower is one of the most difficult to grow. The conditions have to be “just right” to form an edible head. It need to continuously grow healthily with no severe changes in conditions of temperature or watering, and it needs to be transplanted at the ideal time for enough cool weather to form a head before summer heat. This link from an Extension Service in Illinois explains in detail for that specific area; you might also try searching the extension site for your region for exact planting dates and information on recent regional weather changes. Perhaps this will clue you in to which variable changed in your garden and how to rectify for future seasons. It is a feat when you do successfully grow large heads! Keep us posted. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  18. I live in Hawaii – Kona. VERY hot. So very surprised that I actually have a cauliflower head! But the leaves no longer reach around it so it is starting to turn a little purplish… I was amazed it even grew here!

  19. I was wondering why both my Brocclie and Cauliflower looked wierd until I visited youe WEB site. I should have done this sooner. I didn’t wrap the leaves around the head and just pulled them out of my raised bed. We will try it again next year. Thanks for the WEB site.

  20. First ttime growing cauliflower on my balcony.Been in ground 2 months-We’ve had a very hot
    summer. Giant leaves but no sign of heads. I never added
    any liquid fertilizer. I’ve learned a lot from your answers to
    others. Thank you

  21. I got cauliflowers the first year I planted them. Now do I need to uproot the plant and sdtart afresh/chop off the stem and leaves?? Any advice?

    • Hi. Congratulations on your first season’s success! Once that plant has formed heads and been harvested, you’ll want to pull it up and put it in the compost bin. Start fresh with new plants for the next crop. Thanks for joining in the chats here; sign up for our e-newsletter if you would like seasonal tips and advice. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  22. Our place is in the Philippines, the place where we will plant our cauliflower is not so hot and not so cold. Is the place just okay? and If the day is hot we will place a shade on it. Then, we will do the blanching. How many days will the cauliflower produce leaves?

  23. I just pulled out two big heads of cauliflower but they have turned a slightly yellowish color. They still look edible but did I just get them out too late? They were white a week ago but much smaller.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Karen,

      They may have gotten a touch of sun that caused the yellowing. Did you blanch the heads by pulling the leaves over them? This helps to keep them white by reducing discoloration from sun exposure. I bet they will still taste great, though. Enjoy!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  24. We have had a very hot dry summer in Wisconsin. I have kept my cauliflower well-watered, and I have huge leafy greens, and the plants have gotten “tall,” but no heads yet. Is there a chance that heads will still form, or has the heat stressed the plant and it is too late?

    • Hi Lisa,
      If you are experiencing an unusually hot summer in Wisconsin, the chances of the cauliflower being stressed and stretched in the heat are high. If you haven’t seen heads beginning to form but see stretching and blooms instead, it may not happen this season. You’d typically have a head formed for harvesting within 60 days of planting. Here’s a great document from your state’s Extension office that should be helpful, too. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  25. Every year we grow cauliflower, the heads end up tasting very bitter. So, much so that it really is not a pleasurable eat. I gather that too much heat and sun does this, but with such a long time until maturity, do we have any options? Shade planting for example? Thanks from Ohio

    • Hi Raymond,

      Gardeners in cooler climates have the best luck with cauliflower. In Ohio, you probably have quite a swing of temperatures from spring to fall. Cauliflower will tolerate some shade, so planting in part shade could help. You should plant as early as possible, about 2 weeks before the last frost date, so your plants have time to mature before summer. Also, do you blanch your cauliflower heads? Heads are supposed to self-blanch but often need some help. Read above in the Soil, Planting, and Care tab for more info on how to do this. I hope this helps and you can get a tasty cauliflower harvest next year! Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Emma,

      I assume you’re talking about an insecticidal dust such as Sevin? We don’t recommend specific products but you should definitely not use anything unless you have a problem. Cabbage loopers can sometimes munch on cauliflower. You’ll know them by the holes left in leaves. You can remove these green caterpillars, typically found on undersides of leaves, by hand, or use a product containing Bacillus Thuringiensis (often called Bt). I hope this helps!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  26. i live in Leavenworth, Wa., the eastern cascades. Our first year here i grew beautiful cauliflower. Last year I had beautiful leaves and no flowers, none, notta. This year I finally have flowers,but they are small and late. Should I give up on them?maybe cauliflower just isn’t the plant for here. Soon our temps will be well over 80 degrees.

    • Hi Mumsy,
      You are in a beautiful spot of the world! While I’m not sure the exact time that is right for you to plant–I know the seasons vary by a few weeks on either side of the mountains–I think you should be fine to transplant cauliflower at the first of May. Cauliflower will begin to flower and “bolt” in warmer temperatures, so the trick is finding the right time with the best window of cooler temps. Those tiny heads that flower early are caused by stressed plants, who may have seen warmer temps too early. Have you tried growing it in the Fall, too? Looks like August would be a good time for Leavenworth…Trial and error! Keep us posted.
      Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  27. I have a question about my white califlower, my leaves didn’t get big enough to pull over and it is turning purple. Is it still edible or should I scrap it and try something else. Thank you for your time any insight would be helpful.

    • Hi Judy,

      The coloring on the cauliflower head is a natural result of sun exposure. It’s still perfectly edible. The light exposure does affect the taste a bit, and some people prefer to eat cauliflower like this raw instead of cooked, as cooking only intensifies the flavor. Enjoy!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  28. I’ve started my first vegetable garden this year and cauliflower is one of the plants I have choosen to try out unfortunately my backyard space has limited sun and I live in Toronto so the weather can get fairly hot! of the three cauliflower plants one has begin to develop a head however soon after growing to about 1 inch the head has broken into small sections and the other two plants arent developing heads at all, what does the seperation caused by and is there anything i can to to help keep the other two plants from the same fate??

    • Hi Olivia,

      It sounds like your cauliflower is starting to flower (also known as bolting), which happens to this semi-hardy cool-weather plant as the temperature rises. If you look at the “Troubleshooting” tab on our Growing Broccoli page, you can see kind of what this looks like. Growing in a little shade might help keep the plant cool, but if it’s getting hot in Toronto, the other plants will likely start bolting too. Harvest the heads as soon as you see them beginning to flower. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  29. Cauliflower only makes one head only, right ? Unlike cabbages that make smaller side heads after the main head is harvested. I thopught I read that some where , but no sources I find now come out and says that. I have one plant to haravest and I have plans to plant new plants in its place.

  30. I have huge leaves healthy and green on my cauliflower plants about 16 inches long or more and plentiful in victoria BC. sunny location but cool nights and days still watering well no flowers have appeared yet they have been in the ground for one month after the greenhouse for one month. Is there a special feeding I should give to promote flowering? thanks

    • Hi Martha,

      Congrats on being in what sounds like a very suitable climate for growing cauliflower! Cauliflower likes consistently cool temperatures, which I imagine you have. It sounds like your plants are doing fine. You don’t want them to flower, which would mean they’ve bolted in the heat. What you should be looking for is a head to start forming inside those pretty leaves. Look in the article above at the “Soil, Planting, and Care” tab. The picture of cauliflower plants in rows, leafy and green before the head forms, must be what you’re seeing in your own garden.

      I am not sure what cauliflower variety you’re growing, but we sell the White Cloud Hybrid Cauliflower variety, and it matures around 75 days after planting. Yours may take a little longer since it spent time inside. You can feed plants to promote healthy growth. Choose a liquid vegetable plant fertilizer and apply according to the label instructions. I hope this helps, and happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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