Growing Collards

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growing collards in a garden

Collards can be cooked so many ways—in soups, stews, stir-fries, and casseroles, just to name a few—that you’ll want to grow a lot of them. image source: iStock.com

If you don’t live in the South, you might not see collards very often; they are a leafy, cool-weather vegetable very popular for cooked greens. However, growing collards can be done throughout the country. A relative of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and kale, this upright, dark green, waxy plant is a little like a cabbage that doesn’t make a head. It is one of the most cold-hardy of all vegetables, able to withstand temperatures in the upper teens. In zone 8 and southward, collards often provide a harvest through the entire winter. You can plant them in spring and fall, although collards planted in fall gardens are favored because the leaves are sweeter when kissed by frost.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Collard plant has leaves with winter frost, which makes them sweeter.

Cold-hardy collards are always better after frost sweetens their leaves. This makes them perfect for fall gardens.

collard plants growing in raised bed with fall vegetables and flowers

Filling in around collards with other plants—such as the spinach, onions, flowers, and herbs in this raised bed—helps keep a bed or container looking fresh as you harvest the bottom leaves

Set out spring plants 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost; in late summer, plant 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost for fall and winter harvests. Like all vegetables, collards like full sun, but they will tolerate partial shade as long as they get the equivalent of 4 to 5 hours of sun to bring out their full flavor. Plant in fertile soil because collards should grow fast to produce tender leaves. They need fertile, well-drained soil with a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8 to discourage clubroot disease. To be sure about your soil pH, test the soil with a do-it-yourself kit, or by using your regional Cooperative Extension office.

Work nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure into the ground before planting. Feed your plants with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food as they develop and each time you harvest to keep lots of leaves coming on. Since the plants produce so much foliage that gets harvested often, regular feeding goes hand-in-hand with regular harvesting.

Collards are easy to plant. Space them 18 to 24 inches apart. After planting, water and fertilize.

Collards like a nice, even supply of water. Water regularly, applying 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week if it doesn’t rain enough to equal that amount. You can measure the amount of water with a rain gauge left in the garden. Apply organic mulch such as compost, finely ground leaves, weed-free hay, or finely ground bark to keep the soil cool and moist and to keep down weeds. Mulching will also help keep the leaves clean.

Troubleshooting

Keep a soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8 to discourage clubroot disease. Although worst on cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and turnips, clubroot affects all members of the cabbage family. The best way to avoid problems is to keep the garden clean. Insects that like collards include cabbage loopers, slugs, imported cabbageworms, cabbage root maggots, aphids, and flea beetles. Disease problems include black leg, black rot, clubroot, and yellows. To prevent diseases from building up in the soil, don’t plant collards or other cole crops in the same spot each year. Rotate with a non-cole crop for 2 years before returning to the same spot.

Harvest and Storage

A hand shows the coriander seed dried on a cilantro plant before being harvested

As you harvest collard leaves from the bottom up, the lower stem will be bare, making the plant look tree-like. New leaves grow from the center through cool weather.

Harvest leaves when they are up to 10 inches long, dark green, and still young. Old leaves may be tough or stringy. Pick the lower leaves first, working your way up the plant. You can even harvest leaves when frozen in the garden, but be careful because the frozen plant is brittle. Of course, wash the leaves thoroughly before using them in collard greens recipes, because soil often clings to the undersides. Collard leaves will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

FAQs

When do collards taste the best?

Collards taste sweetest when they grow in cool weather, especially in the fall after the leaves have been touched by frost. Spring-planted collards will grow through summer but they taste stronger when they mature in the heat.

What is the best way to wash collards?

Fill the kitchen sink or a large bucket with cold water. Place collards in a large colander and dunk them several times. Gently shake the greens to remove excess water and blot them dry with a clean towel.

How and where do I store collards?

After collards have been rinsed and thoroughly dried, wrap them in paper towels and seal them in a plastic bag. Keep them in the refrigerator until needed. NOTE: Even slightly moist collards will rot quickly.

59 thoughts on “Growing Collards

  1. I live in Memphis tn and I planted collard green seeds at the beginning of april. eventhing was going great but now even though they are still growing taller and thickening out. when I go out to check them the next day I will have small areas of withered brown leaves. the plants are only about 4 inches tall. do I need to thin them to stop the browning and dying or is something wrong with my soil? I use to have a 15ft row now of collards growing but now all I have is 4 small areas in that 15 ft row. I want to say the browning and dying started about when the plants where 2 to 3 inches tall. thanks for the advice in advance

    • Hi Bre,
      How often are the collards watered? They are above average drinkers – requiring at least the inch of water per week if not more. You mentioned thinning – were the collards thinned after they came up? Collards grow well spaced at least 10 inches apart – up to 18 inches to harvest at full maturity. What types of veggies have been grown in the past? It is a good idea to rotate your veggies from season to season to help with disease and insect problems that may build up over time. This publication from University of Tennessee extension goes over some of the basic pests of collards in your area. I hope this helps. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. Hello Kelly, just a quick note, I planted some GA collard greens during the last 2 weeks of March, thought the frost was over, but we ended up with a very couple of cold days and nights, thought that would hurt them, but I have picked off the BIG leaves several times in April, couldn`t believe it but had 18 plants and both times had enough for a meal for my family 0f 5 and still able to freeze some.
    My question is some of my plants now are very tall over a foot or so, but they are seeding, I planted mustard greens last year,(couldn`t find any collards) and was wondering if they are supposed to do that? My mustard greens last year didn`t seed and had greens for a long time, throughout the summer. My collards are not all seeding but at least 6 are and they are intersected throughout the rows, meaning 1 plant is doing ok and then maybe 1 or 2 are seeding and then normal. I don`t know if this is normal and what can I do to prevent this or should I let it happen and maybe try to grow some more. Thank you.

    • Hi Pauline,
      That is perfectly normal! You can try cutting back the flowers and extending the harvest. Way to Grow! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. Can I plant collards, cabbage, broccoli, and celery from the stump stems at the bottom of the plant by sitting them in water for a while and then transplanting them? I live in Tampa, FL and I want to get my babies planted while we’re getting this rare heavy rain. How long should I do it if it is possible?

    • Hello Imani,
      You can start some plants like that. If you decide to experiment, keep them in water until roots appear, this will vary. These are cool season vegetables and thrive in cool to cold temperatures. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. Can you use and clean then eat collards that have bug holes in them. I am curious to know. Will they hurt you.
    Thanks, B.

    • Beverly, eat away…they will not hurt you at all! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  5. I’ve been harvesting leaves from my GA collards since late winter through now (north GA.) They seem to really want to flower, I picked off the first central flower when it was small and loved the taste, then continued picking leaves. Now, there are not many leaves and at every leaf joint there is a new flower bud growing. I would like to try keeping them through the summer but I don’t know if they are done producing. I’m a bit clueless even after reading about them online (my first year growing them.) What should I do?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Amanda,
      Collards are a cool weather vegetable. As temperatures start to rise, collards will want to flower signaling the end of their life cycle. Replant again in the Fall in Georgia :)
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

      • I knew they were cool weather plants, but as a few people below mentioned having them year-round, I was going to try that with a few of the plants. So to attempt growing all year, should I let them flower?

        • Yes, to try to have them for another year, you will let them go to flower :) In some gardens, they are not taken out, and do come back when cool weather returns – Danielle

  6. My name is Fred Grant…3 years ago….I planted a small garden with about 30 collard green plants…along with a few other veggies…about 10 plants died the first season…the rest survived and flourished…I ate some….blanched and stored some in the freezer….they did not seed…..year number 2….they came back…about 20 plants….flourished…ate more….stored more….now this year is the third year…they still live….now I have greens that range in height from 4 feet to almost 8 feet tall…with leaves the size of dinner plates….I’m gonna’ post pictures on FaceBook and make them public…if you want to see them…just search for Fred Grant in Gulfport Mississippi…I’ve never saw anything like it……PEACE!!!!

    • Hi Fred,
      What an incredible story! We’d love to see your photos if you want to post them on our public Facebook page. We’ll share it with all of our gardeners there. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • I got one branch from my neighbor three years ago, she said just “stick it to ground”, I did. It grew fast. It receives water from sprinkler, once a day. I, by now, already have three of them, side by side. The first one is about 10′ tall, others are about 8″, 4′. The leaves, in winter, get to be the size of large plate. I am in Southern California. However, in summer time, the leaves tend to be small, because of the sun. I picked them to make meat ball soup. I love them. Everyone sees them wants to know what they are. In winter time, I see the local organic market sells them, 4 large leaves in a bunch, for $1.99.

  7. I live in North Georgia and my collard seedlings are one week old. How long should they remain inside before I begin to harden them off, and then transplant outside?

    • Hi Bryan,
      Most of the time, seedlings are about 4 – 8 weeks old before they are planted outside. This garden publication from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension lists the planting dates for commonly grown veggies in your area.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  8. I live in Florence Al. Will Morris Head Collards grow here. If so are there any local retailers selling them?

    • Hello Leon,
      Morris Heading Collards is an old variety that is called heading because its leaves grow together in a head, although not as tightly as a cabbage’s. This cabbage does well in most areas until warm weather threatens. I will find out about local retailers.
      Happy Gardening,
      Danielle

  9. How long are seeds good for? My dad used to plant the best collards, and I still have seeds from six years ago.

    • Hello Cathy,

      Seeds are viable for several years when stored properly. I have planted seeds 10 years and older before. Usually the germination rate goes down with age. Try wrapping up a couple of seed in wet paper towels to see if they germinate. You may be surprised!
      Happy Gardening,
      Danielle

  10. Thank you for all the useful information. My name is Sydni from southern calif. growing my first Georgia Collards. I have some planted in repurposed gallon water jugs. The bottom leaves closest to the soil are yellowing. I know what this means in house plants, what might his mean for my greens? I have not fertilized them since they were first planted 5 weeks ago.

    • Could they be overwatered? Or not have proper drainage? Yellowing leaves are a sign of both lack of water AND overwatering. Confusing, I know. But, you can check the soil to see which is true. They are also heavy feeders. Give them a diluted dosage of Bonnie Vegetable and Herb Plant Food. Enjoy a little Georgia in California! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  11. I live in St. Thomas, USVI. The average temperature year round is 85 degrees F. What type of collards is best.

    Thanks,

    Delphine

    • Hi Delphine,
      First of all, lucky you! There are so many things that you *can* grow year-round in 85 degrees, yet you covet a cool-season crop. :) Collards are sweeter and have better flavor when allowed to endure a few frosts, so while you may be able grow them, it may not be ideal taste. This document from Florida’s Cooperative Extension discusses varieties grown in a similar climate. We sell the Georgia variety mentioned. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

      • Hi Delphine,
        I’ve lived in the south(Al. & Ga.) all of my life and I love collards year round.It’s true that a few frosts make the collards sweeter and better tasting,but you can “imitate” the sweetness by adding about a tablespoon of cider vinegar and about the same amount of sugar to your collards while they’re cooking.You can also add a smoked ham hock if available to give them the “Taste of the South”~Joel Haynes
        Macon,Ga.

        • Joel, how much cider vinegar or sugar do you add to a large pot of collards, and how much water, I`ve gotten hooked on greens of any kind and would love to try this recipe, (can`t eat pork of any kind, so need to find a way to improve their taste.) thank you.

      • Hi Mary Beth,

        Thanks for your response and suggestions. I am originally from Detroit, MI and grew up eating collards. The soil here is very rocky and it can be difficult to plant and grow vegetables. I am going to try a raised bed and see how that works for variety.

        Delphine

  12. I live in south Georgia and now that my collards are about a foot tall the leaves are turning purple. Do you have any idea why? Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Hi E.W.,
      Have you had a recent cold snap? Purple edges on the leaves is often simply a sign of weather that turned cold quickly and the collards will be fine (and even tastier after a frost). It could also be a sign of nutrient deficiency. If you are fertilizing with a balanced vegetable food regularly, that may not be the case. Let us know if either of these sound plausible. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  13. How long does it take for collards to mature? I plant the stalk from my thanksgiving bunch. I have full and beautiful short leaves. I fertilize with organic compost before planting.

    • Hi Daryl,
      The collard leaves around 12″ will be the best to harvest. You’ll see shorter leaves that are perfectly edible if you are growing a heading collard, too. Pick from the bottom set of leaves up. They are also sweeter harvested after several frosts. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • Anything with that much water in the foliage cooked for hours will “cook down” by quite a lot. Imagine lettuce in a boiling pot of water…! If you’d rather, try braising or sautéing them, as in this recipe from our In the Kitchen section. Hopefully you are having a “mess” of greens for your New Year’s dinner. Lots of luck in the New Year. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  14. I planted the Hybrid Georgia Collard in late August in my vegetable garden in Northern Florida. Weeds overwhelmed the garden and I had completely given up on it. The first frost killed the weeds, but I could see something green from a distance. When I inspected, the Collards not only survived, but are now thrieving with a really good flavor. I am now rewarding them with TLC (fertilizer and moisture).

    • Hi Al,
      Thanks for sharing a story with a happy ending! Now let us know when those collards make it to the kitchen table and how your TLC tastes on the dinner plate. Share photos or stories on our Facebook page, too, where we often share tips and recipes and have fun sharing photos. I’m not sure how large your plot is, but I do know how frustrating weeds can be. Try mulching inbetween rows and plants to create a thick weed barrier that will also decompose later to enrich your soil. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  15. Hi, I planted collard plants about a month ago here in middle Georgia. Something is completely eating the leaves leaving nothing but the stems. I can find no worms or traces of insects. I’ve dusted with Sevin but that doesn’t seem to help. Any ideas as to what I can do. Thanks, Sam

    • Hi Sam,
      Before I delve too much into pest identification and asking you about cabbage worms…could it be deer? If there are no leaves left at all, look for deer tracks or tell us if that is a possibility in your Georgia garden. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • I am in central Texas and I could not find out what was eating my collard greens. Until this morning I caught tiny little caterpillars on the bottom of the leaves they were less than 1/2 inch long but there were lots of them. I sprayed with neem oil soap and Bt caterpillar killer. I hope it works. I suggest you look eally closely at the bottom of the leaves. Also I have caught some grasshoppers, but the cooler weather seems to be taking care of them.

    • Hey Sam, I found a big black crow eating my Ichabon eggplant seedlings this morning. I had been wondering what was eating ALL of them without leaving a bit. I have a fake owl I put out and hope that scares him away!

  16. I live in San Diego. I harvested collard greens all the way through July. The plants are still alive, and with our weather finally starting to cool down, they seem to be coming to life again.

    I haven’t had them last this long without cabbage aphids taking over!

    So I have a couple of questions:
    #1. If I leave them, will I continue to get a long harvest this year (if no pests), or will they be puny?

    #2. If I do leave them in the ground, will they taste bitter?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Therese,
      Congratulations on a healthy bumper crop! Your collards will perk back up in the cooler temps and begin to set new, tender leaves. It’s a good idea to fertilize them with a vegetable plant food now. Also, you may know there are several ways to harvest collards: picking mature leaves from the bottom as new baby leaves appear at the top, or cutting the whole plant at once. Sometimes you’ll get new growth to appear from the stalk when you do this. You might try both ways, to see if you can encourage a bushier, less tall/stalky plant, depending on how old and tall yours are now. This Texas A&M article on collards shows you in an illustration. Also, as we state in our article above, the collard greens you harvest after a few frosts this fall will be sweeter and tastier, in my opinion. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  17. My collard plants last year grew a long stem before they started to bush out. What can I do to prevent this. I also am planting a little late this year, mid October in central S.C. Any tips for planting pots not seeds. Thanks.

    • Hi Cindy,
      It sounds like they were a little stretched out, perhaps they were a little leggy already when you planted them or it was very warm? Sounds like your plan this year is a good one. Do know, though, that when you start harvesting from the bottom leaves, working your way up the plant, it will have the same effect on the plant’s appearance. They’ll being to look like small leafy trees with a bare stalk as you eat your way up! We provide 4 varieties of collards, some with looser, full heads and others with more noticeable stalks. When planting our biodegradable pots, this video gives you tips for easy transplanting. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  18. My Georgia collards stalks seem to be puny. Not fat like in times past. What’s wrong and what do I need to do to correct this problem.

    • How long have your plants been in the ground? These are cool-season plants so it may be that you just need to give them time to grow and beef up. Also, have you fertilized? Give them a boost with a liquid plant food listed for vegetables. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi James,
      You are correct. Collards and corn are both in the “heavy feeder” category that need more applications of fertilizer and fertile soil. You can read more about them in the Basics of Fertilizing article in that section. Thanks for writing. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  19. Hi, I would like to get about 150 of your hybrid Georgia Collard before Aug. 20. Is that possible? I checked with wal-mart ,they said “they didn,t know the date the Comp. would send out to stores.

    • Hi James,
      For such a specific, localized request, I hope you don’t mind if I send you to another link. I’ll link you up with our Customer Service manager. Send them your request with your zip code, so they can see what’s available in your local stores then. Sound good? Love those Georgia collards! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  20. hi Emilee,

    i am growing a garden for my family and it is mostly going to be cold weather plants. i am icluding collards which i understand how to plant, grow , and harvest them but does the harvesting, planting, and growing go for all winter or cold-weather plants? please help me soon im am planting in 2 weeks.

    • Hi Emilee,

      I suggest you read the articles in our Cool-Season Gardening section for more info. Some plants are semi-hardy while others are hardy, and you can find a full list and explanation of this in our “Which Veggies for Which Season?” article. As far as planting, growing, and harvesting info, this will vary for each plant. You’ll need to look up this info for each plant in our How to Grow section. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Helen,

      Collards are part of the cabbage family of plants and are affected by the same pests that attack cabbages. It sounds like cabbage worms or cabbage loopers could be munching on your plants. Look on the undersides of the leaves for these green caterpillars or trails of their waste. The caterpillars can be hand-picked from your plants but you can also spray for them if they become a real problem. Spray with pyrethrin, neem, or insecticidal soap and then guard against further infestation with an insecticide called Bacillus thuringiensis (commonly known as Bt). Be sure to cover the undersides of the leaves with the spray because that is where the insects rest. I hope this helps!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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