Growing cauliflower can be challenging for most gardeners
There are many problems with growing cauliflower. I stubbornly tried growing cauliflower for 3 years before I had my first head of cauliflower. Often cauliflowers become stunted in the garden or try to split and flower (called bolting when it tries go to seed). Cauliflowers are like Goldilocks and the 3 bears, they need things just right.
Cauliflowers plants need:
- Seedlings and plants need the right timing
- Very rich soil amended with the right nutrients
- Not too hot or cold, they need the right temperatures
- Balanced conditions with reduced stress
- Enough water, especially during heat waves
This post will cover growing cauliflower plants with success & colorful cauliflower varieties
Timing your cauliflower
Cauliflower plants are a cool season crop that take 60-80 days to mature. If you get heat waves in your spring, summer or fall this can stress out your cauliflower plants. Your best chance of growing cauliflower is to grow cauliflower seedlings indoors and transplant outside to give them a head start before those heat waves. Start seeds indoors about 6-10 weeks before your spring frost, depending on whether or not you plan on using season extenders.
Unlike other brassicas like broccoli, cabbage or kale, cauliflower seedlings are not frost tolerant.
That means that if they experience frost in the spring they might not head up. Use a row cover (frost fabric) in the springtime when transplanting cauliflower plants and frosts are expected. You can also transplant them under a hoop tunnel or portable mini greenhouse before last spring frost. If you don’t want to risk transplanting before your spring frost dates, transplant after. You can also direct seed cauliflower in the garden after your last spring dates but keep in mind you’ll be behind many weeks.
You want your cauliflower seedlings to be about 4-5 weeks old before transplanting into the garden
If your seedlings are too old they might not head up properly because they were too root bound. Make sure you harden off your seedlings and get them used to the outside weather. Learn these seed starting mistakes not to make and read through seed starting 101 on growing your own seedlings.
Best soil for cauliflower
Cauliflowers struggle with the perfect temperatures and timing, therefore you need fast growth from good rich soil. This is a big mistake people make, the soil is too poor for adequate fast healthy growth. Add decomposed manure and compost to your garden beds. I add sea soil and organic compost under the seedlings when I transplant into the garden. You can also give a boost to your cauliflower plants every couple of weeks with some organic fertilizer or fish fertilizer. They like a ph of 6:0-7:0.
Achieving the right timing
Cauliflowers need nice cool temperatures with as reduced stress as possible. That means that hot and cold fluctuations aren’t good for the plants. It signals your cauliflower plants to ‘think’ they went through a winter and then try to go to seed. If the temperatures are too hot, your cauliflower will also feel stressed and the plant is programmed to try and go to seed. Here are some tips to prevent bolting plants.
Offering cauliflowers shade cloth hoop tunnels is a great way to reduce direct sunlight
You can also plant them in partial shade or on the north side of taller plants like tomatoes or a pea trellis.
Mulching your plants will also help keep the soil temperature cool and retain better moisture during hotter days. Keep your plants well watered, especially on hot summer days.
Getting the timing right for a fall harvest is tricky, but often they prefer the cooling days of fall instead of the warming days of spring and summer. Start your plants 10-12 weeks before fall frost.
Best cauliflower varieties
Because cauliflowers don’t handle stress well, certain varieties will perform better than others. Sometimes hybrids perform better than heirlooms, but I grow heirlooms or OP seeds with success. My absolute favorite cauliflower variety is one called ‘Amazing‘
Many cauliflowers have been bred to be ‘bolt resistant’ meaning they handle stress better than others. Another trait to keep an eye out for in cauliflower is self-blanching.
You need to cover the head with the leaves to ‘blanch’ and make the cauliflower white. Some cauliflowers are self-blanching.
I love growing purple cauliflower!
They’re super fun to grow and harvest (as are all purple veggies!). The great thing about purple cauliflower is that the plants don’t need to be blanched to get a white head. My favorite purple cauliflower varieties are ‘Graffiti‘ and ‘Purple of Sicily‘
You can also get green & yellow cauliflower!
Try ‘Cheddar’ for a great yellow cauliflower, or buy a multi colored pack of cauliflower to get a vibrant mix.