While broccoli is not a common vegetable in Texas gardens, with a little extra care it can be a successful crop. Broccoli is a cool-season vegetable, which means it thrives in temperatures that are between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit and should be planted in early fall or late winter for best results. So, the key to success is providing the right conditions for this finicky vegetable.
In Texas, the best time to plant broccoli is in the fall, after the hot summer temperatures have passed—anytime from October to early December is ideal. If you’re living in the Lone Star State and want to grow broccoli, here are some key tips for success.
How to Grow Broccoli in Texas
Choosing the Right Variety
There are many different varieties of broccoli, but not all of them will do well in the Texas climate. Choose a variety that is listed as “heat tolerant” or “slow to bolt” on the seed packet. Some good varieties to try are ‘Green Magic’, ‘Arcadia’, and ‘Premium Crop’.
These types of broccoli will be able to tolerate the warmer temperatures that occur from late spring to late summer, when broccoli is usually ready for harvest. Plus, choosing the right variety is essential to get the best flavor.
Preparing the Soil
Broccoli likes soil that is rich in organic matter and well-draining. Be sure to prepare your well-draining soil with plenty of compost before planting to give your crop a good start, or you can even purchase a special broccoli fertile soil mix from the garden store. This will help ensure your plants have access to the nutrients they need and will provide better drainage.
Additionally, the soil should be amended with plenty of compost or aged manure before planting. This will help add nutrients and organic matter to the soil which will promote better growth.
The soil pH level also needs to be just right—between 6.0 and 7.0—in order for broccoli to thrive. You can test your soil’s pH level with a simple home soil test kit and then adjust as needed. If the soil is too acidic, use a lime-based amendment to raise the pH level; or if it’s too alkaline, use a sulfur-based amendment to lower it.
Planting and Growing Broccoli
Since broccoli is a cool-season crop, it should be planted in early fall or late winter when temperatures are between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plant too early, the broccoli will bolt (go to seed) before maturing. If you plant too late, on the other hand, your broccoli crop will mature in the heat of the summer and will likely be less flavorful.
In most parts of Texas, the best time to plant broccoli is in early fall or late winter. This gives the plants enough time to mature before the hot weather arrives. If you want to try planting in early spring, start your seeds indoors with grow light about 8 weeks before you plan to transplant broccoli seedlings outdoors.
When planting, space the broccoli seeds or transplants about 18 inches apart in rows that are 2-3 feet apart. Be sure to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged—too much water can cause the roots to rot. Mulching around the plants will help maintain the soil’s moisture and will also help keep weeds at bay.
Giving Your Plants What They Need
Broccoli is a heavy feeder and will need regular fertilization throughout the growing season. A side dressing of compost or manure when the plants are 6-8 inches tall, and again when they begin to form heads, will help keep them healthy and productive.
Fertilizing every two weeks with a high nitrogen fertilizer will also help. Be careful not to over-fertilize, though, as this can cause the plants to produce lots of foliage but few heads.
You can opt for organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion or seaweed extract, or you can use a commercial fertilizer. Be sure to follow the directions on the package for best results.
In addition to fertilizer, broccoli plants need regular water and should be watered at least once a week during dry spells. Too much water, however, can lead to root rot so be sure not to overdo it.
Broccoli belongs to the cabbage family (family Brassicaceae, genus Brassica), which is susceptible to some common garden pests such as aphids, cabbage loopers, and flea beetles. Luckily, they are all easily controlled with natural solutions like bacillus thuringiensis (BT) or neem oil.
Hand picking caterpillars off of your plants is usually all that is necessary to control them. For aphids, try spraying them with water from a hose or using an insecticidal soap product according to package directions.
Root maggots can be controlled by using floating row covers or by planting your broccoli in raised beds lined with plastic mulch. These pests are more common in spring planted crops, so if you plant in fall or winter you may not have as much trouble with them.
If you would like to opt for neem oil—an organic insecticide that is derived from the neem tree—apply it according to package instructions. Neem oil works best when applied early in the morning or late at night, and be sure to cover all parts of your plant for maximum protection.
Another organic, chemical-free option for controlling pests is to introduce beneficial insects such as ladybugs or lacewings that feed on aphids and caterpillars. These friendly insects can be purchased from garden centers or online retailers.
Harvesting Your Crop
Broccoli is usually ready for harvest about 55-75 days after planting, or when the heads are large and firm. If you wait too long, the heads will start to flower and won’t be as tender and flavorful. You can begin harvesting broccoli leaves as soon as they are big enough to eat (about 6 inches across).
To harvest the heads, wait until they are firm and tight and cut them off just below where they attach to the plant with a sharp knife. Broccoli heads will continue to grow after you’ve cut the main head, so you can get 2-3 harvests from each plant if you keep cutting large head before they begin to grow little yellow flowers.
Be sure to leave some of the smaller head on the plant so it will continue producing for you all season long, but don’t worry if you miss some. The plant will eventually stop producing and the whole plant is ready to be pulled out of the ground.
After a successful harvest, you can enjoy your freshly picked broccoli in all sorts of delicious dishes!
With a little extra care, broccoli can be a successful crop in any Texas home garden, and you’ll be ready to prepare all sorts of tasty dishes with your fresh harvest. Be sure to fertilize regularly, keep an eye out for pests, and remember to harvest when the heads are firm and tight for the best results.
Fresh broccoli is packed with nutrition, vitamins A and C, full of delicious flavor, and can be cooked in countless different ways. Get ready to enjoy your very own homegrown broccoli!