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Tall stalks covered in brussel sprouts.
Traditionally, Brussels sprouts were boiled to within an inch of their life, resulting in a sloppy, grey-green, and unappetising mess. But thanks to modern chefs, Brussels sprouts are experiencing a resurgence. There are now many recipes that celebrate these small, tightly packed ‘mini cabbages’. Join the Brussels sprout renaissance – here’s how to grow them at home.

 

What you need to know about Brussels sprouts

Name: Brussels sprouts, Brassica oleracea (Gemmifera cultivar group of cabbages).

Height: 100-140cm.

Plant type: biennial, but commonly grown as an annual.

Climate: cool zones, and warm and cool-temperate regions. Not suitable for warmer, northern regions.

Soil: moist, well-drained soil enriched with compost.

Position: full sun to part shade, with protection from strong winds.

Flowering: small, yellow flowers.

Foliage: broad leaves that may be smooth or crinkled, and slightly waxy. Small, cabbage-like buds that form in the axils of the leaves.

Feeding: feed regularly throughout the growing season.

Watering: water regularly.

Appearance and characteristics of Brussels sprouts

The Brussels sprout is an unusual member of the Brassica genus. It goes through a variety of distinct growing stages, resembling a cabbage when young but developing into a tall plant with a stem and a crown of loose waxy leaves as it matures. The edible sprouts, or vegetative buds, are borne along the stem in the axils of the leaves. The sprouts look like small, tightly packed cabbages.

The Brussels sprout is a biennial plant (i.e. it grows over two seasons), but it is typically grown as an annual.

As well as the traditional green forms, there are purple/red varieties of Brussels sprout including ‘Red Darling’ or ‘Redarling’, ‘Falstaff Red’, and ‘Red Ribs’. These are said to be sweeter than the green variety and have a milder, nuttier flavour.

Close up of a group of raw brussel sprouts.

Uses for Brussels sprouts

There are many ways to enjoy this humble vegetable. Roasted in the oven, sauteed, or tossed into the air fryer, it makes a great main or side dish.

How to grow Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts require a long growing season with a cool summer and cold winter. In New Zealand, warmer northern areas are not suitable for growing Brussels sprouts as the warmer weather results in loose, open buds. In cooler parts of the country, seeds should be sown in early summer and transplanted into the garden in mid- to late-summer, or when the seedlings are 7-10cm tall. Avoid planting in any garden bed that has been recently planted with members of the cabbage family (kale, broccoli, mustard, cauliflower) to avoid the risk of soil-borne diseases.

Choose a sunny, well-draining spot and improve the soil with well-rotted manure and compost. Ensure the site is protected from strong winds. Space plants 60cm apart and leave 75-100cm between rows.

Caring for Brussels sprouts

Pick off any lower leaves that are yellowing, diseased, or crowded and affecting air circulation. As the plant grows, you can remove the leaves above and below each sprout to expose the rows of sprouts along the stem. While the latter practice is not necessary, it is often carried out in commercial settings to make harvesting easier.

How often should you water and feed Brussels sprouts?

Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Spread an organic mulch like pea straw or lucerne over the beds to help conserve soil moisture.

Apply a light dressing of organic fertiliser every six to eight weeks. Supplement with a weekly feed of liquid fertiliser that’s suitable for leafy greens and veggies.

How and when to harvest Brussels sprouts

Depending on the variety, Brussels sprouts are typically ready for harvest four to five months from planting and can usually be picked for two to three months. Harvest from the bottom up and look for sprouts with round, firm heads that are approximately 2-3cm in diameter. Use a sharp knife and snap off with a downward pull.

Diseases and pests that affect Brussels sprouts

The larvae, or caterpillars, of the cabbage white butterfly and cabbage moth (diamondback moth) feed on the leaves and can chew large holes. In severe cases, they can completely decimate leaves, growing tips and shoots. Aphids can also be a problem and can be controlled with an organic insecticide.

Protect Brussels sprouts from snails and slugs using snail and slug traps or baits. Reapply baits after wet weather.

How to propagate Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts grow best from either seeds or seedlings. Always check the label for suitable planting times and when to expect a harvest.

If you like this then try

Kale: an easy-to-grow veggie that is equally at home planted out in the garden as it is in a large pot.

Celery: this versatile leafy green needs a long growing season, but the wait is worth it.

Fennel: a handsome bulb that’s delicious in salads and roasts, or pickled.

Start planting today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!

 

Photo credit: Getty Images

Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.