Brussels sprouts—named after the capital city of Belgium—come in over one hundred varieties. They grow to three feet (0.9 meters) tall and produce over fifty buds on each stalk. Gardeners have no difficulty growing Brussels sprouts because they flourish with reasonable care—but is it worth it?
It is worth growing Brussels sprouts if you have the space and taste buds for them. It would be best if you consider that they need lots of nutrients—and that you will have to replant these biennials after one season. You’ll also have to address many garden pests unless they are growing indoors.
This article will cover five things to consider about Brussels sprouts before deciding when, where, or if you want to grow them in your garden.
1. Know Your Needs and Available Space
Before growing a vegetable, you should know whether anyone will eat it. Otherwise, you’ll produce a bunch of wasted food because even composted food takes time and resources. This fact becomes extra essential when discussing divisive veggies—imagine having several pounds’ worth of your least favorite food.
So when considering if Brussels sprouts are worthwhile, you should consider these two questions.
Will You Be Able To Consume Your Brussels Sprout Harvest?
Brussels sprouts have divided human mammals for centuries. Some of us like them, and some think of them as cruel and unusual punishment for their taste buds. And, of course, others don’t have a strong opinion one way or another.
Certain vegetable chemicals can create a bitter-tasting component to the flavor profile, but not everyone can detect them. Some individuals have genetic makeups that predispose them to taste these bitter chemicals.
Other people don’t have these genes—they have some of them and can taste some of the bitterness.
These genes dictate why cilantro tastes terrific to some people while others taste soap.
A handy article on the science site Gizmodo explains the complex answer to why some people can’t stand Brussels sprouts.
Even if a family member or guest doesn’t have the genetics to detect any bitter chemicals in the vegetables, they may dislike Brussels sprouts’ flavor. Or, the taste may not bother them, but the texture does.
Do You Have the Space To Grow Brussels Sprouts?
Three feet (0.9 meters) of Brussels sprouts take up significant vertical space. If they don’t, you might have to address the issue—check out this article: 5 Reasons Why Your Brussels Sprouts Won’t Grow Tall
Since they don’t grow in rigid, straight-upright trunks but leaning arcing stalks, they also need a little elbow room.
If you grow them outside, this may not matter, but you’ll still have to ensure your plants have the room they need. Each plant needs around two feet (0.6 meters) of separation from other plants.
If you use containers, ensure they’re deep enough to hold the right amount of water for the soil and roots. You can place the containers close to each other. Just make sure they all have adequate access to light.
2. You Can Grow Them Outdoors or Indoors
Take the time to make a good plan for your growth site. Where you plant and nurse your sprouts can make all the difference.
Growing Brussels Sprouts Outdoors
Outdoor cultivation gives your crops access to:
- Beneficial nematodes and insects
- Good air circulation
- Direct sun
Brussels sprouts prefer cooler temperatures but can handle some heat. The heat slows their growth, but they recover in the cooler months, producing full harvests deep into winter in some regions.
Should you grow them outdoors and live in a warmer zone, you can extend the time between planting and harvesting to allow cold weather to work.
If you live in an area where long stretches of high temperatures occur, you may want to grow them inside. Too much heat will kill the plants.
According to Greenhouse Today, southern climate gardeners can plant in early fall to give the plants a better chance to thrive. By doing this, they avoid fighting the summer heat and reap the benefits from the fall and winter cold.
If you have hard soil or clay, you can break it up and amend it to create a garden bed suitable for vegetables. Otherwise, you can use a raised bed or containers, but they will drain and dry out faster than an in-ground bed, so keep track of soil moisture to ensure your Brussels sprouts stay hydrated.
Growing Brussels Sprouts Indoors
Indoor gardening allows you to:
- Time the lighting
- Control pests easier
- Protect from weather extremes
- Customize the soil
- Water with precision
Growing indoors avoids many common outdoor problems, but you must ensure your crops receive just as much light. Grow lights allow you to garden year-round, but if you have a sunny window with six or eight hours of sunlight per day, you can place your plants next to it.
Growing inside seems like it would make watering more manageable, which it does to some extent. However, you still have to monitor soil moisture because smaller quantities of soil dry out faster, primarily if you use porous containers.
3. Brussels Sprouts Have Big Appetites
When a plant has a big appetite, it requires lifelong scheduled feedings of species-specific nutrients to grow properly and stay healthy. Less-hungry plants survive on the nutrients in their soil when planted, not needing further feeding or fewer feedings.
Brussels sprouts eat a lot of nitrogen, meaning you must feed them at regular intervals once per month or more to ensure they stay healthy. The continuous production of lush green leaves and plentiful vegetables requires heaps of nitrogen, with the majority of the nutrient going straight to the sprouts.
Estimates for how often to feed the plants range from a minimum of two feedings through the season to every two weeks. Check the specific feeding requirements for your variety and growing conditions.
Heavy feeding may not create an issue for you if you’re growing Brussels sprouts alone. If you’re growing them with other vegetables, however—especially others with large appetites like tomatoes or cucumbers—you risk resource competition between them.
To compensate for the extra resource uptake, you must schedule feedings throughout the season. You won’t get the desired results if you don’t feed them enough.
4. They Share Pests With Other Common Veggies
Brussels sprouts have several natural enemies that they share with other garden favorites. As we’ve covered in my other article, plants that share pests become open to intensified and more numerous pest infestations.
- Aphids. The tiny aphid likes munching vegetables, leaves, stems, stalks, fruits, and shoots. They drain fluid from plants, taking with them essential nutrients and moisture. The defacement they cause also opens plants up to diseases and weather damage.
- Caterpillars. Coming in all shapes and sizes, caterpillars love to eat just about everything and can cause loads of damage in a short time.
- Root-Knot Nematodes. We need nematodes to keep soil healthy, but the Root-Knot squad feeds on vegetable plant roots. If enough harmful nematodes infest a garden, all the plants will suffer.
You can avoid pest problems by growing your Brussels sprouts and vegetables indoors. However, some critters like aphids can still get to the plants even if you keep them inside. Regular visual sweeps of your crops can help you stay a step ahead of invaders.
5. As Biennials—They Require Replanting After One Season
Brussels sprouts live for two years, which is why we classify them as biennials. Like carrots, they produce the part we eat during the first year but grow flowers and seeds during the second year.
Because they divert their energy toward seed production in the second year, we treat them more like annuals by pulling them after exhausting their vegetable harvest.
In other words, you must pull the old plants before replanting unless you want to harvest seeds from the flowers. Once the plants have fully matured, they will dry out, and the seeds become easier to harvest from the dried-out pods.
This brilliant and information-packed video by DIYseeds tells all about the life cycle and how to harvest seeds:
Suppose you want to keep a steady crop of Brussels sprouts coming. In that case, you will need more room to plant sprout seeds at different intervals, so they mature at staggered times, giving you successive harvests.
Suppose you grow indoors and conditions do not constrain how much you can grow. In that case, you can grow several plants indoors year-round, providing an endless supply.
From what we’ve covered, it’s worth growing Brussels sprouts if you know that you and others will eat the several pounds’ worth of crop and if you have the space in your garden or outside to host a plant. Growing them isn’t difficult, but they have particulars like large appetites, pests, and cooler temperatures for you to address.