What Happens if You Let Cauliflower Grow Too Long?

One of the most challenging parts of growing any fruit or vegetable producing plant is knowing when the produce is ready to be harvested. If a plant such as cauliflower stays attached to its leaves or stuck in the ground for too long, there’s a possibility it won’t be harvestable after a certain period of time. What happens if you let cauliflower grow too long?

The main issues that could happen if you let cauliflower grow too long are the florets becoming loose and flowers developing on the plant. Overgrown cauliflower may also begin to rice or grow fibers. In addition, these issues will cause the cauliflower to be inedible

In this article, I’ll explain how to tell precisely when a cauliflower head is finished growing and is ready to be harvested from the plant. I’ll also take you through a deeper look into the potential outcomes of letting cauliflower grow for too long and provide some advice on best practices for harvesting it. 

How Do I Know My Cauliflower Is Ready to Be Harvested?

Cauliflower seedlings will most likely begin their growing journey inside. Once a cauliflower plant has sprouted and been transplanted from its indoor home to its permanent growing place, it’ll take anywhere from 55 days to 80 days to fully mature. 

Cauliflower is ready to be harvested when it has grown 1 to 2 feet (0.30-0.61 m) in width and 1 to 2 feet (0.30-0.61 m) in height and the head of the cauliflower has reached about 6 inches (15.24 cm) in diameter

Once the cauliflower has grown that large, it can be separated from its roots. This is done by cutting the head off of the plant above ground level and removing the leaves. 

Some cauliflower varieties grow a bit faster than others and produce a smaller head. Be sure to check the seed packet to find out what size the cauliflower should be when it’s finished maturing. 

The Consequences of Growing Cauliflower for Too Long

There are a few potential outcomes that can occur when leaving a cauliflower head on its plant for too long. 

The cauliflower florets may become loose from the plant or they may begin to grow into a rice-like consistency. The cauliflower plant may also grow flowers or fibers from its leaves.

Unfortunately, none of these outcomes are very favorable, as they all result in inedible cauliflower that can’t be used in the kitchen at all.

So be sure to pay attention and keep an eye out for these signs coming from the plants:

The Cauliflower Florets Will Become Loose

One potential situation that could happen if a cauliflower plant grows for too long is the florets comprising the head of the cauliflower will start to separate from each other. They’ll gradually become looser, growing in different directions, and space will develop between the florets. 

That space is the perfect breeding ground for mold and other diseases, especially in a humid climate. If the cauliflower isn’t being grown in a dry area, fungi may begin to grow throughout the separated florets. 

Once the cauliflower has sat covered in the mold for a time, it’s no longer edible – nor would anyone really want to eat it!

Flowers Will Develop on the Cauliflower Plant

If a cauliflower head has been left to grow too long on the plant, another problem that can occur is the growth of flowers throughout the florets that make up the head.

The little shoots will begin to pop up between the florets, and at this point, the plant has already started seeding itself, or “bolting.” Once this phenomenon takes place, the cauliflower will have a horribly bitter taste, making it inedible. 

The Cauliflower Will Begin to Rice

Another issue that can occur is what is known as “ricing.” This means the cauliflower head has grown too mature while attached to the plant, and little puffs of plants resembling rice will start to appear on the florets.

Like other consequences of overgrowing, ricing will ultimately make the cauliflower taste so bad that it’s inedible. Unfortunately, it must be thrown out at that point because it can no longer be used in the kitchen.

The Cauliflower Will Grow Fibers

The final possible outcome of cauliflower growing for too long is the production of a material known as lignin. Lignin is a fiber developed from the sugars found in cauliflower that has sat attached to the leaves and ground for too long.

Once lignin fiber starts to form, the stems of the cauliflower florets will become extremely tough. No matter how long they’re cooked, they won’t soften enough to be edible, and any dish in which the cauliflower is used as an ingredient will be ruined. 

Advice for Harvesting Cauliflower

To avoid any of the four primary outcomes from letting cauliflower grow for too long and ensure the best quality, here are some general tips for how to harvest cauliflower heads:

Plant Cauliflower Closer to Cold Weather

Unlike most fruit and vegetables that should be planted right at the beginning of spring, cauliflower will actually produce a better harvest if it’s grown closer to the end of the summer

Be sure to transplant cauliflower into its permanent place in the ground right before the temperatures start to drop and the season turns into fall. It’ll be able to stay growing quite a bit longer than if it were going to be developing in the summertime.

Do Not Delay Harvesting

Waiting to see if the cauliflower’s head will continue to grow and expand is an understandable reason for wanting to wait a bit longer before harvesting

Yet, once a cauliflower has been developing for over 80 days, the head is typically as big as it’s ever going to get. Delaying harvesting in the hopes that it’ll continue to expand will only make the cauliflower susceptible to one of the problems previously listed.

Another common reason many hold off on harvesting is wanting to harvest all of the cauliflower heads being grown at the same time. The plants will all develop and produce at different rates, so it may sound like a good idea to wait until they are all finished growing before picking them.

However, if this occurs, the first cauliflower to end its growing process is more likely to go rancid and be a loss. Instead, cut the heads off of their leaves as they finish maturing, rather than waiting until the entire batch is ready. 

Harvest in the Morning

Taking the time to harvest the fully-grown cauliflower plants first thing in the morning is an intelligent decision.

The vegetables will be the most succulent at this time of the day since they’ll have spent the night reenergizing versus sitting out and drying in the sunlight. 

After removing the heads from their base, soak them for 30 minutes in warm water mixed with salt and a shot of vinegar. This will not only help preserve the cauliflower but also take care of any insects that might have come along for the ride. 

Freeze a Large Harvest

As stated previously, it’s best to pick the cauliflower heads from their plants as they finish growing rather than waiting for the whole group to be done. Yet what happens if a large amount of cauliflower is done maturing simultaneously? 

Unless you can give some away, a batch of cauliflower that big certainly cannot be eaten completely before it goes bad. To avoid this waste, chop up the cauliflower into individual florets and freeze it. 

In this instance, the cauliflower won’t be made to sit for too long in the ground or in the refrigerator, and it can be enjoyed for a long time after the harvest is complete.

Final Thoughts

While some plants may be able to spend extra time growing in the garden, cauliflower turns out much better if it’s harvested as soon as it has fully matured. If that doesn’t happen, the time and energy spent growing the cauliflower will be for naught.

Follow these guidelines and tips to ensure your cauliflower grows to be crunchy and delicious!

You can read my other article on why your cauliflower is growing so tall here: Why Is Your Cauliflower Growing So Tall?

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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