Why Is Your Cauliflower Growing So Tall?

When planting cauliflower, it is usually safe to assume that the plant will grow outward more than upward. However, when cauliflower florets turn into stalks and begin to shoot up into the air, there is something going on with its growing process that is not correct. Why is your cauliflower growing so tall?

Your cauliflower could be growing so tall because:

  1. The head of the cauliflower is bolting.
  2. The head of the cauliflower is ricing.
  3. There is too much nitrogen fertilizer in the soil.
  4. The cauliflower is being overwatered.

This article will first look at how big an average cauliflower plant should be. It will then delve into these four different phenomena a bit further and uncover the reason why these issues are happening. Lastly, I’ll provide some tips and techniques that you can try to solve the problem.

How Large Should Cauliflower Grow?

There are several different varieties of cauliflower available to plant, and some will grow larger heads of florets than others. 

A healthy cauliflower plant should grow to about 12 to 30 inches (30.48-76.2 cm) in height and 12 to 30 inches (30.48-76.2 cm) in width at the peak of the growing season. The head of cauliflower itself can typically reach up to 9 inches (22.86 cm) in diameter.

Although the main head at the center of the plant can be as large as 9 inches (22.86 cm) in width, most of them tend to be around 5 to 8 inches (12.7-20.32 cm).

Now that the size of a standard cauliflower plant has been clarified, what are the four leading causes of cauliflower growing tall, and how can they be solved?

The Head of the Cauliflower Is Bolting

A cauliflower bolting during its growing period means that it will begin to seed prematurely. The plant will grow a couple of center stalks with flowers. These flowers will then continue to grow upward.

The problem in this instance is that the cauliflower will never be able to form a proper head and thus will not be edible.

The Cause of Bolting Cauliflower Plants

Bolting typically happens when a plant is in its early development stage. The cauliflower will be growing just fine one minute, and then the next, it begins to seed itself and is incapable of forming a head of florets.

This most often occurs because of a sudden change in the temperature where the cauliflower is being grown. The weather will start to become cooler, and the plant will be triggered. It will begin thinking that it needs to speed up to finish its life cycle before the climate becomes too cold. 

The Solution to Bolting Cauliflower Plants

There are a couple of ways to prevent bolting from happening and ruining a good cauliflower crop.

When planting the cauliflower, ensure that the chosen seeds are an appropriate variety for the region they will be grown in and its climate. If the area has a shorter growing period, for example, cauliflower that takes a while to develop is probably not the best option.

Another tactic that can be tried is letting the cauliflower seeds begin their germination process indoors, away from the cold. Ensure they are fully sprouted before moving them out into their permanent place in the garden. Doing this will prevent the seeds from experiencing a surprise late spring freeze, which can occur in many northern environments.

The Head of the Cauliflower Is Ricing

Sometimes, when cauliflower develops, it will grow so much that it begins to produce elongated flower stalks that shoot up from the florets. When this happens, the cauliflower is ricing. 

These tiny flowers are called peduncles, and they will poke through the outer layer of the plant and attempt to keep growing upward. This makes the plant less than desirable for eating since it almost has a fuzzy look to it.

The Cause of Cauliflower Ricing

The ricing process usually occurs because something caused the cauliflower to become too damp, and it then stayed moist for an extended period of time while it was growing. 

This moisture comes from other sources besides the plant’s regular daily watering. It typically appears when there is too much humidity or an extended wet spell where cauliflower plants are sitting too close together and soaking up the damp air.

The Solution to Cauliflower Ricing

The answer to this problem starts right from the beginning when the cauliflower is first being put into the ground. Before transplanting the cauliflower from the indoor location where it has been germinating to its permanent place outdoors, take a look at the seed packet for that type of cauliflower.

The seed packet will often provide advice on how far apart the plants should be placed in order to avoid troubles like ricing. As long as the developing seedlings are spaced far enough apart that there is plenty of airflow between them, the added stress of the humid air should not be as much of an issue.

There Is Too Much Nitrogen Fertilizer in the Soil

In order to thrive, cauliflower needs to be planted in soil that has a well-balanced pH level. The soil should be kept moist to help the roots grow more robust, and one way to achieve this is by adding fertilizer to it. 

Nitrogen fertilizer is the best type to feed cauliflower plants, but sometimes too much of a good thing can turn sour quickly. If the plants are receiving too much nitrogen, it can cause them to have a growth spurt. 

This should be a good thing, but unfortunately, it is not a growth spurt that is beneficial for cauliflower. Instead, it will stress out the plants and leave them vulnerable and weak. 

Source of Excess Nitrogen

It is relatively easy to find the cause of this issue since the problem is coming from a manufactured product, not a natural event. 

The fertilizer that is being used to feed the cauliflower plants most likely has a high nitrogen content that is too strong for them to handle. It will cause the plant to produce an excess amount of foliage, disrupting the growing process and leaving the cauliflower useless.

Get a Well-Balanced Fertilizer Instead

Purchasing a fertilizer that is better suited for cauliflower is the best way to resolve this concern. Although each brand will vary, choosing a fertilizer without a high nitrogen content that is well-balanced will be the right option.

The fertilizer will be even better if it is a slow-release type since that will not overwhelm the plants and make them grow too quickly.

The Cauliflower Is Being Overwatered

The final reason that cauliflower might grow unusually tall is that it is receiving too much water. If this is the case, the cauliflower will soak in all of that water and become oversized.

The Cause of Overwatering

While watering cauliflower plants is crucial to their growth, there is such a thing as overwatering the plants. This is most likely to occur when it has rained consistently for an extended period of time and the plants are still being watered daily.

The unusual growth of cauliflower can also take place if the soil is excessively wet for a while. Cauliflower does benefit from the nutrients found in the earth, but if the plants are taking in too many nutrients, they will begin to expand toward the sky. 

The Solution to Overwatering

The best way to avoid cauliflower getting too much water is to keep an eye on the soil it is planted in. 

Only add water to the plant if the ground looks and feels dry. If the soil is visibly wet or clumping together, it likely has plenty of water in it for the time being.

On the days that there is rain in the forecast, hold off on watering the cauliflower until later in the day. If it does end up raining, the plants will not need any extra water, but if it does not rain, they may appreciate some.

Final Thoughts

Cauliflower is known for growing to be short and wide, so if the plant seems to be getting taller, there is definitely something abnormal going on. Consider these four possible problems and see if your cauliflower’s growing conditions match any of the above descriptions. Hopefully, they will be helpful in solving the problem.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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