AgCenter: It’s time to plant broccoli
By KIKI FONTENOT
BATON ROUGE — The LSU AgCenter recommends planting broccoli in fall vegetable gardens, and October is a perfect month for planting transplants or small seedlings.
There are many varieties of broccoli from which to choose. The LSU AgCenter typically recommends varieties that not only produce abundant yields but also have sloping heads (or florets) so that moisture doesn’t collect on the edible portion and cause unsightly spots. Varieties that have produced well in past trials include Diplomat and Packman.
I, along with fellow LSU AgCenter horticulturists Charlie Johnson, am conducting a broccoli variety trial at Burden Museum and Gardens in Baton Rouge. We are growing 21 varieties to develop recommendations for both home gardeners and commercial producers. We should have results in late December.
When grown using recommended production practices, broccoli will produce throughout the winter season. Here are a few tips on successfully growing broccoli in your home garden.
Broccoli is a medium feeder, meaning you’ll want to incorporate fertilizer into the garden prior to planting. Soil testing and calculating your total area help when determining how much fertilizer to add. We typically recommend incorporating five to seven pounds of 13-13-13 per 100 feet of garden row prior to planting. A 10-foot row would require only ½ to ¾ of a pound. One pound of 13-13-13 fertilizer is about 2 cups. Of course, you have other choices, including organic options.
Space broccoli plants 9 to 12 inches apart within the row or designated space in your garden area. Broccoli can be “double drilled” — you can stagger plants on either side of the row, maintaining the recommended spacing between plants. Three and six weeks after transplanting, side dress with a little nitrogen. One teaspoon of calcium nitrate per plant is plenty. Water it in immediately.
Speaking of watering, the most critical times to irrigate your broccoli plants are the first two weeks after planting and during head initiation. Of course, consistent watering throughout the season is key to producing great vegetable crops.
Watch broccoli carefully for insects such as aphids and worms. Bring insect samples into your local AgCenter agent for correct identification and for control recommendations.
Fortunately we don’t have many disease issues with fall broccoli. Newer gardeners, however, may be unaware of broccoli’s high boron requirements. Boron deficiencies often show up after harvest as hollow stems. This is a classic symptom of boron deficiency. You can correct this through foliar applications of Solubor boron fertilizer spray (follow directions on the label) or by incorporating a fertilizer with the micronutrient boron into the soil prior to planting.
Once heads start to develop and grow, harvest them while individual flower buds are still tightly compact. If you see the yellow petals starting to show, you’ve missed the optimum eating stage. But don’t fret. Broccoli flowers are pretty and will attract many pollinators to your garden.
Frequent harvest will encourage side shoots to develop. By cutting the main head with a short stem you will encourage more side shoots and increase your harvest throughout the season.