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Planting Brussels sprouts: cultivation, sowing & harvesting

23.07.2020  /  Reading time: 11 minutes

Brussels sprouts don't just look impressive when grown, their ingredients are also impressive! In addition to plenty of vitamin C, it contains numerous minerals and fiber. As a popular winter vegetable, it always brings fresh nutrients to your plate, even in the cold season. In this article, you can find out everything you need to know about growing Brussels sprouts.

This article contains:

  1. Growing Brussels sprouts: what you need to know
  2. Early and late Brussels sprouts
  3. Mixed cultivation with Brussels sprouts: crop rotation & neighbors
  4. Your planting plan with brussels sprout
  5. Sowing Brussels sprouts: tips for sowing
  6. Planting Brussels sprouts
  7. Proper care of Brussels sprouts
  8. Fertilize Brussels sprouts: here's how
  9. Preventing diseases in Brussels sprouts
  10. Harvest time: harvesting, storing & processing Brussels sprouts
  11. Frequently asked questions about growing Brussels sprouts:

Quick Overview

Growing Brussels sprouts: an overview

  • Light: sunny to semi-shady
  • Water: After planting, water sparingly at first to stimulate root formation. Later, ensure a sufficient and even water supply.
  • Soil: Deep, rich in nutrients and humus. The soil should always be kept loose to increase stability.
  • Planting distance: Cabbage needs plenty of space, planting distance 50x50 cm
  • Sowing depth: 1 cm
  • Germination period: 7 to 14 days
  • Germination temperature: 15 to 25 degrees
  • Brussels sprouts in mixed cultivation:
    • Crop rotation: Good successor crop for early potatoes or peas, 3-year break between cabbage crops
    • Good neighbors: artichoke, eggplant, beans, chilli, dill, pea, cucumber, camomile, carrots, physalis, radish, rhubarb, beet, lettuce,...

Growing Brussels sprouts: what you need to know

Brussels sprouts, sometimes called sprouting cabbage, are a variety of the vegetable cabbage and thus belong to the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae). The versatile cabbage plants are all descended from less impressive wild forms (Brassica oleracea), which can still be found in the Mediterranean region and on the Atlantic coasts. Brussels sprouts were first successfully cultivated near Brussels, hence their original name "Choux de Bruxelles" (Brussels cabbage). You can find an overview article on cabbage cultivation and different types of cabbage here.

Brussels sprouts freshly harvested
With the right care, Brussels sprouts will give you a rich harvest. Image by Ulrike Leone

How does Brussels sprouts grow?

The buds/florets of Brussels sprouts are located in the leaf axils and develop from many leaves that are densely layered on top of each other - small heads of cabbage form along the shoot. Brussels sprouts are very healthy and nutritious. It is the winter vegetable with the highest vitamin C content. It also contains important minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron, as well as valuable fiber.

The right location

Sunny to semi-shady spots are ideal for Brussels sprouts. The soil should be deep and rich in nutrients and humus. As a heavy feeder, Brussels sprouts need a good portion of nutrients. In extremely cold regions, Brussels sprouts can be grown in cold frames or protected against a wall, with additional protection provided by covering them with spruce branches.

Early and late Brussels sprouts

The desired harvest time has a significant influence on the choice of variety. A rough distinction is made between the early varieties for the fall harvest and the winter varieties, which can be harvested until spring.

The earlier varieties are not (or only slightly) frost-resistant and are therefore not suitable for overwintering. Varieties for an early harvest include'Nelson' (harvest time from September to October) or'Early Half Tall' (harvest from September to November).

The late varieties in particular are hardy for most regions and even benefit from frost, which makes the florets more tender and tastier by promoting sugar production through photosynthesis and slowing down the build-up of starch. However, this natural sweetening process requires the plants to be alive and cannot be artificially imitated in the freezer. Varieties for a winter harvest include'Hilds Ideal' (harvested between October and February) and'Groninger' (harvested between October and March).

Mixed cultivation with Brussels sprouts: crop rotation & neighbors

Brussels sprouts in a mixed crop
The Brussels sprout leaves become very sprawling, so the seedlings should always be planted with sufficient space between them.

Brussels sprouts are heavy eaters. You should bear this in mind when planning mixed cultivation. It is best to combine Brussels sprouts with medium to low-yielding plants from other plant families. In crop rotation, Brussels sprouts are a good successor crop for early potatoes or peas. If you have had problems with soil fatigue or crop-specific pests such as the cabbage white butterfly, then you should take a break of three years on this area and not plant any cabbage plants for the time being. You can find more tips on mixed cultivation with cabbage and examples of mixed cultivation with good and bad neighbors here in the article.

Table: Good neighbors, bad neighbors

Good neighbors Bad neighbors
Artichoke Cucumber Blatt- und Blumenkohl Onion & spring onion
Aubergine Dill Chinakohl Rutabaga / Swedish turnip
Bean & Soybean Lettuce Arugula Strawberry
Beetroot Mint Broccoli Turnip
Black salsify Oregano Cabbage and collard greens
Borage Parnship Cauliflower
Carrots Pea Chives
Celery Pepper Fennel
Chamomile Physalis Garlic
Chard Potato Topinambur
Chervil Radish Lovage
Chili Rhubarb Marjoram
Common marigold Sage Mizuna
Coriander Spinach Okra

Your planting plan with brussels sprout

Find inspiration for your mixed crop planting plan with Brussels sprouts here!

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Sowing Brussels sprouts: tips for sowing

Sowing outdoors is possible from mid-May to the beginning of July. If you do not yet have space in the bed, you can also start growing indoors from April until the other crops have been harvested. Of course, Brussels sprouts can be sown directly into the bed, but this is relatively disadvantageous as you need to ensure there is sufficient space between the plants. It is therefore advisable to grow them on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. The seeds are placed about 1 cm deep in the soil. After 1 to 2 weeks at temperatures between 15 and 25 degrees, the first seedlings should appear. Later, select the best seedlings and plant them 40 x 60 cm apart in the bed.

Planting Brussels sprouts

Radishes in the vegetable patch
The large gaps between the Brussels sprout seedlings can be temporarily filled with radishes.

In the first 1-3 weeks, the seedlings are kept rather dry, which stimulates root growth and ensures a more stable stand. Later, a stick can help to further stabilize the approx. 60-90 cm high shoot. The seedlings should be planted out by mid-July at the latest. The spacing of 50 x 60 cm should be maintained, even if the space seems very wide at the beginning. Planting too close together restricts lush growth and promotes disease. The gaps can be temporarily filled with fast-growing intermediate crops such as radishes. The seedlings are planted deep and later mounded up a little. It takes about 3 months for the first florets to form.

Proper care of Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are one of the more demanding crops in the garden and require plenty of care. However, if you give the cabbage what it needs, it will grow diligently and return the favor with its fine florets. As a member of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts are a perfect example of heavy eaters. They need plenty of water and nutrients. Therefore, sufficient moisture should always be provided, especially during floret formation.

A mulch of grass clippings or other organic materials can be very helpful when growing Brussels sprouts. It maintains the loose soil structure, protects the soil from drying out and at the same time helps to keep weeds in the gaps at bay. It also provides food for soil organisms, which contributes to humus formation and nutrient enrichment.

In September, the shoot tips of the early-ripening varieties should be broken out so that the last forces can concentrate on the roses - the Brussels sprouts are virtually decapitated. However, de-tipping should really only be used on early-maturing varieties, as this makes winter varieties more susceptible to frost damage.

Compost for fertilizing Brussels sprouts
The Brussels sprout bed can be prepared in the fall with plenty of compost.

Fertilize Brussels sprouts: here's how

The cabbage bed should be prepared with compost and organic fertilizer in autumn if possible. According to Charles Dowding's no-dig method, an annual fertilization with compost is sufficient to provide your crops with an optimal supply throughout the season. Charles Dowding recommends a layer of compost about 2.5 cm high and up to 15 cm of compost for nutrient-poor, sandy soils.

If you notice a lack of nutrients during floret formation, you can optionally top up with liquid fertilizer (e.g. nettle slurry) two to three times. If the blue-green leaves turn yellow before this, the nitrogen deficiency can be remedied with horn meal. Alternatively, fertilizer can be applied during the growing season with well-rotted manure or dried cattle manure. Fertilizing with wood ash promotes firm floret formation.

Caution: do not over-fertilize Brussels sprouts!

Over-fertilization leads to a loss of quality, Brussels sprouts then only form loose florets and winter hardiness decreases. So don't fertilize too much! Cabbage tastes like it has been nourished. If grown well and organically, it will not develop an unpleasant aftertaste or smell when cooked. However, inappropriate fertilization (e.g. mineral or raw manure) can result in unpleasant odours.

Preventing diseases in Brussels sprouts

To prevent diseases, a break of 3 years should be observed between the cultivation of cabbage crops on the same area during crop rotation.

Common diseases and how you can prevent them:

  • Cabbage hernia: Prevention by sprinkling seaweed lime into the planting hole.
  • Aphids: Help by dusting with wood ash or primary rock flour
  • Cabbage white butterfly: Prevention through mixed cultivation. Individual tomatoes or celery plants between the rows prevent the butterfly from approaching. The intense scent masks the enticing smell of cabbage. Crop protection nets can also keep the moth away.

Harvest time: harvesting, storing & processing Brussels sprouts

Depending on the variety,harvest in fall/winter from November when the florets are 2-4 cm thick. The thickest florets are always broken out or cut off with a knife. The florets remain in the bud stage until spring and can be harvested continuously. With hardy varieties, this can even be done in portions until spring.

sautéed Brussels sprouts
Roasted Brussels sprouts can be refined with a hint of lemon. - Photo by Nathan Lemon

Brussels sprouts can be frozen for preservation. To do this, remove the outer, darker leaves, score a cross on the stem of the florets and then blanch for 2-3 minutes. The florets can then be briefly quenched and cooled before freezing. They can also be eaten raw or cooked. They taste particularly delicious baked with Parmesan cheese, for example.

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Source: Charles Dowding, #No Dig, 2023, Munich: Dorling Kindersley Verlag GmbH

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Annabell is studying agricultural biology at the University of Hohenheim. She also enjoys gardening in her private life, spends a lot of time in nature and loves to be creative.

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The buds/florets of the Brussels sprouts sit in the leaf axils and develop from many leaves that are densely layered on top of each other - small heads of cabbage form along the shoot.

Depending on the variety, Brussels sprouts are sown between mid-May and early July. Alternatively, you can start growing them indoors from April. Plant the seeds 1 cm deep in the soil. Germination time 1 - 2 weeks. Germination temperature 15 to 25 degrees.

As soon as there is space in your bed, you can plant the Brussels sprouts outdoors. You should have planted them in the bed by July, although there are also differences between varieties. You will find exact dates on the seed packet.

Good neighbors for Brussels sprouts include artichokes, eggplants, beans, chilli, dill, peas, cucumbers, chamomile, carrots, physalis, radishes, rhubarb, beet, lettuce and a few other plants. Read more here in the article.

Bad neighbors for Brussels sprouts are other cabbages, strawberries, fennel, garlic, marjoram, horseradish, mizuna, okra, rocket or turnip.

Depending on the variety, harvest in fall/winter from November when the florets are 2-4 cm thick. With hardy varieties, this can even be done in portions until spring.

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