10 Tips For Growing Kale

Kale is a great crop for beginner and experienced growers alike, but there are a few essential tricks to help ensure an abundant yield.

June 2, 2016
how to grow kale
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It’s anti-inflammatory, packed with fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamins K, A, and C. Plus, your smoothie recipes just aren’t the same without it. Yup, kale is pretty amazing, and a great way to get more of it is by growing your own. Even if you’re not a seasoned gardener, it’s easy to find success with this green. Just three or four plants can supply a family of four a nice weekly harvest. You don't even need a backyard; kale grows great in containers, too, like this Dura Cotta Planter Bowl (just make sure your pot has at least a 12-inch diameter, and use well-draining potting mix). Here’s how to grow your own kale, whether you’re planting directly into the ground or using container gardens.

growing kale
Bill Oxford/Getty

Related: 50 Ideas To Inspire Your First Container Garden Project

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When To Start

Though kale will produce in warm weather, it has a tendency to become woody and bitter. It’s best when allowed to mature in cool temps. Start spring seeds indoors approximately six weeks before the last frost to give plants a chance to mature before summer’s worst heat. Direct seeds will mature in 55 to 75 days, while transplants will speed up the process, ready for harvest in about 30 to 40 days. Plant your crop again in the fall, 6 to 8 weeks before the first expected frost—you can keep harvesting even after snowfall. Plant more seeds or transplants every 2 to 3 weeks for a long, continuous harvest.

Where To Plant

If you’re planting during the cool season, do so where your crop will get full sun. If you’re growing during warmer temps, plant in partial shade.

kale
Christa Neu

 

Make Friends

Kale is buddy-buddy with beets, celery, cucumbers, herbs, onions, spinach, chard, and potatoes. It isn’t happy growing next to beans, strawberries, or tomatoes.

Related: The Benefits Of Growing These Plants Side-By-Side

Give Them Shelter

Protect young plants with row covers like this Plant Protection Blanket to stave off flea beetles and provide a buffer against any unexpected temperature dips.

leafy cabbage in straw mulch
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Nurture Roots

Kale’s roots run horizontally from the central stem. Use straw or grass mulch at the base of your plants to keep the soil cool, conserve moisture, and make it easier for roots to feed.

Water Well

Keep soil moist to encourage consistent growth.

Fertilize

Dress your soil with compost every 6 to 8 weeks. A seaweed emulsion, like Neptune’s Harvest Organic Hydrolized Fish + Seaweed Fertilizer can help boost growth when used lightly throughout the entire season.

Beat Pests

To reduce insect damage in your vegetable garden, pick off unhealthy-looking leaves and keep your plants well-fed with compost and water.

 

girl holding bouquet of kale
Anna Hoychuk/shutterstock

How To Harvest

It’s time to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand. Pick them one by one, starting with the lowest, outermost leaves and working toward the center. Always leave a few of the small central leaves attached to encourage growth. In most cases, you’ll be able to harvest from the same plant again in 5 to 7 days.

Related: Kale Belongs In Your Flower Beds—Here's Why

Know When To Quit

When things get really hot in the summer, pull plants up by their roots to make room in your garden for more heat-loving veggies until fall arrives for another round of planting.