Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Online Course Icon

Brussels sprouts

Brassica oleracea, var. gemmifera

A member of the cabbage family.

Brussels sprouts are round and should be dense. They look like baby cabbage heads, popping out of stems 1–1.5 m/3–5 ft high.

Their group name comes from the Latin word ‘gemma’, which means bud.

It is possible that they were grown in Rome 2000 years ago, while the name comes from their popularity in Belgium since Renaissance times.

The Renaissance was a period of hope and aspiration. Brussels sprouts definitely reach for the skies and make me smile with their beautiful buttons.

  • You can use these same sowing, planting and picking dates and methods for kalettes, which were created 10–15 years ago by Tozers Seeds in the UK. They were then called Flower Sprouts or Brukale, and are sold as lollipops in the US.
  • Kalettes are florets of red-tinged kale growing on a long stem, with excellent flavour and hardiness.
Magnificent Brussels in mid-December, with no pigeons in sight!
An excellent roasted Brussel sprouts recipe by Kate
Brussels heads look so striking, much like flowers

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 130–180, depending on sowing date and variety.
  • Best growth is in temperate climates, such as Northwest Europe (here!), helped in winter by warmth from the North Atlantic Drift.

Harvests are possible from September to early April.

I first grew Brussels sprouts in 1983, and have been fascinated by them ever since. The timing of harvest is one of the hardest things to succeed in, in terms of having them ready when you most want them.

Descriptions on seed packets give harvest periods such as ‘September to Christmas’, or ‘December to February’. This is more theory than practice because the majority of varieties give most harvests before January.

Brussels sprouts coming along nicely between carrots on 2nd July – they were sown on 10th May and transplanted here on 16th June, for harvests from late September until March
6th October – an early cropping variety of Brussels sprouts Marte F1 is ready for picking, with a fair few sprouts
22nd November – the Marte F1 need picking almost to the top, after which they give only a few new sprouts

My desire is to pick Brussels from late autumn through to early spring, but we usually pick more than I had planned in autumn, and less in winter.

The biggest challenge is to have a decent amount in the coldest part of winter, when fresh greens are scarce. Harvests are lighter in midwinter, even though plants resist cold very well. It’s more that conditions are worse for new growth.

  • The best aspect of late cropping varieties is how they stand in good condition, with not much decay, when left unpicked for one to three months through winter.
Trafalgar was transplanted in late July so the harvest is a little delayed; now, in December, there’s still plenty more growth to come
Late January – this stem of kalettes is adorned with pretty purple-tinted rosettes, all good to harvest now

Why grow them

Sprouts are famously bitter, yet also strong in delicious flavours. Their bitterness reduces in cold weather, and plants survive to well below freezing point, so they are a true winter vegetable.

  • Reduce bitterness with different cooking methods. We enjoy them roasted after slicing in half, which turns them into a delicacy.
  • Sauté them in a little water and add chestnuts.
  • Chop into quarters for adding to salads, just a few because they are so dense and flavoursome.

A big reason to grow them is the constant availability of new harvests, in months when fresh greens are less common. From each stem, I reckon to take six to eight harvests, over a period of two to three months. Each pick from one stem might be 90–170 g/3–6 oz. My winter Brussels are often smaller, and 20 or more of them might weigh 170 g/6 oz.

Suitable for containers/shade?

They grow in shade, as long as there are no tree roots in the soil competing for moisture.

Each plant needs much water and a large root run, so I would not grow them in a container.

Cascade F1 is a late cropping variety of Brussels sprouts, seen here on 6th October
Horizontal winter light catching some beautiful Doric Brussels in November


The difference between open-pollinated and hybrid is especially notable in Brussels sprouts. I recommend F1s because they give reliable results. Otherwise, it’s a long wait and much space needed, for a relatively poor harvest. All of these varieties are hybrids, but see also the photo of Noisettes from 2009 – below.

  • For autumn harvests: Marte, Bright, Crispus and Brodie.
  • For winter harvests and perhaps into early spring: Braemar, Doric, Trafalgar and Brendan.
  • For red Brussels: Ruby Crunch.
  • For kalettes: Petit Pois crops mostly before Christmas, and Snowdrop F1 in late winter – it grows a shorter plant.
Abundant Noisette Brussels in mid-November 2009 – this is not a hybrid!
Braemar F1 Brussels at winter solstice, after six months in the ground – some buttons have been picked from the lower stem

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems


During the winter, or even autumn, and long before clearing, we spread the 2.5 cm/1 in of compost mulch which serves for the coming year of vegetable cropping. This feeds soil life through winter and onwards, plus it saves time and conserves moisture in the spring.

To clear plants, best twist them out as soon as you finish picking, and then compost them, as for broccoli.

Removing Brussels plants from the ground –you’ll notice there’s still a small amount of root attached

Follow with

You have a clear run of any vegetable you want to grow after Brussels sprouts. It could be spring salads, beetroot, onions, chard, courgettes and so forth.