Your ultimate cauliflower guide with tips for growing and caring for these brassicas, favorite varieties to grow, plus LOTS of recipes and ideas to preserve cauliflower.
This cauliflower guide is a part of a continuing series of Ultimate Guides where you can find all kinds of growing information and delicious recipes for cooking – both fresh and preserving – a specific fruit or vegetable. See more fruit and vegetable guides here. Some links in this article are affiliate links and if you click on them I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Cauliflower is a part of the brassica family (also called cole crops) that includes cabbage and broccoli, as well as others like turnip and mustard. Lately it has surpassed these in popularity as a paleo favorite substitute for rice, chicken, and even pizza crust. There is no shortage of recipes to use cauliflower as you’ll see at the end of this article, but not as many gardeners grow cauliflower, though it is fun to raise this versatile food crop.
I’ll be honest with you, though: cauliflower isn’t the easiest garden crop to grow. It likes cool weather, but not too cool. It doesn’t like swings in temperature. I’ve had starts that just grew straight up and put out a little seed head in some warmer-than-normal springs. When I’ve overwintered cauliflower (which is possible in our usually mild winters here in zone 8 Willamette Valley), maybe 1 out of every 4 plants produce heads. And I count that a victory.
Because when it all works like it should, it’s a glorious thing. It’s one of those vegetables that you are so proud to say “I grew this!” Especially when the variety looks a bit alien.
A single cauliflower plant also takes up quite a bit of room and once the head is cut and doesn’t produce anymore, unlike broccoli and cabbage. For these reasons, I usually just include a 4-6 plants just for fun, but if you have more room and can figure out the best time to plant for your climate (in some places a fall planting will yield the most consistent temperatures), think about planting more of this fun-to-harvest vegetable.
Ultimate Cauliflower Guide: Plant & grow
Types and Varieties of Cauliflower
Since it can be finicky to grow and white cauliflower is easy to find, when I do grow it, I choose the more unusual colorful varieties that are harder to find to buy or are more expensive. The colored cauliflower also has the benefit of not needing to be tied up like some of the white varieties (which helps keep them whiter).
The varieties I’ve grown and liked are:
Graffiti (purple – pictured above): Hybrid, 80-90 days; upright vigorous plants have good head protection with mild cauliflower flavor and bright purple coloring.
Cheddar (yellow): Hybrid, 68 days; heads measure about 4 to 7 inches wide on vigorous plants. It has 25 times the beta carotene of regular white Cauliflower.
Romanesco (green): Heirloom (16th century), 80 days. 6-7 inch heads are lime green with a super unique spiral shape (see the one I grew here). It’s also known as Romanesco Broccoli, but it grows like cauliflower and tastes more like cauliflower to me. Some people think it has a sweeter, more delicate flavor than white cauliflower.
Snowball Self-Blanching (white): Heirloom, 75 days. Large 6-8 inch heads that stay white without needing to tie or fold the leaves over the head. When I do grow white varieties, I choose self-blanching.
How to Grow Cauliflower
You can start cauliflower from seed or buy transplants in the spring. If you’re wanting a fall garden, sometimes seed is your only choice. Cauliflower seed can be started like all seeds – find my seed-starting 101 guide here, which includes how to care for your seedlings.
Once you have seedlings or transplants, here’s how to grow cauliflower:
- Transplant in spring 2 to 4 weeks before the average frost date in the spring, “no sooner and not much later” according to Farmer’s Almanac. For fall, plant out 6-8 weeks before the last frost, but after the daily high temperature is below 75 degrees.
- Plant in full sun (6 or more hours) in soil that’s been amended with compost or manure about 2 feet apart (the closer you plant them together, the smaller heads you’ll get). Add 1/2 cup of organic vegetable fertilizer to each hole, plant seedling, and firm the soil around before watering in well.
- For best results, water with a soaker hose or drip system as needed – they need constant and consistent moisture to produce large, tight heads – and plant under a light row cover. Like broccoli, I keep the cover over the plants throughout most of the growing season to keep cabbage loopers and aphids to a minimum.
- If growing a white variety that needs protection from sunlight to stay white, start folding (or tie) the leaves over the head when it’s the size of a baseball. Make sure it is dry and check on it occasionally so that the leaves don’t allow water to collect and cause rot.
You can read more cauliflower guide information here.
I’ve found the following books helpful in learning how to care for cauliflower:
- The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
- Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook
- Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades
You’ll want to harvest the cauliflower heads when they are fully formed with tight curds. Sometimes the heads may be smaller, but if you see them start to loosen with space between the curds, it’s time to harvest no matter what the size. Cut the head off at the base, leaving a few leaves if you’d like for protection (if you’ll be storing it).
I’ve read that for fall crops (or if it’s going to get hot in the spring) you can pull the plants up by the roots and hang them upside down in a cool place for about a month. I haven’t tried that, but I have stored whole cauliflower in a refrigerator for almost 2 months with just a bit of browning on some of the curds.
Cook & Preserve Recipes
Curry Pickled Cauliflower @ Tori’s Kitchen
Cauliflower Giardiniera @ Pure Grace Farms
Prep & Freeze Cauliflower Rice @ The Pinning Mama
Freezing Cauliflower @ Pick Your Own
Pickled Cauliflower & Beets @ What Jew Wanna Eat
How to Dehydrate Cauliflower @ Cradle Rocking Mama
Cooking [& Baking] Recipes
Easy Grilled Vegetables @ AOC
Cauliflower Pizza Crust @ Our Best Bites
Garlic Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower @ Primavera Kitchen
Whole Roasted Cauliflower @ Spend With Pennies
Baked Sticky Sesame Cauliflower @ Yup It’s Vegan
Thai coconut curried Cauliflower Soup @ The Endless Meal
Cauliflower Tabouli @ Be Good Organics
Spicy Cauliflower Burgers @ Pinch of Yum
Cauliflower Salad with Mint and Pomegranates @ Bon Appetit
Creamy Mashed Cauliflower @ Eating Well
Cauliflower Mac N Cheese Casserole @ Epicurious
Cauliflower Rice @ Pure Wow
Cauliflower Fried Rice @ Skinnytaste
Cauliflower Garlic Bread Recipe @ Delish
Cauliflower Gratin @ Martha Stewart
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