Story and Photos by Sequoia Ferrel
June 10, 2020
I know. I made that up. It isn’t a verb. But in the relatively mild winters of the Pacific Northwest, we can sometimes grow brassicas as perennials, hence I like to “perennialize” some of mine.
After you harvest a cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and the like, if you leave the plant in the garden, most often it will continue to grow for years. I once had a purple-sprouting broccoli plant growing for multiple years before I cut it out.
The basic strategy is this: after you harvest your crop, you leave the plant to do its thing, which is flower and set seed. If you try to interfere by cutting off the sprouts it will be futile because the plant won’t give up on making its seed. But once the seed is made, eventually the plant will put out lots of new growth, usually around its base, and you can prune off all the old growth.
If you leave all the new sprouts, the plant will dissipate its energy and you might get 20 tiny cauliflowers (or whatever it is you’re growing). So you’ll want to thin the new growth by breaking or cutting them off.
You may have to keep thinning if the plant is determined to make lots of shoots. If you want, just leave one shoot or try for 2 or 3 (or more). Multiple shoots will sometimes still create good-sized stalks and maybe you’d rather have smaller heads anyway. Then next spring, you’ll get your second harvest much earlier than if you had planted new starts. And you can do this again and again each year.
I’ve had the best results with cauliflower, possibly because it doesn’t seem to make flower stalks once you rob it of its main flower (the cauliflower). I’ve sometimes been able to cut a cabbage in the fall and have the plant make a new cabbage but sometimes it will want to make a flower stalk. I haven’t quite figured out the timing on that, but you should be able to coax another cabbage out the next season.
So if you don’t need the garden space for something else and you like to experiment, go ahead and try to “perennialize” some of your favorite brassica veggies.
Above: Big Cauliflower
The second picture (below left) shows one plant that put up 3 good sized cauliflower stalks, one of which had already been cut. The two pictures on the right below show the new shoots coming up after a broccoli (or some brassica) has been cut back. And next, the same plant after being pruned back to the two strongest shoots