Cauliflower’s reputation as being a difficult vegetable to grow means it isn’t found in home gardens as often as its easier-to-grow relatives broccoli (Brassica oleracea), cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) and kale (Brassica oleracea var. Acephala). Yet with proper care and a little attention, any backyard gardener can produce a bountiful harvest of attractive, great-tasting cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis). With such a wide range of available varieties, some type of cauliflower can be successfully grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 and above.
All varieties of white cauliflower need to be blanched while they are growing. The head, also called the curd, needs to be completely enclosed by the green outer leaves as it grows to preserve the curd’s bright white color and keep it from developing an off flavor. Some varieties of cauliflower are self-blanching in that the outer leaves naturally grow up and curl around the head, protecting it from the damaging effects of the sun. Some of the most popular self-blanching varieties include the aptly-named ‘Self-Blanche’ along with ‘Snow Crown,’ ‘Andes’ and ‘Early Snowball.’
Other White Varieties
Most varieties of white cauliflower need to be manually blanched when the head is about the size of an egg, 2 to 3 inches across. This is done by gathering the ends of the outer leaves together and securing them closed with a rubber band or twist tie over the center of the plant. Be sure to leave enough room inside the leaves for the head to develop to full size. Recommended varieties include the early-maturing ‘White Corona,’ the heat-tolerant ‘Majestic,’ and ‘Snow King’ with large 8- to 9-inch heads.
For the gardener who would like to introduce more color into their vegetable plot, several varieties of cauliflower produce colored heads. In addition to being colorful, they are also a little easier to grow than their white counterparts and do not need blanching. ‘Purple Head,’ ‘Violet Queen’ and ‘Violetta Italia’ feature deep purple curds that turn green when they are cooked and have a mild broccoli-like flavor. A purple variety that retains its color when cooked is ‘Graffiti,’ which also has large, 10-inch heads. Yellow-orange varieties include ‘Cheddar’ and ‘Orange.’ There are also a number of lime-green varieties, including ‘Veronica,’ ‘Panther’ and ‘Shannon Broccoflower,’ a Romanesco variety with pointed florets covering the head.
Planting and Care
Cauliflower does best when grown during cool periods, either in early spring or in fall. In the milder climates of USDA Zones 8 through 10, cauliflower can be grown as a winter crop. Timing is everything in ensuring a successful cauliflower harvest. Since it is very sensitive to cold and heat, it is crucial to transplant cauliflower seedlings early enough so that the heads mature before summer’s heat but not so early that the plants fall victim to the cold. Consistent moisture and temperature are important, as is a side dressing of nitrogen fertilizer when the plants are half grown.