We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

Home & garden.

When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission to help fund our not-for-profit mission.Find out more.

Updated: 1 Jun 2022

How to grow calabrese (broccoli) and best varieties

Find out how to grow tasty and healthy calabrese (broccoli). Discover our best calabrese (broccoli) varieties and tips for how to grow them.
Ceri Thomas
Broccoli

Calabrese (broccoli) is increasingly popular, thanks in part to being packed full of vitamins and iron, but mostly for its mild, sweet taste and versatility.

It’s a rewarding crop to grow and many people prefer it to sprouting broccoli, especially now that traditional varieties with large heads have been joined by varieties bred to have long, sweet stems, which are often called tenderstem.

The experts at Which? Gardening magazine  grew and tasted 10 varieties of large-head calabrese and six long-stemmed types to find you the best ones to grow.

How to grow calabrese: month by month

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune


SOWSOW/PLANTSOW/PLANTPLANT
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember







Make the most of your garden - get our free Gardening newsletter for top tips from our experts


Full testing results of calabrese

Which? members can log in now to see the full results and which are our Best Buy varieties. If you’re not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Calabrese for large heads

Variety Overall ratingYield (kg) Harvest quality Usable heads Overall yield score Taste Transplant quality Pest and disease resistance Harvest period 
2.2
2.1
2.2
1.6
1.1
2.0
1.7

USING THE TABLE The more stars the better. Yield based on harvestable main heads from 14 plants. Transplant quality based on the condition of the young plants at planting-out time. Harvest period based on how long the plants carried harvestable heads without bolting. OVERALL RATING Ignores price and is based on harvest quality 30%;taste 25%; yield 25%; harvest period 10%; pest and disease resistance 5% and transplant quality 5%.

Calabrese for long stems

Variety Overall ratingYield (kg) Harvest quality Usable side-shoots Overall yield score Taste Transplant quality Pest and disease resistance Harvest period 
2.1
1.5
1.1
1.1
1.8
1.9

USING THE TABLE The more stars the better. Yield based on harvestable yield from 14 plants. Transplant quality based on the condition of the young plants at planting-out time. OVERALL RATING Ignores price and is based on harvest quality 30%; taste 25%; yield 25%; harvest period 10%; pest and disease resistance 5% and transplant quality 5%.

How we test calabrese

In March, the experts at Which? Gardening magazine sowed 10 varieties of large-head calabrese and six long-stemmed types into modules at our trial site in East Anglia. We hardened them off and planted them out at the end of April. We kept them covered with fine mesh to protect them from flying pests. When each variety was ready, we harvested it and recorded the weight, firmness and density of the heads, and the tenderness of the stems. We also tasted each variety to see if any stood out.

When to sow

Sow the seeds singly in small pots or modular trays, as the plants don’t like root disturbance. Sow them in small batches from March to May if you want a succession of harvestable heads, although stem varieties crop over a longer period. If you only want a few plants, buy them as plug plants.

Planting

The seedlings should be ready to plant out a month after being sown, but harden them off for around a week before planting out. Before planting out, fork in a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore or pelleted chicken manure.

As you plant take care not to disturb the rootball, as that can cause them to flower prematurely. Push the soil in around the roots firmly, but don’t compress the top of the soil, as this can compact it and stop water getting to the roots.

We spaced our plants 30cm apart, in rows 45cm apart – a compromise for a good crop of calabrese heads and side-shoots. Closer spacing will give large main heads but fewer side-shoots. In previous research, we tried increasing the spacing to 45cm each way, which boosted the average total yield.

Watering

Give plants a good soaking once a week in dry spells.

Protecting your plants

Calabrese attracts many flying pests including aphids, cabbage whites, flea beetles, root fly and pigeons. Keep these off your crops by covering plants with a fine mesh, such as Enviromesh, when you plant out.

How and when to harvest

With most varieties of large-headed calabrese you get two crops from a single plant. Initially, a central dome will form, after this is harvested the plant will produce numerous smaller side-shoots. Some varieties can be very slow to do this, so if you’re after sideshoots, try our recommended varieties.

Coming up to harvest time, check the plants at least twice a week, as the tight green buds may quickly open into yellow flowers, ruining your crop. Some varieties last longer before bolting, so grow these if you want to avoid gluts. However, temperature, rainfall and time of year can all affect how long the plants will last before starting to form flowers.

Pick the main heads and side-shoots when the buds are fully formed. As a precaution, soak your crop in salty water before cooking to get rid of any caterpillars that may be on them.

Common growing problems

Clubroot

Clubroot is caused by a soil-born slime mould that causes swelling and distortion of the roots leading to wilting foliage, poor growth, discolouration and very poor cropping. There’s no way to save infected plants, so immediately remove any you find. Don’t compost them, to help prevent the disease reoccurring.

Read more about clubroot