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Updated: 10 Jan 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.
CT
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

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Best calabrese varieties

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.

Best Buy calabrese for large heads
What it looks likeVariety nameYield from 14 plants
2.2kg
We made this variety a Best Buy in 2009 when it was first on the market and it’s stood the test of time. It’s also an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). In our trial, it produced dense dome-shaped heads, each weighing around 185g, that stayed firm over the harvesting period. From a March sowing, we harvested it over two weeks at the end of June and into July. This variety is popular in supermarkets and its mild taste, with no bitterness, made it popular with us, too.
What it looks likeVariety nameYield from 14 plants
2,2kg
If you like great-quality veg then this variety should be a firm favourite. It produced very dense heads, which were slightly smaller and flatter than some other varieties, and weighed around 160g, on average. The heads stayed quite firm until the end of the harvest and we picked these for seven days. The heads tasted pleasantly earthy, without any bitterness, while the thick stems were quite sweet.
What it looks likeVariety nameYield from 14 plants
Best Buy calabrese for long stems
What it looks likeVariety nameYield from 14 plants
2.1kg
The tender green shoots of this variety made an attractive addition to the vegetable patch. As well as producing a solid central head, it gave lots of thin-stemmed side-shoots, which added up to a large yield and a harvest that lasted for 50 days. The stems were good quality and had a favourable ratio of flower buds and leaves. They tasted delicious, with a sweet flavour and no bitterness.

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