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Updated: 1 Jun 2022

How to grow sprouting broccoli and best varieties

Broccoli is a tasty vegetable that can give you a great harvest at home. Find out which sprouting varieties we rated and get tips on how to grow them.
Which?Editorial team

iesBroccoli is a deservedly popular vegetable; it's high in fibre and packed with vitamins including C and K, plus calcium and iron. 

Sprouting broccoli, also known as tenderstem broccoli, is a tasty alternative to large-headed calabrese and is versatile to go in anything from pasta to stir fries and salads. It's much more expensive in supermarkets than calabrese, so it's good option if you want to grow your own.

The Which? Gardening magazine researchers wanted to find the tastiest and most-productive varieties.


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How to grow sprouting broccoli: month by month

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Best broccoli varieties

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We liked this variety when we grew it in our new vegetable trials and it impressed us again in this trial. The uniform plants produced neat, tight terminal heads, followed by plenty of side-shoots that kept coming for 32 days. These shoots were good quality throughout the harvesting period and had a pleasant, sweet flavour with only a hint of bitterness. We liked the texture too; crisp, firm and stringless, which made snapping off the shoots for harvesting easy.

Yield from 10 plants: 2.2kg

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Another fairly new variety, this sprouting broccoli produced good-quality, firm, domed terminal heads and plenty of side-shoots. We started harvesting in the third week of June and continued for just over four weeks without any deterioration in quality. The heads had a mild flavour, but we liked the sweetness and firm, stringless texture of the stems, both raw and cooked. The 20cm long shoots snapped cleanly for easy hand-picking.

Yield from 10 plants: 1.6kg

Full testing results for broccoli

Sprouting broccoli

Variety nameOverall ratingYieldAverage shoot weightHarvest periodQualityFirmness of headsTasteTexture

USING THE TABLE The more stars the better. Yield based on average weight of harvested stems from 10 plants. OVERALL RATING Ignores price and is based on:  yield 30%, average shoot weight 10%, harvest period 5%, quality 10%, firmness of heads 5%, taste 10% and texture 10%.

How we test broccoli

We sowed our broccoli in mid-March in large modules filled with a Best Buy peat-free compost. The seedlings were grown on until planting out in mid-May. Harvesting of the earlier varieties began in the last week of June. We picked side shoots from our plants twice a week, recording the number and weight for each variety. We assessed the quality of the shoots and tasted all the varieties both raw and lightly steamed.

Broccoli types explained

What most of us call broccoli is in fact calabrese; but search any of the major supermarkets’ online sites for calabrese and you’ll draw a blank. The term isn’t much used in the UK – we just call everything broccoli, but there are several different types. They are all members of the brassica family – Brassica oleracea to be precise. Calabrese is the large-headed type often sold encased in a tight plastic sheath; broccoli is the sprouting type, whether that’s purple, green or white sprouting; Tenderstem is a trademark name for sprouting broccoli (it even has its own website); and then there is Chinese kale, another cultivar of B. oleracea, which has small broccoli-like florets on thick stems with more leaves than sprouting broccoli. You may also come across broccoli raab, or rapini, a turnip relative whose seed is sold as Cima di Rapa, which translates as turnip tops. It’s popular in Italian cuisine and has a slight mustard flavour, slender stems with small florets and lots of leaf. We included it in our trial but it bolted too quickly to provide any harvest.

How to grow

Sowing

Sow the seeds singly in small pots or modular trays, indoors from March or sow direct from April. You can sow in small batches from March to May to prolong the harvest period. Alternatively, buy plug plants if you want only a few.

Planting

The seeds should germinate in 7-10 days and be ready to plant out a month after sowing. Be sure to harden them off beforehand. Work a balanced fertiliser such as Growmore or pelleted chicken manure into the soil. Take care not to disturb the rootball and push the soil in around the roots firmly, but don’t compress the top of the soil, as this can compact it and prevent water getting to the roots. We spaced our plants 45cm apart each way; closer spacing will reduce the number of side-shoots. 

Caring for your plants

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

Harvesting

Harvest in: June to August

Some sprouting broccoli varieties produce a small terminal head and then the smaller side-shoots after this is harvested. 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 shoots regularly when the buds are fully formed. As a precaution, soak your harvest in salty water before cooking to get rid of any caterpillars that may be on them. 

Common growing problems

Brassicas attract many flying pests including aphids, cabbage whites, flea beetles, root fly and pigeons. Keep these off your crop by covering plants with a fine mesh when you plant out. 

Read more about protecting your crops from birds

There are several fungal leaf spots that attack brassicas causing discoloured spots to develop on the leaves. Remove any infected leaves promptly. 

Read more about leaf spot on brassicas

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 yields. There’s no way to save infected plants, so immediately remove any you find. Don’t compost them, and add lime to the soil to help prevent the disease reoccurring

Read more about clubroot