Thanks for taking the time to read our article on how to grow cauliflower for beginners in the UK. Our advice here is that unless you really enjoy the taste of cauliflower, then don't try to grow it at home. Cauliflowers are really difficult to grow even for gardeners with experience.
Most people simply boil cauliflower or bake it in the oven and serve it with a white sauce or a cheese sauce. Like many vegetables though it is a love/hate relationship. You will either love it or hate it.
The good news about cauliflower is that it is an all year vegetable that you can grow in the UK. That is because there are Summer, Autumn and Winter varieties. Let's have a look at growing these in more detail.
Varieties in the UK
There are three main varieties of carrots:
- Summer varieties - These are grown from seeds sown in a cold frame or greenhouse in September. Those will mature during the Summer months. They are usually quite compact cauliflowers. Popular varieties are All the Year Round, Snowball, Dok-Elgon, Mechelse, Dominant and Aplha.
- Autumn varieties - These should be sown outdoors in April and mid-May for planting out in June and will be ready for the Autumn picking. There are two main types of these, the compact type and the larger more vigorous varieties. Popular varieties include the Autumn Giant, Flora Blanca, Canberra and the Barrier Reef.
- Winter varieties- These should be sown outdoors in May time and planting out in late July for Winter picking. Popular varieties are the English Winter, Walcheren Winter, St Agnes, Angers No 2 and the Purple Cape.
Cauliflowers are grown from seed and planted out once they have developed.
Germination time of seeds
Life expectancy of seed
No of seeds per ounce
Expected yield per plant
Ease of Growing
Quite tricky and need very good quality soil, careful transplanting is required and regular watering.
- Seed Sowing Time - September in greenhouse or under a cloche in September-December for Summer varieties, sow outdoors mid-April to mid-May, transplant in June for Autumn varieties and sow in May, transplant in June for Winter varieties
- Picking Time - Can be harvested all year around depending on what varieties are sold
Best Soil & Planting Tips
Cauliflower needs well consolidated soil so you need to prepare the area several months between digging and planting. You do need a reasonably sunny site and avoid any area where there may be frost. Ideally dig in the Autumn and work in well rotted manure or compost . Lime if necessary in the winter time.
In the Spring you should apply a fertlizer and crop saver is you suspect cabbage root fly. When you di initially tread down gently and rake lightly. Never fork over the surface before planting your seeds. Tread the ground down lightly and gently rake over to remove any rubbish from the surface of the soil.
Thin out seedlings as this will stop them from becoming weak. Plants should be about 3" apart when you have thinned them out and sown in rows. A plant is ready when they have around 5-6 leaves. Always water the rows the day before transplanting and handle the seedlings with great care.
Leave 2 feet between rows of both autumn and summer varieties and around 2.5 feet for winter varieties.
The soil when the cauliflowers are growing need to be hoed regularly and it is really important to give them protection from birds who are particularly fond of seeds and young seedlings.
Never let them go without water especially in those early days to prevent small heads from forming. This is a very hungry crop so regular feeding will also be required.
With summer varieties it is highly recommended to fold over a few leaves to protect the curd from the sun. The curd is of course the tasty part of the cauliflower. Likewise with the winter variety it will need some form of protection from the dreaded frost.
When to Harvest?
Many gardeners make the mistake of waiting on the head to fully develop. Depending on how many you have grown this usually results in a glut of produce. We would recommend picking some when they are small as they are also very tasty. If you allow the florets to separate, you have sadly waited too long.
The ideal time is to cut in the morning when the heads are rich with dew. If there is frost then don't cut until that is gone from the day.
Cauliflower Pests and Problems
Generally speaking cauliflower is tricky to grow. They need good soil, really careful transplanting, bird protection and regular watering and feeding. if the soil is good. There are also some garden pests that you should be aware of. Cauliflower is a brassica so the same pests who like cabbage will go after cauliflower.
This is the main one to look out for. This is a tiny sap-sucking insect that eats through leaves and heads. The eggs are really small and will be laid underneath the leaves so really hard to see. When you do rinse the leaves with water and then apply something like Neem oil.
This has a great name but will eat through leaves in the blink of an eye. The caterpillar formed from a brown moth will ruin mature cauliflower plants really quickly. Pick them off and remove and you can also use something like a Bonide Thuricide to deal with these pests.
These moths love any brassica and the adult variety and the larvae will eat plants. Look for yellow or green eggs on the underside of the leaves. These are hard to get rid of and we would recommend spraying a crop saver.
Cabbage Root Maggots
These are the larva of the cabbage root fly. They tend to eat at the roots of any brassica including cauliflower. The best tip is to keep the roots covered as best as possible.
These also lay eggs under the leaves and are a yellowish colour. You will also hear these called cabbage worms and they can be very harsh on cauliflower crops. They are a breed of caterpillar so watch out for those and pick them off and dispose of them.
These chew leaves and they are easy enough to spot. They get their name as they have a typical flea jumping behaviour. Some form of pyrethroid foliar spray is the best thing to use to get rid of them.
Slugs and Snails
All brassica including cauliflower are prone to attacks from slugs and snails. Again these are usually easy to spot. Use slug pellets to prevent them from making an appearance.
Hopefully we have given you enough information to be able to grow cauliflower in the UK. As a beginner we would recommend trying these as long as you have good enough soil and follow the important watering and bird protection principles.