Planting Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Planting Kale (Brassica oleracea) Information

By Barbara Fahs, Garden Guides Contributor

About Kale

More nutritious than most foods, kale is a star member of the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea). Kale provides high amounts of vitamins A, C and K, plus it's low in calories, high in fiber and easy to grow in most climates.

Site Preparations

Dig compost into your soil before planting kale: it likes a rich, slightly acidic soil. Begin seeds either directly in the garden or in flats. Cover seeds with 1/2 inch of soil and keep moist. Set plants out in early fall or spring; cool temperatures produce the sweetest leaves.

Special Features

In addition to its high vitamin content, kale can be quite lovely, especially the ornamental or flowering varieties of kale.

Choosing a Variety

Curly kale is pretty, with ruffled leaves. It's deep green and has a lively, pungent flavor with spicy peppery qualities. Ornamental kale, or "salad savoy," has green, white or purple leaves and its stalks form a loosely knit head. It has a deliciously mellow flavor and tender texture. Dinosaur kale, or "Lacinato" kale, has dark blue-green leaves with an embossed texture. It is sweeter with a more delicate taste than curly kale.


Kale will be a star in your winter vegetable garden. It likes frost and when days are cool and nights are cold, kale will be sweet. Hot weather can cause tough, bitter leaves. So start seeds or young plants in the fall.

Plant kale in cool, moist soil, into which you have added some compost. Space plants 8 to 12 inches apart, in rows 18 to 30 inches apart. Fertilize with a general purpose fertilizer that has moderate amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Harvest young leaves for salads, and steam or stir-fry older, larger leaves.


Keep the soil around your kale plants moist. Using straw mulch helps retain soil moisture.

Aphids love kale as much as humans, so keep an eye open for these small sucking insects. They can cause the leaves to curl and the plants to become stunted. Ants "farm" aphids, so if you start seeing ants on your kale, check for aphids. A mild soap spray should take care of aphids, but repeat frequently because once the aphids find your tasty kale, they will tell their friends about it!

Harvesting and Storage

Young, small kale is the most tender and mild in flavor. Pinch off firm, deeply colored leaves with moist, hardy stems.

Wash kale by filling a sink half full of water with a dash of cider vinegar. Toss in the kale and soak for a few minutes. Pat dry, and then roll it in a clean dishtowel and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. Kale stays fresh for several days, but eat it promptly to avoid bitterness.

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