Autumn has arrived and you might feel despair that our gardening options are limited. However, one of the best plants to grow and add color to the garden in the fall is kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala). Not only is the leafy plant a nutrient powerhouse but it is also very ornamental. Kale is classed as a cooking green and is remarkably like Swiss chard, collards, and mustards. A cold-season vegetable, it can easily handle frost right before the snowfalls. Also, kale looks lovely in the garden and adds colors when many landscape plants are dying. The ornamental, textured, and curly appearance of the leaves adds visual interest. They come in a variety of shades such as green, purple, red, and pink.
Tips on Growing Kale
Kale is basically a type of cabbage. It grows in a loose head fashion that is visually pleasing. Many refer to kale as a ‘cute and come again’ garden veggie. The center of the plant will send out new leaves if you cut a few off for a quick meal. You will harvest the oldest leaves when they are around three to four inches tall. The small size of the leaves means they are continually bursting with flavor and tender. They never taste bitter. Enjoy the kale leaves in a salad, cooked, or simply add as a decorative garnishment. Regularly harvesting the leaves means that the plant won’t mature or go to seed so you can continue growing it until winter.
You can grow kale in containers or directly in the garden. You only need a few because they continually produce for a long period of time. Depending on where you live, you might have fresh kale for your Thanksgiving dinner recipes. Kale will eventually exhaust itself and stop producing even if the weather remains mild.
Start kale from seed or buy the plants from a garden center. If you decide to use seeds, then sow directly in the garden or start indoors for later transplant outside in the late spring or early fall. Always start the plants at least six weeks before the first expected frost. If you decide to plant the seeds outside, make sure the soil temperature is at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit for germination. Plant to a depth of only about half an inch and keep the soil moist to encourage germination. The seeds take about five days to sprout. Space the plants at least 16 inches apart to allow ample air circulation. In warm climates, a winter crop of kale usually grows far sweeter than a summer.
Planting Location for Kale
Plant kale in full sun or partial shade. If you live in an area that is overly warm or dry, then it is preferable to place kale in a shady location because heat causes the leaves to lose their flavor and show wilt.
Kale plants prefer acidic soil that is high in organic matter. A high nitrogen content encourages abundant leaf growth. Keep the soil moist so the leaves develop a sweet and crisp texture instead of having a bitter flavor. Apply mulch around the kale plants to encourage the soil to retain moisture.
Kale grows best in soil temperature of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It grows best when the temperature is cool. In USDA zones 7 to 9, the plants will grow well throughout the fall and winter if you provide them with adequate water.
Fertilize your kale crop using Humboldts Base A & B to ensure that they receive adequate nitrogen to flourish. If you plant using seeds, then it will take about two months before you can start harvesting the sweet leaves of the plant.