Often considered a winter crop, kale thrives in cooler temperatures. It will continue to produce after the first frost and can even withstand snow.
Kale flavor improves when harvested after a few touches of frost. When temps drop to 20 degrees F (-6 C), the season is over.
If grown in summer months when temperatures exceed 80 degrees F (26 C), kale will become woody and bitter and loses its sweet taste.
A close relative of cabbage, kale varieties will give you crinkled leaves, flat leaves, or more frilly leaves.
Depending on the kind you grow, the plants could be purple, red, or green. Besides adding colorful foliage to your garden, kale is full of vitamins and minerals.
It’s high in fiber, calcium, and antioxidants. Kale is a “heart-healthy” vegetable, so it can lower cholesterol and help prevent heart disease.
It goes great in salads, soups, smoothies, or in place of most garden greens.
Kale grows from seeds. When planting in cooler months, it needs full sun. In warmer summer months, the leaves need shade from the sun. This veggie grows well in a garden or planters.
As long as the soil is nutrient-rich, loamy, and well-drained, kale typically grows to healthy maturity.
Including kale companion plants, whose soil and light needs are similar, as neighbors will make your plants healthier.
Start seedlings in trays or pots indoors. They can be planted in early spring or late summer.
While you can sow seeds directly into the ground, growing time can be nearly cut in half by using starter plants. Make sure your plants will have plenty of room to grow in each planter.
Push two seeds into a hole ½ inch deep per plant and water well. If two seedlings appear, remove the weakest looking sprout.
As the time to replant outside nears, begin placing the plants outside to the get used to the temperatures, leaving plants a little longer every day, eventually leaving them out overnight.
If the soil where the kale will grow doesn’t drain well, add compost, manure, or peat moss before planting. When puddles remain after watering, the soil is not draining properly.
In the garden, dig holes about 1 ½ feet apart, deep enough that only the leaves remain above ground. Firm the soil around the plant so it has a strong base.
Give the plants a good watering to start and continue to water them regularly. If you intend to keep kale in planters, make sure the roots have plenty of room.
By using very large planters, you can include kale companion plants to improve plant health and stability.
2. Care and Maintenance
If you’re planting your kale from mature seedlings, expect a 30-40 day growing period.
If you planted seeds directly into the ground, you should see mature kale a little later, 55-75 days after planting.
Mulch around the base of the plants to protect from warmer days and cool nights, especially as the likelihood of frost or snow approaches. Give plants another dose of compost after about six weeks.
If you spot any unhealthy leaves, pick them off the protect the rest of the plant. Continue to add compost throughout the growing season.
Make sure plants get plenty of water, but don’t over-water.
3. Pests and Diseases
Kale fares better than other cabbages when it comes to pests and disease, but they’re not invincible.
Slugs are easily picked from plants by hand, but slug traps are a good idea if the insects are too numerous.
Birds also like kale, so if they’re taking advantage, you can protect the plants with netting or another covering.
These barriers can also protect your plants from cabbage aphids, whitefly, and flea beetles.
Plants That Help Kale Grow Better
Planting kale companion plants nearby can protect your harvest in numerous ways.
Some will keep away aphids, cutworms, beetles, moths, and caterpillars.
Others enjoy the same growing conditions and lend their own unique flavors to kale’s soil.
- Basil (repels insects)
- Bittercress (repels insects)
- Catnip (repels insects)
- Chamomile (improves flavor)
- Cucumber (improves flavor)
- Dill (improves flavor)
- Garlic (improves flavor)
- Mint (improves flavor)
- Mustard (lures pest away)
- Nasturtiums (lures pest away)
- Onions (lures pest away)
- Radishes (lures pest away)
- Rosemary (improves flavor)
- Sage (improves flavor)
- Thyme (improves flavor)
Harmful Kale Companion Plants
Fortunately, kale has very few plants that are harmful to its growth or that compete for soil nutrients. Some that do are:
Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are the size of a hand. The leaves should be cut away in layers, leaving the rest of the plant to continue to mature.
You can use a knife the cut the leaves away or pull them off using a twisting motion.
The smaller leaves are perfect for salads and eating raw. Larger leaves are better cooked in soups or like spinach.
The cooking tenderizes the larger leaves and removes bitterness, but it’s a good idea to cut off thicker ribs and stems.
Kale will last about a week in the refrigerator.
Where to Buy Seeds
Finding kale and other companion seeds can be as easy as buying online from a reputable online seed store or heading down to the local farm supply store.
Some retail chains and grocery stores often carry seeds but look for organic brands. Shopping online can save you the hassle of long check-outs and travel time.
While kale grows without a lot of work, it’s not foolproof.
Too much sunlight and hot summer temperatures are the plant’s biggest enemies, but if you have a long spring and fall season, you should be able to harvest biannually.
Starting with healthy, well-drained soil and strong seedlings are the best start. Follow through by planting alongside kale companion plants.
Maintain plant health with regular watering and mulching. Then enjoy all the healthful benefits and flavor kale brings to the table.