How to Grow Kale Outdoors
Kale used to be called the peasant’s cabbage. Now, it’s more like a wealthy Hollywood superstar’s cabbage.
Kale sprouts in 1-2 weeks. Harvest from Month 3+ on.
Growing kale needs at least an equivalent of 5+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 15+ mol/m²/day].
Growing kale is Beginner friendly. You’ll sprout, thin, and harvest.
Growing Kale: Best Kale varieties to grow from Your Garden.
We hear you asking us “how to grow kale” and to know the answer, you just need to scroll down! There are many varieties of kale, but we recommend only those that are considered dwarf kale varieties to be grown. Here are our top 4 recommended varieties of kale for your kale growing:
Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch
Ideal for making kale chips. It’s the variety that can be mostly seen in produce stores.Amazon
Popular in Italian food, it’s also called Tuscan kale or cavolo nero.Amazon
This magenta variety with curled edges gives a mild yet crisp texture and flavor.Amazon
Flatter than other varieties and with jagged edges, its leaves are also the most tender and mildest.Amazon
Growing Kale: Best Setup for Kale Plants
If you want to start growing kale, you’ll need:
Ceramic Self Watering Planter (preferred) or pot that is at least 12″ / 5 gal.
Standard Potting Mix
Balanced Blend. This should be equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (with NPK numbers like 10-10-10).
A strong grow light that can give the equivalent of 5+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 15+ mol/m²/day].
How to Grow Kale? Preparing your Planter & Watering Schedule for Kale
Kale plants do well in moist soil conditions. If the soil dries out completely the roots will die back and it will be tough for the plant to recover. On the other hand, if the roots are exposed to standing water for too long, they can rot.
A Ceramic Self Watering Planter filled with a standard potting mix self-regulates to keep the soil at consistent moisture for your plant to thrive (and no watering guesswork for you).
To set one up:
- Fill up the planter with dry soil from the bag, gently tamping down the top.
- Dump the soil into a large mixing bowl and add water until the soil is moist, but not sopping wet (about ½ Cup)
- Mix in 1 tablespoon of the Balanced Blend Plant Food.
If you are using a regular pot instead, it should be a little bit bigger (at least 12″ / 5 gal and will need drainage holes to prevent it from being over watered. Let the top of the soil dry out between watering.
Starting your Kale: Seed vs Propagate
New Kale plants can be started from seed (preferred), propagated from an established plant, or purchased live at many garden centers. We like starting from seed the best because it’s quicker than propagating from a cutting, less expensive than using live starters, has tons of options, and there’s no way unexpected visitors (pests!) are riding along.
How to Plant Kale seeds
Kale grows quickly from seed. Plant 2 sites in a 12″ / 5 gal container. In larger containers, space sites 6″ apart. For each site press 2 seeds into the surface. Keep the soil warm ( 45-85°F, ideally 70°F). Sprouts typically appear in 5 days but can be as quick as 4 days or as long as 7 days depending on your conditions.
How to Transplant Kale
Live starter plants give you a little jump start on your first harvest. When you’re in a garden center – pick the bushiest plant available (tall and lanky ones will be weak growers) and give it a good inspection for pests. Leaves should be dark green without holes, spots, or curled edges. A best practice is to actually “quarantine” your plant for about a week after bringing it home to make sure it’s free and clear of ride-on pests.
- Remove some soil from its final planter – leaving enough space for the bottom of the seedling to be just higher than the soil surface.
- Hold on to the base of the stem with one hand, and turn the pot over while gently pulling the seedling. Giving the pot a few squeezes can help dislodge it.
- Place in its final container and fill around it with soil so that it’s tight, but not compacted.
Where to grow your Kale plants
Like all edible plants, Kale plants need lots of light to grow and develop good flavor. Sunlight is excellent for plant growth (and free!) and you might be lucky enough to have a spot that’s got the 5+ hours of direct sun they need. Even with a bright window, it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough natural light in the winter so we recommend a grow light for anyone who wants a constant supply of flavorful produce. For an introduction to grow lights, head over to our post on grow lights for indoor gardeners. We’ve also got a buying guide for screw in types, but to keep things simple in this guide, we’ll just provide directions for the 24W Screw in Bulb by Sansi, which we think is a good middle of the road option.
How bright should your grow light be?
Kale plants need the equivalent of 5+ hours of direct sunlight [DLI of 15+ mol/m²/day] to grow their best. In order to provide an equivalent amount with a grow light, it needs to be pretty bright! The 24W Sansi bulb should be placed 6 inches away from the top of the plant. This will give your PPFD (the standard measure of brightness) of 500 μmol/m²/s.
How many hours per day do your Kale plants need under a grow light?
Kale plants are what’s known as “day-neutral” so can grow under a range of daylight lengths. In order for them to get enough light, we recommend setting up a timer to leave it on for 10+ hours per day.
Growing Kale: Extend your harvest by keeping the Temperatures Cool
Kale is known as a “cool weather crop.” If it senses warming temperatures it will “bolt” – send up flowers and become bitter in the process. Where you plant them can have some effect on the temperature – lower positions on a growing rack, ceramic planters, and hydroponics with air bubblers tend to run cooler.
Growing Kale: Week 1-2 – Check for Sprouts
You could see seedlings in as little as 4 days (though 5 days is more typical). If it’s been 7 days and you still don’t have any sprouts, it’s likely that your setup is too cold.
Growing Kale: Week 3 – Thin Your Seedlings
Thin your planter to only have 1 seedling per site – leaving the largest plant. If you are using the recommended planter (at least 12″ / 5 gal) this will mean you’ve got 2 plants after thinning. By getting rid of the smaller seedlings, you’re allowing the biggest and strongest one to flourish by reducing its competition for water, food, and space.
If your seedlings are under 1 inch, stretching out, or folding over, it’s likely that they don’t have quite enough light.
Growing Kale: Week 5 – How to Prune Kale
You’ll notice how all the stems and leaves of Kale grow from a single, central point (called radial growth). The plant puts out new leaves in the center and pushes old leaves outward, getting bigger and bushier over time. Pruning and harvesting are one-in-the-same with Kale. Once the plant at least 3 separate stems coming from the base take one of the outside leaves and cut it close to the base (½” above is fine). It’s good to leave at least 2/3rds of the plant left to regrow.
Growing Kale: Month 3+ – How to Harvest Kale
Just as you did with your first prune, pick the outer leaves as needed, always leaving at least 1/3rd of the plant left to regenerate.
Growing Kale: Year 2+ – End of Life
Kale is a cool-season biennial crop – meaning it will keep producing for 2 years as long as you keep the temperatures from getting too warm. Eventually, it will form a small broccoli-like head – this means it’s time to take it down and start over.
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The right supplies can take the guesswork out of caring for your plants – and turn care from a daily to weekly routine. Through our grow tests, we’ve found these products to produce the best Kale (and also have simple maintenance). Plants are adaptable and can grow in many different conditions, so they are by no means necessary if you already have other supplies.
Best Containers for Kale: Ceramic Self Watering Planters
Plants thrive on consistent moisture but can suffer if they’re waterlogged. A semi-porous ceramic self regulates ideal conditions. Our favorite is the COSWIP planter. Runner up is XS Self Watering Planter by Wet Pot.
Best Soil for Kale: Standard Potting Mix
Kale likes a rich and moist root zone – so you are best off with a standard potting mix – we like this Organic Mix by Espoma.
Best Nutrients for Kale: Balanced Blend
Kale likes nutrients that are equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (with NPK numbers like 10-10-10). For a Balanced Blend we recommend: Balanced Blend: Dr Earth All Purpose
Best Light for Kale: DIY or Soltech
There is a very small chance that you have the bright windows needed to grow these without a grow light. If you are looking for a higher-end option – we love the Aspect Light by Soltech. For a more affordable option, a DIY setup using a 24W Screw-in Bulb by Sansi with a Clamp Light and Mechanical Timer works well too. Check out our complete guide on a DIY setup for less than $40 or our buying guide for screw in bulbs.
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