By: Liz Baessler
Broccoli rabe, also known as broccoletto, is a leafy green eaten with its immature flower heads. While it looks a lot like broccoli and shares a name, it is actually more closely related to a turnip, and it has a darker, spicier flavor. It’s a tasty, fast growing vegetable to have on hand for cooking. But can you grow it in a pot? Keep reading to learn more about how to grow broccoli rabe in containers.
Can you grow potted broccoletto? The short answer is: yes, as long as you treat it right. Broccoli rabe is fast growing and relatively compact. And, unlike broccoli, it is eaten very young, usually ready for harvest about 45 days after planting. This means container grown broccoli rabe doesn’t need a lot of space to spread out. It can be harvested even younger and grown as a cut-and-come-again salad green.
The ideal container size for potted broccoletto is about 24 inches (61 cm.) in diameter. The plants need fertile, well-draining soil, so pick a good quality soilless potting mix and make sure to use a pot with adequate drainage holes.
Broccoli rabe grows best in full sun, but it does not do well in intense heat. It’s best to plant it in spring or fall (winter in very hot climates) and to place it in a spot that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If your sunlight is too hot or intense, try moving the container to a spot that gets some protective shade in the afternoon.
Because containers are moveable, you have the advantage of being able to test out different amounts of sunlight. You can also start in direct light in the cooler spring, then move to a shadier spot in the heat of summer to extend the growing season.
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We have all heard about the numerous health benefits of broccoli. You can grow this vegetable in containers as well. With the right amount of nutrition, sunlight, and moisture, container-grown broccoli can grow as well those planted in the ground.
Broccoli is a cool weather crop, and the seeds germinate best at temperatures around 24ºC. Start the broccoli seedlings in a seed tray. You can use a soilless potting mix, which provides the best environment for germination. Sow the seeds at a depth of half an inch, or sprinkle the seeds on the potting mix and cover with a light layer of the mix. Water well, so that the soil is moist. Keep the seed tray in a sunny area in your home, but ensure that temperatures do not get too high. This will inhibit seed germination. You can also move the seed tray to a shaded area during the hottest part of the day. Broccoli seedlings germinate in less than 2 weeks, during which time the seeds must be kept consistently moist. When the seedlings appear, thin them to a distance of 1 foot between each plant.
Broccoli containers must be large and deep enough to accommodate the plant when it is fully grown. Use a container that has an inner diameter of 12 to 14 inches. For growing multiple plants, use larger containers, and plant seedlings at least a foot apart from each other. Also ensure that the seedlings are not too close to the edge, so that they have enough space to grow. The container must have holes for adequate drainage, either on the bottom or the sides close to the bottom of the container. The depth of the container must be 9 to 10 inches. Broccoli grows best in well drained soil. Fill the container with a good quality potting mix.
Broccoli seedlings are ready to transplant when they are more than a couple of inches tall. This usually takes less than 6 weeks. To transplant the seedlings, loosen the soil underneath and then tug gently at the leaves. Lift the seedlings with the soil around its roots. Plant the seedling at the same depth in the container. Water thoroughly. Before moving the container outdoors, harden off the seedlings by placing them outside for a few hours every day. Do this for about a week, and then move the container outdoors.
If the container is made of a porous material, it will absorb moisture from the soil. Check the plant regularly and make sure the soil is always adequately moist. Applying a general purpose fertilizer every month is beneficial to the growth of broccoli. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers, as they will cause spindly growth and weakening of the stems.