How to Grow Kale: The Complete Guide (2024)

How to Grow Kale: The Complete Guide (1)

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Botanical Name

Brassica oleracea var. acephala

Plant Type


Sun Exposure

Full Sun

Part Sun

Soil pH

Neutral to Slightly Alkaline

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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Kale

Catherine Boeckmann

How to Grow Kale: The Complete Guide (2)

Ever been told to “eat your greens?” Kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. It’s crammed with vitamins and powerful antioxidants, and it tastes de-licious. Kale is a hardy cool-season crop that grows best in spring and fall, tolerating frost and even snow. Learn how to plant, grow, and harvestkale.


Kale is a cold-hardy, resilient, non-heading green. It’s one of the easiest members of the brassica family to grow (which includescabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and other common colecrops.)

A biennial (2-year) plant, kale produces leaves in the first year, and then, in the next year (or sometimes late in the first year), it will form a flower stalk. The stalk forms flowers and then seeds. Once the seeds mature, the plantdies.

Think beyond grocery store kale; there are so many amazing kale flavors and textures to choose from if you grow your own seed: mild, almost salad-like greens, sweet ‘Red Russian’ kales, or the nutty and sometimes peppery flavors of Italian kales, or handsome ‘Cavalo Nero’ or Tuscan kale, also called dinosaur kale because of itstexture.

As well as being extremely nutritious, kale is attractive, coming in a stunning range of varieties, from bright greens to dark purples, crunchy leaves to crinkled beauties, and everything in between. Its ornamental value can be appreciated in traditional garden beds or containers, especially in thefall.

While easy to grow, there are a few crucial things to get right if you want to enjoy a truly bumper crop of health-boosting leaves. Read on for our guide to growingkale.

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Full sun and fertile, well-drained soil produce the fastest-growing and most tender leaves, though kale will toleratepartial shade as well.Add plenty of compost to the ground before planting and if your soil isn’t especially rich, top up its fertility by working in nitrogen-rich amendments such as blood meal, cottonseed meal, or composted manure into the ground beforeplanting.

When to PlantKale

Kale tastes best when plants grow rapidly and mature before the heat of summer (before temperatures exceed 75°F/24°C) orafter fall frosts occur. Young plants are not seriously damaged by temperatures down to 25°F/-4°C. Mature plants are extremely hardy and can withstand very cold temperatures. However, hot temperatures will slow growth and cause a bitterflavor.

  • For spring: Whether direct seeding into the soil or transplanting start plants from the nursery, you can plant4 to 6 weeks before the average last spring frost. Seeds willgerminate at soil temperatures as low as40°F/4°C.
  • For fall: Select early maturing cultivars and direct-seed 3 months before the first fall frost date. Note: In areas with hot summers, you’ll need to delay sowing until temperatures start to cool off. The cool fall weather really brings out the sweet, nutty flavor of kale which can withstand hard frosts (25–28°F) without experiencingdamage.
  • Kale can also be grown as a winter vegetable under cover or outside in mild winter regions, like the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and Southeast. They’ll grow and yield all winter long. We suggest speaking to your local cooperative extension to determine if/when you should plant wintervegetables.

How to PlantKale

  • When planting, add fertilizer (1-1/2 cups of 5-10-10 fertilizer per 25 feet of row)into the top 3 to 4inches of soil. If you fertilize with compost, apply no more than 1 inch of well-composted organic matter per 100 square feet of gardenarea.
  • Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch deep, 1 inch apart, in rows 18 to 30 inchesapart.
  • If you’re setting out young plants (transplants), plant them at the depth at which they are growing in the container, spaced 12 inches apart, in rows 18 to 30 inchesapart.
  • After planting, water the plantswell.

See our video for growing perfect kale every time!


  • After about 2 weeks, thin seedlings to 8 to 12 inchesapart.
  • It’s important to keep kale well watered and fertilized. If rain is inconsistent, provide 1 to 1.5 inches of water each week (about 1gallonper squarefoot).
  • Side-dress as needed with a high-nitrogenfertilizer.
  • Mulch the soil to keep down the weeds, retain moisture, and keep kale cool. Kale growth can slow if plants are stressed (too hot or cold, inadequate water, pests ordisease).
  • To guarantee a supply of mature leaves through winter, mulch heavily after the first hardfreeze.

Recommended Varieties

  • ‘Red Russian’ (or ‘Russian Red’): heirloom; oak leaf-shape, gray-green leaves with deep-purple veins and stem; an earlycrop
  • ‘Lacinato’ (aka ‘Lacinato Blue’, ‘Tuscan’, ‘Black Palm Tree’, or ‘Cavil Nero’): heirloom, straplike leaves up to 2 feet long on plants that resemble small palm trees; heat tolerant and verycold-hardy.
  • ‘True Siberian’: large, frilly, blue-green leaves; cold-hardy; pick all winter in someareas
  • ‘Vates Blue Curled’:hardy variety that is slow to bolt and does notyellow in cold weather. It eponymous leaves reach 12 to 14inches on 15-inchplants
  • ‘Winterbor’:resembles ‘Vates’,with 24-inch leaves on 2- to 3-foot-tall plants; baby leaves can be harvested at 28 days;frost-tolerant

How to Grow Kale: The Complete Guide (3)


  • Kale is ready to harvest when the leaves are about the size of your hand.Pick about a fistful of outer leaves per harvest, but no more than one-third of the plant at onetime.
  • Avoid picking the terminal bud (at the top center of the plant), which helps to maintain the plant’sproductivity.
  • Kale will continue growing until temperatures reach20°F/-7°C.Do not stop harvesting: A“kiss” of frost makes it even sweeter.(See local frost dates.)
  • To extend the harvest, protect with row coversor tarps.Or, create a makeshift cover ofold blankets propped up by haybales.
How to Grow Kale: The Complete Guide (4)

How to StoreKale

Store kale, like other leafy greens, in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator. It should keep for about 1week.

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Wit and Wisdom

  • Kale is not native to North America. Current varieties are descended from wildcabbage.
  • Farmers have long grown kale as fodder for farm animals, including cattle andsheep.
  • Kale has a number of health benefits, as it is rich in mineralsand vitamins A andC.
  • To avoid pest and disease issues, do not plant kale or other cole crops in the same location more than once every 3 or 4years.
  • The chill of a moderate frost or light snow improves the flavor ofkale.


Kale Pests and Diseases
AphidsInsectMisshapen/yellow leaves; sticky “honeydew” (excrement); sooty, black moldGrow companion plants; knock off with water spray; apply insecticidal soap; put banana or orange peels around plants; wipe leaves with a 1 to 2 percent solution of dish soap (no additives) and water every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks; add native plants to invite beneficial insects
Black rotFungusYellow, V-shape areas on leaf edges that brown and progress toward leaf center; leaves eventually collapse; stem cross sections reveal blackened veinsDestroy infected plants; choose resistant varieties; provide good drainage; remove plant debris; rotate crops
CabbagewormsInsectLeaves have large, ragged holes or are skeletonized; heads bored; dark green excrement; yellowish eggs laid singly on leaf undersidesHandpick; use row covers; add native plants to invite beneficial insects; grow companion plants (especially thyme); spray Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
Flea beetlesInsectNumerous tiny holes in leavesUse row covers; mulch heavily; add native plants to invite beneficial insects


Potato and Kale Soup

Kale Salad with Cranberries, Feta and Walnuts

Kale, Sausage, and White Bean Soup

Hearty Kale, Bean, and Zucchini Soup

Cooking Notes

The small, tender leaves can also be added raw to salads or smoothies.Cut and cook the larger leaves like spinach, but be sure to remove the tough ribs before steaming or stir-frying. Kale can also be substituted for spinach in omelets, casseroles, and quesadillas.Enjoy our bestkale recipes.

Some people dislike kale because it is so crunchy and dry. It sounds odd, but a great way to make kale more tasty is to massage it!

Also, kale is great for freezing. See how to freeze kale and other greens.


About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

How to Grow Kale: The Complete Guide (6)



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Add a Comment

I recently learned kale can cause bowel obstruction in certain people, extremely painful and requiring surgery, probably shouldn’t go kale crazy 😬

  • Reply


I understand your concern, kale is very high in fiber which can cause certain health problems with certain people but, Kale to most people can be a very nutritious and might I say delicious snack.

Sincerely Jace from State Farm

  • Reply

I dry kale in my dehydrator, blend it into powder and use it in my smoothies.

  • Reply

I have several kale plants in a raised bed that have been growing and producing for 3 years. The main stalks are very long and I would like to cut them back. When is the best time of year to do this?

Thank you.

  • Reply

Want to cut back the kale, when should I do it.

  • Reply

Bought some grocery store kale. Didn't care for it. Planted some in my garden last year. Didn't care for that either. I have concluded that I don't care for kale.

  • Reply

Most greens in the grocery store are picked when they are past their preferred leaf size. This makes them taste much stronger than if they were harvested at a smaller, more flavorful size. Also, different varieties have milder flavors. Try eating your greens on a peanut butter sandwich made with your favorite whole grain bread & butter. Very tasty!

  • Reply

Home made kale chips, roasted with salt, oil and nutritional yeast is some of the best chips I've ever had.

  • Reply

I love kale! The many varieties and flavors are so fun, makes salads an adventure. Kale chips are the best, especially after the first bite and it melts in your mouth! I put Nutritional Yeast on mine just after coming out of the oven. Yumm!

  • Reply

Is ornamental kale edible?

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