Growing Crops: Collards

Collard greens are a staple in the Southeastern U.S., appearing alongside everything from fried chicken to BBQ ribs to Brunswick Stew. They are a member of the Brassica family, which makes them yet another cousin to the cabbage plant.

Best Climate to Grow: They’re tough plants. They can take both hotter and colder temperatures than their Brassica relatives. Frost only makes them taste better. You can leave them in the ground and harvest them during the winter, in the snow, if you want to.

Light Requirements: Lots of sun.

Soil Requirements: Moisture-retentive, fertile soil that is high in nitrogen. pH level from 6.0-7.5 is ideal; amend as needed prior to planting.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Collards benefit from regular fertilization twice a month of hydrolyzed fish or any 10% nitrogen organic fertilizer blend. The soil must be kept constantly moist, so drip irrigation and mulching are a must.

When to Plant: Sow directly in the ground about a month before the last frost date in the Spring for a Summer harvest, round mid-Summer for a Fall harvest, or about a month before the first frost date in the Fall for a Winter harvest.

If you want a Spring harvest, you need to start the seeds indoors about 2 months before the last frost date, and harden off and transplant the seedlings about 6 weeks after germination.

Planting Depth and Spacing: Plant seedlings 18 inches apart in rows that are 2 feet apart, or in a block of garden space with 18 inches all around each seedling for growing room. They get quite large. If you are planting seeds directly, they should be ½ inch deep and 6 inches apart, thinning to 18 inches when the seedlings are about 6 inches high. The thinnings can be eaten.

Container Requirements: Not recommended for containers, as they take up a great deal of space and are better suited to growing in the ground outdoors.

Harvesting and Storage: You can harvest collards by either slicing them off at the soil line with a sharp knife when the plants are 8-12 inches tall, or you can slice off the lower leaves starting about 6 weeks after germination. They need to be eaten fresh, as they will not store more than about a week in the refrigerator, in the vegetable crisper section or in a lettuce keeper. They can also be blanched and frozen, or canned for later use in soups and stews.

Harvesting Seeds: Collard seed pods look remarkably like green bean pods. While brassica family members do tend to cross-pollinate, at least collard seeds are easy to harvest. Allow the plants to bolt, and watch for the seed pods. Stop irrigating and let them dry on the stem before harvesting. Store them in a cool, dry place until time to plant again.

Pests to Monitor: Collards are susceptible to the same pests as other members of the Brassica family – Cabbage Root Fly, Cabbage White Butterfly (and grubs), Flea Beetles, Slugs, and Snails – but don’t seem to have as much of a problem with them as their relatives do. In case you do end up with a problem, however, visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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