How to Plant Kale in the Garden

Here’s how to plant kale so you can harvest fresh bunches all season long!

bunch of fresh kale
Beautiful, fresh, crisp and delicious curly blue kale perfect for salads and chips.

Also read: When to Plant WhatPlanning your Garden, Freezing Kale

Kale comes in several different varieties. I like to plant a few different coloured and textured varieties to keep the garden and dinner plate interesting!

lacinato or dinasour kale
Lacinato or dinasour kale is great for hot dishes like soups, curries and stews.

Kale is a Cool Weather Crop

First, things first – kale is a cool loving crop. That means it does best in the shoulder seasons when temps are cool – spring to early summer and late summer to fall. Here on the prairies that means May to early July and late August to October.

That’s not to say kale doesn’t grow in the summer, it does, but it is not at its best. It tastes less sweet, the leaves are tougher, growth is slower and pests like aphids, flea beetles and cabbage moths may leave it looking less desirable.

For best results, consider two plantings, one early spring and one early August for harvesting in the fall. You could also do one planting in spring, let it rest during the summer months and resume harvesting as the summer temps cool down. This is usually what I do. It works quite well because during the summer months, there are so many other veggies to eat that we don’t mind leaving the kale for later.

red russian kale
Red Russian kale at the height of summer, still looking lovely even if it is a little droopy from the heat and lack of water.

How and When to Plant Kale

Choose your favourite varieties and get planting early in the season.

DIRECT SEEDS OR TRANSPLANTS

Because kale grows fairly quickly you can seed it directly in the ground or start it inside and transplant it out. The choice is yours, maybe you even want to do a bit of both?

Direct seeding – expect to harvest within 50-75 days of seeding

Transplants – expect to harvest within 30-40 days of planting outside

WHEN TO START KALE – INSIDE AND OUTSIDE

Seeding kale inside – Start seeds about 6-8 weeks before last frost. Here in Winnipeg where our last frost date is May 24, start seeds indoors about the end of March.

Seeding kale outside – Direct seed in the garden about 2-4 weeks before last frost. End of April to early May here in Winnipeg.

Planting transplants outside – Before transplanting outside, harden kale seedlings off by taking outside for several days, each day adding a few more hours. Do this for five to seven days before transplanting to expose it to the conditions it will face in the garden – sun, wind, cold, rain and heat. This will prevent sun burn and overall shock from being moved from ideal indoor conditions to the harsh reality of outdoor life.

When to transplant – Transplant about 2-4 weeks before last frost (end of April to mid May) depending on the weather forecast. Watch for extended cold periods or extreme frost. Kale is hardy and can withstand some frosty nights, but if the overnight low is -4 to -6 or colder, I cover my young kale seedlings.

If you have a soil thermometer, the ideal soil temp is 10-30°C (50-85°F).

DAYS TO GERMINATION

Kale sprouts within in 7-10 days.

DAYS TO MATURITY

Direct seeded kale will be ready in 50 to 75 days depending on variety.

Transplants will be ready to harvest in 30-40 days depending on variety.

WHERE TO PLANT

Full sun is best, but kale will tolerate some shade, especially in the heat of summer.

SOIL PREFERENCE

Kale prefers well drained, fertile soil. Consider adding compost to the bottom of the hole when planting transplants. Cover soil with mulch to keep soil moisture in as much as possible.

SEED SPACING

Space seeds 1″ (2.5 cm) apart. Later, you’ll want to thin the kale plants so they’re 12″ (30 cm) apart and have good room to grow. Any plants you pull will be great in a salad.

Space transplants 12″ (30 cm) apart.

kale with collars planted under row cover
It’s okay to plant different varieties together.

DEPTH OF SEED OR SEEDLINGS

Plant 1/4″ (6 mm) deep. Gently tap soil covering the seeds.

Plant transplants so the soil reaches the bottom of the first set of leaves.

kale transplant in soil
When transplanting seedlings bring soil up to where bottom set of leaves attach to the stem. Take precautions for predators like cutworms and flea beetles.

ROW SPACING

Space rows 18-24″ (45-60 cm) apart.

COMPANION PLANTING

Plant kale next to: chamomile, dill, mint, rosemary, sage

Don’t plant kale next to: eggplants, peppers, potatoes or tomatoes

SPECIAL TIPS FOR PLANTING KALE:

  • Kale is part of the brassica or cabbage family. It is highly attractive to flea beetles and cabbage moths. Even early in spring, flea beetles can destroy kale plants over night. Be prepared by planting kale under row covers. These lightweight, tightly woven covers keep bugs out but allow sunlight and rain through. You can buy official row covers or bug nets to protect your crop or look for old tight sheer curtains at a thrift shop to do the same job. The row cover will also protect from the cabbage moth later in the growing season.
    kale under row cover

      My kale under a row cover fabric held up by some old garden frames. The sides of the row cover must be completely sealed.
  • Young kale plants are also susceptible to cut worms. Again, a good offense is best. Cutworms curl themselves around the stem, so place a barrier around the bottom 1 inch of the stem into the soil a bit as well. I used toilet paper rolls sealed with tape. They won’t last forever, but cutworms are most active early in the season and the kale will be tougher when the rolls disintegrate.
  • Water the seeds and young seedlings consistently for optimum growth – or hope for spring rains.
  • Compost mixed into the soil is always a bonus.
flea beetles on kale
Those two tiny black specs on this kale leaves are flea beetles. They are shiny and jump (like fleas) when they sense movement. There are usually a bunch of them which is why they are so devastating to plants. They will strip the leaves entirely, sometimes overnight. I have not found powders or sprays to be very effective – row covers have been my best option.

Here’s what it looks like in the garden when I’m done planting the kale.

kale under row cover
My kale safely tucked under the row cover. Soon the kohlrabi will go under there as well, hence the extra fabric on the left side. I will rake soil over the extra fabric so it is sealed up nice and tight.

Are you growing kale this year?  Do you have a favourite variety? What will you make with your kale?

Kale, Butternut Squash and Farro

Kale Slaw with Orange Yogurt Dressing

Italian Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

Kohlrabi Kale Slaw

Pomegranate and Whole Grain Salad

Dehydrated Kale Chips

Freezing Kale in Convenient Pucks

Kale and Apple Smoothie

Here are a few other How To’s to get your gardening going:

How to Plant Corn

How to Plant Onions

How to Plant Leeks

How to Plant Tomatoes

How to Plant Carrots

How to Plant Peas

How to Plant Garlic

Top 5 Herbs for Your Garden

Grow Your Own Seasoning Blend

Grow Your Own Herbal Teas

When to Plant Different Vegetables

Share your favorite kale recipe in the comments below or share your photos and ideas with me on Instagram @getgettys or Facebook @GettyStewart.HomeEconomist.

Getty Stewart is a Professional Home Economist, speaker, frequent media guest and writer dedicated to putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of several recipe books on enjoying and preserving fruit, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.

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