When to harvest broccoli – and bring healthy food to the table

Identify when to harvest broccoli. Get the timing right and you can enjoy a prolific crop that freezes well, too

When to harvest broccoli – calabrese broccoli on a chopping board
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Working out when to harvest broccoli – also known as calabrese – and bring tasty, healthy food from your backyard to your kitchen really relies on getting to know this versatile vegetable and its growing habits.

Packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, fiber and potassium, this cruciferous plant is also worth making part of your vegetable garden ideas because it boasts more protein than many other crops. Perfect eaten raw in salads, or steamed, sautéed or liquidized in soups, it is also recognized as having anti-inflammatory properties.

It’s possible to grow broccoli from seed or from nursery-bought seedlings and produce nutrient-rich spears in as little as two to three months. Once the central stem has produced its tight head of buds the side stems will continue to develop and can be cropped roughly a month later. 

Below, we provide a guide to when to harvest broccoli to enjoy fresh or so you can freeze it and be nourished by the harvest from your garden later on.

When to harvest broccoli

Knowing when to plant broccoli should bring you a healthy crop. As for harvesting, broccoli heads are ready when the central stem has a deep blue-green head of small, tightly packed buds. Producing central stems roughly the same size as a closed fist, this occurs over the summer and fall.

Experts at Miracle-Gro (opens in new tab) suggest, ‘To produce large heads of broccoli, wait until the central head ceases to increase in diameter. The heads (actually a set of flower buds) should be tight, with a dense set of small, green buds. Flowers do not open all at once, so the first sign of yellow means that the head should be harvested immediately to avoid bitterness.’

Once the central stem has been harvested leave the plant in the ground so the side shoots can reach maturity. They won’t get to the same size as the first main head, but they are equally as tasty and nutritious. Try to harvest them before the flowers open, otherwise they will be bitter.

If the plant has bolted – that’s when it is in full flower – it’s too late to pick. The best course of action is to pull the whole plant and compost it, making space for the next crop. 

Are broccoli and sprouting broccoli the same thing?

Essentially there are two types of broccoli – calabrese with its single large green-blue florets of broccoli and purple sprouting, a winter hardy plant producing much smaller, frost-hardy side sprouts the following late winter and early spring.

Another more, recent cultivar is broccolini – a cross between Chinese broccoli and calabrese. It is essentially grown for its slender and edible stems. 

Does broccoli regrow after cutting?

Broccoli tends to provide two harvests. The first is where the main central stem produces a large single head of tightly packed buds. Once this is removed the plant’s energy is diverted in developing the side shoots. These will develop smaller florets that are equally as delicious steamed, sautéed or puréed. After cropping these the plant is no longer productive and is best pulled from the ground to make way for a new sowing.

Jill Morgan
Contributing Editor

Jill Morgan has spent the last 20 years writing for Interior and Gardening magazines both in print and online. Titles she has been lucky enough to work on include House Beautiful, The English

Home, Ideal Home, Modern Gardens and Gardeningetc.com. Although much of her career has involved commissioning and writing about reader homes and home improvement projects, her

everlasting passion is for gardens and outdoor living, which is what she writes about for Homes & Gardens.