Growing Curly Kale (Complete Guide)
Growing curly kale is the same as growing any other type of kale. This healthy and nutritious vegetable thrives in colder climates and benefits from a couple of frosts to develop sweeter and more flavorsome leaves. Plus, it’s quite an attractive vegetable to add to your garden or even plant around your borders.
Curly kale loves to grow in full sun but will also tolerate part-shade. It’s not too fussy about the soil as long as it’s free-draining, has a fairly neutral pH (6.0 to 7.0), and has had some organic matter added. It can be grown either from seeds or transplants, but using the latter will speed up your harvest.
Here’s the complete guide to growing curly kale in your garden.
Choose The Location
If possible, plant your curly kale in a nice sunny spot in the garden. Ideally, this vegetable requires at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. In hot climates, it’s best to expose the kale to plenty of morning sun but then give it some shade in the afternoon as it doesn’t tolerate a lot of heat.
The soil should be well-draining and enriched with organic compost. Ideally, the pH should be fairly neutral at around 6.0 to 7.0. If you find that your soil is overly acidic, you can just incorporate a little lime. For alkaline soils, adding some organic matter or well-rotted animal manure will help to bring down the pH level.
Choose The Planting Time
Because it is common to harvest your curly kale during the winter months, you want to plant it near the end of summer. This vegetable thrives in cooler temperatures and improves its taste when subjected to a few touches of frost.
If you live in USDA zones 7 or above, you can plant your kale out in the garden, and it should survive right through the winter. In colder zones, you may want to protect your plants from deep freezes by covering them with a cold frame or a polytunnel. Alternatively, you can plant your curly kale in pots and bring these indoors or put them into the greenhouse.
Bear in mind that kale planted from seed takes around 55 to 75 days to mature into a large plant with plenty of harvestable leaves. So, because curly kale doesn’t put on much growth in winter, you want to ensure that your plants are large enough when the cold weather arrives so that there are plenty of leaves for you to harvest.
You can also grow curly kale in spring if you particularly want to harvest the baby leaves to use in your summer salads. If you’re going to do this, though, and your summers are quite hot, you’ll definitely want to protect your plants from the harsh midday and afternoon sun.
Choose Whether To Plants Seeds Or Transplants
It’s perfectly fine to start your curly kale using either seeds or transplants that you purchase from your local garden center. The only difference is that plants grown from seeds will take around 55 to 75 days to mature, while those grown from seedlings will only take around 30 to 40 days.
If planting seeds, make sure that you plant them around ½ inch (1 cm) deep and around 12 inches (30 cm) apart. This amount of spacing will give the plants plenty of room to grow to their full capacity.
However, if you’re growing kale in spring or summer just to harvest the baby leaves, you can plant them a little closer together. Then, when the plants reach a height of around 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm), you’ll want to thin them out a little to give the remaining plants more room to grow.
Seeds will normally take around 5 to 8 days to germinate. Make sure that the soil is kept nice and moist but definitely not water-logged.
Transplants can be planted in a similar manner and spaced around 12 inches (30 cm) apart. You could even plant a couple of these seedlings in a large pot that you can move around the garden so that the plants get morning sun and afternoon shade.
The added advantage of doing this is that you can bring the pot indoors or place it in a greenhouse if you’re expecting a really cold snap where temperatures drop below zero.
Keep Your Plants Well Watered
Curly kale is quite a thirsty plant and needs to be adequately watered during its growing season, especially when you’re growing it in the warmer months to get it ready for winter. This healthy vegetable is definitely not drought-tolerant, and the leaves will turn quite bitter if the plant doesn’t receive enough water.
Curly kale plants should receive around 1 inch of water a week during their growing season. This means that you might have to water your plants every couple of days to ensure that they get enough moisture when it’s hot, and there’s no rain around.
It’s also a good idea to add a layer of straw or hay mulch around your plants, as this will help to stop some of the moisture from evaporating into the atmosphere.
However, in winter, you don’t have to worry about watering your kale biennial plants because the ground is likely to be frozen if you get a lot of frosts and some snow. At this time, the plants are not actively growing and will get any water that they need from the moisture in the air and the frost that lands on their leaves.
Fertilize Your Plants
If you want lots of those frilly, delicious kale leaves, make sure that you fertilize your plants well during their growing season in summer and fall. Curly kale plants should be given a dose of organic liquid fertilizer at least once a month during summer and early fall.
Once the frost arrives, you won’t need to fertilize your plants at all during the winter. When spring comes around again, it’s likely that your plants will bolt and go to seed, so then it’s time to start again.
Protect Your Curly Kale From Pests
The most threatening pest for brassica plants such as curly kale is the larvae from the cabbage white butterfly or cabbage moth. These little green caterpillars can decimate a plant almost overnight.
The best way to keep these away is to cover your plants with some insect-resistant cloth. You should be able to purchase this at your local garden center. The cloth is a mesh with very tiny holes that allow sunlight and water through but are too small for the cabbage moth. Therefore, if the moths can’t get in to lay their eggs, you won’t have those hungry caterpillars munching on your kale leaves.
Harvest Your Curly Kale When You Need It
Curly kale is one of those cut-and-come-again plants that many people absolutely love to grow. When harvesting your kale leaves, start with the bottom leaves around the outside of the plant.
This allows the inner leaves to continue growing so that you’ll have plenty to harvest whenever you need them. The only time you really want to harvest the entire plant is when the weather starts to warm up again in spring, and there’s a likelihood of your kale bolting.
Otherwise, just harvest what you need and let the plant continue to grow happily in your garden.