How to Grow Collard Greens



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Days to germination: 5 to 10 days

Days to harvest: 85 days to maturity, harvest at 40 days
Light requirements: Full sun or light shading
Water requirements: Regularly and frequently
Soil: Tolerates all soils, extra nitrogen helpful
Container: Suitable

Introduction

If you use greens like spinach but have problems with the plants bolting (going to seed) in the heat, then try growing a few heads of collards instead. They look like loose cabbage without the rounded head in the middle. Collards are very similar to kale, in growing habits and taste.

Though cooked collard greens is a dish many associate with the American south, it’s actually a cool weather plant that grows better in the fall. There are a few variations to the collard, but there is not much difference between them. All plants are green and look fundamentally the same. Georgia is the most popular variety among home gardeners

High in fiber, vitamins C, A and K, as well as manganese, folic acid and even calcium, collard greens pack quite a nutritional punch. The are usually cooked but the smaller leaves can be eaten raw too. They have a stronger flavor when raw.

Starting from Seed

You can grow collard greens as either a spring or fall crop, though your greens will be more flavorful and sweeter when grown in the cool autumn. Collards are usually sown right into the garden rather than indoors for transplants.

In the spring, get your soil ready for seeds about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. Dig down to loosen the soil and add in compost or aged manure for nutrients. Collards are considered to be “heavy-feeders”. Plant a few seeds every 2 feet, and thin them down to 1 plant after they sprout. Seeds should be planted just a 1/4 inch under the surface.

If you want to start harvesting young greens earlier, you can not bother with the specific spacing and just sprinkle the seeds over the soil. Cover them over with a thin layer of soil. As the plants begin to grow, you can pick the young ones for eating, until you are left with larger plants with at least 2 feet of spacing between them.

Later in the season, you can seed out your fall crop. For many people, this would be their main collard crop for the year. Follow the same planting arrangements as for the spring crop above, but start them out about 4 to 6 weeks after your last frost date.

Growing instructions

Collard greens are one of those crops that you harvest at your leisure throughout the growing season. See the harvest section for more on how and when to pick collard leaves.

Water your plants often. Dry periods won’t necessarily harm the plant, but the leaves will take on a much stronger flavor afterwards and possibly become too bitter to eat.

Fertilizing with a high-nitrogen blend of fertilizer is a great help to boost leaf production. Just remember that this kind of fertilizer should only be used on leafy green vegetables. It will help leaves develop but will shrink or stunt any fruit or tuber formation. Regular fertilizer is also fine with collards if that is what you are using. Give your plants a feeding two or three times through the summer.

Containers

Collards do grow larger than most other greens, so you will have to have one plant per 10″ pot. Larger containers are fine with 2 plants as long as you can provide at least 18 to 20 inches between their main stalks. Keep them well-watered and well-fed with fertilizer.

Pests and Diseases

Collards are part of the Brassica family, which includes cabbage and broccoli. This also means that they are at risk from the same host of pests that plague those other vegetables (and many others).

First off are the slugs and snails common to any vegetable garden. You can buy commercial baits and traps, or drown them in saucers of beer left out at night. Diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder made from microscopic crushed shells. Harmless to animals, it will kill soft-bodied pests like slugs and snails. It can also help get rid of other caterpillars as well. Sprinkle heavily around the plants and re-apply after rain.

Cabbage worms and cabbage loopers are two different kinds of caterpillar that will do serious damage to your collard leaves if you don’t control them. Both of these pests are green so look closely at your plants or you might miss them. Insecticide sprays can usually protect your plants, and you should pick them off whenever you see them.

A harder to spot threat is the cabbage root maggot because they attack underground. If your plants are dying back for no other visible reason, dig one up and see if the roots are being eaten by small worms or maggots. Once you have them, its difficult to get rid of them. Your best approach is to keep them out of the soil in the first place. A light cover of mesh or screen in the spring can keep the moths away that lay the maggot eggs. It’s less of a problem for fall crops because the moth season has passed.

Harvest and Storage

You can start taking leaves about 4 to 6 weeks after you’ve started your seeds. If you let the leaves get too large before cutting, there may be a tough central stalk through the leave that will have to be cut out before using.

You can pick the leaves as the plant grows, always cutting off the ones at the bottom of the plant. As the inner stalk continues to grow upwards and produce more leaves, your collard plant will eventually look like a little tree with a bare stem at the bottom and leaves on the top. They will start to get top-heavy towards the end of the season and may require support.

For spring collards, your growing season comes to an end when hot weather arrives and your plants bolt to seed. The leaves will be too bitter to eat at this point. It’s not a problem with fall collards, and you can keep on harvesting well after the frosts start arriving.

Cooked collard greens can be frozen for longer storage, but the fresh leaves will only last a few days in the fridge.

29 Responses to “How to Grow Collard Greens”

  1. jamie bishop  Says:

    i need to get some liquid bug killer for my greens

  2. poenandarkyaw  Says:

    I would like to know about degree day and harvest date prediction for collard.

  3. larry  Says:

    I planted ollards in march, first week. When shouldI harvest them?

  4. larry  Says:

    I planted collards in march the first week, when do i pick them?

  5. Chaska  Says:

    I’ve been using this website to guide me through planting and harvesting. You’ll have to go and google what zone you are in but I have found the chart for my zone is VERY accurate! I live in southern Ohio and I am zone 5 :) http://www.veggieharvest.com/Table/Vegetable-Planting-Calendar/

  6. LLL  Says:

    I used a good active organic soil. Then I took half inch thick, twisted copper wire and half buried it in circles around the collars. Completely cured the slug problem and the collards thrived. No pests at all. Also – I found that the collards remain sweet until the weather goes above 85 degrees for a steady period, then they become bitter. So far it’s been unseasonably cool here most of the time and nothing has gone to seed (kale and chard the same), although I’ve been told you can’t grow greens down here in zone 10 after about May 1.

  7. Angie  Says:

    I live in Colorado at an altitude of 8000′ – a short, cool growing season. Collards grow well here, & I harvest leaves throughout the summer & fall. Spring is starting, & last year’s collard plants in the garden are producing new leaves. Should I let these plants continue to grow, or would it be better to remove them & plant new seeds?

  8. shannon  Says:

    I just transplanted starter plants that I bought at Home Depot. They seem to be doing ok, but a few of the leaves are yellow. This is my first garden ever. It’s a raised bed with 10″ of organic soil/Peet mix in Central Oregon (high desert climate).

    Should I pick off the yellow leaves? Or give them some time to settle into their new home?

  9. cdgarrett  Says:

    I have been trying to start Collard seeds in one of those seed starter trays in my kitchen. They come up so tin and frail looking and get taller than the clear plastic green house top will allow then they die. I try taking the plastic green house top off and the Collard Greens just dry up. They get plenty of moisture. I bought 3 ounces of Morris Heading Collard Green seed so I guess I just keep trying until I have plants suitable for transplant into the garden. I made some homemade Deer repellant for the garden that seems to be working against deer, rabbits and squirrels. May-be I should try planting the seeds directly in the garden. Who Knows? I have 2 trays of Rainbow Chard seed planted in my kitchen also.

  10. laura  Says:

    I cut all the outer leaves off of one of my collard grocery store bought plants (cooked them). I placed the remaining stalk with a couple of small leaves left in the center in a small bowl of water. A couple of weeks later roots are growing. I’m now going to plant it in a pot of soil outside and see what happens. I’m in zone 8. I thought it would be a neat experiment.

  11. jacs  Says:

    Hi ok, so we moved into a house and the previous owners had collard greens growing. They are at the point that they look like a big stalk but have lots of leaves on them at the top.. how long can we eat them? can we eat them? Or should we just get rid of them and start over? Thanks for any info. It will be appreciated.

  12. Theresa Kaul  Says:

    I always wondered the same. We plant them every year in our garden and pull out the old plants and start again. Ironically, just today, I decided to pick leaves from our last years plants which are now flowering on the top. I picked the newest tender leaves near the top and cooked them. I thought they were just fine! I read that they would be bitter and tough. We pressure cook ours so they really are never tough…but they weren’t bitter. I would say give it a try, you can always pull them if you find them not tasty.

  13. karen  Says:

    My husband is an old-timer from the south. He remembers picking collard greens for his mom down by the railroad tracks that grew wild for her to cook. So, I took this hint from his history and stopped ripping out my collards from the year before. They are fine and growing new leaves this year. (We live in a cold winter climate, zone 8). That original flat of 6 plants was a great investment?

  14. Andrew B  Says:

    First time growing Collards and live in NC. It’s been warmer than normal this year. We got our garden in late this year. Our Collards are up and have been, but reading this article it looks like they won’t grow much more with the weather well into the 80′s and 90′s now. Shall I leave them and see what happens, pull them out and plant something else? I have a limited space in my garden and want to maximize my growing season. I will definitely re plant once the temperature cools back down if that’s what you recommend.

    Please help this first time farmer out.

  15. Theresa Kaul  Says:

    Leave them, they’ll do fine in the hot weather as well. That’s the beauty of this crop, they do fine in the summer and well into fall…enjoy!

  16. d ral  Says:

    I recently moved to the NorthWest. I was surprised to find collars at Home Depot thinking it was a southern crop. I planted them in my raised bed. This being my first time growing collars I was surprised to see them no leafy but stalk with flowers on the tip and a few leaves- nothing like the pictures I see of them. Any suggestions? Obvious they are not right. I need help please

  17. marvolene  Says:

    I just planted some collars two weeks ago, have never planted collars, don’t know how much water, what kind of fertilizer is good, could I use mircle grow? help I really want some collards , love them, help please give me some hints. thanks

  18. veronica kizzee  Says:

    I have bugs eating my leaves up.But i cant see them. its like little white spects all over the back of them.

  19. destrum  Says:

    Veronica The bugs that eat mine are small green catipilars and the same color as the collards you have to look real hard to see them. You know those real pretty little white butter flies. those little #@**&^% lay the eggs that are those green worms Kill them. Can ya tell I hate them. the eggs are real tiny light brown spots grouped together in a 1/4 inch area. I mash them with my thumb. They are really hard to see. good luck

  20. destrum  Says:

    forgot those eggs are always on the bottom of the leaves.

  21. eula walace  Says:

    hi i have some collard greens plants that i was growing back in Sept of last year and they now have flowers at the top of the plants and the leaves are still so pretty.i just picked more off of them. but i want to know if there are seeds in the flowers and how do i get them so i can have them to plant more plants.i live in Mississippi

  22. Walter Bliss  Says:

    Collards are not just associated with the South. I grew up in Liberia, Africa as a child with my misionary parents. They eat lots of greens including collards. The collards and cassava greens are what I remember most and loved. I believe this is part of the heritage of blacks in the south. Add palm oil or better yet palm butter, rice, goat, chicken, fish, snake or bush meat, cassava root, plantain, mangos and you are eating like a king. You must put a liberal amount of the local (wild type cayenne) hot peppa in your gravy. I can eat them almost straight.

  23. frederick collings  Says:

    I bought collard greens plant at home depot. Then planted them in my planter at home. While they grow, I cut the leaves and cook as collard greens. It tasted like collard greens. I even give my neighbors some of the leaves and they told me that the collard greens was delicious. After about a month and a half the plants begun to fold like cabbage. I then root up several of the plants and cut the head and cook it like cabbage and it tasted like cabbage. Is this normal.

  24. reggie  Says:

    Just wanted to tell crush egg shell and coffee ground around your collards will prevent cutworms from damage your collards

  25. frank  Says:

    Frank asks: Is it all right(safe) to use sevin 5 dust on collard greens as a pesticide? What about growing collards in raised beds??
    Frank

  26. Donna  Says:

    If your collard plants are forming heads they are not collard plants. They are cabbage plants.

  27. Donna  Says:

    Cabbage and collard plants look alike as they are in the same family.

  28. Lawrence Moore 111  Says:

    This year my collards have a fuzzy or velvety looking film on the leaves. What is this and is it safe to eat. My chard, kale or turnip greens didn’t have this.
    please help

  29. Farell Moughon  Says:

    My micro collard patch is 3 years old and the plants are 7 ft tall. I had to stake them. If they were straighten up they would probably be 8 or 9 ft tall. They are richly flowing at the top, but I harvest below the tops. When I cook them, I combine with mustard greens, kale, or Swiss chard….all great to help prevent prostate problems….as I read as such. I chop up the greens, add chicken broth, 2 organic bullion cubes, 1 large onion, 2 marinated turkey thighs and simmer for 2 hrs after boiling starts. Maybe I will add quinoa or millet about 20 minutes before the 2 hrs is up. Course, all that is no good without whole grain cornbread, and that’s no good without a bottle of seranno pepper sauce. Ummmhum good ummmhummm good.

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