Updated: Sep 15, 2022
This leafy green belongs to the same family as kale and cabbage. Its dark green leaves are highly nutritious – they’re full of vitamins. You can enjoy collard raw when the leaves are still small and tender. Meanwhile, the more mature leaves are great in stews, stir-fry's or as chips.
To help ensure your plants thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript on how to grow collards:
Listen to this Article:
Glossary of collard terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about collards. It's far more fun learning how to grow collards when you know the terms, so here we go:
BIENNIAL AND ANNUAL
Biennial crops flower in the second season of their growth. Though collard is technically biennial, usually it’s only grown on an annual basis.
The premature production of a flowering stem before it can be harvested. It’s the plant’s attempt to produce seeds for reproduction before it dies.
A crop family including broccoli, cauliflower, mustards and cabbages.
The first leaves that look like those of a plant’s mature leaves, not the first leaves of a seedling. True leaves have sharper edges and are not as smooth as the seedling leaves.
Gradually getting a plant used to outside conditions like sun exposure, temperature, and wind.
Varieties of collard
How to grow collards is as much about the kind of collards you want on your plate as it is about the steps in getting there. Some of my favorite collard varieties are:
GEORGIA AND VATES
They have large, crumpled, dark-green (Georgia) and dark-blue (Vates) leaves. Both hold onto their color in cold weather, and they’re resistant to bolting.
This type of collard has bright-green smooth leaves. It’s both heat and frost resistant, and slow bolting.
An improved Vates variety with similar characteristics.
This variety has leaves that are smooth and deep-green, and it’s very tolerant to heat and cold.
Its leaves are smooth and broad. Flash bolts slowly, and grows back very fast.
Starting your collard seeds
How to grow collards when you're staring out with small collard seeds
Whether you’re growing collard in the spring or in the fall, seedlings need an ideal soil temperature between 45-85°F (7.2°C-29°C) to germinate.
If you’re growing collard in the spring, you’ll want to start sowing your seeds about 8 weeks before the last expected frost.
As soon as your seedlings emerge, provide them with plenty of light, then once they have 6-8 true leaves, you can set them outside.
If you’re growing your collard in the fall, we recommend planting the seeds directly outside.
You’ll want to start about 3 months before the expected fall frost. Simply plant the seeds a quarter to a half inch (6mm to 1.3cm) deep and 1 inch (3.5cm) apart. After they’re planted, make sure to sprinkle them lightly with water.
Collard responds very well to fertile soil conditions. Because of that, it’s beneficial to work lots of compost into each row, about 2-3 weeks before planting.
Caring for Collard
How to grow collards each step of the way
In this section, we’ll cover everything you need to know about preparing your soil, how to properly water your collard, thinning, and the benefits of mulching. We’ll also talk transplanting, companion planting, as well as your growing structure options.
Collard can be grown in USDA zones 6 through 10, and it prefers well-drained fertile soil that has a pH of 6.0-7.5. It can tolerate slightly alkaline soil and some drought, but too little water will have a negative impact on the quality and flavor of the leaves.
When sowing your collard seeds outside, you can thin your seedlings to be 8-12 inches (20-30cm) apart once they’ve emerged.
In terms of watering, about one inch of rainfall each week is a good amount to keep your soil moist. But if you’ve got sandy soil, you’ll want to water your collard more than once a week, since sandy soil doesn’t retain moisture very well.
You’ll also want to make sure to keep weeds under control. Frequent and shallow cultivation helps to keep weeds away, but just be careful you don’t go too deep or else you might damage your plants.
FERTILIZING AND MULCHING
How to grow collards with the right plant food and protection:
When your plants are about four inches (10.16cm) tall, apply some fertilizer alongside your plant rows.
You can use either a half cup of a 46-0-0 solution, 1 cup of a 27-3-3 solution, or a cup and a half of a 10-3-1 solution for each 100 feet (2.54 m).
Spread it in a band about 6 inches wide, then scratch it into the surface of your soil. Make sure you don’t apply fertilizers that contain weed killers, as these can also kill your vegetable plants.
If you’re looking to improve your soil, you can do so by adding well-rotted manure or compost in the spring and fall. By using organic matter this way, you might not actually need any additional fertilizers. You won’t want to use fresh manure though, because it might contain harmful bacteria.
Planning on using mulch? It’s best to use herbicide-free grass-clippings, straw or other organic material. These help to prevent weed growth and can also keep away some pesky pests.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
How to grow collards when you have a seedling or transplant ready
Before transplanting, harden-off your seedlings first by setting them outside for a few hours per day. You can start this process about a week before you plan on transplanting.
While they’re hardening-off, make sure to keep them sheltered from any wind or hot sun. Then, about 2-3 days before transplanting, lower their water and temperature levels to get them used to outdoor conditions.
You’ll want to transplant your spring crops about two weeks before the last expected frost, setting them 8 to 12 inches (20-30cm) apart in rows that are 18 inches (46cm) apart.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
How to grow collards in any kind of container. A few common ones are:
This is a good option if you want to grow collard on your balcony, or if you don’t have enough space in your vegetable garden for conventional growing beds. Just make sure that your containers are big enough and have holes in the bottom for good water drainage.
Raised beds have the advantage of good water drainage and a higher soil temperature since they aren’t directly embedded in the ground. They also make for a more comfortable home gardening experience since you don’t have to bend or kneel down too far.
INTO THE GROUND
If you’ve got the space and capacity, you can also grow collard directly in the ground. Make sure your soil is nice and fertile, and also evenly watered.
Don’t forget to check the area for pre- existing diseases that might harm your crops.
In all three of these options, it’s important to have a crop-rotation in your planting cycle, so avoid growing collard or other Brassica-related crops more than once within three or four years. This will help lower the risk of disease infections.
COMPANION PLANTS FOR COLLARDS
How to grow collards with the plant friends that protect them
Good collard companion plants
Plant your collard with chamomile, dill, mint, rosemary and sage, because their smell keeps pests away. Tomatoes are another great companion because they repel flea beetles.
Don't plant collards with:
Eggplants, peppers, potatoes
Common challenges and their solutions
There are quite a few pests and diseases that could potentially harm your collard crop. Luckily, we’ve got solutions to help you out.
How to grow collards disease free:
This fungus loves warm and wet conditions, causing brown spots with yellow edges on the leaves of your crop. The center of these lesions will also develop gray to brown soft fungal mold.
Solution: Prevent Alternaria by planting disease-free plants and by rotating your crops every year. If the fungus is already present on your plants, then you can apply appropriate fungicides to get rid of it.
Seedling leaves become wilted, brown, and will collapse while mature leaves have yellow V-shaped lesions. Black rot causes dark rings on the stem, and it typically emerges in warm, moist conditions.
Solution: Keep your soil, plants, and equipment nice and clean. Also, make sure to rotate your crops with non-Brassica varieties.
Grey spots with white fluffy mold will appear on the downside of the leaves, while dry yellow spots appear on the upper surface. This fungus thrives in cooler, wet conditions.
Solution: Remove all remnants of your plants after harvest to avoid infection during the next growing season. Also, rotate your crop with non-Brassicas.
A disease causing the death of seedlings after germination. Typically, there will be black rot on the stem. This fungus favors slow-growing, deeply seeded plants as well as cool and wet soil.
Solution: Plant disease-free seeds or transplants that have been started in sterile soil. Also, you’ll want to plant your collard seeds and transplants shallow and close to the surface.
How to grow collards while avoiding common vegetable garden pests
Also known as roundworms, these microscopic pests produce galls (swelled growths) on your plant’s roots. Your crop will turn yellow, and will eventually wilt in hot weather.
Solution: Plant resistant varieties if you know there are galls in the ground. Be sure to check your roots mid-season (or earlier if symptoms appear), and if you find any galls, remove those infected plants.
Large populations of these pests can stunt the growth of your plants, or kill them entirely. They prefer to feed deep down in the collard head and might be hidden by the outer leaves.
Solution: Collard plants can tolerate a light to medium infestation. If your plant is sturdy enough, then you can treat it with a jet of water to wash the aphids off. In general, the best method to treat aphids is by using insecticidal soaps and oils.
These pests leave circular and irregular shaped holes in the leaves. Young larvae will eat a lot, and can “skeletonize” the leaves.
Solution: The organic way to control armyworms is by using their natural enemies, which are other insects.
This pest eats small holes in the leaves. Young plants are especially vulnerable, while older plants can survive an infestation much better. These dark beetles jump when they are disturbed and shimmer in the light.
Solution: Use a physical barrier to keep the beetles away. A thick layer of mulch can also help keep the beetles from reaching the surface. Also, insecticides may help for about a week, but they’ll need to be reapplied.
They also snack on leaves, producing holes both big and small. Their bodies are pale green with a white line on each side.
Solution: They’re usually held in check by natural enemies like wasps. If they do become too much, you can hand- pick the larvae from the leaves. You’ll want to avoid using chemical sprays, because they also damage helpful insects.
This hairy green caterpillar leaves large, ragged holes in the leaves.
Solution: Hand-pick the caterpillars from the leaves, then scrape off the larvae. Natural enemies like spiders and ground beetles can also take care of these pests.
These are moth larvae that damage the stems of young transplants or seedlings at the soil level. This pest is typically active at night, and hides during the day.
Solution: Remove all residue from previously infested plants to avoid any spread. Also, you can hand-pick the larvae after dark, when they’re most active.
Harvesting and storing
How to grow collards for your plate
Discover the best ways to harvest your collard, and the best way to store it for future use.
Typically, collard takes 6-8 weeks to be ready for harvest.
You can either crop the leaves and leave the root, or you can take the whole plant. Simply cut your collard when it’s about 2-3 inches (5-8cm) tall.
This crop is very hardy and continues to grow (slower) even after the first fall frost. The leaves are actually the freshest when they have frozen once.
Also, your fall crop will benefit from cool weather, because it gives the leaves a better flavor. But if you’ve planted your collard in the spring, its quality is best when harvested before the weather gets hot and dry.
After harvesting, wash your collard then immediately cool it at 34-47°F (1-8°C) to keep it fresh and crisp.
Wrap the leaves in a damp paper towel, put it in a perforated plastic bag, then keep it in your fridge.