Leave, or Not?

I’m afraid I may have planted our Brussels sprouts a little late this year. Though the plants are healthy, winter is fast approaching and they haven’t grown as much as I would like.


Which leads me to a question: should I remove the leaves on the stalk, and if so when?

We’ve never removed the leaves to speed up growth of the sprouts. I’ve always allowed the sprouts to mature naturally, removing the lower leaves as I’ve harvested the lower spouts. (By the way, don’t throw away the leaves. Brussels sprouts leaves are delicious cooked greens.)

But I know that some folks do remove the leaves, insisting that doing so helps channel all the plant’s energy into making better sprouts. I seem to recall reading that if you intend to harvest the entire stalk at once it’s best to remove the leaves, but that if you intend to harvest the sprouts as they mature from the bottom up, then it’s best to leave them on.

I know there are some first-rate cool weather gardeners who read this blog, so I’m posing the question to y’all: Leave the leaves or take ’em off?


20 comments on “Leave, or Not?

  1. Pam says:

    We pull them off and feed them to the chickens and turkey’s. We must or they never mature and we don’t eat any Brussels sprouts.


    • Bill says:

      I don’t think it’s mandatory for us, as we have a much longer growing season here. I’ve harvested sprouts in February. But if we have a harsh winter, as we did last year, we don’t get any. I’ll probably give it a try again (my previous experiment was inconclusive). By the way, I recommend you hold back some of those greens for yourselves. They’re delicious. 🙂


  2. If you really aren’t sure remove the leaves on half the plants and then do a comparison on which ones do best this year,


    • Bill says:

      That’s solid advice of course. I did that once several years ago and didn’t see any real difference. But I was biased. 🙂 We don’t harvest the whole stalk at once, so I didn’t go back to it. But I think I need to speed them along this year so I may try it on at least some of them.


  3. You should top them when the sprouts begin to form, but not remove the leaves. That signals the plant to start forming sprouts instead of growing more leaves. Photosynthesis is pretty important, and the plants need leaves to harvest that sunlight.

    From Fedco Seeds:
    Culture: My cole crop of choice, but fussy like cauliflower and requires a long season. Start indoors no later than early April and transplant into very fertile soil. Around Sept 1, top the plants. When I experimented by topping some and leaving others, the difference was dramatic. Within two weeks the topped plants were putting all their energy into making sprouts while the untopped plants continued to shoot up more foliage and make only miniscule sprouts. Very hardy, improved by frost and can be harvested past the first snowfall.

    Gardeners are experimenters though, you may get sprouts no matter what you do. You could try Mark Shepard’s STUN method and see what happens 😉


    • Bill says:

      I weed the rows but otherwise we’re pretty close to STUN when it comes to Brussels sprouts. I’ve read that advice in the Fedco catalog. I may try that too. When I researched it I discovered that the tops are favored foods in some parts of the world. It seems we’re wasting a lot of the plant when we eat only the sprouts.


  4. shoreacres says:

    Of course you know I have to creep in and offer my own advice, entirely tongue in cheek: pull out the whole danged plant, or, better yet, don’t waste good land on them in the first place.

    Of course, that’s just me, and you know my view of sprouts. On the other hand, I know that the apple and citrus growers around here advise plucking the fruit from very young trees to encourage the growth of the tree itself. It makes sense that the opposite would be true.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I’ve not grown Brussels sprouts and find the conversation about plucking off the leaves to encourage the growth of sprouts fascinating Fooling plants to think it’s time to grow sprouts and not foliage. Who would have thought that would work. Certainly not me. Thanks for all the good information.

    Have a great Brussels sprouts day..


    • Bill says:

      Some do the same thing with broccoli too, but I’ve never tried it. We’ve discovered that the greens are delicious. One of our regular customers tried them a couple of years ago and now they’re her favorite green. My practice has always been to harvest the greens as we harvest the sprouts (they mature starting at the bottom of the stalk and moving up if left on their own). In a normal winter we can harvest them as late as January and February. I’ll probably experiment a little this year and see what happens!


  6. Hello Bill, yes we have pulled the leaves off our Brussels sprouts before now, and round about now or even earlier.. Mainly we pulled them as our leaves were getting infested with caterpillars who were doing a grand job of stripping them anyway.. but alot of gardeners around us always do this.. to help encourage the sprouts.. Don’t give up on them though, they may surprise you for a December/Jan crop 🙂


  7. Dearest Bill,
    Well, as I do recall, Brussels sprouts can live through frost as well. Even though it is quite a task for harvesting them when it is that cold. Their taste is excellent when it’s freezing!
    At Trader Joe’s in Atlanta we saw the other day such a bare stem with Brussels sprouts, so they must have been removing all the leaves for that purpose.
    Yours look very healthy.
    We have the same problem with our Italian honey figs, they very seldom ripen before the frost in November… Sad to see them go to waste. It is because they get pruned back, otherwise they would be darkening our living room and the balcony on the other side.
    Never easy to manipulate nature!


    • Bill says:

      I think that growers always remove the leaves when they’re planning to harvest the whole stalk at once that way. I read once that if you’re not trying to have them mature all at once then you should leave the leaves on. It’s a tough and cold-hearty plant, which allows us to keep harvesting into the winter. A wintertime treat. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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