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Many varieties of cauliflower exist. Experimentation is the key to success.

Ask Gardenerd: Big Cauliflower – No Head

We got a question at Ask Gardenerd this week from Jeff: “I’m having trouble with cauliflower – the plants are not flowering. Is there anything I can do to encourage flowering? By the way, I planted broccoli as well and it’s doing fine. Thanks, Jeff”

You’re not alone, Jeff. This is typical of places that don’t have really cold temperatures in fall or winter. Cauliflower needs low temps to set a head, so in warm-winter climates you often get Jurassic leaves but no head. Warm-winter climates should grow cauliflower in the fall instead of spring. That may increase your chances if you haven’t tried that already. We grow Romanesco broccoli instead, since it has needs more similar to broccoli than cauliflower. If cold is not the issue, here are some other reasons why your cauliflower may not be flowering:

Many varieties of cauliflower exist. Experimentation is the key to success.
Many varieties of cauliflower exist. Experimentation is the key to success.

Nutrients – Cauliflower needs soil that is rich in nitrogen and potassium. Potassium is responsible for fruit and flower development and overall vigor. If your soil is lacking potassium (or it is locked up in the soil, which is more likely) your cauliflower won’t set a head. Some gardeners recommend applying fish emulsion every couple of weeks. We use kelp emulsion here and compost tea. A properly brewed batch of compost tea will be full of microbes that go to work to unlock trapped potassium in soils.

Water – according to Organic Gardening Magazine, cauliflower requires consistent moisture. The soil should never be allowed to dry out or you end up with “ricey” heads. So if you water regularly and mulch around your plants, you’ll retain moisture and prevent soils from drying out.

Variety – Explore cauliflower varieties that grow in your specific climate. Try purple cauliflower or Romanesco to see if they work better for you. We’re big fans of locally adapted seed, so check your seed library to see if anyone has contributed cauliflower seed for your neck of the woods. You’ll find more success by combining efforts with other gardeners in your area. If you don’t have a seed library, buy seeds from catalog companies that grow out seed in your hardiness zone or region. (Don’t forget to save the seeds if they are open pollinated varieties).

Don’t despair. Keep trying different approaches. Feed the soil first, then try adapted varieties and other cultivars that you haven’t experimented with yet. You’ll find the answer with persistence.

Thanks for writing in. And fellow Gardenerds  – if you have suggestions for how you grow cauliflower, post your comments below.

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Shelby

    Hi Christy! I have a similar question.
    I planted cauliflower in the fall and its now spring here in South Carolina and I have huge leaves and no heads. Should I pull them and just try and use up the leaves? Or leave them in for the summer?

    1. Christy

      Shelby, I guess it all depends on whether you need to space or not for your next crop. You could leave them and feed with additional phosphorus and potassium if you have enough room this season. If not, use the leaves and move on to your next crop. Check the center to see if anything is forming in there. If the center is raised above or close to the top of the other leaves, it most likely isn’t going to form a head.

  2. Floyd

    I planted cauliflower and romanesco in mid may in western oregon. Plants grew 3×3 feet and only one decent cauliflower head. Had a couple of rice heads. Now it’s end of December and I am seeing some romanesco heads forming. Trying to protect from freezing, but can’t understand why it takes so long when they look so healthy. Been feeding the lower leaves to the chickens. My soil has very low phosphorus but with additions I have not had the problem before.

    1. Christy

      HI Floyd, I’m not sure what the weather is in your neck of the woods, but it seems like May is a bit on the either early or late side to be planting brassicas. That would be right as we’re heading in to warmer weather, which they don’t like. Now that things are cooler the Romanesco is in its element, so it makes sense to me that it’s forming a head now that it isn’t being stressed by warmer weather. Phosphorus and potassium are the key nutrients to track for fruiting so keep an eye on both of those. It’s possible that with all the fires we had this summer, the soil and garden plants took a beating and are just recovering now.

  3. Adeline

    Hello Christy,
    I planted my cauliflower in late May and has grown so big and plenty of leaves but no head. I have about 15 of them in garden bed and pot but non of them has had. Should I just get rid of it? It has been 5 months now.
    Thank you,
    Adeline

    1. Christy

      If you need the space back for fall crops, I’d say pull them. If you aren’t going to plant for fall, then leave them and see what happens as the weather cools down. Be sure to feed them phosphorus and potassium to help them bud.

  4. Zach

    Hello, I planted cauliflower in the middle of May (SW Minnesota). They have leafed out and are huge, however, no heads. I see there is a lot saying cauliflower is a cooler weather plant. Could they still possibly develop heads or is it too late?

    Thanks,
    Zach

    1. Christy

      You can hang on to see if they will set a head, but I’m guessing that if they are huge by now, no head is coming. If you don’t have plans for the space for the rest of summer or fall, leave it and see what happens. Feed it regularly because as mentioned in the article this is usually a problem related to nutrient deficiency.

  5. Pratap sirsath

    My cauliflower has more than one head it’s normal? Some plnat has 3.or more head which is can effect the main head growth?

    1. Christy

      That is odd, Pratap. Not normal for cauliflower, unless maybe the center head was eaten away by a critter first? I imagine it will definitely affect the plant’s growth. Don’t give up and try again in fall or next year.

  6. James

    My cauliflower has no head but massive leaves, plant growing up to 3 feet. Can I eat these leaves?

    1. Christy

      You can eat the leaves of most brassicas. They are usually pretty tough though. Kohlrabi is really the only one that stays soft like kale, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying other brassica leaves. Cut them small and cook them well and they should work nicely.

  7. Mrs Rogers

    Great thread very informative! My cauliflower has flowered, can I cut back? Will it reproduce a second time?

    1. Christy

      Unfortunately cauliflower is not really like broccoli. It’s usually 1 and done. It’s time to move to hot weather crops anyway if you are in the northern hemisphere.

  8. Valerie Jackson

    My cauliflower have large leaves but no heads are forming I live in New Zealand so we’re coming into autumn
    The broccoli which is in the same garden are doing really well thanks val j

    1. Christy

      You could try growing that cauliflower again in autumn and see if they do better over winter and into early spring. Feed, feed, feed them! That will help.

    2. Jo Woon

      Valerie, three plants in one part of the garden, nothing but leaves, the other three in another part and planted at the same time, small heads….

  9. Belinda

    Good day,
    I put down six cauliflower seedings approximately 2-3 weeks ago and they have already developed heads. The leaves are not very large. Is this normal? I have grown cauliflower in the past and they usually take 6 to 8 weeks before you see the head. what is the likely success of these cauliflowers?

    1. Christy

      Belinda, it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on here, but let me throw out a few possibilities: 1) the seedlings may have been at the nursery for awhile before you got them. If they’ve been growing for a couple months in a pot they could have become stressed. Stressed plants send up a flower stalk to procreate before dying. So that is what I’m guessing happened here. 2) They might need more food. Test your soil for the big 3: Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. If you’re low in any of those the plants will not grow large and may bolt to seed (see #1) early. 3) Unseasonal weather conditions. Cauliflower wants cold weather to develop a head, but first (as you have experienced in the past) the leaves grow large before setting a head. If you had sudden hot weather or really cold weather before the leaves could develop, that can be a contributing factor to the stunted growth.
      In any case, you most likely won’t have sizable heads from these plants. The good news is that you probably can start again with a new set of seedlings, if you have room elsewhere in your garden (rather than pulling out what’s there). That’s my advice. I hope this helps.

  10. Tammy

    All My cauliflower has no head but still look so healthy my broccoli is doing amazing can I save the cauliflower at this point?

    1. Christy

      If your cauliflower hasn’t set a head yet, you’ll probably reach the end of the growing season before it does. That said, we’re coming into fall, which is cauliflower’s best growing season. It prefers cool weather, so if you feed it and keep it from getting frost (protective row cover or insulated blankets) it might just form a head.

  11. Gayatri Prakash

    Same is true for us. It is suppose to be purple cauliflower, the plant has become very tall with very big leaves but no heads yet.
    Also in my pumpkin creeper lots of yellow male flowers are coming regularly from the last one month but no female flower which can become a pumpkin. I do not know why it is so? The plant as such appears to be healthy with lots of male flowers. Suggest

    1. Christy

      I wrote a blog post recently on the subject of why pumpkins are not flowering or setting fruit. It’s usually a nutrient issue. Take a look at the Gardenerd Blog for a post called Ask Gardenerd: Pumpkin Fruits Dropping.

  12. Chris LaVenture

    So I have both growing in a greenhouse since December. They are about 3′ tall and starting to branch, but no heads. Will they eventually bloom if left long enough?

    1. Christy

      Since December, huh? I have a feeling they won’t do anything more than leaf out. If they aren’t taking up space that you need this summer, you can keep them going and feed them more phosphorus and potassium to see if that helps. I usually give up before then.

  13. Ken Gibbs

    Yeah sounds like I’m in the same boat my broccoli and cauliflower I planted about 7 weeks ago (transplants) all leaves been feeding them broccoli are 2 to 4 inch flowers cauliflower all leaves there next to each other maybe I try one more thing before they get pulled an wait till fall and try again from start I live in NJ
    Well good luck to those cauliflower cowards 🍻 We will rise again !

    1. Christy

      Hi Ken, it might be a good idea to test your soil to see if you have an overabundance of any particular nutrient, too. Sometimes too much of a good thing can also hinder plant growth. Keep us posted.

  14. Farmer scott

    I live in Saskatchewan and have same problem . Lots of leaves keep growing but no sign of heads forming . It’s almost mid august her

    1. Christy

      Farmer Scott, have you checked levels of Phosphorus and Potassium lately? Those are responsible for fruiting and flowering (cauliflower is a giant flower, essentially). If your levels are low that may be the problem. If there are sufficient levels, it may be that your soil biology is inactive. The nutrient cyclers (protozoa, nematodes, etc.) make those nutrients available to plants. Some aerated compost tea will help boost your soil biology as well as high-quality compost.

  15. Jutty

    It’s too hot for my cauliflower to produce a head right now but if I keep them where they’re planted in the garden will they eventually flower when the temperatures decrease? Or should I just chalk it up as a loss and replant some new cauliflower right now for a fall/winter harvest ?

    1. Christy

      HI Jutty, it depends on where you live and how soon cooler weather will come to your garden. It also depends on when you planted your cauliflower. Here in Los Angeles we have a really long summer, so late-spring planted cauliflower is a goner. But if you live somewhere up north where the weather will start cooling down in a month or so, you might be okay. We only plant cauliflower in the fall here in Los Angeles because they just don’t like the heat. If your cauliflower was planted early in the season, and if it hasn’t produced, I’d guess it won’t produce at this point.

  16. Ryan

    This is great information. I have a very similar scenario as Jeff–broccoli growing well next two large cauliflowers 18″ tall with no heads. I planted all at the same time but and harvesting the broccolis tomorrow morning. Should I try to produce heads with these cauliflowers using kelp emulsion or something similar? Or should I cut them and move on with that section of the garden? I live in Manhattan beach ca. Appreciate any advice.

    1. Christy

      At this time of year, I’d say cut your losses. Try growing Romanesco instead of cauliflower next year and you’ll have better luck.

      1. Ryan

        Thanks you for your quick response. I will cut them and have learned a valuable lesson. Cheers!

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