Small kale, are they healthy?

terrafoe(7b-8b)May 3, 2014

Hi everyone,

Over the winter we bought two transplant kales and kept them indoors - one winterbor and one redbor. We kept them in the windowsill that gets the most sun and water it frequently. Until the last couple of weeks we had been harvesting the kale occasionally, but the leaves are not growing back very slowly if they are growing back at all. Is that normal?

The redbor seems to be a bit leggy and on the thin side but the leaves are fine and little things are budding at the joints of past-harvested leaves. I am thinking about planting it outside but am not sure if it can survive.

The winterbor is stouter but seems to have a bit of trouble. A leaf yellows and falls off about every other week and we haven't noticed any new growths coming out at past-harvested locations or at the top. Is something wrong or is the yellowing normal? Why isn't there any new growth at all?

Both plants are about 1-1.5 cm thick at the base of the stem. I have seen pictures of other people's kale and they seem to be much bigger! If anyone has any suggestions on how to make these plants happy I'd love to read them, we were hoping to get more if everything works out.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Why do you suppose they wouldn't survive outside? I expect they aren't thriving because they've been inside too long.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 9:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Redbor survives the winter in Michigan outside, and gives a second crop in March April.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2014 at 9:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


The redbor is very twiggy and has small, small leaves, while the winterbor's leaves keep yellowing and dropping off one by one.

The redbor is ~20 inches tall but has leaves the size of a quarter or smaller. The winterbor is only about 8 inches tall and has about 7-10 leaves just clustered at the very top. Neither look very bush-like and seem, well, rather small, especially when I see other's kale. I guess I'm just worried that if they aren't doing well inside with regulated temperatures and watering how on earth will the plants thrive outside, where it's still chilly and pouring rain (I live in W. Washington). They're not that much bigger than from when we got them.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 12:35AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK's still chilly and pouring rain...

That is the perfect weather for kale. What people are trying to get across to you is that it is one of the hardiest of all vegetables and is never going to grow well indoors. The reason it is sick and stunted is exactly because it is inside with too much heat, too little space and too little light. I harvest all through the winter here and I think we have a similar climate. Wet and mildish winters.

Your kale plants sound pretty much ruined now from being kept in the wrong conditions. So it's probably best to cut your losses and start again. However, you could put your plants into the ground outside and see what they do. They will probably bolt but then you will be seeing how their biennial life cycle works.

Winter is an odd time to be selling or buying kale. It should already have been in the garden in the Autumn so it can stand throughout the winter and feed you fresh greens well into the spring. And you need more than two plants for a reasonable supply. 12 would be about right for 2 people.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 6:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I see. The store helpers told us that the winter would be too cold for the kale to survive because we dip below freezing often, so it would be better to keep them indoors. Guess they underestimated the kale's ability to withstand cold like I did? I know they can survive cooler temperatures but I thought that was more high 40s - 50s F.

I'll do my best to harden them off and replant outside.. hope the size will be much better and they look less twiggy.

I'm the only one interested in having plants around the house so two was the most I could get. We don't depend on them exclusively but only picked a few leaves at a time to enjoy... haven't picked any lately because I was worried about the condition of the plants. If all goes well maybe I will get permission to have more kale around which would be great! Thanks!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 7:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lesson: ignore "store helpers".

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 7:40AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

No kidding, haha!

When I plant the kale outside, should I bury them up to where the leaves begin like for tomatoes? Or would that just make the kale plants rot? There is a lot of bare stem, more so on the winterbor than not.

I don't know if we have any deer around but I have heard kale is one of their favorites. Is this true? What are your experiences with deer and kale? I've read that kale don't like to be planted with tomatoes so I am plotting out where a better place to put them would be.


    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 7:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

If it helps to put it in perspective, our winter was cold enough that my rooster got frostbite on his comb twice. I think we were down in the single digits several nights. Kale survived and is leafing out and blossoming merrily as of today. Kale survival may not look like what you expect, though. Getting down below the 20s the leaves do freeze and die, but the the stem and roots survive and give you lovely tender spring kale.

As for thinking that plants won't thrive in outdoor conditions, it's understandable but very mistaken. Plants prefer outdoor conditions except when you are moving a plant way too far outside it's native climate. Like mangos in Canada or broccoli in the Florida keys. It's true that you have to gradually change them over from inside to outside conditions, and we do grow plants far outside their native habitats. Usually we have sucess when we use the times of yearbthat best mimic the region these came from originally.

If you want more plants around, figure out the "opposition" favorite veg or fruit, I won my husband over with tomatoes, then strawberries sealed the deal. Now he loves fresh vegetables, even ones he thought he didn't like! Also you can look into various pretty veggie plants that integrate well into the flower garden, or even into edible flowers. :)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 10:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As others have diagnosed for you, your kale plants are suffering from being exposed to too high temperatures combined with too low light. Indoors is too warm for kale.
I live in zone 2b in Canada. Kale here shrugs off freezes down to 10 degrees F and remains in top harvestable quality.

Since you live in the wet PNW, I would do as floral suggested and reseed kale outside. If you prefer, you can start it indoors and transplant out after 2 weeks.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 11:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh wow, didn't know kale could survive in temperatures that cold... I will definitely remember that. The chill here doesn't seem so bad for them now, I'll just have to harden them off a bit so they don't go into shock and try to salvage it.

They do like tomatoes, so I will look into that! I'm thinking about Black Krim or Cherokee Purple since both are sold locally but still need to do a little more research before making my decision. I bet they will enjoy having actual tomatoes from home rather than supermarket waterbombs!

Thank you everyone for the help, I really appreciate it. I tried searching and couldn't find anywhere that addressed this problem (probably because most people plant their kale outdoors!) so thanks!


    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 11:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

"They do like tomatoes". I'm not sure I even understand what that means. In what way is kale supposed to 'like' tomatoes? Especially since tomatoes are grown in high summer and kale is a cold weather vegetable. Can you give us some more background to where that idea comes from?

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 12:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

12 kale plants for 2 people??? I can't see two 500 lb people keeping up with 12 kale plants even if all they ate was kale all 3 meals a day, every day!

Terrafoe: 4 plants is more than enough, imo.

I'm interested in the "kale likes tomatoes" statement also. Culinary-wise, yes. Companion planting, no. You want to avoid planting brassicas and tomatoes together.

You've gotten good advice here though. Get those plants outside. You should be able to get kale up there almost year round.


Here is a link that might be useful: companion planting

This post was edited by woohooman on Sun, May 4, 14 at 12:42

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 12:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Well the 12 for 2 was a bit of a guestimate. Normally I rely on self sown Red Russian but when I plant curly kale, i.e. borecole, I usually put in about 12. In season we eat kale 2 or 3 times each week and that seems about right for us. Maybe my plants are just runtier than yours? Certainly it would grow slower in a British winter than a Californian one? Or we eat bigger portions of kale? It cooks down a lot so I would pick a carrier bag full for two people for two meals.

I'm still struggling with the image of a 500lb person ;-)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 1:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

"Lesson: ignore "store helpers"." LOL

I agree about 12 plants being a lot! I grew 6 over the winter and once it took off (which took a while from seed) it was huge and grew back faster than I could keep up with it! In fact, I assumed it wouldn't last so long into spring so planted it where I needed to put my tomatoes and had to yank them.

Also I think the OP wasn't saying kale likes tomatoes but maybe her family does...or the folks she seems to be negotiating with regarding plant choices...;)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 1:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"They do like tomatoes". Oh sorry, I meant my housemates, not the kale. I read that kale doesn't like to live near tomatoes, oops! I'll be planting them in separate locations.

Mine are a really runty so 12 might work out but if they do recover and grow into monster sizes like the ones on youtube/google I probably wouldn't need so many. I'll start small with the two I have and if all goes well I'll try again next season.

Thanks again guys :)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 8:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

The two posters who manage on fewer plants are in z10, so maybe my theory that it grows bigger over the winter there than it does in my climate comes into play here. Mine sits through Dec and Jan doing very little in the way of new growth. When it's picked it doesn't regrow much until Feb and onwards. Maybe that's why I need more plants.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 5:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

floral_uk you are probably right about the climate making a difference - though kale should like your cool season? mine were very small and slow for a long time - and then they got big quickly. i think they got a little more sun - just enough to jumpstart them. or maybe kale seedlings are always slow at first i don't know.

it was also vates kale - maybe also makes a difference.

pictured are two or three of the kale plants (and the sad radicchio that never turned red because it wasn't cold enough?)

it's all an experiment - nothing better than first hand experience which can only be earned in real-time (i keep telling myself lol) so good luck terrafoe! let us know what happens.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 1:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If I grew ONE kale in a pot, would it live? Do they get huge? Since I see only loose leaves in stores I don't know how big they get.
I'd like to grow one just for snipping off small leaves for salad. Or would small leaves have a bitter taste?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 11:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Mine are definitely living but they're pretty small and seems to be stunted / stopped growing now... maybe kale would more successful in a bigger container, outside, and with better care. I'm not used to gardening so it might have suffered some mistakes that I am not aware of. The leaves I was able to harvest were about one finger-length (not including stem). I know for sure they can be much bigger than that but I don't know if they can reach that size in a pot.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 11:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Deeby: If I can remember, I'll take a pic of mine in containers. I usually go in ground with kale, but thought I'd give a shot in containers this time around so I could free up some space. Since Kale lasts so long, the bigger the container, the better.

Actually, I would think the inner(younger) leaves would tend to be less bitter. NOT the INNERMOST(youngEST) though... you want to leaves those growing.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 12:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I don't think leaf size affects bitterness in kale so much as current growing temperatures. The warmer the weather the more gross it tastes, the cooler the temps, the sweeter. But that's a general rule of thumb.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 9:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

slowjane - those are about the same size as mine get to. Our winters, though mild by northern US standards, are still pretty chilly and there is very little sun so the kale doesn't actually grow much. It grows well until December and then gets going again around February.

We eat it almost exclusively cooked so that might be another reason why we get through quite a lot. It cooks down considerably.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 11:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Natures_Nature(5 OH)

Lesson guys, he's not joking, IGNORE store associates.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 11:57AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
slowjane CA/ Sunset 21

it does certainly depend on how much you want to be harvesting - and around here truth be told, i'm the one that likes kale, so maybe those six plants were really just for me. ;)

and yes cooking it certainly reduces the volume. not quite as bad as spinach - i woul say you need quite a few spinach plants if you plan to steam it or saute it.

floral_uk i'm jealous that you can grow it during more of the year! it's heating up around here and now i'm just trying to keep everything from croaking in the heat wave.

also - when i yanked my big kale plants the main root was probably only 6 inches - you could certainly grow them in containers outside i would think - which might be easier if you don't normally plant directly in the ground terrafoe.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 1:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We don't have a lot of ground space and the bed that we did prepare this year is going to hold a friends' plants, if I remember rightly. We do have a lot of large containers so I might try growing the recovered kale in them, outside.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks, everyone. I just hope the garden center has individual pots of kale so I don't have to buy a 6 pack. But summer's coming-do I wait until fall to get one or start a seed or two? If so, when?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 5:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Slowjane: You can grow it throughout the summer. Just mulch and keep watered. I keep mine going for a good year and a half or 2 before it finally tuckers out.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 5:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Flora, what varieties do you grow? I've heard that the variety Pentland Brig is popular over there, so I'm trying some out here. Red Russian and Lacinato are pretty standard on this side of the pond.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 11:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Mostly Red Russian because it self sows and I find it the sweetest and most tender. It almost tastes as if it already has butter on it. I've also grown Winterbor and Pentland Brig but can't tell much difference between the various curly kales. I sometimes grow Cavolo Nero but nowadays I mainly just let the Red Russian grow itself. I grew Redbor once but it was a pitiful plant compared with the green ones when I tried it.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 12:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi, just wanted to do a small update:

Both kales are now permanently outside! The redbor has recovered brilliantly and is pushing out little leaves at every crevice and branch. Tasty :) Unfortunately, the winterbor is still yellowing and dropping its older leaves at about the same rate it is growing new baby ones, at the very tippy top. I'm wondering if it's too hot for winterbor already? Haven't felt confident enough to try a taste and see if the leaves are getting bitter since there aren't that much left.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 9:36PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Artichoke Failure, HELP!!!
I am in zone 7a, middle TN, and attempting to grow...
Frost damaged lettuce transplants
Hi all, Transplanted some lettuce outside last week...
What's your favorite?
Asparagus sprouts getting TALL
Planted them on 3/9, in small 2-inch pots, potting...
Planting where dog used to poop
We haven't had a god in two years. Is it okay to plant...
Sponsored Products
Alternating Current Pendant Lights Array 4-Light Polished Chrome Small Pendant
Home Depot
Aston Court Small Flush Mount Ceiling Light
$107.00 | Bellacor
Turquoise Blue Metallic -Satin White Shade Double Gourd Lamp
Lamps Plus
Ambiance Hammered Copper LED Small Domed Cylindrical Wall Sconce with Closed Top
$288.00 | Bellacor
ECR4KIDS Small Block Storage Cart - ELR-17200
$114.19 | Hayneedle
White Low-Voltage MicroPlush Top Warming Pad
$74.99 | zulily
Majestic Pet Orthopedic Double Pet Bed - 78899561340
$68.99 | Hayneedle
Mod Twig Pillow Cover
$29.99 | Dot & Bo
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™