Is Kale Annual or Biennial?

balsam_girlJuly 4, 2008


As an experiment I'm growing kale instead of collards this year as a late season green. My red Russian kale is doing wonderfully and is attractive to look at too. But now I read that kale is an annual plant and goes to seed the first year, but in another place it says that kale is a biennial meaning it won't go to seed the first year.

What is correct?

Collards are wonderful because they don't go to seed that first year, and produce greens until frozen solid and buried in the snow. Have I made a mistake growing kale instead, and will my kale plants go to seed mid-summer like mustard does before I want to harvest them?


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Good question. I have never planted kale in the early spring nor known anyone who did. Planted in late spring (June) or summer it is does not bolt until the next spring. I have always considered it an annual, but a lot of biennials can be confused by planting times. Both cabbage and cabbages can bolt the first year if conditions are right.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 12:28PM
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I've had red russian as a self-sown perennial for years. It seeds the second year normally when spring-sown, though a minority of plants may bolt in the fall. Over-wintered normal specimens go to flower very early in the second spring (the typical pattern for all cabbage-family), by early may for this area. Those plants make some of the earliest greens in my garden.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 12:53PM
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That's good news for me then! This is Zone 3 with a short summer and abrupt cold snaps beginning as early as Sept. and Oct. From the posts above, it sounds like even spring sown RR kale (set my starter plants out in late May), will probably go thru the first season without seeding. I'll find out!

I would love to collect my own kale seed, so I'll mulch or cover a couple of them to get them thru the winter. Not sure if they will survive a far northern winter tho, but worth a try if I like them as table fodder as much or better than collards. All the books say kale is even more hardy than collards.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 5:02PM
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I don't think RR is quite as hardy as winterbore and other green types. When we get cold snaps prolonged much below 10 degrees it tends to kill them. Most winters here it stays above that, so they fly through. Of course, if you get good early snow-cover (we don't), then it won't matter how cold it gets.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 5:46PM
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It's a biennial, and -- as pnbrown says -- once established Russian kale volunteers like mad. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 6:47PM
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What are your favorite kale varieties by how they taste as a cooked green?

If I could find a super hardy variety that tastes as good as collards I'd gladly try it for next year. The RR kale is a good strong vigorous plant and is doing very well, growing faster and stronger (and with less watering) than my brocolli or Brussels sprouts.

Around here in winter 10 F. is considered warm, so maybe the RR kale won't overwinter as we don't always get deep snow. Over the years I've had 1 or 2 smaller collard plants overwinter, but normally not. Last winter, however, I had a small brussel sprouts make it thru until spring buried in the snow. However, within a week or so it completely vanished without a trace roots and all!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 12:02PM
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Zone 3 is pretty rough, even for kale. Tricking early-started plants into bolting in the fall might be a useful strategy for you. Start them inside quite early, and then set them out in a cold-frame so they don't get frost-killed but are certain to get a lot of chill hours. They will think that they are going through real winter. Some of them should go to seed in late summer.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 1:45PM
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I've never heard of doing that before and it's good advice. I imagine it would work with collards too. Thanks for the tip!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 10:44AM
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topsiebeezelbub(z7 Al)

I planted kale seeds in January and it did not bolt till the second summer. I planted some in October and it DID bolt the next spring. About half of my cabbages made heads, and half bolted, so I am still confused.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 3:43PM
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You may be witnessing genetic variation within the strain. This is the kind of thing that will save us if we can't buy seeds at some point.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:58PM
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