Broccoli rabe is the often confused cousin of broccolini or Chinese broccoli.
This crucifer offers a bitter, powerful taste. You’d be surprised at how different it is from traditional broccoli.
(That’s because it’s more related to turnips than broccoli!)
It’s definitely a nice alternative to the boring flavor of broccoli when you really want a kick in the mouth.
Let’s dive in and learn about how to care and grow broccoli rabe.
Cover photo background by Forest and Kim Starr, CC BY 2.0.
Quick care guide: Broccoli rabe
|Plant type||Perennial, Annual (depends on harvest type)|
|Scientific name||Brassica rapa|
|Other names||Broccoli raab, rapini|
|Soil type||Loamy, rich, fertile, well-draining|
|Soil pH||6.0-7.0 (slightly acidic)|
|Sunlight requirement||Full sun|
|Bloom season||Spring, summer, fall|
|Colors||Green, yellow, white|
|Max height||30 inches|
|Max width||12 inches|
|Ideal temperature range||60-65F|
|Watering requirements||Often during first year of growth, spring, and summer|
|Days until germination||2-3 weeks|
|Days until harvest||50-70 days|
|Days until bloom||35 days|
|Speed of growth||Fast|
|Hardiness zones||3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10|
|Plant depth||0.25 inches|
|Plant spacing||6-8 inches|
|Plant with||Spinach, bush bean, shallots, leeks, celery, beets, onions, cucumber, tomatoes, potatoes, chards, lettuces|
|Don’t plant with||Plants in the same family|
|Common pests||Cabbage loopers, flea beetles, aphids, leaf miners, and cutworms|
|Common diseases||Leaf spot, downy mildew, clubroot, powdery mildew, damping off, and other related problems.|
|Grown in container||Yes|
|Care level||Low (very easy)|
|Uses||Decoration, edible crop, decor, Asian dishes, salads, soups, garnishing|
What’s broccoli rabe?
Broccoli rabe is a cool-season veggie that’s super easy to add to your garden of edible crops.
Also known as rapini or broccoli raab, it’s commonly overlooked here in the US, but it shouldn’t be.
This veggie is more popular over in the eastern continents but can be propagated here in the west.
It offers a different taste, texture, and appearance compared to regular broccoli that we’re used to.
You may find yourself preferring it over regular broccoli once you give it a try!
But it gets its name from the small bunches of broccoli heads that it grows. There’s the main head with small side shoots that grow outward.
The clusters of buds, leaves, and stems are all edible and can be added to soups, Asian dishes, and other exotic recipes.
What does it taste like?
Compared to regular steamed broccoli, broccoli rabe has a bitter flavor profile.
It’s often described as a mix of turnip, kale, or mustard greens. It’s strong, pungent, and nutty.
It’s not for everyone, but I’d say it’s definitely an acquired taste.
Once you get used to it, you’ll appreciate the expansive recipes you can use it in.
Broccoli rabe vs. “regular broccoli”
Broccolini isn’t the same as broccolini. Or broccoli.
They’re often confused, but they’re completely different species. Broccoli rabe isn’t even in the same family- they’re considered related to turnips.
Their flavor is nuttier, bitter, and something different. People get confused over other broccoli types like Chinese or Italian broccolini. But they’re NOT the same!
Where to get seeds
Broccoli rabe is hard to find in the nursery, so you’ll probably have to find the seeds. You can often just order them online from specialty stores that ship to your location.
The thing to keep in mind is that you want to make sure that the cultivar you’re getting grows in your hardiness zone.
Perennial or annual?
It depends on how you wanna grow it. If you’re in the right temperature, it can be grown as both. If you’re not in the right zone, it’s generally grown as an annual.
It can tolerate some cold, so it’s definitely possible to grow as a perennial if your winters aren’t so bad.
Otherwise, you can keep replanting it over and over with its quick time to harvest for people that are in cooler zones.
Types of broccoli rabe
There are lots of different types you can find online. Here’s a list of the most popular types and a bit about each one:
Sessantina (thick, large, bitter leaves)
This particular cultivar grows about 13 inches tall and will be ready to pick in just under 40 days.
It’s an early harvest type that’s perfect for those looking to get some quick yields in just a few weeks. You can plant it in nearly any season except summer so it’s versatile.
Sorrento is a branching broccoli with large, 3-inch leaves.
They grow up to 30 inches tall and are ready to harvest in just under two months. If you’re all about the leaves, this Sorrento is a good choice. The florets are large with no central head.
Zamboni is all about yield.
If all you care about is getting a ton of leaves, then this is one type to consider. It has tons of side shoots and will produce small blue or green leaves.
The buds are large and the plant will reach heights of 20 inches or so. This one will take a bit more time to fully become harvest-ready, but this allows more time to prevent bolting.
It’s also hardier against high heat.
How to propagate broccoli rabe
Propagating it is straightforward just like any other edible.
It can be planted from seeds or seedlings, depending on what’s available to you.
Note that broccoli rabe is considered an invasive vegetable in some areas, which means it may not be legal to grow it there. Do your research before planting.
When to plant
The best time to plant it is in the spring or fall. If you’re growing in the spring, you need to find out when the temperatures will get hot and count backward.
This is because you want to harvest it BEFORE it gets really hot outside because it’ll bolt, which then makes it really bitter and basically inedible.
Calculate the best time to plant
So, to calculate when to sow, you should find out when your peak summer temperatures are.
Then count backward. It needs just about 6-8 weeks to be ready for picking in the garden.
So you should plant about 10 weeks before the heat comes in to give yourself a cushion.
For spring plantings, sow them about the same time before the last spring frost date. This is just as important because they can be wiped out from the cold.
For fall plantings, sow before the first fall frost. It all varies depending on where you’re located and how you want to grow them.
Starting from seed
If you have a pack of seeds, read the directions on the pack of the packet.
This covers a lot of detailed info, such as the right time to plant and days to harvest. It’ll give you everything you need to know in one place.
If you have unfavorable conditions outside, it’s wise to start indoors.
Use a generic seed starter and fill it up with the same soil you plan to use later on in the plant bed. This will reduce plant shock.
Put 2-3 seeds per compartment about a quarter-inch into the soil. Water generously.
Keep it humid with a cover or plastic wrap until they germinate. Don’t overwater.
When they germinate, you can thin to one seedling per compartment. Then transplant the strongest one outside to your garden.
Prepare your soil before you transplant. Use rotted compost for high nutrition profile.
Plant each seedling about 8 inches apart. Aim for a place with low humidity, as high humidity can rot your plants. Dig a hole about 1” deep and place the roots in there. Fill the gaps with soil.
The crown should be soil level, not below or above it. It shouldn’t’ be exposed.
Water generously. You’re all set!
Otherwise, broccoli rabe can be grown directly in the garden.
This makes it easy because you don’t have to transplant them later on which can shock them. If you direct sow, you’re saving time plus increasing the chance of success.
The only reason you should sow indoors is if the outside environment isn’t favorable for seedlings, as they’re vulnerable to temperature swings.
Otherwise, sow directly for the easier way.
First, prepare your plant bed. Use well-draining, fertile soil. Add compost to help feed it. Organic is preferred. Water it generously to make it wet for growing but don’t overdo it.
Place each seed about 0.25” deep into the soil. Space each seed 2” apart. You only need tiny holes, so you can use your fingers to make them. Smooth out the planting soil so it’s level.
It should be wet from the previous watering before you sowed. If you didn’t, then go ahead and give it a good watering.
You should expect to see the seedlings come out within just a week or two. They grow quickly. No need for impatience here.
Continue to water them and keep them moist. When they develop a few pairs of true leaves you can thin them to 6-8 inches apart.
Thin by snipping at the leaves, not pulling. Their roots may be tangled with their companions, so this may disrupt and destroy root systems nearby of the plants you want to keep. Be gentle.
Use the trimmings for your compost or salads.
How to grow broccoli rabe
Here are some general tips and general care guidelines to maximize your broccoli yield.
These may vary depending on the type you’re growing within your hardiness zone.
However, they should work for most species and you can use them like general TLC suggestions.
Broccoli rabe is grown best in hardiness zones 3-10.
If you’re growing outside these zones, it’s still possible, albeit you may have to add some mulch so it doesn’t get destroyed by the winter.
If you’re in a warmer zone, you can plant it in partial sunlight so you don’t burn it. Remember that it prefers cooler temperatures, so it’s not to be grown in scorching hot summers.
You’ll end up with wilted leaves, small heads, and possibly dried stems! If you have hot summers, use an artificial shade like umbrellas to protect it.
Choose a fertile, well-draining soil that’s free of debris.
Broccoli rabe likes soil that’s semi-firm so it presses against the plant.
Rich, fertile soil develops healthy roots and that bitter flavor that we all crave. Right?
Broccoli rabe should be planted in a soil range of 6.0-7.0. Get a soil kit to test your soil’s pH if you don’t know it.
If it’s too high, you can amend it with some limestone to help get it within range.
While pH won’t make or break your broccoli harvest anyway, it’s good to get it within the acidic range to help encourage proper flavor.
Space each plant about 6-8 inches apart or more after thinning.
They grow well when they don’t have a ton of plants seeping up all the nutrition. Space as far apart as possible while fitting them together.
If you’re growing a lot, a row formation is efficent.
Plant each seed 0.25 inches or so. Pack firmly.
Broccoli rabe is a full sun cruciferous veggie.
It needs plenty of sunlight and nutrients to produce those full, fleshy yields.
Zones 3-10 should plant it somewhere that gets afternoon sun, rather than the daytime sun.
Provide at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but don’t scorch it if it’s a hot day. Partial sunlight is also possible if you’re in a warmer zone.
Broccoli rabe should be kept between 60-65F ideally.
If temperatures swing down into the 40s at night, that’s OK. If it gets colder, add some mulch. If it gets hotter, plant in partial shade or use some fake shade from umbrellas.
Keep humidity moderate. Don’t overwater to keep it down. If it gets too high and variation is poor, fungus may develop on your plant.
You can prune your plants, provide good spacing, and water less often to bring it down.
Use a high quality organic fertilizer. A balanced plant food with an NPK of 10-10-10 should do the trick.
If you want to discourage leggy leaves, use less nitrogen.
Use as directed and feed it before the growing season.
Supplement during the season as well. Fish emulsion or other organic fertilizers. Use natural or organic plant food only.
Mulching should be done to help insulate the temperature when it gets hot or cold. It prevents spikes and swings, which can make your plant wilt.
It also helps retain water, reduce weeds, and puts in some nutrition to the soil profile. You can mulch with straw, leaf litter, or organic compost.
Combining mulch with compost is also a possibility.
Provide plenty of water to keep the soil moist, but never wet.
During peak summers when the temps are high, make sure that you water only the base of the plant.
Watering anything else like the leaves, flowers, or stems may encourage the formation of fungus. Humidity should be minimized by spacing them apart from each other and they should be pruned regularly.
The flowers generally come out around 35 days and the plant becomes harvest-ready shortly afterwards.
Drip irrigation works the most efficiently compared to spraying them down with a hose.
Water ONLY the base of the plant. Don’t water the leaves, stem, or flowers. This may lead to rot or fungus problem.
Prune your broccoli regularly to help prevent the formation of rot.
Prune off spent flowers, brown leaves, or anytime the leaves shoot off to the sides where they shouldn’t be going.
If you’re having issues with fungus or leaf spot, you may not be pruning your leaves enough.
Broccoli rabe requires no maintenance other than regular watering, pruning, picking, fertilizing, and mulching.
Otherwise, it’s a very easy edible that’s perfect for beginners to get into the hobby.
Broccoli rabe will be ready to pick 6-8 weeks upon sowing.
This varies depending on the local environment, temperatures, water availability, cultivar type, and plant food.
However, you should get a ready-to-harvest time window between those averages. An easy way to tell when your broccoli is ready to harvest is to look at the flower buds.
They develop in the center o the plant and will slowly open up. Harvest before they begin to flower.
Get a clean pair of pruners. Snip the broccoli in the daytime rather than the evening or afternoon.
This is because crucifers are generally more crunchy in the mornings so you can use them that same day for salads. Use rubbing alcohol to sterilize your pruners.
Do a clean snip of the leaves, giving about 4-5 inches of stem. You should be left with just a few inches of stem so it can regrow. Broccoli rabe is a “cut and come again” plant.
Harvest when the buds are ready to bloom. The perfect timing is right before they do so. Waiting too long will result in an extra bitter flavor.
Some people like that. But I’d hazard a guess that most don’t!
After you pick your broccoli rabe, you can use them immediately in your soups, salads, or cook them up for your favorite dishes.
They can be stored in the fridge when moist for a few days. Use a paper towel and put the leaves between the towel.
Soak it and then put it in a glass container for storage. Use within 3 days for freshness. You should only pick what you need.
If you plan to only cook a single dish, then you should only pick as needed.
Save the rest for the next recipe that calls for broccoli rabe.
Broccoli rabe can handle the winter on its own.
So you don’t need to worry if you’re in a higher zone. But if you’re not, you may need to add compost or mulch to shield it from the cold.
Rapini can tolerate temperature dips into the 30F range.
If you want to plant more next year, you can harvest the seeds from the yellow flowers.
Save them in a dry envelope and replant next season.
When the temperatures pick up during the peak of summer, your broccoli will begin bolting.
This is when it produces seeds from the flowering for the next season.
While this is good for propagating broccoli rabe, it’s bad for the flavor of your crucifers.
It makes them extremely bitter, tough, and not edible.
To prevent bolting, you can harvest as soon as you see the flower buds appear.
Additionally, some types of rabe don’t bolt as easily.
Can you grow broccoli rabe in pots?
Yes, you can grow broccoli rabe in pots.
Get a pot that’s wide and deep enough to sustain those roots.
The general care is the same, but you need to avoid overwatering and use well-draining soil.
Avoid using excess fertilizer because the buildup is easy in a pot.
Some of the most common pests that’ll eat broccoli rabe are the same ones that’ll eat other crucifers.
Cabbage loopers, flea beetles, aphids, leaf miners, and cutworms are all common.
Gastropods like slugs and snails may be seen chewing on the plant’s large leaves since they’re easily reached by pests.
They can be ridden with insecticidal soap, manual removal, pruning, and organic pesticides.
Don’t use anything that’s not approved for use on edibles because, well, you’ll be eating it.
Broccoli raab is vulnerable to leaf spot, downy mildew, clubroot, powdery mildew, damping off, and other related problems.
These are generally caused by fungus and appears when the soil is too wet, or there are high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer.
Broccoli rabe can be planted with a variety of companion plants.
As you can see, broccoli can be compatible with lots of different vegetables.
The best use for rabe is to eat! While it does look pretty sitting in the garden, it’s prettier in your mouth when you’re crunching on the leaves.
Some recipes worth trying out that are super easy to cook:
- Sauteed broccoli rabe
- Garlicky broccoli rabe
- Rabe with caramelized onions
- Roasted rabe
You can substitute rabe for broccolini or Chinese broccoli. It can also be used in soups or salads. It adds a bitter flavor that you may not be used to, so be aware of that.
Other common question about broccoli rabe care
Here are some other questions asked by readers.
You may find these useful for caring for your own broccoli:
Is it easy to grow?
Yes, broccoli rabe is easy to grow and good for beginners.
Even if you’ve never grown veggies before, you’ll find that it needs minimal care.
How do you know when it’s ready to pick?
The easiest way is to look for the small buds on the stem.
When they show up, it’s time to pick. If you wait until it’s too late, they’ll bloom and your leaves will be bitter.
Is broccoli rabe cut and come again?
Yes, if you cut them correctly. They should be cut with a few inches of stem left so they can grow back. Don’t cut too deeply if you want to encourage a second harvest.
When is it in season?
It depends on the cultivar.
Some bloom early in the late spring to early summer, while others will be ready in the summer. The local environment plays a role.
Can you eat the yellow flowers on it?
You can eat the stem, leaves, and flowers if you wish. They taste pretty bitter though. They can be put on your dishes as a plating decor.
Is it the same as broccolini?
It’s very similar, but it’s not the same.
Broccoli rabe is a mix of broccoli and Chinese broccoli.
They’re not exactly the same as either veggie, but rather a combo of both. They can be substituted for each other if needed.
Can you eat the leaves?
Yes, the leaves are completely edible.
That’s the whole point of growing broccoli rabe.
Use them in salads, soups, or Chinese recipes.
- First Garden Meal – Broccoli Rabe – Reddit
- Rapini – Wikipedia
- Rapini — Broccoli Rabe – Science of Cooking
Enjoy your broccoli rabe!
Now that you know how to grow and care for your own plot of broccoli rabe, go ahead and grow them.
You’ll find that bitter nutty taste is something unique and acquired, but once you do, you may never go back to your regular boring broccoli!
If you have any questions, tips to share, or tricks to give, post a comment!
Broccoli rabe is the unknown cousin between Chinese broccoli and broccolini.
I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I never took it seriously until I was forcefully gifted an orchid. This was what got me into the hobby and I’ve never looked back. I enjoy writing about it, but not nearly as much as getting into the dirt and sculpting the perfect decorative ornamental to enjoy for the times.