Kale Spacing 101 (Important Dos & Don’ts)
To grow kale to maturity, you need to give it a lot of room, usually between 18 and 24 inches on all sides. But you can get away with planting kale close together if your goal is to grow baby kale leaves or to produce microgreens. The spacing needs for ornamental kale are also somewhat different than the spacing for edible kale. Ornamental varieties can thrive in more cramped conditions, since they are smaller plants.
Kale Spacing Needs
Depending on the variety of kale you grow, it can be a pretty big plant. Most varieties are at least two feet tall, although some can grow up to three feet. Some varieties will grow up to two feet in width.
The more room kale has to spread out in, the bigger the plant will get. It will also be healthier, since more room means more airflow. In cramped conditions, it’s easier for fungus and bacteria to spread, leading to disease. How close you plant kale in the garden depends in part on whether you’re planting seeds or transplants.
Spacing When Planting Seeds
In the video below from Grow Organic Peaceful Valley, the gardener walks you through the process of direct sowing kale seeds in your garden. Direct sowing means you start the plants from seed, outdoors, right in the spot they will grow in.
When direct sowing kale seeds, you want to plant each seed about 1/4 to a 1/2 inch deep. Each seed should be space about one inch apart.
That might seem like it’s too close together for the kale to grow healthfully. It is. But, when you plant seeds you have no way of knowing how many will actually germinated and produce a plant. It’s better to overplant than to underplant.
After a few weeks, your kale seedlings should have a few sets of true leaves. Now is the time to thin the plants, giving them ample room to grow into mature kale. Cut the mini kale plants down right at the soil line. You can eat the baby plants in a salad or toss them away.
Once you’ve thinned the plants, you should have one kale plant every 12 or 18 inches. Leave at least one foot of space between each of the plants.
Spacing When Planting Transplants
Since you don’t have to thin transplants when you plant them in the garden, you want to start out giving them enough room to grow. The general recommendation is to plant transplants 12 inches apart. If you’re planting multiple rows, you’ll want to space the rows at least 18 inches apart, according to Harvest to Table.
In a video for Ehow Garden, horticultural designer Angela Price takes a different approach. She argues for planting kale seedlings closer together, about six inches apart. She states that planting kale closer together allows her to grow more in a smaller space. She also argues that the plants help protect each other when they are closer together. Check it out:
Spacing for Baby Kale
If you don’t have the room to grow full-sized kale plants or if you prefer the taste of young kale leaves, it might make more sense to grow baby kale or even micro kale greens in your garden.
Baby kale and microgreens are the same plants as full-sized kale. You simply harvest them earlier, so that they don’t have a chance to grow large.
To grow baby kale, plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep in your garden or in a wide, shallow container. Space the seeds about one inch apart. The baby kale will be ready to harvest when it has about three sets of leaves.
If you cut the kale leaves off, leaving about an inch of stem, the plant will regrow, according to BBB Seed. You’ll be able to harvest another batch of baby kale after a few more weeks.
The rules for kale spacing are very different your goal is to grow micro greens, or kale sprouts. You’ll want to plant the seeds very closely together, so that you end up with a dense carpet of tiny greens.
In the video above from Kings Seeds, a gardener plants more than 1,000 kale seeds in a shallow tray.
Since you harvest the micro greens pretty much right after they sprout, you don’t need to worry about allowing any space between the seeds. You still want to make sure you plant the seeds deep enough in the soil.
Spacing for Kale in Containers
Kale does well when grown in containers, whether you are growing a full-sized plant to maturity or growing baby kale. If you are planting baby kale in a container, use the same spacing you would use in an in-ground garden, leaving about an inch between seeds.
To grow one or two full-sized kale plants, choose a pot that is at least 12 inches in diameter. If you want to grow more than two plants to maturity, it’s a good idea to choose containers that are wide enough to leave about a foot between each of the plants.
Spacing for Ornamental Kale
Ornamental or flowering kale varieties are usually smaller than varieties grown for food. That means you can plant them closer together in the garden or can plant more in a single pot.
According to Bonnie Plants, you should leave about a foot between each ornamental kale plant. But if you live in a cold area, where the kale won’t have much of a chance to grow before the frost hits, you can leave less room between each plant.
How close or far apart you space kale depends on your goals and the needs of your garden. If you’ve only got a small space, but want to enjoy lots of kale, it can be worth crowding the plants to grow baby leaves or microgreens. If you have room to spread out, you might as well grow a few plants to maturity.
Photo by Nick Saltmarh licensed under CC BY 2.0.