How to Grow Collards: The Complete Guide

Top-down view of a collard green plant
Botanical Name
Brassica oleacea
Plant Type
Sun Exposure

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Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Collard Greens

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Leafy, large, and in charge, collard greens are an easy-to-grow staple in many gardens. This cold-hardy vegetable is a popular fall and winter crop, has many health benefits, and is a favorite savory comfort food in the South. Learn how to plant, grow, and care for wonderful collards.

About Collards

Collards are one of the oldest members of the cabbage or Brassicaceae family, and they look prehistoric! Their species name is Brassica oleracea, the same as kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. Unlike some of their family, collards don’t form a head. Large leafy green foliage is the goal, and collard greens are a favorite in the American South, Africa, and South America. 

Collards are a biennial in moderate climates and will return in spring to make a flower stalk and seed. However, they are usually grown as an annual. They are mildly cold hardy, and some varieties can survive freezing temperatures as low as 15 degrees. 

A dark green leaf, you won’t be surprised to learn that collard greens are packed with nutrients. They’re an excellent source of Vitamin A and C as well as rich in iron, magnesium, calcium,  and potassium. They’re full of antioxidants and contain fiber to aid digestion and lower cholesterol.

Southern-style collards are commonly prepared by simmering with spices and smokey meat for a delicious meal loaded with flavor. If growing your own, wash them thoroughly after bringing them into the kitchen. The large leaves can gather grit and bugs and need a good cleaning. Plan ahead. Unlike wilting kale in your soup, collards are usually cooked for an hour or two.
collard greens in the garden


Collards do best in fertile, well-draining soil. A pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal. They are large plants and benefit from a healthy dose of compost worked into the soil before planting. Select a spot with partial to full sun, at least 4 to 5 hours daily. Leave enough space in your garden–these plants can get quite large.

When to Plant Collard Greens

In warm climates, collards do best when planted in the fall, as this allows them to mature during cooler weather. (They will bolt in the heat of summer!) Plus, collard greens taste even better when “kissed” by frost and will grow through snow. In cooler climates, collards can also be planted in early spring for a late spring or early summer crop. 

  • Spring Planting: 
    • Indoors, start the seeds about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost spring date.
    • Outdoors, direct-sow seeds 2 to 4 weeks before your last spring frost date. 
  • Fall Planting: 
    • Outdoors, direct-sow seeds 2 to 3 months before your first fall frost date.

Gardeners in warm climates with little or no frost can transplant collards outdoors in fall all the way through until spring.

How to Plant Collards

Collards may be started indoors and transplanted or direct seeded in the garden. Starting collards indoors is the method for spring planting, as the seeds will germinate slowly in cold soil. Direct seed in the summer for the fall harvest.

To Start Collards Indoors

  • Sow 2 seeds per cell in standard trays or use soil blocks. 
  • Sow seeds about ¼ inch deep. 
  • After germination, thin to one seedling per cell. 
  • Snip the extras, don’t pull them, or you might damage the roots of the remaining plants. 
  • Seeds germinate better at slightly warmer temperatures, about 75 degrees, but a cool windowsill is fine once sprouted. Once a set of true leaves has been established, they can be transplanted outside.

To Direct-Seed 

  • Sow seeds ½ inch deep in groups of 3 to 4.
  • Space groups about 15 inches apart, in rows 2 feet apart. 
  • Thin to one seedling per group once they have sprouted. 


Collards are easy to grow and make a lush display in your garden. Follow these tips for large, healthy plants. Check this page from the University of Minnesota Extension for more great tips on growing collard greens.

  • Collards like fertile, nitrogen-rich soil to support all that green, leafy vegetation. Provide adequate compost and organic matter.
  • Keep soil moisture even, and don’t let them dry out. Collards will wilt if exposed to warm temperatures and dry soil. 
  • Mulch between plants when they are young. Eventually, the collards will close the canopy and shade out the weeds. However, mulch helps to reduce weeding and maintain an even soil moisture when the plants are young.
  • Water in the morning. The plants will have water available during the hottest part of the day, and their leaves will dry out before cooler night temperatures, reducing foliar disease problems. 
  • Water deeply. Frequent short waterings can encourage shallow roots. Check the soil moisture with your finger about 6 inches down after irrigating. It should be moist but not soggy. 
    fresh collard greens


Collards can provide months of harvesting opportunities, especially with succession planting. Even northern gardeners can enjoy extended harvests of tasty greens.

  • All green parts are edible. The leaves are most tender at 6- to 8-inch leaves long. Use scissors, pruners, or a knife. Start with the larger lower leaves and work up the stalk, leaving the smaller leaves alone to continue growing.  
  • Plants that are thinned can be eaten! Don’t toss them into the compost. Take them into the kitchen.
  • A light frost will enhance the flavor of collards. Keep harvesting until the hard freezes of winter finally kill the plant. 

collard greens harvested in a white and blue bowl

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Cooking Notes

  • The stems are bitter so most people cut out the stem from the leaves before cooking; however, they’re loaded with nutrients so another option is to cook them separately and much longer until tender.
  • To avoid grittiness, wash thoroughly. Soak for 20 minutes and then scrub each leaf. Or, in the store, buy pre-washed collard greens.
  • Serve collard greens with whatever you’d normally serve with cabbage.
  • The most common way to cook Southern-style collards is to first sautée garlic and red pepper flakes in hot olive oil, add hot chicken broth (not water) and bring to a boil, and then add the greens and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until super tender but not mushy. Season with salt, pepper, and distilled white vinegar.
About The Author

Andy Wilcox

Andy Wilcox is a flower farmer and master gardener with a passion for soil health, small producers, forestry, and horticulture. Read More from Andy Wilcox

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