Lacinato kale is my favorite type of kale to grow. The plants form beautiful rosettes of blue-green leaves that are perfect for the vegetable or flower garden. The leaves are thinner and more tender than other types of kale making this an excellent choice for both raw and cooked dishes. Plus, it’s quick and easy to grow with a baby crop ready to harvest a month from seeding and mature leaves just four weeks later. Keep reading to learn how to grow a bumper crop of lacinato kale.
What is lacinato kale?
Lacinato kale is an heirloom vegetable from Italy with many names including dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, Cavolo Nero, Toscana kale, Italian kale, and black kale. It’s a member of the cabbage family and related to crops like collards, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. Lacinato is one of the most ornamental vegetables I grow and everyone loves its unique form and foliage. The plants can grow up to three feet tall and when mature look a bit like miniature palm trees with a rosette of narrow leaves held atop straight stems. This unique kale is tolerant of both hot and cold weather, but is less winter hardy than varieties like Winterbor and Red Russian.
When to plant lacinato kale
Because it’s both heat and cold tolerant, lacinato kale has a long planting season. You can direct seed or transplant as early as two to three weeks before the last spring frost and as late as six to eight weeks before the first fall frost. Ideal soil temperatures for seeding and transplanting are 55 F (10 C) to 77 F (25 C). When sowing seed in mid to late summer for a fall or winter harvest, I like to float a length of row cover or shadecloth over top the bed on hoops for the first week after planting. The summer weather is often hot and dry and providing a bit of shade helps reduce water evaporation from the soil and encourage good germination. Once you see the sprouts emerging from the soil, you can remove the cover. I talk about the many benefits of using garden covers in my book, Growing Under Cover.
How to plant lacinato kale
Kale grows best when planted in a site that offers eight to ten hours of sunshine each day. That said, you can grow kale in a partially shaded site with only four to six hours of light, but the plants will grow slower and yield fewer leaves. Kale likes well-draining, fertile soil so amend the bed with compost or aged manure before planting. If your soil isn’t particularly fertile, apply a balanced organic granular fertilizer before planting. Lacinato kale can be direct seeded in the spring garden or started indoors and transplanted outside once the seedlings are a few inches tall. Learn more below about these two planting methods below.
Starting the seeds indoors
Plant kale seeds in pots or cell packs and trays that are filled with a high quality potting mix. Plant one to two seeds per cell sowing them just a quarter of an inch deep. Place the containers in a sunny window or beneath a grow light giving them 14 to 16 hours of light each day.
Keep the soil lightly moist, but not wet as the seeds germinate and begin to grow. Once the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, feed them with a diluted liquid organic fertilizer at half the recommended rate. Harden off the young plants before moving them to the garden. Learn how to harden off seedlings in this detailed article.
Direct seeding lacinato kale
Lacinato kale can also be direct seeded in garden beds and containers. There are two main ways to do this:
- Direct seeding for mature plants – This is how I plant if I want plenty of large leaves for kale chips, soups, and pastas. Direct sow the seeds, spacing them about four inches apart and just a quarter inch deep. Once the seedlings are a couple of inches tall, thin them 12 to 18 inches apart (be sure to eat the thinnings).
- Direct seeding for baby leaves – Lacinato kale makes an excellent baby salad green when seeded densely in spring or fall. This is a quick way to grow greens with the leaves ready to pick just four to five weeks from seeding. To plant, sprinkle the seeds as evenly as you can, trying to space them around two inches apart. Again, plant them a scant quarter inch deep. Don’t worry if you’ve sown the seed a bit too thickly. As the seedlings grow you can always thin them out.
Once you’ve direct sown the seeds keep the soil evenly moist until the seeds germinate and are growing well.
Growing lacinato kale
Lacinato kale is an easy to grow, low-maintenance vegetable. It’s one of the reasons why I love it so much! Like most greens, it needs regular moisture. I water the plants deeply once a week if there has been no rain from late spring though early autumn. Mulching the soil with shredded leaves or straw holds soil moisture and reduces the need to irrigate. If you didn’t incorporate any fertilizer at planting time, give the plants a dose of a liquid organic food every few weeks during the growing season. I use a fish emulsion or kelp based fertlizer.
Growing lacinato kale in containers
I plant lacinato kale in my raised beds but I also grow it in containers on my sunny deck. The plants make striking container plants, and pair well with other vegetables, herbs, and flowers. In fact, it’s one of my favourite plants to include in an ornamental container as it adds height, but the unique color and texture of the foliage also compliments ornamentals like marigolds, petunias, coleus, and lantana.
Because kale can grow several feet tall, plant in large pots or fabric planters. Fill containers with a mixture of high-quality potting mix and compost (I usually use two-thirds potting mix and one-third compost). You can also add a slow release organic granular fertilizer to the growing medium to promote steady growth all season long. Transplant seedlings or direct seed lacinato kale by sowing the seeds just a quarter of an inch deep in mid to late spring. Keep the soil consistently moist to encourage good germination. As the plants grow continue to water regularly and keep an eye out for pests like cabbage worms.
Common kale pests
In my garden I often battle two pests on my kale plants: slugs and imported cabbage worms. To control slugs I hand-pick and use diatomaceous earth on the soil surface. I find hand-picking early in the season is a great way to put a dent in the overall slug population. To learn more about organic slug control, be sure to check out this excellent article by Jessica.
Imported cabbage worms are one of the more common pests of kale. The adult butterflies start the cycle by laying eggs on the leaves of the plants. Soon green caterpillars emerge and begin to eat the leaves and stems. They can be hard to spot as they are well camouflaged against the blue-green leaves of Lacinato kale. There are a few ways to approach imported cabbage worm control:
- Do nothing and allow the birds or beneficial insects in your yard to eat the caterpillars.
- Hand pick eggs and caterpillars from the tops and bottoms of the leaves a few times a week. The tiny yellow eggs are oval in shape. Wipe them from the plants with a gloved hand and place any caterpillars in a container. Dispose of them once you’ve finished examining all your plants.
- Create a preventative barrier by covering plants with a lightweight floating row cover or insect barrier mesh to prevent the adult butterflies from laying eggs on the plants. These materials must be put in place as soon as the seeds or seedlings are planted. Float the covers on hoops for a tidy look or lay them directly on top of the bed.
- Use an organic product that contains Bt or spinosad.
Want to learn more about growing lacinato kale? Watch this video:
When to harvest
Lacinato kale is a quick growing green and impatient gardeners won’t have to wait too long for that first harvest. You can enjoy the leaves as baby greens and start picking them when the leaves are two to three inches in length. These tender greens have a mild flavor and are perfect for kale salad as well as sandwiches and wraps. You can pull the entire young plant or just pinch off a leaf or two from each plant and leave them to continue growing.
The other way to eat lacinato kale is to harvest the mature leaves. They grow about a foot long and make high quality kale chips, as well as a nutritious ingredient for soups, salads and pastas. Large leaves are ready to clip about two months from planting. Again, aim to pick the outer, or lowermost leaves of the plant so the centre can keep growing. Kale leaves are easy to break off so you don’t need any special equipment. If you want a clean cut, use a pair of herb snips. Here’s an article on how to freeze kale for later use.
Types of lacinato kale
There are several varieties of lacinato kale available through seed companies, often labelled as dinosaur or Toscano kale. Lacinato has also been crossed with other varieties of kale to create unique and beautiful cultivars.
- Toscano – This is a traditional variety with narrow, strap-like leaves in a deep shade of blue-green. The plants grow two and a half to three feet tall, but can also be sowed densely for baby salad leaves.
- Black Magic – Black Magic is an improved variety with vigorous, uniform growth and better cold tolerance and bolt resistance. It grows about 20 inches tall with dark blue-green leaves.
- Rainbow Lacinato – I love this gorgeous variety by famed breeder Frank Morton. He crossed Lacinato kale with Redbor kale which resulted in flamboyant, multi-colored plants. Some have leaves with more blue-green coloring while others are tinted in purple or burgundy. Rainbow lacinato is more cold hardy than lacinato kale.
- Dazzling Blue – This is another multi-hued lacinato-type kale. The plants are vigorous, winter hardy, and beautiful. The color of the semi-savoyed leaves varies from green to blue-green to burgundy to purple.
For more information on growing salad greens in your garden, be sure to check out these articles:
- How to grow kale indoors
- Growing kale in a garden
- Red-veined sorrel is an easy to grow perennial green
- How to plant lettuce
- Growing romaine lettuce: from seed to harvest
Are you growing lacinato kale in your garden?