Cole Crops Affected by Heat, Uneven Moisture

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

September-maturing cole crops have been negatively affected by the high August and September temperatures and uneven moisture (dry to wet). While cabbage, kale, and collards can tolerate high temperatures; Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are more sensitive to excess heat. These three crops do best under moderate and even temperatures and even water supplies. They do not develop properly when temperatures are in the 90s.

In broccoli, we are seeing knuckling, that is the uneven development of the crown leading to a bumpy appearance and looser head. This reduces the grade and price potential. In Brussels sprouts high temperatures have caused sprouts to be very loose, elongated and unmarketable. In cauliflower we are finding ricing, purpling, and loose curd.

The following are some other disorders that can be prevalent when cole crops are exposed to uneven moisture and excessive heat.

Tipburn of Cauliflower, Cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts
This problem can cause severe economic losses. Tipburn is a breakdown of plant tissue inside the head of cabbage, individual sprouts in Brussels sprouts, and on the inner wrapper leaves of cauliflower. It is a physiological disorder which is associated with an inadequate supply of calcium in the affected leaves, causing a collapse of the tissue and death of the cells. Calcium deficiency may occur where the soil calcium is low or where there is an imbalance of nutrients in the soil along with certain weather conditions. (High humidity, low soil moisture, high potash and high nitrogen aggravate calcium availability). Secondary rot caused by bacteria can follow tipburn and heads of cauliflower can be severely affected. Some cabbage and cauliflower cultivars are relatively free of tipburn problems.

Cabbage Splitting
Cabbage splitting can develop when moisture stress is followed by heavy rain. The rapid growth rate associated with rain, high temperatures and high fertility cause the splitting. Proper irrigation may help prevent splitting and there are significant differences between cultivars in their susceptibility to this problem.

Lack of Heads in Broccoli and Cauliflower
During periods of extremely warm weather (days over 86°F and nights 77°F) broccoli and cauliflower can remain vegetative (does not head) since they do not receive enough cold for head formation. This can cause a problem in scheduling the marketing of even volumes of crop.

Cauliflower Purpling
The market demands cauliflower which is pure white or pale cream in color. Heads exposed to sunlight develop a yellow and/or red to purple pigment. Certain varieties such as Snow Crown are more susceptible to purple off-colors, especially in hot weather. Self-blanching varieties have been developed to reduce problems with curd yellowing. For open headed varieties, the usual method to exclude light is to tie the outer leaves when the curd is 8 cm in diameter. Leaves may also be broken over the curd to prevent yellowing. In hot weather blanching may take 3 to 4 days, but in cool weather, 8 to 12 days or more may be required. Cauliflower fields scheduled to mature in cool weather (September and October) that are well supplied with water and planted with “self-blanching” cultivars will not need tying. Newer orange cauliflower and green broccoflower varieties are being planted. They are less susceptible to off-colors but still can develop purpling under warm conditions.


Purpling in cauliflower

Cauliflower Ricing
“Riciness” and “fuzziness” in cauliflower heads is caused by high temperatures, exposure to direct sun, too rapid growth after the head is formed, high humidity, or high nitrogen. “Ricing” is where the flower buds develop, elongate and separate, making the curd unmarketable.


“Riciness” in cauliflower


“Fuzziness” in cauliflower

Development of Curd Bracts in Cauliflower
Curd bracts or small green leaves between the segments of the curd in cauliflower is caused by too high of temperature or drought. High temperatures cause a reversion to vegetative growth with production of bracts on the head. In a marketable cauliflower head, the individual flower buds are undeveloped and undifferentiated.

Loose Heads in Cauliflower, Loose Sprouts in Brussels sprouts and Premature Flowering or Knuckling in Broccoli
Loosely formed curds in cauliflower can be due to any stress that slows growth making them small or open. Fluctuating temperatures and moisture will also cause less compact growth. In contrast, excess vegetative growth caused by excessive nitrogen can also cause loose heads in cauliflower and broccoli. Knuckling in broccoli is uneven growth in the crown leading to a bumpy appearance. Premature flowering and open heads in broccoli can be brought on by high temperatures. High temperatures can cause loose sprouts in Brussels sprouts.


Knuckling, loose heads and discoloration in broccoli