Collards (Brassica oleracea) are a staple throughout southeastern gardens including Virginia. Relatives of the cabbage family, collards do not form heads but produce loose, thick leaves. Collards are suitable for use as fresh greens or cooked. These relatively hardy plants, are a cool season crop that does not perform well in hot weather. Virginia gardeners can plant collards after their spring killing frosts have passed.
The Tidewater area of Virginia encompasses the area of the state directly along the east coast. Annual temperatures are warmer for longer periods compared to other areas of the state. This is due to the Atlantic Ocean and the warm ocean breezes. There are approximately 230 days in the Tidewater area not experiencing frost.
Killing frosts generally leave the area between April 10 and April 21. Start collard plants indoors two to three weeks before setting them out into the garden, if frosty weather is still present. Otherwise, wait for the killing frosts to leave and sow directly into the garden.
The Piedmont area of Virginia encompasses central sections of the state. Average temperatures are cooler for slightly longer periods than the Tidewater area. This area of the state experiences approximately 182 frost-free days with killing frosts ending between April 20 and April 30. Gardeners can start plants two to three weeks early indoors, or wait to sow seeds directly into the garden after the cold weather leaves the region.
The Mountain area of the state encompasses its western side. Due to the higher elevations, temperatures remain cooler for longer periods. Gardeners living in this region will plant collards in their springtime gardens later. There are approximately 165 days in the region not experiencing frosty weather. Gardeners can generally plant collards in their spring gardens in early May. Killing frosts usually leave the region between May 10 and May 15.
As with all vegetables, collards perform best when planted in an area that receives full sun and in well-drained soil. Gardeners should clean the vegetable garden area of weeds or other unwanted growth. Collards perform best in rich soils, so the garden soil needs amending with organic materials. For the best growth, amend the soil with approximately 6 to 8 inches of compost or manure. Adding a slow-release or 8-8-8 granular all-purpose fertilizer into the soil also helps in growth.
Gardeners should plant transplants into the garden at the same depth they were growing. They can also sow collard seeds directly into the soil. Sow the seeds approximately ¼ inch deep. Space seeds and transplants approximately 1 to 2 feet apart. Space multiple rows approximately 2 to 3 feet apart. Consider that seven collard plants will produce approximately 15 lbs. of fresh greens once mature.