Is something wrong with my cauliflower plant?

Asked May 12, 2016, 8:21 PM EDT

Have a question about my cauliflower plant. I have two. One I bought already had a head and the other didn't. The one that didn't has formed a small head so far, but my question is on the one that had one already.
It wasn't in a perfect head shape to begin with, and it's really not growing in the form of the head at all as florets are sprouting up at different heights with a different number of buds. Is there something wrong with it since it's not forming a head shape like the other? I've provided a picture.

Ector County Texas

3 Responses

Thank you for the question to Extension. Cauliflower, like most plants in the Brassica family, performs best when temperatures are consistently cool (mid 60's). Large temperature fluctuations or temperatures that dip too far below or rise too far above the 60's may cause cauliflower to divert its resources to production of its heads. This also reduces its leaf development.

This stress related premature head development, known as buttoning, is not uncommon in many Brassica vegetables. Buttoning can also be caused by salty water, poor soil conditions, weed competition, over watering, underwatering, poor nutrient conditions, juvenile plants remaining in pot too long and the list goes on. Any form of stress may cause cauliflower to form button sized heads. Buttoning may be prevented by avoiding stress but once it begins, it cannot be reversed.

Many people find it frustrating to grow cauliflower in West Texas. Next spring, put your cauliflower transplants in the garden a couple weeks before the last frost, in soil that has been well prepared with plant based organic matter. Provide enough water to keep the soil resembling a wrung out sponge. Space plants about a foot and a half from one another where the will get at least six hours of full sun.

If the leaves don't curl up over the heads when they are a little larger than a golf ball, then you should pull them up over the heads and secure them there to protect them from the sun and ensure that they are white when you harvest them. Harvest when by cutting at the base of the head when it is about six to eight inches across. They'll last a week or two if stored in a cool location.

Is it still called "Buttoning" if the head/florets are growing wild like in the picture. Not sure if you were able to see the picture.
If there's nothing I can do about the cauliflower shown in the picture, I should just pull it?

The small heads are a "buttoning" effect related to unhappy growing conditions but it looks as if they may have started to "bolt" as well, forming reproductive parts (flowers) as a result exposure to cool temperatures early in their development.

It is not worth having the plant take up valuable space in your garden. You may be able to harvest the tiny heads but that would probably not be worth the effort. It would be best to start over with a something that will perform well in your fall garden.