Mature Tree Collards

Mature Tree Collards
Three Year's Old! 11' Tall!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Everything you never knew you wanted to know about Tree Collards

Welcome to the Perennial Tree Collard Blog.  I'm currently compiling my 20 years or so of growing Tree Collards and hope to have all aspects of it's propagation, cultivation and food preparation up soon.

For now, I will just post what I've already posted on numerous Garden Forums around the Web until I find the time to elucidate and edit at length.

"A rose by any other name . . ."

"I've been called Tree Collard, Tree Kale, Walking Stick Kale and Purple Tree Collard.  Call me what you will, but make sure to grow me for at least a year, make some cuttings and pass me on as I do not grow true from seed and I RARELY go to seed.

My leaves only turn purple in cold weather!!  I'm in the Brassica family & look more like a collard than a kale. Whatever you choose to call me, culinary-wise, I can't be beat."

This California Hybrid can withstand even light snow (Oregon) as well as temps in the 90s & 100 (here in Walnut Creek, CA).

Brassica oleracea var. acephala

These perennial veggies are great for the backyard organic vegetable gardener or mini farm as they never stop producing. High in Calcium!!  Sweeter and Tastier than regular collards (especially during the Fall, Winter, Spring when the whether is cooler and the leaves turn purple). And it's one of the favorite foods for our chickens.  Here are some of the locations where the TCs are thriving that I've shipped to: Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Southern California, Oregon, Washington and of course California.

If you and/or your family, friends, neighbors eat lots of greens, it's worth it to have at least three tree collards growing for abundant, continuous harvests.  Once you have some mature plants, please do your part in making new plants and passing them on.

I've grown plants up to 11' tall and 3' wide & recently heard of them getting to 18' plus next to and attached to a wall.  PLEASE REMEMBER - The trunk and branches get woody after about three years, so if you want to share cuttings, you must start to make new cuttings between 18 months to 2 years when the top branches are still tender and green (not woody).  Also, as the plant matures and gets woody, the leaves get smaller on the many side branches.  The main trunk will continue to have very large leaves until you have to prune it at ten or more feet.  Pruning the main trunk is dependent on whether you have it growing next to a very tall wall or whether like most growers, you have it tied to a ten foot tree pole.  Even with two feet of that pole in the ground, there are times that the upper 8' will not support a very large and very top heavy three-year old tree when the ground gets soaked and/or the wind gets really strong.  More about this later when I create a detailed post about cultivation and propagation.

A Morsel of History and Culture

Some people call them Tree Kale or Walking Stick Kale or Tree Cabbage. If you've heard of Walking Stick Kale, this isn't it. In the UK, people tend to refer to what everybody else in the world calls Collards as Kale.  This is very confusing.  Kale is Brassica napa. Regular Collards are Brassica oleifera var acephala. Collards are a non-heading cabbage. Kale is a more salady vegetable, often used as a winter salad green that is available over a longer season than lettuce. Although they are considered different species, there are no genetic barriers to crossing them. Kale is commonly eaten on the European continent, especially as you go further east where lettuce is harder to grow due to the severity of the climate. It is not commonly eaten among the British, which is why they might use the word for something else. If you ever travel in Europe and get something that looks like salad greens but is a bit tougher and heartier than lettuce, and often fairly pretty shades of blue-green or purple, often with a ruffled leaf margin (varies from highly frilled to just a bit), that's Kale

Collards are very commonly eaten in the subtropics and tropical highlands, because they don't bolt as easily as their domesticated cousin, cabbage. I don't know why...they might actually have a bit of tropical blood in them. You can grow them in places like southern Georgia where it is too hot for cabbage. For this reason, Africans and Afroamericans often eat Collards while northern and eastern Europeans and their descendants far more familiar with cabbage. Cabbage was bred from wild cabbage (which I have seed for) to have the fat tight bud, so as to be storable through the winter. It was bred from probably a more northerly strain of the same species that Collards were bred from.

The Tree Collards I have are probably of the famous strain that passes from neighbor to neighbor and at certain permaculture plant sale circles in the East Bay Area. They have decidedly purplish leaves in Late Fall & Winter with a slightly ruffled margin. Plus that might explain why the California strain is reputedly more tender and palatable than other Tree Collard strains, which are reputedly tough and cabbagy. I've been growing them in a hot Summer climate for 10 years and they have adapted well to the heat. They were bred as livestock fodder originally. Since there is some confusion regarding Kale versus Collards, plus no barriers to hybridization, that might explain how someone might have hybridized them and not realized that there is a difference.


Additional Insights~

As a perennial form of cabbage, it is said (I have not seen or actually talked to someone who has grown them this long) to live up to 20 years or more although you might need a scaffold to grow them up. They will get woody after about three years AND the leaves will get smaller, BUT they'll keep growing. And you can espalier them as well.

This species includes some of our most common vegetables such as the cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Although not widely known, these perennials can be amongst the most productive food plants that can be grown in the garden. They grow best in a sunny position and succeed in most soils, doing well in heavy clays. However, they can also be grown in partial shade  They do not like very acid conditions. Prune heavily to get multiple brances and more harvest.

The true wild form of B. oleracea is the WILD CABBAGE, which can still be found growing by the sea in many parts of the country. ( I GROW THEM & have seeds). A short-lived evergreen perennial, it can grow up to 1.2 meters tall. The leaves have a similar flavor to cabbage and collard leaves.  Plants will usually live for 3 - 5 years, though some have been grown for 10 years or more. they do, however, become rather straggly as they age. Whilst most of the plants developed from the wild cabbage have lost the ability to be perennial, there are just a few forms where the perennial tendency has been increased.

40 comments:

  1. Thank you, dear Micheal!

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  2. Thanks for the info. I am awaiting my 2 orders of tree collards and can't wait to grow them. Have you seen John Kohler's videos on them at www.growingyourgreens.com ?

    Kathy

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  3. thanks for all the info. i'm in El Sobrante and looking for a cutting of purple tree collards. Any ideas where I may be able to get one or two?
    Blessings.

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  4. Where can I order some? I'd really like to try my hand at growning the tree collard.

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  5. Lovely description and something that is difficult to find too much information about. I would slightly disagree with the history section referring to the UK. Kale is a pretty major vegetable especially in the colder/ wetter north and west. In Scotland an alternative name for a vegetable garden is a kaleyard and the use of that name stretches back hundreds of years.
    http://www.chestertourist.com/kaleyard.htm
    http://www.veraveg.org/Veg%20History/Veg%20History%20Kale.html

    Further south as you mention it seems more likely to be traditionally used as cattle fodder in winter. I can remember walking thru kale fields that my father grew for diary cows that were 6ft tall and we would often bring the new tops home for
    steaming. Today its very common in all supermarkets and there are loads of recipes using it but again mainly traditionally from scotland/ireland. Kale brose, colcannon being very traditional old recipes.

    Thanks for the descriptions, I've seen some starts in the local nursery in southern california so i may well have a go with them.

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  6. I have been searching all over for tree collard plants. I live in Central CA. Do you sell cuttings or could you direct me to a source for these wonderful plants? Thank you so much!

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  7. i need starts too,if you have extras let me know.ardguard47@hotmail.com

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  8. Hi, Michael,
    I live in province of Quebec, Canada.
    I was wondering if a tree collard could be grown in a heated greenhouse (with a 12 foot roof).
    Thanks for your blog and I hope to read more soon.

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  9. Oh, I just love them! Thank you for introducing the tree collard to a wider audience - have never heard of them before. Sadly, I'm in zone 5. My chickens would love them. In fact, if they heard about them, the girls would insist that we move south.
    Terry at www.HenCam.com

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  10. Forgive me if I missed this post somewhere- I have been scouring the internet trying to find some clippings to buy- any suggestions? I'm in SoCal, the San Gabriel Valley. Thank you for your help!

    Paula

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  11. I am in zone 5 in indiana...wondering what is the lowest zone they grow in and also like Dames3jardins - could they be grown in a greenhouse - or hw about inside the house? we have a very very high cathedral ceiling. thank you much!

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  12. From the blog I surmise that it will thrive in WA state. I live in Seattle, WA. Could you recommend some gardener who could share cuttings I could buy?

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  13. Dames:
    Yes, they will grow in a heated hot house, however, the leaves will only turn purple and sweet in cold weather.

    ohpaula: check "Bountiful Gardens" they are the only online source that I know of.

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  14. Hi Thank you for this blog, i've just heard about tree collard on you tube, and I would be very pleased to ask if you are kind to send me some seeds in Europe, i bet no one has this in my country, and i think i'll love it. I like perenials, and i do care them a lot, over the winter, i take them inside my home. please notify me as soon as possible if you can or can't send me a few seeds:)

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  15. Thanks for providing us such a information. We appreciate your information.
    tree trimming walnut creek

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  16. Wow — thanks so much for this awesome article!

    I have a question. For lack of actual soil/land, I'm growing a purple tree collard in a container (roughly 15"x15"x15"). It's currently living in Mill Valley (in Marin, within the Bay Area), and as we begin to get rain (woohoo!) I'm wondering: are beneficial plant nutrients are being washed out of the container? If so, what nutrients do tree collards thrive off of — and how often would you suggest adding them back in?

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    1. Delighted you like the information posted here Greg.
      I hope you make new plants and pass them on to other passionate gardeners.

      Beneficial nutrients in the soil are being used by the plant more than they are being washed out.
      Since these plants produce a lot of foliage and are being harvested regularly, you'll want to feed monthly - they are HEAVY FEEDERS!
      You can use a commercial fertilizer that's high in Nitrogen (something like 20-0-0 or 30-0-0
      OR
      if you'd rather stay natural/organic, you can apply compost, manure, or a combination of the two. For your size container, maybe try a couple handfuls once a month.
      If you go the fertilizer route, careful not to over-fertilize. I'd suggest 3-4 tablespoons in a couple gallons of water applied around the plant. Do not apply it right at the base of the plant.

      Happy Gardening!
      Michael

      In doing a quick google search, I found this:

      The Best Fertilizer for Collard Greens

      Collard Nutrient Needs
      Collards are considered "medium feeders," meaning that they have moderate nutritional needs but that growers often still need to use fertilizer to ensure collard green health. Collards require more nitrogen than any other growth nutrient. Have your soil fertility tested by a local university extension office to determine the concentrations of nitrogen and other growth nutrients in your soil. If your soil is seriously deficient in nutrients, adding manure, compost or garden soil at a rate of 2 lbs. per 100 square feet can bring the soil to proper fertility.

      Fertilizer Recommendations
      Once planted, collard greens have marginal fertilizer needs. A "side-dress" fertilizer application is recommended when the plants are about 1/3 of the way to full grown. Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as nitrate of soda (15-0-0) or calcium nitrate (16-0-0), or a garden fertilizer with high concentrations of nitrogen and less phosphorus, such as 27-3-3, 24-0-15 or similar formulation. If the collards are light green or new growth is stunted, and if the discoloration and stunting are not the result of insect damage, increase fertilizer applications, since the dark green color of collards is primarily a result of the amount of nitrogen that the collards can take up.

      Application Tips
      The best way to make sure that fertilizers are used to their maximum effectiveness is to follow the printed application instructions exactly and to customize your fertilizer applications to the unique fertility conditions of your soil as indicated by soil fertility tests. Also, avoid purchasing any fertilizers that contain herbicides, even if weeds are a common problem for collard greens in your area. Avoid constant use of fertilizers with a high concentration of phosphorus, as phosphorus buildup in soil can become a major source of water and soil pollution.

      Other Considerations
      Don't make the mistake, as some gardeners do, of conflating fertilizer and plant food. Some gardeners haphazardly add more fertilizer than is needed by their plants, erroneously thinking that overfertilization will simply produce larger, more productive plants. Not only is this not the case, but overfertilization can actually cause more health problems for your collard green plants than if you had not fertilized at all. Use only the minimum amount of fertilizer needed to bring soil conditions closer to the ideal for healthy collard green growth."

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  17. hi do u know where i can buy some cuttings

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  18. I bought three off Craigslist.
    I need HELP with mine though. Was hopeing to find an answer here. My tree collards were bought as cuttings last June. Since potting them they grew 3'. The other day I found them stripped (rodents). Can anyone tell me if they will recover? They no longer have a tip so starting from a cutting is out of the question, or is it. There are NO leaves on it at all. Just bare stem with a few bare leaf stem sticking out. It's looks worse than Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. :-( Any suggestions, hope, encouragement out there?

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    1. They should be fine. Just take care of them and they will most likely start putting out new leaves soon.

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    2. Thank you. You're correct, I just checked today and there is new growth. Praising the Lord, I am so happy.

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  19. I second Dennis's comment. You will start to see side branches emerging. When these get about two to three feet long, you can cut them to make new plants or let them continue to grow or cut one or two for new plants and let the others grow for your supply. Happy Gardening! Michael

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  20. For those looking for purple tree collards in the SF Bay area, I live in Oakland and have found them at Spiral Gardens nursery on Sacramento in Berkeley as well as Ploughshares nursery in Alameda.

    They are awesome!

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  21. Can I pot my cuttings in regular potting soil? What about coconut coir or straight sand? I have those on hand. And should I water them when I pot them? After that, can I leave the pots outside in the rain and cold (Portland, OR weather), or is it better to keep them sheltered while they are rooting. Thanks!

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  22. Hi Prairie:

    Yes, you can pot them in potting soil or coconut coir. I've seen folks who have just put them straight in the garden soil and they've rooted, although there is some die off as some of them don't make it that way. I like using my 50/50 vermiculite/pearlite with the cuttings dipped in rooting hormone to get the highest rate of success. I also put a plastic bag over each pot to keep the moisture in. Often, depending the the weather, I don't have to water them for weeks when they are enclosed in the miniature greenhouse.

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  23. PLEASE TAKE NOTE!

    I am moving out of the country and no longer have cuttings available. Hopefully, other passionate gardeners will step in here and announce that they have cuttings to sell/share.

    Thanks again,
    Michael

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  24. I bought a tree collard today at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery in Berkeley, CA; they had several big flats of them for sale in the vegetable section.

    Just FYI. They looked quite beautiful en masse as little 'uns.

    --Marla from Alameda, CA

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  25. Thanks for sharing that information.

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  26. My sister in the Bay Area has tree collards and I love eating the leaves. Any success with the collards growing in Maryland? Perhaps if they were protected over the winter? newburn.jessie @ gmail Thanks!

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  27. I have 2 doing well in Florida. Both are transplants from a neighbors first generation greens patch. They are producing new growth from the top and on the sides. I hope to take a cutting from the top of each this

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  28. melancholy27@yahoo.comMay 25, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    Hello,
    Could someone please help/direct me in how to obtain some tree collard seeds or cuttings? I'd like very much to plant these along a section of my fence and love to eat greens.

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  29. Common Ground Organic Garden, 559 College Ave., Palo Alto, CA. 94306 I purchased some more of them today.

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  30. How can I place order for tree collard here? Nice post

    tree service danville

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  31. How can I place order for tree collard here? Nice post

    tree trimming san ramon

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  32. Hi! I live in neighboring Alamo and would love to buy some cuttings from you locally.

    Please let me know if any are available: greg_scott_danner@yahoo.com

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    Replies
    1. you can order cuttings from bountifulgarden at california

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  33. yes, I keep telling folks that. But they generally only have them during one part of the year. I think it's Spring/early Summer.

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  34. I will be in Roseville next week 3/27-28, down from Oregon. Any chance you have tree collards for sale.
    Craig
    csbiers@yahoo.com

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  35. Centrose Nursery in Gardena, CA have tree collards of every size $5 - $30… I drove from Palm Springs to get three 2 foot tall tree collars….1 of them is a purple tree collard. Each one was $7.99. Totally worth the long drive. I tried propagating a tree collard I got off eBay but had no luck…….the ones I got at Centrose are thriving…I am a happy gardner :)

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