How To Grow Tuscan (Dinosaur) Kale

Plant now to fill your fall with the tasty leaves of this Italian heirloom. 

Tuscan kale

Getty Images

Tuscan kale has lots of names. It's also called dinosaur kale, lacinato kale, black palm, Italian kale, and Tuscan cabbage. With that many titles, it has to be loved—and for good reason. Growing kale is easy in the garden and is delicious as well as versatile in the kitchen. Its highly textured, blue-green leaves are great in salads, stews, pastas, and casseroles. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat.

Though it originally hails from Italy, it has been grown in the South for centuries. Thomas Jefferson had it at Monticello, and you can grow it in your own backyard. Buy transplants for a quick start. If you plan to plant a lot of rows, use seeds, which are budget-friendly. In smaller spaces, grow it in a container. Or use it as an ornamental—its beautiful foliage pairs nicely with violas. Look for plants at your local nursery or order seeds online from or Then follow our guide to growing these easy winter greens.

Plant Attributes
Common Name Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, Lacinato kale, black palm kale
Botanical Name Brassica oleracea
Family Brassicaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous annual, biennial
Mature Size 2-4 ft. tall, 2-3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Organically rich, loamy, moist, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic (6.0-6.8)
Hardiness Zones 7-10 (USDA)
Native Area Mediterranean

Tuscan Kale Care

Tuscan kale loves the sun. It grows best in rich soil that's been amended with organic matter. Good soil will feed your plants. You can also supplement with an organic fertilizer. Water your kale moderately and consistently. Cut leaves as they're needed. If you want just a little, use a small knife or pop off single leaves by hand, gathering from the bottom of the plant and working your way up. The plant will keep growing for your future harvest and gradually develop a long stalk, which is why some call it "black palm kale." If you need a lot, harvest the whole plant. Wash thoroughly before eating. Tuscan kale thrives in cold weather, and the leaves will be even sweeter after the first frost.


Tuscan kale can be grown in full or partial sun, but the plant will grow accordingly. For the fastest, fullest, lushest growth, give Tuscan kale six hours or more of sun a day.


Plant your Tuscan kale in well-drained, slightly acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. Kale prefers loamy soil, but you can improve any soil's texture and fertility by mixing in a few inches of aged compost. Mulch around your plants with shredded bark, pine straw, shredded leaves, or weed-free straw.


Get young plants off to a good start by keeping the soil moderately moist but not soggy. The plants should receive at least 1-1.5 inches of water a week between rainfall and hand watering and may need more in hot weather. Consistent moisture results in tender, better-tasting kale.

Temperature And Humidity

Tuscan kale thrives in cool weather. The leaves are cold hardy down to at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit and taste sweeter after a light frost. For that reason, most Southern gardeners prefer to plant kale in the fall six to eight weeks before the last frost date, or in the winter in a frost-free climate. Depending on how harsh the winter is, the plants may continue to produce leaves throughout the season.

If you live in the Upper South or experience frequent freezes with temperatures in the teens, extra protection from a row cover or cold frame can help your kale survive until spring. Overwintered plants eventually bolt in spring, producing yellow flowers that signal it's time for the final harvest.

Southern gardeners can also plant kale in late winter or early spring about four weeks before the last frost date for an early summer harvest. Once the weather grows hot, kale leaves become tough and bitter. In a hot, dry climate, kale appreciates some shade in the afternoon.


Since kale is grown for its edible leaves, use a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer for the fastest growth. If you are growing from seed, wait until the plants are 4 or 5 inches tall before side dressing with fertilizer. Otherwise, fertilize at the time of transplant, following label directions. If a soil test indicates you already have nitrogen-rich soil, a layer of compost can suffice.

Types Of Tuscan Kale

Tuscan-type kales have upright, spear-shaped, dark leaves that are highly savoyed (that is, crinkled). These kales are prized for tender, mild leaves that are delicious whether eaten raw or cooked. Many plants are simply labeled as Tuscan or lacinato kale, but you can also find named varieties like 'Black Magic' and 'Mamba.'

How To Grow Tuscan Kale From Seed

Tuscan kale matures in 65-80 days when grown from seed. You can sow seeds directly in the garden in fall, but you'll have better success when starting seeds indoors in winter or spring before the garden has warmed up. Follow these instructions to sow seeds in the garden:

  1. Amend your soil with 1-4 inches of compost, depending on how much you need to improve your soil texture and fertility.
  2. Create a trench that is 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Multiple rows should be separated by 2 to 3 feet. Sow three or four seeds every 12-18 inches, then cover and water.
  3. Water regularly to keep the soil moist. After the seeds sprout and grow at least 4 inches tall, fertilize and then mulch around your plants.

For a spring or summer crop, start your seeds indoors four to six weeks before transplanting in the garden, which will be 8-10 weeks before your last frost date:

  1. Use a tray of small pots such as six-pack plant containers. Fill the containers with sterile seed-starting mix.
  2. Plant two seeds per pot at 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and cover.
  3. Water the pots until the seed mix is thoroughly moistened. Cover with a clear domed lid and place in a warm spot in bright light.
  4. Once the seeds sprout, you can remove the lid and move your plants to a slightly cooler spot in bright light. Kale prefers to grow at about 60 degrees. Keep the soil evenly moist.
  5. Once it is time to transplant, begin to harden off your seedlings by gradually exposing them to the outdoors. Transplant them in a prepared garden bed 18-24 inches apart. Mulch around the plants and water.

Potting And Repotting Tuscan Kale

Tuscan kale can be grown in containers for convenient picking on your balcony, patio, or porch. Choose a container with at least a 12-inch diameter for one plant, or a barrel planter for two or three plants with plenty of spacing between them. You can also tuck violas or pansies around your plant for an attractive winter display. Make sure the container has at least one hole for drainage.

Use a high-quality potting mix that includes fertilizer or fertilize yourself with a slow-release fertilizer. Set plants at the same depth they were in their original containers, fill in with soil where needed, and water well. A thin layer of mulch can help retain moisture. If your kale begins to overtake the container, harvest some or all of the plant.


Tuscan kale usually survives winter throughout the South, especially if your Zone 6 or 7 garden experiences a milder winter than usual. If you live in the Upper South, kale will happily grow through the winter in a cold frame. If you don't have access to a cold frame, provide extra protection to your plants anytime you are facing temperatures in the teens. Surround your plants with a deep layer of shredded leaves or straw to keep them warm, or cover the plants with a floating row cover on cold nights.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Gardeners aren't alone in enjoying the flavor of Tuscan kale—cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, slugs, and aphids will also feed on the plants. Spray plants with insecticidal soap (or Bt for caterpillars) if these insects cause problems. Larger insects cause significantly more damage and should be picked off of plants.

In cool weather, plants can be affected by leaf spot, which causes brown, water-soaked spots that may develop yellow halos. Kale can also develop powdery mildew on its leaves. Remove affected foliage and spray with an organic fungicide labeled for the appropriate condition. Avoid wetting foliage when watering and make certain plants have good air circulation around them.

A bacterial disease, black rot, is detectable from triangular, yellow areas on the edge of leaves and blackening stems. Infected plants should be removed immediately to reduce the spread. Don't plant more brassica crops (kale, broccoli, cabbage, or mustard plants) in that location for at least three years.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles