What are Purple Tree Collards and How to Get Started
In this episode, we’re going to cover one of my favorite perennial vegetables—purple tree collards. These fantastic perennial vegetables taste great and even a single plant can provide an abundance of harvests all year round. Tree collards can easily replace other collard greens and kale in your meals. Let’s explore these great vegetables.
So what are purple tree collards? Tree collards are a type of perennial brassica. They’re related to broccoli, kale, cabbage, and many other brassicas. But unlike most of the common brassicas, purple tree collards are perennial.
This means you only have to plant them once and they will provide harvests year after year.
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And as you may have guessed from the name purple tree collards get quite big. They can easily grow over 6-feet.
Though with pruning you can keep them shorter and bushier.
Purple tree collards really do make a great addition to a perennial food system.
We’ve got 3 purple tree collards growing along the south side of our house. And those 3 easily provide more year-round greens than we can eat.
Before we talk more about purple tree collards and how to get started with them I want to take a moment to read a recent review from TerraHRVfan.
I have been on Daron’s mailing list for a long time and as an avid podcast listener I was excited to learn he started a podcast. I am halfway through the first episode, and have already learned so much valuable information. I am going to get some checkermallow for my food forest. It sounds like such a cool plant, and I am excited to be able to contribute to food for native pollinators.
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Further Reading: Growing with Nature episodes and blog posts with more information about the topics covered in this episode.
- What are Perennial Vegetables and How to Get Started
- 11 Cold-Hardy Perennial Vegetables You’ll Love to Grow
- How to Get Started with Warm Microclimates
Books and Other Resources
Plant List: More information about some of the plants covered in this episode.
Growing and Harvesting Purple Tree Collards
When I first got my purple tree collards they were so small. Just a few inches high and only a couple of leaves on each.
It was hard to imagine them living up to their reputation for being tree-like.
I built a small simple trellis for them and called it good.
And for the 1st year, it worked fine as the tree collards got established and slowly grew.
Then in the 2nd year, they just took off and quickly overwhelmed the trellis. I pruned them back but they regrew with such abundance that I had to build a much larger and tougher trellis.
They really are “tree” collards.
Once established these plants just grow and grow. You will never run out of collard greens if you grow tree collards.
But purple tree collards aren’t the most cold-tolerant plants. Here in USDA zone 8, they do fine and they should be able to handle zone 7 temperatures too if planted in a warm micro-climate.
If you get colder than 10 F then tree collards may die back without extra protection.
But purple tree collards are easy to root from cuttings. So you can always take some cuttings inside in the fall just to be safe.
And with a little protection, you can keep them going outside in colder areas.
Our purple tree collards are planted along the south side of our house and so far they’re thriving. Tree collards even taste better after a frost—the cold tends to sweeten the leaves a bit.
They do taste good.
We use them a lot as cooked greens but we also chop them up and use them with other greens in salads.
You can use tree collards in any recipe that calls for kale, collard greens, and even chard or spinach. The flavor is a little different but we really like them.
Just a word of warning—when cooked in a pan they’ve got the habit of popping a bit when they’re heating up. Sometimes jumping right out of the pan. I just make sure to keep a cover over the pan until they soften up a bit.
And the leaves can get quite large—bigger than your hand. So only a few leaves can go a long way. And the stems soften up nicely too.
Getting Started with Purple Tree Collards
So are you excited to give purple tree collards a try? They’re fantastic perennial greens that are a great addition to any perennial food system.
Just a few plants really will help you cultivate abundance for people, plants, and wildlife.
And if you see some cabbage butterflies on them don’t worry about it. These plants grow so fast that there is plenty to share with the caterpillars.
We often see songbirds flitting about our tree collards coming out with beaks full of little green caterpillars. I’m happy to help feed our local birds while also getting abundant harvests for my family and community.
If you’re ready to get started with purple tree collards then I highly recommend checking out the Project Tree Collard site (see the resources section for a link).
Tree collards can be a bit hard to find but this site has a bunch of cuttings and rooted cuttings for sale including a mix of colors. Purple, green, and even blue tree collards.
We got our 3 tree collards from this site. And once you get a few established you can easily grow more from your own cuttings.
And depending on where you live you might be able to find them for sale locally. One of our local nurseries near where we live now sells them.
There is a link to the Project Tree Collards site in the resources section of the show notes for this episode. Check the episode description to find it.
And stay tuned for our next episode where we will dive into the soil food web and why it’s a critical part of cultivating abundance for people, plants, and wildlife.
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