There are really 3 types of kale, Curly leaf, Flat Leaf, and Tuscon Kale. Each of these 3 types of Kale does really well in most gardens but each has slightly different characteristics.
We like to grow kale in our garden. Kale is a superfood that is so healthy to eat. But let’s be realistic, despite being one of the healthiest veggies you can grow and eat, it’s not really our favorite. Kale has its own distinct taste (Which is better in the fall and winter) and also kale has a pretty distinct texture.
There are generally 3 types of kale that can be grown in the home garden. Each broad category of kale, of course, has many varieties, but generally, you are going to grow one or more of these 3 types of kale.
The 3 Types of Kale
Curly Leaf Kale
This is the most common type of kale and the one you most often see in the grocery store or farmers markets. In my opinion, it is also the “prettiest” type of Kale and the tastiest. It comes in both green and “red” varieties. The leaves are tender when the plants are younger and get “tougher” as the plant ages and the leaves get larger.
I have found Curly Leaf varieties are the easiest to grow and they are also, overall, the most productive plants. If harvested correctly a few plants can provide a continuous supply of leaves for months. Just pick the larger leaves from the bottom of the plant first and the higher leaves will continue to grow.
I have also found that Curly Leaf varieties of kale are the hardiest. In most areas, you can overwinter curly leaf kale with just some simple protection from either a hoop house or even just fabric row cover.
Popular varieties include Vates (our favorite), Starbor, Ripbor, & Winterbor.
Flat Leaf Kale
The Second type of kale on our list of the 3 types of kale is Flat Leaf Kale. There are only a few varieties that can be considered “flat leaf”. Plants from flat-leaf varieties can be very productive. If you are not careful and harvest often they can produce huge leaves. These are good tasting leaves and I have found that they are a little better tasting when they are smaller. This type of kale fits really well into traditional salads as the leaves look more like lettuce or spinach leaves than the other 2 types of kale. (It’s easier to sneak them in on picky eaters)
Flat-leaf kale is easy to grow and if harvested early and consistently it will take up a little less space in your garden than other varieties. I have found these to be the least winter-hardy variety of kale. I suspect that is because the flat leaves have more exposed surface area which makes them more susceptible to freezing.
Popular Flat flat-leaf kale varieties include Red Russian and Beira.
Tuscan (AKA Lacinato or Dinosaur) Kale
These have the most fun-looking leaves of the 3 types of kale. The extra dark green uncurled leaves have a unique appearance that looks like Dinosaur skin (hence the nickname Dinosaur kale). The leaves do have a very heavy stalk that runs down the center of each leaf. This makes them our least favorite for eating, as we end up tossing out the heavy stalks.
Dinosaur kale has a more upright habit than the other 2 types of kale and grows tall interesting-looking plants. If you are looking for a cool-looking edible plant to grow in your flower beds this is your choice! These tall plants are easy to grow and very cold hardy (not quite as hardy as curly leaf, but close). I have had Tuscan kale survive unprotected in our zone 6 garden as late as early January.
There is really only one variety of this type of kale that I know of and it is usually referred to as Toscano or Lacinato kale in most seed catalogs.
Get some kale planted this year
All 3 types of kale can be planted pretty much any time of the year. Kale tends to taste better when the leaves are smaller. Cold weather also improves the taste of kale. Letting your kale get exposed to frost either in the spring or fall will really “sweeten” the taste. In fact, if you let it over winter in a hoop house you will find in February and March that you have a totally different tasting “beast” on your hands. That is our favorite time of the year to grow and harvest any of the 3 types of kale.