How to Grow Chicory, Belgian Endive, and Radicchio

RadicchioChicory, Belgian endive, and radicchio are cool weather crops, all grown from the same plant. Sow chicory seed in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. Grow chicory and radicchio in temperatures ranging from 45° to 75°F. Plant chicory and radicchio so that it comes to harvest in cool weather.

Chicory, Belgian endive and radicchio are differing varieties of the same plant, Cichorium intybus.

Chicory produces a rosette of green leaves which can be used in salads. The dried, fleshy taproot of chicory can be ground and used as a substitute for coffee.

Belgian endive is grown for its pale-green, tightly-wrapped leaves used in salads; the plant near maturity is trimmed and buried in damp sand and grown on to create a dense, succulent blanched head.

Radicchio is grown for its rosette of broad red leaves used in salads; its leaves are similar to the leaves of chicory but with more biting flavor. Radicchio often form a head 3 to 5 inches across.

Chicory and endive should not be confused. They belong to the same botanical family and often are used interchangeably, but they are not the same plant. Chicory, Belgian endive, and radicchio are the plant Cichorium intybus. Endive and escarole are the plant Cichorium endivia. If you want to produce chicory root or the Belgian endive grow chicory; if you want to grow red-leafed radicchio choose a radicchio cultivar. If you are growing specifically for greens, grow endive or escarole.

Chicory is a hardy perennial with a long, fleshy taproot, a rosette of leaves, and a branched flower stalk topped with pale blue flowers.

Chicory has two stages of development. The first stage produces the rosette of leaves and the harvestable root. In the second stage, the harvested root is re-buried upright in damp sand or soil until it produces a new sprout or narrow head of blanched, pale green leaves known as Belgian endives.

Yield. For chicory root, plant 1 to 2 plants per household member. For radicchio, grow 5 to 6 plants per household member. For Belgian endive plant 6 to 8 plants per household member.

Site. Grow chicory in full sun; it will tolerate partial shade. Plant chicory in soil rich in organic matter that is well drained and free of lumps that might cause the roots to fork or split. Add aged garden compost to planting beds before growing. Chicory prefers a soil pH of 5.0 to 6.8.

Planting time. Chicory and radicchio is a hardy, cool-season perennial grown best in spring and early summer in cold winter regions and in fall and winter in warm-winter regions. Sow chicory seeds in the garden 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. Cool temperatures produce the sweetest tasting chicory and radicchio. Sow chicory seeds in the garden as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. Grow chicory and radicchio in temperatures ranging from 45° to 75°F. Plant chicory and radicchio so that it comes to harvest in cool weather. Chicory and radicchio require 85 to 100 days to come to harvest depending upon the variety. Belgian endive heads are most often grown indoors as the second stage of plant growth; climate is not a factor.

Planting and spacing. Sow chicory and radicchio seed ¼ inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart. Space rows 24 to 36 inches apart. Thin plants from 6 to 18 inches apart when the seedlings are four inches tall. You can eat the thinnings.

Water and feeding. Keep plants evenly moist. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason.

Companion plants. Greens. Not peas or beans.

Growing chicory for roots. Grow chicory for its roots in organically rich soil cultivated to 18 inches deep. Roots will be ready for harvest about 120 days after planting.

Growing radicchio. Choose from heading and semi-heading varieties. Radicchio is best planted for fall harves; sow seeds in the garden 85 days before the first frost in fall; radicchio requires a long, cool season. Place a plastic mulch or plastic sheeting around the radicchio plants–white, black, or clear. Growing radicchio on plastic, not the soil, will increase the heading percentage significantly.

Growing Belgian endive. To produce a blanched head, dig up the chicory root and cut off the top about 2 inches above the crown or top of the root. In a cool, humid place such as an outdoor pit, cold frame, or root cellar, bury the root to force it to produce a blanched sprout: first, cut off the root tip so that the root is 6 to 8 inches long; set the root upright at a slight angle in a box, pot, or other container filled with fine sand or a mix of sand and peat moss just covering the top; water thoroughly, and keep at a temperature of 60° to 70°F. The tight, pale-green head will develop in 3 to 4 weeks.

Container growing. Radicchio can be grown in a container. Chicory root can be grown in a deep container.

Pests. Chicory has no serious pest problems.

Diseases. Chicory has no serious disease problems.

Harvest. Chicory root will require 85 to 100 days to come to harvest. Belgian endive will require 3 to 4 weeks after starting the forcing and blanching process; cut away leaves when they are 5 to 6 inches about 1 inch above the soil and bury the plant to grow to harvest when new heads are 3 to 5 inches in diameter. Radicchio is ready for harvest when leaves are 3 to 5 inches tall when a head has formed or leaves can be harvested loose.

Varieties. • Cutting chicory: Biondissima Trieste (40 days); Ceriolo (120 days); Puntarella (120 days); San Paquale; Spandona (40 days); Sugar Loaf. • Belgian endive: Flash; Galia; Red C (80 days); Witloof Robin (60-150 days); Witloof Zoom (110 days). • Radicchio: Carmen (75 days); Castle Franco (85 days); Chioggia (80 days); Early Treviso (80 days); Giulio (60-100 days); Milan (90 days); Prima Rossa; Red Treviso (85 days); Red Verona; Rossa di Verona (85 days); Rossana Radicchio (90 days); Rouge de Verone (85 days).

Storing and preserving. Chicory will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week; roots will keep for 4 to 5 months. Radicchio and Belgian endive will keep in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Common name. Chicory, witloof, French endive, Belgian endive, succory.

Botanical name. Cichorium intybus

Origin. Asia, Europe

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE