Cabbage makes a beautiful addition to a cool-season vegetable garden, flower bed, or container with pretty leaves that can withstand chilly weather. And with more vitamin C than oranges, cabbage is a winner in the nutrition department, too! Here’s what you need to know to grow cabbage in your garden.
Cabbage often gets a bad rap, especially when it’s boiled down to an odiferous mass and served to squirming children. But it’s actually a wonderful, crisp, leafy veggie that – when served raw, very lightly steamed, or sautéed – has a lovely taste and texture and adds a touch of summer flavor to cold-weather meals.
I love fresh chopped coleslaw with sea salt, wine vinegar, and a dash of olive oil. And don’t get me started on sauerkraut!
There are many varieties of cabbage to choose from that come in shades of green, purple, and red. Some varieties grow in a tight head, while others are more leafy or loose. Early maturing varieties are more tender, but later forming varieties store better. In general, cabbage is divided into four categories:
- Green Cabbage: These are the varieties we’re most familiar with in the grocery store, with green outer leaves and white inner leaves.
- Red Cabbage: This type has a stronger, peppery flavor and lends a dash of color to both raw and cooked dishes.
- Savoy Cabbage: With its distinctive crinkly leaves, Savoy cabbage adds an unusual texture and beauty to the garden and plate. The thin leaves have a strong flavor but only last a few days in the fridge.
- Chinese Cabbage: Asian cabbages, such as bok choy, have elongated shapes and a tender flavor that make them a must-have in stir fried dishes.
- Ornamental Cabbage: While all cabbages are edible, some ornamental varieties are grown primarily for their gorgeous colored leaves and open shapes. Often synonymous with flowering kale, ornamental cabbage are used in fall and winter containers and planting beds for cold-season color.
- Temperature: Like other cool-season vegetables, cabbage does best when daytime temperatures are in the 60s F. It can tolerate a light frost but will eventually go to seed in temperatures below 40° F, and it’ll decline in the heat of summer.
- Season: Cabbage can be grown in spring, fall, or even winter in mild climates. As long as temperatures cooperate, plant cabbage every couple of weeks for a continuous crop. For a fall crop, plant cabbage in mid to late summer and provide some sun protection on hot days.
- Light: 6-8 hours of sun per day is ideal, though cabbage will tolerate a little less sunlight during warm seasons.
- Soil: Rich, well-draining, loose, slightly acidic soil. To keep the leaves tender and delicious, cabbage needs soil that is rich in compost and nutrients and holds moisture without becoming soggy.
- Water: Water is the key component of tender leafy veggies, so keep your cabbage evenly moist.
How to Plant Cabbage
- Seeds: Sow cabbage seeds in early spring or midsummer for harvest about 90 days later. Seedlings can tolerate light frost, so you can get a head start by warming the soil with row covers. Sow seeds about 1/4″ deep, and be sure to keep them evenly watered.
- Transplants: Plant cabbage seedlings about a month before your last frost in spring. For a fall garden, plant seedlings in late summer, ideally when temperatures drop below 80° F.
- Spacing: For best results, space seedlings about 18” apart.
- Watering: Cabbage plants need regular irrigation, especially if you’re planting in summer.
- Fertilizing: Cabbage is a heavy feeder. In addition to compost, it will benefit from a balanced organic fertilizer when the plants are young. Feed again with a nitrogen fertilizer when they’re about half grown.
- Diseases & Pests: To deter cabbage worms, use row covers in early spring to prevent the moths from laying their eggs. Then keep an eye out (and remove) any worms you see.
As soon as the cabbage heads are formed, you can harvest them by cutting them off at the base with a sharp knife. For best results, harvest the heads when they’re large and firm, but before they start to split open. Leave the roots in the ground – you may be rewarded with small side-sprouts to harvest later.
For best use of your cabbage, follow these tips:
- Washing: Don’t wash your cabbage until right before you plan to use it.
- Kitchen Tips: Use stainless-steel knives and cookware to prevent discoloration and reduce the sulfur smell during cooking.
- Cabbage (University of Illinois)
- Growing Cool-Season Vegetables
- How to Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden
- Vegetable Garden: Planning and Layout