Many common vegetables are cabbages or genus brassica. Head and leafed cabbage, of course, but also broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi are members of the cabbage family. They are some of the most popular and traditional garden vegetables grown.
Because they are often grown in North America, cabbages are well understood and can be cultivated in nearly every climate zone on the continent.
Best Soil for Cabbage Growing
Cabbages require nitrogen-rich soil that is somewhat firm, especially for tight-headed varieties. Most gardeners will include an amount of rotten manure with each transplanting and side dress or spot-water with compost (or tea) about midway through the year. This is especially important if two crops are attempted in the same space in one year – a common practice to maximize yields.
Varieties of Cabbage
There are many varieties of cabbage grown in North America. The most common are:
With broccoli and cauliflower varieties, the choices are also varied. The most common are:
Baccus, Goliath, and Liberty for broccoli.
Alert, Amazing, Cheddar, Self Blanche, and Violet Queen for cauliflowers.
When to Plant Cabbages
Exact planting times will depend on your climate zone as well as whether you are planting outdoors from seed or transplants. The variety may also play a role, though most cabbages have roughly the same tolerances and needs for germination.
Most gardeners looking to get two crops out of the year will start seeds indoors before the season begins and transplant seedlings to the garden row just before the last frost comes. Since cabbages are frost-tolerant, they can withstand light frosts even at this young age. After harvest just after mid-year, a new set of seedlings or seeds can be started in the same rows for another planting. This one will usually be harvested just before or after the first killing frost.
Proper Care for Cabbage
Keeping the bed weed-free and not disturbing the roots of the cabbage are most important when caring for the plants. Watering should be at about one inch per week, a little more in dryer climates and less in more humid areas. Soaking should go relatively deep – about half a foot. Most cabbage growers use the flood method of watering rather than overhead sprays because of this requirement.
Cauliflowers need blanching (which is why the self-blanching varieties are more popular now). This requires that they be covered when the heads become visible. Otherwise, they will mature too quickly and turn a greenish yellow, losing flavor as they seed. Traditionally, this is done by tying the outer broad leaves over the head of the plant. Self-blanching varieties usually grow to cover themselves. Brown paper bags or other breathable covers (cloth tarps, etc.) can also be used. The object is to block the light.
Brussels sprouts should have their tips cut towards the end of the season when the sprouts begin to appear in earnest. This clipping encourages sprout growth and discourages more plant growth, maximizing yield.
When and How to Harvest Cabbages
Harvest times depend on the time of year, of course. When ripe, harvest in mid-summer should be immediate to allow for another planting. In the fall, most cabbages can be left in the ground until after Thanksgiving, harvested when eaten to that point. Cauliflower is an exception to this rule.
Heads can be snapped off (usually by twisting) or cut with a gardener’s knife. Brussels sprouts and similar coles can be trimmed off the plant with shears or heavy scissors.
Pests and Diseases Common to Cabbages
The main pest to cabbages is the cabbage caterpillar (aka cabbage worm or looper). This pest is the larvae of the cabbage white butterfly, a beautiful flier whose appearance may be worth a little crop loss to some gardeners. These worms will go after lighter-colored varieties in preference, but are a pest to all cabbage types.
Root maggot is another problem. These larvae of flies are deposited near the stems of seedlings and burrow down to attack the roots when they hatch. Seedlings will begin to wilt when this is the case.
Prevention of both problems can be done through natural means. To prevent root maggot, compost tea or a light sprinkling of tobacco juice around each plant will prevent the larvae from hatching. The caterpillar can be dealt with by encouraging birds or by planting sacrificial crops. Some larger spiders also enjoy the cabbage caterpillar.
Common Questions and Answers About How to Grow Cabbage
Can cabbage grow in pots?
Growing cabbage in containers is easy, just be sure not to crowd them by trying to grow too many cabbages in a small space. The cabbages will still grow when crowded, but the heads will be significantly smaller. One five gallon container is big enough for one cabbage plant. If you want to grow multiple cabbage plants in the same container, select a container with enough surface area to house multiple plants without crowding.
Can I eat the outer green leaves of cabbage?
The deep green outer leaves of the cabbage are what is used to make cabbage rolls. As the outer leaves are a bit more tough than the inner leaves, cooking them before eating is advised. You can also cut them into thin strips and add them to a stir-fry.
Can you eat cabbage that has bolted?
Cabbage tends to bolt when temperatures get too hot. Once the plant bolts, it will not form a head, as its energy has now turned towards making flowers, and of course seeds. If the plant was already forming a head when it began to bolt, the head will just remain the same size that it was, as the attention of the plant will not switch back to focusing on forming heads after bolting has occurred. Even after the cabbage plant has bolted, you can still harvest and eat the leaves, so not all is lost.
Can you grow a cabbage from a cabbage?
You can grow a cabbage from another cabbage, in fact, all you need is the bottom part of the cabbage where the leaves were attached. In a shallow dish, place the cabbage bottom in the dish and add water about halfway up the greens. Then place the dish in a location in your home that gets lots of sun everyday. Replace the water every two or three days (or daily, if you can remember) and mist the leaves every once in a while. You will notice roots beginning to grow in three or four days and new leaves beginning to appear. You can now plant the cabbage into the ground in your garden to grow a new cabbage.
Can you grow cabbage in water?
Though you can’t grow cabbages in water alone, you can use water and the lower portion of a cabbage head to get the cabbage bottom to develop roots, then you can plant the cabbage bottom into soil and grow a cabbage. You can also leave the cabbage bottom in water and it will continue to develop leaves that you can harvest and use in fresh salads or toss into stir-fries.
To do this all you need is the lower portion of a cabbage head and a shallow dish of water. Place the cabbage bottom in the shallow dish and fill with water about halfway up the greens. Change the water every two or three days and mist the greens occasionally. In just three or four days, you will start to see roots forming. Once the roots start to form, you can move the cabbage bottom into soil to grow another cabbage, or leave it in the water to grow and harvest more cabbage greens.
Do you need to wash cabbage before cooking?
Though the insides of a cabbage plant are usually quite clean, you probably still want to wash it before cooking, as there may be worms or insects embedded in the head. In fact, the best way to rid your cabbage heads of any unwanted organisms is to give them a soak in salt or vinegar water for about 15 to 30 minutes first.
After soaking, remove the large, fibrous, outer leaves and cut the cabbage into pieces using a stainless steel knife. Using a stainless steel knife is important because the carbon on other types of metal knives can cause phytonutrients in the cabbage to react to the metal and can even turn black from contact. To cut the cabbage into smaller pieces, quarter the head and remove the core. Then, you can decide what size to cut your pieces into based on how you plan to use the cabbage in the meal you’re preparing.
Does cabbage need a lot of water?
While cabbage plants won’t tolerate sitting in soggy, waterlogged soil, they do require a consistently moist environment. To produce its large, leafy heads, cabbage needs a consistent supply of water. Irrigate once per week, providing one and a half inches of water to the soil in your cabbage beds.
Does cabbage need full sun?
Like most leafy green vegetables, cabbage plants require at least six hours of full sunlight exposure per day, preferably more. Though cabbage heads can grow in partial shade environments, insufficient light can lead to loose heads or even plants that fail to form heads entirely.
How big does cabbage grow?
At full maturity, cabbage plants grow to 12 to 14 inches high with a spread of 18 to 24 inches. When planting, space cabbages 12 to 24 inches apart in a row. Specific spacing may vary depending on variety so space them according to the instructions on the seed package whenever possible.
How do I harvest cabbage?
When your cabbage heads are full and firm to the touch when squeezed, it is time to harvest. Using a sharp, stainless steel knife, cut through the stem of the cabbage plant just below the head. Remove the head but leave the rest of the plant in the ground. Using a stainless steel blade is important because the carbon on other metals can react with the phytonutrients in cabbage and cause the skin to turn black on contact. After harvesting the main head, continue to nourish and cultivate the remaining plant and, if the weather is still cool, it will most likely develop several (usually three to four but up to six) mini-heads of cabbage in the place of the main head. These smaller heads are extra tender and very tasty.
How do you fertilize cabbage organically?
The best organic fertilizer for cabbage plants is a soil that is rich in organic matter, particularly a well-aged or composted animal manure. Cabbage and other cruciferous plants specifically respond very well to poultry manure. When preparing the bed before planting your cabbage, mix in two to three inches of a good garden compost or composted manure, such as poultry manure.
Though amending the soil with lots of organic matter before planting is sufficient for supplying nutrients for many vegetable plants, cabbage is a heavy feeder, so additional feeding is necessary to help your plants develop full, lush heads. Apply a balanced, organic fertilizer every two to three weeks during the growing season, following the directions on the package.
You may also want to add some kelp meal to the soil prior to planting to help boost your soil’s micronutrient and mineral levels. Kelp meal is packed with micronutrients and is particularly good at supplying essential trace minerals to vegetable plants.
How do you pick a cabbage head?
When your cabbage heads are firm and solid when squeezed, they are ready to harvest. To harvest your cabbage head, use a stainless steel knife, as the carbon from other metals can react with the phytonutrients in cabbage and turn the skin black on contact. Using a sharp stainless steel knife, cut through the stem just under the cabbage head, removing the head and leaving the rest of the plant in the ground.
Continue to nurture the remaining plant as if it were a whole new plant and it will develop several mini-heads in the place of the original head, as long as the weather remains cool. Mini-heads typically grow to the size of a fist before being ready to harvest. You can tell when they are ready, again, based on the firmness of the heads when squeezed.
How do you prepare soil for cabbage?
Cabbage is a heavy feeder, which depletes the soil of required nutrients rather quickly, so it’s very important to both practice crop rotation and prepare the soil by mixing in aged manure or compost prior to planting. The soil should be free of any clumps or compacted areas, well-draining, consistently moist, and rich in organic materials. For optimal growth and to discourage clubroot disease, the soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8.
How do you repot cabbage?
To repot cabbage sprouts, make a one inch indentation in the center of the new cabbage container’s soil, which should be filled to within one and a half inches of the top of the pot with potting soil. Using a spoon, dip the seedling out of the starter tray, taking about an inch of soil with the seedling and roots and plant it at the same depth as your starter. Water your seedling just after repotting.
How long does it take for a cabbage head to form?
Depending on the variety of cabbage that you planted, the weather in your area during the growing season, and the growing conditions provided, you can expect to see heads forming with green cabbage varieties in about 71 days after planting. Red cabbage varieties tend to take slightly longer to form heads. Nappa cabbage will typically form small heads in just 57 days.
How many times can you harvest cabbage?
While the main head of a cabbage plant can only be harvested once, smaller sub-heads can be cultivated and harvested after the main head has been removed, as long as the weather is still relatively cool after your original harvest. If the rest of the plant is left in the ground after the main head is removed, cabbage plants can be harvested a total of two times.
How much of cabbage is edible?
All parts of the cabbage plant are edible, including the heads, core, outer leaves. Even the roots of the cabbage plant are safe to eat, though they are commonly discarded. The core of cabbage heads are also often tossed away, as the texture is a bit more woody and tough in comparison to the rest of the head. However, the core becomes much more tender when cooked, so it is best used in soups, stews, and stir-fries instead of eaten raw.
How much sun do cabbage plants need?
Cabbage plants need a minimum of six hours of full sunlight exposure each day, and even more is preferable. Cabbage plants will survive in partial shade locations, but insufficient light can lead to loosely formed heads and can sometimes prevent head formation entirely.
How often should you water cabbage plants?
Cabbage plants require consistently moist soil, but it will not tolerate standing water, so well-draining soil is essential. Provide water once per week, providing one and a half inches of water to the soil each watering. If the soil becomes dry to a depth of three inches, or if you live in an area that is particularly hot and dry, you will need to water more frequently.
Is cabbage a perennial?
Cabbage is a biennial plant, but is often grown as an annual. If the rest of the plant is left in the ground when the head is harvested, several mini-heads will form after the original harvest. If the cabbage plant is left in the ground after it is ready for harvest, it will eventually flower and go to seed.
Is raw cabbage good for you?
Cabbage is incredibly good for you and has a long list of health benefits. It has a high nutrient content and is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Just one cup of raw green cabbage provides 22 calories, one gram of protein, two grams of fiber, 85 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K, 54 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and significant amounts of folate, manganese, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, and magnesium as well. Cabbage also contains small amounts of other important micronutrients, including vitamin A, iron, and riboflavin. Cabbage also contains powerful antioxidants which fight free radicals in your body and help prevent cell damage and disease.
Adding cabbage to your diet can help lower inflammation, boost your immune system, improve digestion and increase your heart health. Cabbage can also help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin K1, which is essential to proper blood clotting. In addition to being healthy and nutritious, cabbage is a versatile vegetable that can easily be added to your diet and prepared in a large variety of ways.
Should you prune cabbage?
There are some cases in which pruning cabbage is necessary. When the leaves of your cabbage plant are dragging on the ground, becoming deteriorated due to being stepped on, eaten, or mildewed, they should be trimmed or removed. Gardeners should also remove any unhealthy or limp cabbage leaves by tearing them away or removing them with pruners or scissors. Sometimes, perfectly healthy leaves may need to be pruned because they are encroaching on other plants prior to forming heads. If you need to remove healthy leaves, avoid tossing them out, as these can be used like any other spring greens and are healthy and tasty too.
Should you tie cabbage heads?
There is absolutely no need to tie cabbage heads in any situation. Cabbage plants are capable of forming heads without any interference or special treatment. However, certain varieties do benefit from tying up cabbage leaves.
What causes holes in cabbage leaves?
Holes in cabbage leaves are typically caused by cabbage loopers, though they can also be caused by a variety of other pests, including army worms and cutworms.
What grows well with cabbage?
Cabbage plants grow well with aromatic herbs such as chamomile, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, dill, peppermint, spearmint, sage, oregano. Cabbage also pairs well with root vegetables such as onions, beets, and celery, as well as common garden edging flowers, yarrow, and marigolds. Avoid planting tomatoes, pole beans, strawberries, grapes, or any types of mustard plants near cabbage.
What is the best fertilizer for cabbage?
The best fertilizer for cabbage is a well-balanced granular fertilizer. Prepare your cabbage beds by working in compost or manure prior to planting and feed every two to three weeks during the growing season.
What is the spacing for cabbage plants?
Plant seedlings one to two feet apart in rows that are spaced depending on the size of heads that you want to cultivate. The closer you plant your cabbage plants together, the smaller the cabbages will be. When your seedlings grow to about five inches tall, thin them out to leave the amount of space between them that you choose based on the size cabbages that you want to produce.
What season does cabbage grow?
Cabbage is a cool weather crop that can be grown in the spring for harvest just prior to summer, or started in the later parts of the summer for harvest during the cool parts of fall.
Why are my cabbage leaves turning yellow?
Cabbage leaves turn yellow due to the fusarium soil fungus that typically infects plants when the soil is too warm. Keep soil temperatures cool by keeping soil consistently moist, but not overly wet.
Why is my cabbage not forming a head?
There are two common reasons why cabbage plants might fail to form a head. Excess nitrogen can cause the plant to form more leaves that are loosely arranged, never forming a tight head. Alkaline-based soils that are overwatered are prone to a condition known as club rot, which will keep cabbage plants from forming a head.
Will baking soda kill cabbage worms?
Dusting cabbage plants that are infected with cabbage worms with a mix of equal parts baking soda and flour. This mix is known to effectively kill cabbage worms.
Some more resources on cabbage growing: