QUESTION: How do you take care of cabbage plants? Do they need a special fertilizer and how do you apply it? -Frank R
ANSWER: Improve the soil before planting by mixing in an aged compost or manure that is completely decomposed to avoid burning the plants. Till the soil to make sure that it is well-draining, as roots that stand in water will cause the heads to split or rot. If starting seeds indoors, sow one-fourth of an inch deep about six to eight weeks before the last spring frost.
Before moving the seedlings outdoors, harden them off over the course of a week. Then, transplant small plants outside on a cloudy afternoon around two to three weeks before the last spring frost date in your zone. Plant cabbage seedlings one to two feet apart in rows that are spaced depending on the size of the heads that you want to cultivate. The closer you plant your cabbage plants together, the smaller the cabbages will be.
For fall harvests, directly sow your seeds outside or move your transplants in the mid to late summertime. If you live in a climate that is particularly hot and dry, wait to plant until late in the summer and check the soil moisture daily to make sure that the younger plants don’t dry out in the hot sun. In warm climate areas, you may have to provide more than one inch of water per week to keep the soil moist, just make sure that it never becomes waterlogged or soggy from overwatering.
When seedlings are about five inches tall, be sure to thin them out. Leave space between them based on the size cabbages you want to grow. When you thin the seedlings, instead of tossing them out, feel free to transplant them to another area of the garden.
Mulch around cabbage plants will help retain moisture and balance soil temperature. The best possible temperature for cabbage growing is 60 to 65 degrees F. Young plants can bolt or form loose heads if exposed to temperatures that are 45 degrees F or below. Water about one and a half inches per week, keeping the soil moist but never soggy at all times.
Don’t forget to fertilize cabbage since they are heavy feeders. Fertilize cabbage every two to three weeks. On the first feeding, use a nitrogen rich fertilizer, as cabbage needs plenty of nitrogen early in the growing cycle. Use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer for additional feedings, every two to three weeks. Try adding kelp meal to the soil just before planting to boost the micronutrient levels and trace mineral content for healthier cabbages. Also, be mindful of crop rotation when growing cabbages, never planting them in the same place where they were grown in the past few years in order to help prevent a buildup of soil-borne diseases.