Growing Cabbage 101

Growing cabbage is a frugal and sustainable way to tap into the many gardening and nutritional benefits of this cool-season crop. Related to kale, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cabbage (Brassica oleracea), is a productive and versatile cruciferous vegetable that’s fairly easy to grow and care for. Plus, there are varieties of ornamental cabbages that you can grow that let you bring color and life to a drab fall garden.

How to Grow CabbageHow to Grow Cabbage

When it comes to planting cabbage, the key is timing. If you get that right, you should have a pretty easy time growing cabbages in your garden.  Just in case though, here are some tips on how and when to grow cabbage plants that should get you off to a good start:

  • Plant cabbage in full sun with fertile, well-drained soil. Although cabbage will grow in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, they do best between 6.0 and 6.8 pH.
  • For a fall harvest, sow seeds midsummer if you’re in the North and late summer if you’re in the South. (This will have you planting cabbages in the moist, cool conditions they prefer.)
  • Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart, with a good 18 to 30 inches between rows. (This gives them plenty of room to grow.)
  • To prevent common cabbage pests, grow red cabbage (since it’s less prone to garden pests), cover young transplants and seedlings with garden fabric or collar young plants with fabric at the base.
  • If the heads start to crack, give immature cabbage plants a quick 1/4 rotation. (This breaks roots a bit to decrease water intake.) Otherwise, if plants are mature, just harvest them (as mature heads will start to split when they’re ready to come out of the ground).

Tips for Growing Cabbage

Cabbage Growing in the GardenTry these tips to maximize your cabbage crop:

  • Don’t let the top few inches of soil dry out (since cabbage have shallow roots).
  • Rotate your crops; don’t plant cabbages where other cabbage family plants (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower) have grown for the past two or three seasons.
  • Keep soil fertile; cabbage are heavy nutrient feeders and are prone to several nutrient deficiencies (including potassium, phosphorous, boron and calcium) if their soil is not fertilized well.
  • To help control disease, do not water cabbage with an overhead sprinkler.
  • To minimize temperature fluctuations that can cause bolting and poor heading, try using row covers.

How to Harvest Cabbage

How to Grow Big CabbageWhile growing cabbage plants is easy, harvesting these big, sturdy fall vegetables can seem a little daunting. Don’t worry, reaping what you sow isn’t nearly as difficult as it may look. The key is to put off harvesting until heads are firm, shiny and mature. Then it’s just a matter of finding the harvesting method that works best for you.

The ultra-easy way to harvest cabbage is to just grip and rip your cabbage plants right out of the ground. It’s a bit of a workout, but it works!

Another (and in my opinion better) way to harvest cabbage is to cut the stalk right under the head. If you harvest your cabbages this way, you can leave some basal leaves at the top of the stalk that will encourage new growth of smaller heads. It’s an easy way to get double duty from your cabbage plants and make your garden more productive.

For information on growing other cold-hardy vegetables, check out the Gardening Guides page.

Images graciously provided by miccala, cwsillero and bwilhelms. Thanks!


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