Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), a cool-season vegetable, is an herbaceous biennial vegetable in the Brassicaceae family. Many home growers make space to add this edible head to their gardens.
Many perceive it as a leafy green vegetable with a densely packed head. But this nutrient-dense vegetable has over four hundred cultivars that vary in shape, color, and size.
Even so, only a few types find their way into the produce section of most American grocery stores. These include the Savoy, Green, Napa, and Red (or Purple) cabbage varieties.
Generally, cabbage growing is a reasonably straightforward process considering the crop’s robust nature and ability to thrive in almost any soil type. It just isn’t too fussy! Before we get to the details of how to grow this gardener’s favorite, here are the answers to some of the commonly asked questions about this humble vegetable.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cabbage Growing
Is cabbage easy to grow?
Cabbage is a relatively easy-to-grow and care-for crop under the right conditions—that is, cool temperatures, plenty of water, rich soil, and adequate fertilization. The plant is a ‘magnet’ for numerous garden pests and diseases. So, be on the lookout and take prompt action.
What is the best month to plant cabbage?
You can grow this leafy vegetable in spring and harvest before the summer heat or start the crop in mid-late summer and harvest in the cool days of fall, winter, or early spring. Consult your local ag extension office to learn about your local growing zone to receive area-specific guidance.
Can I plant cabbage in March?
Yes. Ideally, cabbage is one of those crops with an extended planting season, meaning you get to choose what time works best for you. The months indicated below are guidelines for moderate growing zones. Of course, you must always check for your local growing conditions before planting anything.
- For summer harvest: plant from late February (or early March) to early May—under greenhouse trays or a similar cover—then transplant in May/June.
- Winter harvest: plant in April/May, then transplant in late June or July.
- Spring harvest: plant in July/August, then transplant in September or October.
How long do cabbages take to grow?
Depending on the variety, cabbages take sixty to a hundred days to mature. Most green varieties will take about seventy days.
Does cabbage need full sun?
Yes. These plants thrive in full sun with at least six hours of direct sunlight a day.
Can I grow cabbage in shade?
As much as it appreciates full sun, cabbages can tolerate partial shade, especially in warmer climates.
How often should I water my cabbage?
Water your cabbages regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but never soggy. An inch of water a week should suffice—or even more as needed—in the case of very fast-draining earth.
How do you grow cabbage at home?
As mentioned earlier, cabbage is a reasonably easy vegetable, provided you get the crop’s moisture needs right.
How to Grow Cabbage
Plant cabbage outdoors a few weeks before the last spring frost, provided the soil is workable. Alternatively, start the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your area’s projected final spring frost date.
Plant transplants or sow seeds directly in the garden in late summer for a fall harvest once the hottest weather is gone.
Preparing the Planting Site
- Choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil as soggy conditions may easily lead to head split or rot.
- Consider working in aged manure or composting the soil to help quench the crop’s heavy nutrient appetite.
- If possible, avoid growing cabbage next to other Brassica species (like broccoli) to reduce the chances of common disease transmission.
- Plant the seeds approximately ¼ inch deep, thinning the seedlings to about one to two feet apart.
- Keep in mind that the more growing space you accord the plants, the larger the heads they’ll produce–check the seed package for spacing recommendations.
- For transplants, be sure to harden them off for a week or two, depending on your area’s temperatures and conditions. Frost can damage the outer foliage, although it will not generally kill the plant. So to be safe, many gardeners cover the heads with burlap if unexpectedly cold conditions develop.
How to Care for Cabbage Plants
In addition to full sun and rich, well-draining soil, be sure to adequately irrigate the plants, provide the right temperature and humidity (whenever possible), and fertilize.
- Water: Cabbage plants need adequate water to produce firm heads with high-quality leaves.
- A good rule of thumb is one to two inches of water per square foot in a week.
- Fertilizer: Cabbages are heavy feeders. Fertilize with a balanced (10-10-10) organic vegetable fertilizer two weeks after transplanting. The crop craves nitrogen in the early growth stages; therefore, consider adding a nitrogen-rich fertilizer three weeks later.
- Temperature and Humidity: Cabbage grows optimally at soil temperatures between 60-65°F. Anything below 45° F can easily trigger bolting or otherwise cause the plants to form loose heads. Offer protection in unexpected cold weather. The cold will not kill most varieties. However, it does cause “frostbite” on the outer leaves.
- Mulch” Apply a layer of mulch around the crop to help with moisture retention and soil temperature regulation.
- Pruning: Cabbage doesn’t necessarily require pruning; however, you can remove the outer damaged leaves or those dragging on the ground to minimize the potential spread of pests and diseases.
- Overwintering: Though a biennial, cabbage is commonly grown as an annual, which means it won’t require overwintering unless there is looming cold weather before harvesting time. In that case, consider covering the crops with row covers.
- Harvesting: Harvest the crop once the head reaches the desired size and is firm. You can pull out the entire plant or simply cut the head at the base using a sharp knife. Avoid leaving mature heads on the stems for too long as it may lead to splitting.
- Storage: Lightly wrap your cabbage and store it in the refrigerator. It should keep well for two weeks. Just ensure it’s scorched before storing. Extend the shelf life to up to three months by holding in the correct root cellar conditions. You can also pickle or dehydrate it for later use.
Re-growing Cabbage from Scraps
- Place the leftover from your cabbage head in a shallow bowl of water. You must include a bit of the stem to see success. So grab an inner or bottom leaf where you can carve out a nice slice of the core.
- Locate the bowl in bright indirect light, making sure to replenish it with fresh water every few days.
- Once the roots and new leaves emerge (usually in three to seven days), go ahead and plant the rooting bottom or just leave it in the container.
- Continue to change the water and harvest as needed.
You will not regrow an entire head; however, you will have edible leaves.
Popular Cabbage Varieties
- Drumhead: The drumhead cabbage has large blue-green heads with mild-flavored leaves.
- January King: The cold-tolerant January King variety is a frost-hardy curly-leafed purple and green cabbage.
- Early Jersey Wakefield: You’ll produce two to three-pound split-resistant heads if you choose the Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage.
- Murdoc: Murdoc has a pointed head with tender sweet leaves.
- Blue Vantage: Want a pest-resistant type? Blue Vantage has large, dense short-cored heads; it’s disease-resistant and tolerant of excess moisture.
- Gonzales: The Gonzales cabbage produces softball-sized heads, suitable for small gardens.
- Red Cabbage and Chinese Cabbage: Growing in the late season? If growing for a fall harvest, you may want to try the Chinese or red cabbage.
Common Pests and Diseases That Can Harm Cabbage Growth
Cabbage is highly susceptible to pests and diseases, including aphids, cabbage worms, slugs/snails, downy mildew, clubroot, black rot, and white mold. Unfortunately, once affected, little can be done, especially when the pests find their way to the crop and create holes.
Practicing crop rotation, avoiding overhead irrigation, and ensuring proper spacing to allow adequate ventilation to prevent such problems. Most importantly, consider growing disease-resistant varieties.
The Takeaway: You Can Find Cabbage in Many Delicious Varieties
Here are the three key takeaways regarding cabbage:
- Cabbage is a late-season garden and early-season favorite that even beginner gardeners find tempting to include in their gardening plan.
- It’s a powerhouse of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants—all working harmoniously to keep the body in perfect balance.
- Though the growing and care process may be daunting, it’s a rewarding project! Give it a try today and enjoy fresh cabbage throughout the season!