Cabbage is easy to grow and incredibly nutritious, making it an outstanding addition to your veggie garden. This cruciferous vegetable grows best in the cool weather of the spring and fall seasons. In this article, you’ll find out how to grow cabbage plants and keep them flourishing from planting to harvest.
Have you ever wondered, “How long does cabbage take to grow?” It depends on the variety. Expect your cabbage heads to be ready for harvest approximately 70-140 days from planting seeds.
Temperature is a crucial factor for growing cabbage, so the timing for planting cabbage seeds is one of the most consequential keys to success. Since cabbage grows best between 55-75°F, it usually gets cultivated as a spring and fall crop in most climates.
Homegrown cabbage tastes better and has a higher nutritional value than the store-bought alternative. Cabbage leaves are rich in essential nutrients like calcium, fiber, folate, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B6, C, and K.
It’s also packed full of antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation, improve immunity, and prevent chronic diseases. The soluble fiber and potassium in cabbage help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- What to Know about Growing Cabbage
What to Know about Growing Cabbage
Cabbage leaves typically taste slightly bitter when raw and take on a sweetly earthy aroma once cooked. However, the flavor profile varies somewhat between cultivars, and some taste sweeter than others.
Cabbage is an incredibly versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Use it to make traditional favorites like coleslaw, sauerkraut, and stir-fry.
Cabbage, or Brassica oleracea by its botanical name, is in the Brassica plant family with bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, radishes, and turnips. Collectively, these plants are frequently called cole crops.
Although cabbage is most often cultivated as an annual crop, the plants are technically biennials. This means they grow roots and leaves in the first year and produce flowers and seeds the second year.
Bolting happens when the plants prematurely send up a flower stalk in response to drought or heat stress.
When it comes to choosing which cabbage varieties to grow, it’s helpful to understand the differences between each type of cabbage. There are four principal classifications of cabbage plants: green, red, savoy, and Napa.
Green and red cabbage tend to have smooth leaves and grow dense, tightly packed heads. Savoy cabbage varieties have ruffled leaves with deep ridges and form looser heads.
Napa cabbage, also called Chinese cabbage, grows long, wavy leaves with a mildly spicy flavor and develops an open head.
With numerous different options to choose from, it’s possible to select the perfect cabbage cultivars to suit your growing climate and available garden space. Here are several of the best types of cabbage to grow at home.
How to Grow Cabbage from Seed
Being a cool-season crop, it’s critical to plant cabbage seeds early enough so that you can harvest before temperatures get too hot. Cabbage grows best when you sow seeds directly into the garden bed in early spring, as soon as the soil in your garden bed is warmer than 40℉.
In regions with a short growing season, the way to plant cabbage seeds is to sow seeds indoors four to six weeks before the usual last frost date to get a head start in the spring.
If you’re sprouting seeds indoors, grow kale from seed or cabbage with a few propagation supplies to get started. If you don’t already have them at home, these items are readily available at your local garden center or online.
When growing cabbage in containers, fill a seedling tray, peat pots, or an old cardboard egg carton with a nutrient-rich potting mix designed for growing vegetables. It’s helpful to pre-moisten the soil to avoid disturbing the seeds after planting.
Sow cabbage seeds no more than a quarter-inch deep and lightly cover them with soil. Protect them with a humidity dome or sheet of plastic wrap to retain moisture.
The optimal soil temperature for germinating cabbage seeds is between 65-70℉. Germination takes between five and eight days or longer in cold soil.
Once they sprout, move the cabbage seedlings to a south-facing windowsill where they get at least six hours of bright light daily. If you don’t have a sunny location available, consider using a grow light to prevent your seedlings from becoming elongated or “leggy.”
When to Plant Cabbage Outdoors
Although mature cabbage plants can withstand cold weather, tender young plants require protection from spring frosts. Wait to transplant your cabbage seedlings until the typical last frost date for your area.
For the first few weeks after they sprout, protect young cabbage plants from insect damage and frost with floating row covers or a cold frame.
On average, spacing between cabbage plants should be approximately one to three feet. Check the information printed on the back of the seed packet or plant label for variety-specific planting recommendations.
Avoid overcrowding your cabbage plants, as it stunts their growth and increases the risk of plant disease problems.
When planting collard greens in fall or cabbages, sow seeds in mid to late summer, about 100 days before the first frost in the fall. Many growers report that cabbage leaves taste sweeter after a light frost. In mild climates, it’s possible to grow cold-hardy cabbage throughout the winter.
How Long Does Cabbage Take to Grow?
At this point, some people might wonder, “How long does cabbage take to grow?” Although the exact days to harvest vary between cultivars, mature cabbage heads are usually ready to harvest 70-140 days after planting seeds.
If you’re transplanting nursery-grown seedlings, subtract two or three weeks from the expected days to maturity.
For gardeners with a short growing season, it’s best to choose cabbage varieties that mature more quickly. If your region usually has mild summertime temperatures, try succession planting cabbage seeds every four to six weeks for a continuous harvest of fresh cabbage.
Best Soil and Fertilizer for Growing Cabbage
Cabbage plants grow best in well-draining, fertile soil that’s rich in organic matter. They require consistent levels of soil moisture to thrive, but the ground must not stay oversaturated for long periods.
Use organic materials like bark chips, grass clippings, leaves, or pine needles as mulch to protect the soil surface from erosion, retain moisture, and suppress weed growth.
In addition to fertile soil, cabbage plants are heavy feeders and perform best with regular organic fertilizer applications. There are three basic macronutrients present in plant fertilizer: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Nitrogen stimulates green leafy growth, phosphorus supports robust root systems, and potassium enhances the plants’ fruiting and flowering processes.
Leafy greens like cabbage benefit from high nitrogen fertilizer. When using a slow-release granular fertilizer, apply every four to six weeks according to the instructions printed on the product package.
If you prefer using liquid fertilizer, feed your cabbage plants every three or four weeks. Alternatively, try using fish emulsion, which numerous gardeners claim is the best fertilizer for leafy vegetables. Blood meal or alfalfa meal is also an excellent soil amendment to give your plants a fast fix of nitrogen.
Caring for Cabbage Plants
Grow cabbages in an area that gets full sun to partial shade or a minimum of four to six hours of unobstructed sunlight during the day. In warmer climates, providing some protection from the intense afternoon sun may help to extend your cabbage plants’ growing season.
Cabbage needs ample space to spread out to reach its full potential at harvest time. Spacing between individual cabbage plants should be about 12-36 inches, depending on the variety.
Plant cabbage rows 24 inches apart. If you’d prefer smaller cabbage heads, grow the plants a bit closer together.
Even though cabbage plants require consistently moist soil, be careful not to overwater. If the soil stays oversaturated too long, the plants’ roots cannot absorb the available nutrients and oxygen and might rot.
Give your cabbage plants one inch of water per week or more during abnormally hot or dry weather.
Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Cabbage
When your cabbage heads are ready to harvest, they should feel dense and firm all the way through. Use a sterile and sharp knife or pair of pruners to cut the plant’s main stem an inch or two above its base. Keep several of the outer leaves intact to protect the cabbage head.
If you notice the plant beginning to bolt, immediately harvest all usable cabbage leaves before they turn bitter and stringy. Then, either remove the entire plant or allow it to flower and reseed itself in your garden bed.
Although it won’t regrow another full head, it’s possible to get a smaller second harvest of mini cabbage heads after a few more weeks.
Leave as many of the lower leaves as possible when you harvest the main head. Take care not to disturb the shallow roots and maintain the plant as usual.
A cabbage plant’s outer leaves are also edible, but they have a much tougher texture and are best when cooked. They’re ideal to use for preparing kimchi, sauerkraut, or soup and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Store your fresh cabbage heads in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for up to two weeks, or store cabbage long term in the freezer. Other popular ways of preserving cabbage for long-term storage include pickling and fermenting.
Solutions for Pest and Disease Issues
Brassicas are sometimes susceptible to various pest and disease problems. It’s imperative to closely monitor your plants for any signs of distress as they develop.
Healthy plants are far more resilient against attacks from insects and pathogens. Giving them appropriate amounts of light, nutrients, and water is their best protection.
The most commonplace insect pests that feed on cabbage plants include aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, cutworms, and flea beetles.
Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and cutworms are moth larvae that feed on cabbage plants’ leaves, stems, and roots.
Cabbage root maggots are fly larvae that hatch in the soil and feed on cabbage roots, causing the plant’s leaves to begin turning yellow and wilting.
Bacillus thuringiensis is a naturally occurring species of soil bacteria that’s an effective biological control for root maggots and other soil-borne larval pests.
To get rid of cabbage worms and keep them off your plants, use row covers over your cabbage seedlings for the first few weeks in early spring. This keeps insects from laying eggs on the tender young plants.
Spray all parts of the infested plants with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to kill eggs, larvae, and adult insects. Spread diatomaceous earth around the soil surface to deter cutworms and root maggots.
Clubroot and sclerotinia rot are diseases from soil-borne fungi. Unfortunately, the only remedy for these diseases and rotten cabbage is to remove the affected plants and sterilize the soil via solarization.
After clearing out the plants, deeply till the garden bed and allow it to sit in the sun for several days. Repeat the procedure at least three or four times to eliminate the pathogens. Clubroot doesn’t persist in acidic soil with a pH level below 6.8.
Fungal diseases like rust, downy or powdery mildew, and black rot damage cabbage leaves and often get transported by splashing water droplets.
Run drip irrigation or a soaker hose to keep the leaves dry when watering and check for proper drainage during periods of heavy rain. Treat any affected plants with an organic copper or sulfur fungicide.
Companion Planting with Cabbage
The concept behind companion planting is to take advantage of mutually beneficial relationships between certain plants to attract beneficial insects, repel pests, and create a healthy, sustainable garden ecosystem.
Some plant pairings also reportedly improve one another’s flavor and overall growth. However, not all plants are friendly neighbors, and a few must grow separately.
Aromatic herbs are terrific companions for cabbage plants. Dill, rosemary, and sage work effectively to repel cabbage moths.
Chamomile, chervil, and parsley attract beneficial predatory insects like hoverflies, ladybugs, tachinid flies, and parasitic wasps (which don’t sting humans). Chamomile also reputedly improves the flavor of cabbage when grown nearby.
Alliums like chives, onions, and garlic are also beneficial to grow alongside your cabbages. They efficiently repel numerous insects that feed on cabbage leaves, including aphids, cabbage worms, flea beetles, and slugs, in addition to deer and rodents.
Several other crops with similar growing requirements to cabbage can also be cultivated in the same bed. Leafy greens like chard, lettuce, and spinach have complementary needs regarding light, nutrients, and water. Celery helps deter cabbage moths.
Legumes like beans and peas have the unique ability to fix nitrogen into the soil through a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria.
This attribute makes them ideal companions for cabbage and other leaf crops. However, they must grow away from members of the Allium family, as these plants stunt one another’s growth.
Growing cabbage in your home garden isn’t as challenging as it might seem at first. As long as you can meet their requirements for consistent moisture, cool weather, and four or more hours of direct sun daily, your efforts are rewarded with delicious and nutritious homegrown cabbage heads.
In most climates, the best times for planting cabbage are in the spring and fall.
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