Cabbage is the crown jewel of the cold season. Growing your own cabbage, from seed or transplant, is impressive and rewarding. There are many unique varieties of cabbage to grow. To grow a successful cabbage crop, plant during your climate’s cold season in rich, well draining soil in an area that gets full sun. When you’re ready to harvest your cabbage, you will find that there are so many possibilities to prepare and eat this gorgeous crop! Be sure to save some room in your garden to save some cabbage seeds for next season.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Cabbage
- WATER: Cabbage prefers even, regular watering. Cabbage requires approximately 1 inch of water per week.
- SUN: Cabbage requires full sun, at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day.
- SOIL: Cabbage performs best when planted in rich and fertile, well-drained soil. Apply a thick layer of compost when planting and reapply half way through growing.
- SPACING: Be sure to give your cabbage enough room to grow. Space cabbage at least 1.5 to 2 feet apart from one another.
- ROUTINE MAINTENANCE: As mentioned, cabbage performs best in rich, fertile soil. Cabbage will benefit from amending with compost halfway through growing. Inspect cabbage leaves regularly for pests.
- WHEN TO PLANT: Cabbage is considered a cool climate crop. If you live in an area that does not freeze, cabbage can be planted at the end of summer through the end of winter. Successive planting of cabbage can be done to ensure you have sufficient harvest. In an area that does freeze, cabbage is typically planted just after the last frost date. To get a head start, you can start your seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date.
- TEMPERATURE: Cabbage seeds germinate best at sustained temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Once planted, cabbage will grow best in temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a suitable cold season crop.
How to Grow Cabbage From Seed
Your local nursery, depending on your specific climate, will typically carry cabbage seedlings or “starts” at the end of summer through early spring. Plant cabbage seedlings in your garden at least 1.5 to 2 feet apart and amend the area with a thick layer of compost.
It is also simple, cost effective and fun to start your cabbage from seed. With cabbage seeds packs costing less than $5, growing a large crop of cabbage doesn’t need to break the bank. Another benefit to growing cabbage from seed is that you can find new, unique varieties not typically found at the nursery. To grow cabbage from seed:
- If you live in an area that DOES NOT have a hard frost: Sow cabbage seeds directly in your garden anytime from the end of summer through early spring. Sow 2 cabbage seeds 1/4 inch deep, 1 foot apart. Keep the planting area moist until the seedlings emerges. Once your seedling emerges, thin your cabbages to at least 1.5 to 2 feet apart from one another. I like to use a pair of fine snips like these.
- If you live in an area that DOES have a hard frost: Start cabbage seeds 4-6 weeks indoors before your average last frost date. Transplant out cabbage seedlings once danger of frost has past. For tips on starting seeds indoors, check out my post: Indoor Seed Starting Set Up.
- Keep the planting area around your cabbage moist, approximately 1 inch of water per week.
- Halfway through the growing season, amend the area around your cabbage with ample compost. To retain water moisture and prevent weeds, apply a layer of mulch such as shredded cedar, crushed leaves, or chopped straw.
- Inspect your cabbage frequently for pests and diseases. Remove pests and diseases as soon as you can to preserve your cabbage crop from being harmed further.
Recommended Varieties of Cabbage Seed
Red and Purple Cabbage
- “Red Express” is a standout cabbage variety among home gardeners – for a good reason too! Red Express is known for its compact growth. You can plant them closer together than other varieties, around 1 to 1.5 foot apart. Red Express is an “early” variety of cabbage, taking less than 60 days to mature. This variety of purple cabbage is excellent for coleslaws.
- “Copenhagen Market” is a popular green heirloom cabbage variety also known for compact growth. Don’t be afraid to plant this variety on the closer side, around 1 to 1.5 foot apart. Copenhagen Market is considered an early variety, taking about 65 days to mature.
- “One Kilo Slow Bolt” Napa cabbage is by far the most successful variety of cabbage I have grown in all categories. This variety not only tastes great but also grows quickly and is ready to harvest only 50-55 days after the seedling first emerges. Napa cabbage is known for its elongated shape, green outer leaves, and soft yellow inner leaves.
- “Perfection” Savoy cabbage is a standout heirloom variety. Most savoy cabbages are hybrids, making “Perfection” unique in more ways than one. Savoy cabbage is known for its rough textured leaves. Savoy cabbage is typically used in soups, sautéed, or steamed. Savoy cabbage is a rare find at typical grocery stores, making it a fun addition to your home garden.
Companion Planting for Cabbage
Plant cabbage with aromatic herbs such as chamomile, rosemary, sage and thyme. Aromatic herbs can help repel pests from your cabbage. Planting herbs can also help with weed suppression around your cabbage plants.
Common Diseases and Pests When Growing Cabbage
Diseases: Black Rot and Yellowing Leaves
Black rot and yellowing leaves are the most common diseases that will affect your cabbage crop. Unfortunately, by the time your crop begins to exhibit the signs of black rot and yellow leaves, it often signals severe underlying problems for your cabbage crop. The best means of combating these issues is to implement preventive practices. The easiest preventive measure to take is crop rotation. Avoid growing cabbage in the same spot. Another way to prevent these diseases from taking hold is to examine the seeds you are using. Try to find “disease resistant” varieties of cabbage. Lastly, to prevent diseases from taking hold of you cabbage crop, ensure that you plant your cabbage in fertile, well drained soil because black rot thrives in water logged soil.
Pests: Cabbage Loopers, Cabbage Worms, Flea Beetles, Root Maggots
Among the most common pests that may ravage your cabbage crop are cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, flea beetles and root maggots. One way to prevent these pests from taking hold of your crop in the first place is to utilize row covers when planting your cabbage. Another way to prevent most of these pests is by inspecting the leaves of your cabbage plant thoroughly and often. Inspect the under sides and tops of leaves for pest eggs and larvae. Remove the eggs and larvae on sight. To combat pests you can also use a a castile soap dilution. Dilute 1 teaspoon of castile soap in 1 gallon of water. Put the mixture in a spray bottle and apply to the affected areas of your cabbage plant. For beginning gardeners it may be useful to plant red cabbage varieties as it is easier to identify worms and larvae on the red leafed varieties.
When and How to Harvest Cabbage
So, how do you know when your cabbage is ready to harvest? Harvest cabbage when the head of the cabbage is entierely firm when squeezed. Something to keep in mind is that some heads of cabbage may be smaller or larger than others. It is important to harvest your cabbage as soon as the head is firm when squeezed. If you wait too long to harvest your cabbage, the head will likely split in two and begin to “go to seed.” To harvest your cabbage, use a garden knife like a hori hori. Take your gardening tool and cut the cabbage at the stem just underneath the head of cabbage. Remove some of the excess leaves on the outside of the cabbage. You can reserve and use these extra leaves to eat.
Cabbage Recipe Suggestions
Cabbage can be prepared in so many ways – raw, sautéed, steamed, boiled, fermented and grilled. When deciding how to prepare my cabbage, I draw a lot of inspiration from my cookbook collection. Here are some of my favorites recipes for cabbage:
- Hooni Kim’s Kimchi from My Korea
- Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Cabbage and rice rolls from Japan
- Molly Baz’s Minty Lamb Meatballs with Crispy Cabbage and Tahini Sauce from Cook This Book
As my cookbook collection expands, I am excited to learn new ways to prepare cabbage.
How to Save Cabbage Seeds
If you want to save cabbage seeds for next season, reserve one cabbage for seed saving. Instead of harvesting the cabbage, allow it to “go to seed.” The head of cabbage will split open and yellow flowers will grow. Along the stem of the yellow flowers, seed pods will form. Wait until the seeds pods are completely dry and brittle to the touch to harvest your cabbage seeds. To harvest the seeds, crack open the seed pods to reveal several cabbage seeds. Store cabbage seeds in a cool, dry place.