Cabbage can be grown almost anywhere and has long been valued for its storage life and hardiness. That being said, cabbage can be tricky to grow for the beginning gardener. These 10 tips for how to grow cabbage will have you on your way to cabbage-growing success.
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.
10 tips for how to grow cabbage:
1. Plant cabbage at the right time
An important thing to remember is cabbage likes cool temperatures. Cabbage will not form a head but split or bolt if exposed to too much heat or severe frost.
In cold winter areas, cabbage is a spring and fall crop. Sow cabbage seeds indoors 8 weeks before the last spring frost for a spring crop and 14 weeks before the first fall frost. Seeds sprout in 4 to 10 days. Cabbage seeds last up to 4 years. Cabbage seeds are available online at Seedsnow.com.
In areas with mild winters, like the low desert of Arizona, cabbage grows best during the winter season. In the low desert of Arizona:
Start seeds indoors: August – December
Plant seeds outside: September 15 (or when nighttime temps begin to cool off) – November
Plant transplants outside: September 15 (or when nighttime temps begin to cool off)- January
2. Try growing different types of cabbage
If warm temperatures may make growing traditional-headed cabbage difficult try Oriental and Savoy cabbage varieties. These types are often more consistent producers when grown in warm climates like the low desert of Arizona.
Head cabbage has green or red leaves and forms a tight rounded head. Early and mid-season varieties are smaller and faster growing. Late or long-season varieties are larger and store well. Varieties to try: Early Jersey Wakefield, Emerald Cross, Red Acre, Mammoth Red, and Stonehead.
Savoy cabbage has long crinkled leaves that form a looser head than other varieties. It is also milder and sweeter than standard cabbage with a more delicate texture.
Oriental cabbage grows into an oblong shape. Varieties include Napa, Bok Choy, and Tatsoi.
Planting dates for Bok Choy for the low desert of Arizona are:
Start seeds indoors: August 15 – January
Plant seeds outside: August 15 – January
Plant transplants outside: October – February
3. Grow cabbage in the best location
Cabbage prefers well-draining rich soil. Amend the soil with compost and nitrogen-rich blood meal (I like this one from Amazon) or cottonseed meal (I use this one from Amazon) before planting to encourage leafy growth.
Choose an area with full sun. Although cabbage prefers cooler temperatures, it requires plenty of sunshine to grow well.
4. Give cabbage enough room
If using square-foot gardening, plant 1 cabbage per 1-2 squares. Otherwise, space plants 18-24 inches apart depending on the variety.
5. Plant vigorous healthy seedlings for the best cabbage
Give cabbage a good start in life – choose small and tight transplants and avoid leggy or overgrown transplants. Don’t let transplants dry out or become pot-bound. Seedlings planted too late may not form heads and may bolt and flower instead. When planting, bury the stem up to just below the first set of leaves.
6. Learn how to prevent and treat cabbage pests and diseases
Cabbage seems to be a magnet for some common pests and diseases. Insects such as cabbage worms, cutworms, snails, and slugs can ruin young cabbage leaves. Aphids are a sign of water or heat stress. Using a combination of methods works well to prevent and treat pests.
- Plant onions, radishes, and nasturtiums near cabbage to help deter pests. I love planting I’itoi onions around all my cabbage plants.
- Use row covers while plants are young.
- To protect against cutworms, place a protective collar around young plants. Strips of newspaper can be used for this.
- Handpick caterpillars each morning and night.
- Spray cabbage infected with caterpillars with Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis – I use this type from Amazon).
- Spray aphids with water or treat with insecticidal soap.
To prevent the build-up of soil-borne diseases, rotate where you plant cabbage each year. Wait 3 years before planting cabbage in the same spot. Remove and destroy affected plants.
To prevent disease, remove the entire plant after harvesting rather than leaving the roots in the ground.
7. Provide even watering for cabbage
Cabbage requires regular, even watering. Uneven watering can result in stunted, split, or cracked heads. Heavy mulch will help keep the soil cool and retain moisture.
8. Don’t let cabbage go hungry
Cabbage is a heavy feeder – it depletes the soil quickly. Feed young plants with a fish emulsion and seaweed solution 2 weeks after planting. Feed again 3 weeks later, and feed monthly throughout the growing season.
If cabbage isn’t forming a head consider fertilizing with a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus. (The middle number in the N-P-K listing)
9. Harvest cabbage correctly
Cabbage tolerates light freezes – the flavor improves with cold weather. Harvest before temperatures heat up. Cabbage is ready to harvest in about 80 to 180 days when grown from seed and in approximately 65 to 105 days if grown from transplants (depending upon the variety).
- Harvest head cabbage when heads are well-formed and firm. Harvest head cabbage by cutting the base with a sharp knife. Want a second crop? Cut the head off high on the plant, leaving as many outer leaves as possible. The plant will send up as many as 6 new heads – harvest when about tennis ball-size.
- Begin harvesting leaf cabbage about a month after planting by harvesting the outer leaves using the cut-and-come-again method. To do this, harvest only the older outer leaves and allow the center of the plant to send out new leaves.
- Once the harvest is complete, remove the roots and stem to prevent soil-borne disease.
10. Store and use your homegrown cabbage
Remove loose leaves, wrap them in a damp paper towel, and store them in a plastic vegetable bag. Cabbage stored in this manner will last 1-2 months (or more!) in the refrigerator. Use cabbage in slaw, roasted, kimchi, soup, cabbage rolls, stir-fries, and more. Preserve cabbage by fermenting, and make sauerkraut.
Make a green powder “superfood” with extra leaves from brassicas after harvesting. Learn how in this blog post.