How to Grow Cabbage

green cabbage plant growing

by Jennifer Poindexter

Cabbage is one of those vegetables you either love or you hate. Some people love how cabbage can be used in a variety of recipes. Other people can’t seem to get over the smell cabbage produces when it cooks.

If you’re a fan of cabbage, you may want to consider growing it yourself. Don’t feel unprepared. Simply follow the information I’m about to provide you to get your growing season off to a great start.

Here’s what you must know to grow cabbage.

Growing Conditions for Cabbage

Cabbage likes a growing area where it can receive full sun. This crop is a great choice for almost every planting zone because it does well in zones one through nine.

It does prefer sandy soil, but it must also be well-draining. Most gardeners find it helpful to amend the soil heavily prior to planting cabbage. This crop is a heavy feeder and will suck the nutrients right out of the soil.

Therefore, if it isn’t amended heavily each season, your crops won’t be able to thrive because there will be nothing there for them to thrive on.

Cabbage is most commonly thought of as a crop you grow in the ground. Though this a gardening method you can use, it can also be grown in containers.

You’ll need larger growing containers and be sure to only place one plant per planter. Whether you have tons of grow space or only a small area, cabbage could be the right fit for you.

How to Plant Cabbage

There are two ways to plant cabbage and two different times of year for planting. To begin, cabbage can be grown in both spring and fall.

You may wish to grow them both times of the year, or you may find that you prefer growing them during only one time of year.

For me, I only grow cabbage in the fall because I have less pest issues. This is a personal decision you’ll need to make.

If growing cabbage in the spring, you’ll need to either start the seeds indoors two months prior to the final frost, or transplant purchased seedlings two weeks before the last frost.

In the fall, you can direct sow the seeds in late summer before frost arrives. This should give them time to germinate and thrive before the temperatures drop too much.

Whether starting seeds indoors, transplanting seedlings, or direct sowing seeds, you’re covered because we’re going to cover all the planting processes.

Let’s begin with starting seeds indoors. As mentioned, it’s best to start the seeds indoors two months prior to the final spring frost.

Plant the seeds in quality soil inside a grow tray. I use the covered end of an ink pen to form my holes for planting. This ensures I don’t plant too deep.

It’s also wise to place two seeds per pod in the grow tray. This is a germination insurance policy. If both seeds sprout, choose the stronger of the two plants.

Lightly cover the seeds with soil and place them in a warm location for germination to occur. Once the seeds have germinated, continue to provide warmth and light.

Water the seedlings carefully to ensure you don’t damage the tender plants. Keep the soil moist while they grow. One week prior to planting, begin hardening the seeds off.

Two weeks before the final spring frost, it’s time to transplant. Create rows for your cabbage where you’ve properly amended the soil.

There should be one to two feet between each seedling. The less space you provide between the plants, the smaller the heads of cabbage will be.

The greater amount of space you place between the seedlings, the larger the cabbage heads will become.

Leave two feet between each row, especially if growing larger heads. This will increase airflow around the plants and deter disease.

When planting the cabbage, dig a hole deep enough to support the seedlings root system. Place the seedling in the hole and cover it with soil. Press firmly around the base of the plant to stop air from reaching the roots of the plant.

It’s most common for gardeners to direct sow their cabbage seeds for a fall harvest because the temperatures are warm enough outside that the seeds will germinate.

Plant the cabbage seeds during the late summer months. You can dig a trench, in your garden, to make rows for your cabbage.

You’ll want two feet of space between rows and ensure the trench is only an inch or two deep. Drop the seeds in the trench and fill it back in with the surrounding soil.

Once the seedlings have reached a half foot in height, it’s time to space them properly. Leave one to two feet of space between cabbage plants, depending upon what size heads you’re looking for.

Now that your cabbage is safely planted in your garden, it’s time to learn how to care for the plants all the way to harvest.

Caring for Cabbage

Cabbage doesn’t require much care. If you can supply an adequate amount of water, mulch, fertilizer, amend the soil properly, and keep an eye on the temperatures, your crops should be in good hands.

Water is important when raising cabbage. The plants need approximately two inches per week. This can come from you or nature.

Either way, it’s wise to purchase a rain gauge to keep up with how much water has fallen on your garden naturally.

If you still need to water during the week, practice the deep watering method. This ensures water reaches the roots of the plant, but it also makes the plant seek out water when it isn’t provided every day.

Instead, water for longer periods fewer days of the week. As the cabbage plants search for water, they develop stronger root systems.

Mulching is also an important step in caring for cabbage. Not only does mulch help retain moisture around the plants, but it also keeps the weeds down.

When there are less weeds in your garden, the plants won’t have to compete for nutrients. It also deters pests and diseases.

Fertilizing is vital in caring for cabbage. As mentioned previously, cabbage plants are heavy feeders. By providing nutrients along the way, you give them the greatest chance of thriving.

The first time you fertilize should be two weeks after planting. Use a balanced fertilizer during this time. You should fertilize again, with a nitrogen rich fertilizer, about a month and a half after planting the cabbage plants.

Amending the soil also goes along with ensuring the cabbage plants have what they need. Clubroot is a disease we’ll discuss in a later section, but it’s a disease which commonly invades many gardens.

If you know your garden has had a history of clubroot, add lime to the soil prior to planting your cabbage plants.

This will increase the pH. Test the soil to ensure the pH level is at seven or higher. This will make it more difficult for this disease to ravage your cabbage crop.

The final step in caring for cabbage is to watch the temperatures. When the temperatures get higher than eighty-degrees Fahrenheit, the cabbage plants may begin to bolt.

However, if the temperatures drop below fifty-degrees Fahrenheit, this too can cause the plants to bolt. The ideal temperatures for growing cabbage are between sixty- and seventy-degrees Fahrenheit.

Try to take this into consideration when deciding when to start seeds or transplant seedlings in either spring or fall.

One final thing to mention when raising cabbage is to consider what’s planted around it. There are some plants that cabbage will thrive around.

If you need to share your garden space, plant beets, herbs, potatoes, onions, or celery near cabbage. Avoid planting strawberries or tomatoes in the same area.

If you can provide these few things, your cabbage should be cared for properly. By caring for your plants as they grow, you stand a greater chance at receiving the benefits come harvest time.

Common Garden Pests and Diseases for Cabbage

Cabbage is a vegetable which, unfortunately, has many enemies. The pests you should be aware of are aphids, cutworms, flea beetles, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, slugs, cabbage root maggots, and thrips.

The diseases, which most commonly impact cabbage, are clubroot, downy mildew, and black rot. It’s vital to understand how to defeat these pests and diseases to protect your harvest.

However, there is an upside to having so many pests with cabbage. Most of them can be treated using the same treatment method. Apply an insecticide at the first signs of pests. It should treat every pest mentioned.

This is great because you don’t need to be able to even identify what is eating your cabbage. Instead, make sure the insecticide you’re using covers every pest mentioned, and you know you’ve gained the upper hand without too much additional work.

When treating the diseases which commonly impact cabbage, they each have a different treatment plan. For black rot, treat the plant with fungicide as a deterrent.

Once it has entered the plant, you’ll need to remove and destroy it before the fungus spreads to the remaining crops.

Clubroot is another disease which is better to prevent than be forced to treat. If your cabbage is impacted by clubroot, remove the entire plant. Ensure you remove the entire root system as well.

This fungus is extremely aggressive and will spread from plant to plant via your soil. Destroy any plants which have been impacted.

Raise your soil’s pH level after you’ve spotted clubroot. Add lime to the soil and keep the pH at 7.0 or higher to keep the disease at bay.

Finally, downy mildew is also a fungus. It can be prevented by watering your cabbage in the mornings. This will give the leaves all day to dry.

Also, provide proper spacing between the plants. This will increase airflow. If you see downy mildew forming on your crops, remove infected leaves and treat with a fungicide.

By staying alert to these potential threats, you can help your cabbage stay ahead of what harms them. Even if they do become infected, you may be able to help them bounce back or protect the rest of your harvest.

How to Harvest Cabbage

Cabbage can take anywhere from eighty to 105 days, depending upon what type of planting method you choose.

You’ll know the cabbage heads are ready when they’re about one to three pounds, have reached an adequate size, and feel solid.

Pick the heads which are ready and cut them away from the plant with a knife or garden shears. You can also pull the whole plant out of the ground, including the roots.

If you pull up the whole plant, it’s best to hang it in a cool, dry location for longer storage. Cabbage, in this form, can last up to three months if stored properly.

Cut heads should be taken indoors immediately. Remove any yellow leaves, but keep the loose green leaves. Close the loose leaves around the plant and store in the refrigerator for two or more weeks. 

Once the crop is harvested, remove any remaining parts of the plants in the garden. Leaving them will only attract more pests or diseases to the area.

Once you’ve completed your harvest, you’re done with the growing process of raising cabbage. Hopefully, these tips will help you to produce a bountiful harvest you’ll enjoy in the near future.

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cabbage seedlings and cabbage plant with text overlay how to grow cabbage

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