It may not be the most exciting or exotic of vegetables, but it's definitely worthwhile to learn how to grow cabbage. This versatile cruciferous veggie is packed with vitamin C (more than oranges!), beta carotene and fiber.

As beautiful as it is nutritious, cabbage spreads out its pale green leaves and forms a tight edible head. It can be grown in the ground, in raised beds or even in containers and makes an unusual addition to ornamental beds. As long as it gets plenty of sun and water, cabbage is easy to grow.

A spring and fall crop, cabbage grows best in cool weather around 60 degrees, and when planted near onions, garlic, peas, potatoes and herbs such as thyme, rosemary and mints. Strawberries, tomatoes and pole beans grown nearby can stunt the growth of cabbage.

Types of cabbage

Green cabbage is the most common type, and comes in a range of hues from nearly white to bluish-green depending on the variety. Early-maturing varieties are juicy and tender, but don't store as well as later varieties, which are great for sauerkraut.

Red cabbage has broad, silvery-green leaves edged and veined with purple and the heads have an intense violet-colored interior. It's often used to add color to salads, and is also used in cooked dishes.

Savoy cabbage, with its ruffly textured leaves, is typically grown for slaw and salads. Its leaves are much thinner and more tender than those of green and red cabbage.

How to plant

• Start cabbage in any of the following three ways: Start seed indoors six to eight weeks before your area's average last spring frost to transplant for late spring to early summer harvest, plant bare-root or small individual plants purchased at a nursery, or sow seed directly into the ground in mid-summer for fall crop.

• Select a sunny area with rich, loose soil. Cabbage tolerates partial shade in warmer climates. Plant the seeds one-quarter to one-half inch deep, or cover the roots of cabbage plants and space them 12 to 24 inches apart. Seeds germinate in 5-7 days.

• Keep the soil moist and thin or transplant seedlings when they reach four to five inches tall. Mulch around the plants to protect their shallow root systems.

• When transplanting young cabbage seedlings started indoors, use starter fertilizer.

• Side-dress cabbage plants with nitrogen fertilizer when they are half grown.

• Heavily irrigate cabbage plants started in mid-summer for fall harvest so they can withstand the heat and sun.

• Use row covers in the early part of the season for spring crops to prevent the cabbage moth from laying its eggs on your plants. Manually remove any cabbage worms noticed on the plants.

How to harvest

• Harvest cabbage as soon as the heads are solid and firm to the touch; if you wait too long, the heads will split from too much moisture, attracting pests and disease. Simply cut the cabbage head from the stem.

• After your main cabbage harvest, you can also enjoy the small sprouts that pop up on the stumps of the cut stems. Harvest these cabbage sprouts when they are two to four inches in diameter and firm to the touch.

• Compost the stumps, or leave them in the ground and cover them well with mulch through the winter so that you can save the seeds they produce the following spring.


USA Gardener

Heirloom Organics

University of Illinois Extension

Veggie Harvest