Guide to Growing Cabbage
One of the most popular of the brassica group of vegetables, cabbage has varieties to plant and harvest nearly all year. The selection includes textured savoys, sweet spring greens, and vibrant red-leaf varieties.
How to Grow
Cabbages grow in sun or partial shade and prefer moist, fertile, slightly alkaline soil that has been improved with plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost. The soil should also be firm to help support the large heads, especially in the winter. Depending on the type, you can sow cabbage successively all year. Sow in early spring for summer cabbage; sow in late spring for fall and winter crops, and sow mid- to late summer for cabbage the following spring. Sow seed 3/4-inches (2 cm) deep under cover in modules or outside in a seedbed, and plant out or transplant the seedlings when they have three to four leaves. Keep plants well-watered until established, weed regularly, and remove any dead leaves. Harvest the cabbage when ready using a sharp knife, and clear away any plant debris.
Types of Cabbage
Your choice in cabbage varieties will depend on the season and garden space available. Consider these types of cabbage for your outdoor area:
- Spring cabbage and spring greens: For spring crops, sow seed in late summer, and plant out in early to mid-fall. Space plants 6in (15cm) apart for spring greens, 10 inches (25 cm) for spring cabbage. Water well until established, then again only in dry spells. In winter, earth up the stems to help support the plants, and remove any dead or yellowing leaves. In spring, harvest greens as individual leaves, or cut the cabbages whole. Varieties to try include: ‘Advantage’, ‘Excel’ F1, ‘Durham Early’, ‘Frostie’ F1, ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Spring Hero'.
- Summer and fall cabbage: Sow seed in succession, early spring to early summer, to give a harvest through summer and fall. Make early- spring sowings under cover into modules, and harden plants off once they have 3–4 true leaves. Plant out 15–18 inches (38–45 cm) apart once hard frosts have passed; cover plants with fabric on colder nights. Apply a granular feed when adjacent plants start to touch across rows. Varieties to try include: ‘Derby Day’, ‘Golden Acre’, ‘Guardian’ F1, ‘Hispi’ F1, ‘Kilaton’ F1 and ‘Kilazol’ F1.
- Winter cabbage: For crops through winter, sow seed in batches from late spring to early summer. Plant out or transplant when seedlings have three to four leaves, spacing them 18 inches (45 cm) apart. Apply a granular fertilizer when adjacent plants start to touch. Hardier varieties can be left in the soil in winter until needed, others should be cut and stored in nets; they will last 6–8 weeks if kept cool. Varieties to try include: ‘Celtic’, ‘Ormskirk 1’ F1, ‘Rigoletto’, ‘Savoy King’, ‘Tarvoy’ and ‘Tundra’.
- Red cabbage: Harvested in summer to fall, sow seed for red cabbage from early to late spring; plant out or transplant the seedlings 9–15 inches (23–38 cm) apart, once they have three to four leaves. Cover early crops with fabric to protect against frost. Water well until established, weed regularly, and apply granular fertilizer when neighboring plants start to touch. Harvest when the heads feel uniformly solid. Varieties to try include: ‘Kalibos’, ‘Marner Large Red’, ‘Red Flare’, ‘Rookie’, ‘Ruby Ball’ and ‘Ruby Perfection’,
Watch Out for These Pests and Diseases
All brassicas suffer similar pests and diseases. Clubroot attacks brassica roots, stunting growth and killing plants. It can last in the soil for 20 years, and there is no cure. Destroy infected plants, rotate crops, and lime the soil. Strong seedlings are less vulnerable. Mealy cabbage aphids suck sap and weaken plants. They hide under the leaves. Spray with insecticide.