Cabbage is a cool-weather crop. Grow cabbage in spring so that it comes to harvest before the summer heat or start cabbage in mid to late summer so that it comes to harvest during the cool days of autumn, winter, or early spring.
Cabbages will grow in most soils. They prefer short days and cool temperatures. Mature cabbages can withstand cold temperatures as low as 20°F. Seedlings and young plants can withstand a light frost.
There are many varieties of cabbage from the size of a softball to others that weigh as much as 50 pounds. Some are best eaten soon after harvest, others are well-suited for months of storage and winter eating. Plant a combination of early-, midseason-, and late-maturing cabbages. The earlies will give you your first harvest and can be eaten right away. The mid-seasons follow also for fresh eating. The lates are the slow growers and the best keepers for winter.
Cabbages are also colorful. Choose from pink, red, lavender, blue, purple, white, cream, or green. There are also tight or loose head cabbages. Savoy is a looseleaf cabbage with crinkly textured leaves and is perhaps the most flavorful. It is hardy and probably the best cabbage variety for home gardens.
Cabbage Quick Growing Tips
- Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring.
- Place cabbage transplants in the garden when they are 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) tall as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring.
- Direct sow seed outdoors when the soil can be worked in spring.
- In mild-winter regions, start seed in late summer for a winter or spring harvest.
Types of Cabbage
- There are literally hundreds of different varieties of cabbage. There are many ways to group or classify the varieties of cabbage:
- One way to group cabbage is to classify them by harvest time–early season, mid-season, and late season. Early varieties are generally started indoors for a 2 to 3-week head start on the season; mid- and late-season varieties are generally direct seeded in the garden.
- Another way is to group cabbage varieties by whether they are best eaten fresh or if they are better stored.
- There are cabbages with smooth green leaves, others with red leaves, and others with green, crinkly leaves (called Savoy cabbage).
- Savoy cabbages have a higher iron content than smooth-leaved cabbage; they are hardy and make good winter and spring crops.
- Some cabbages are grouped as ornamental (even though their leaves are edible). These are sometimes called “flowering” cabbages; they have loose heads of ruffled leaves that are red, white, or pink, with an outside border of green leaves.
Where to Grow Cabbage
- Grow cabbage in loam soil rich in organic matter that is well-drained. Plant cabbage in full sun. Prepare the planting beds ahead of planting by covering beds with 2 to 3 inches (5-7cm) of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix and turning it under to 12 inches (30cm) deep.
- Cabbage grows best when the soil pH is between 6.5 and 6.8. The soil needs to be fertile and non-acidic. Complete a soil test before planting cabbage.
- If clubroot disease has been a problem, adjust the soil pH to 7.0 or slightly higher by adding lime.
- Add potassium-rich material such as greensand to the planting bed; also add phosphorus-rich material like phosphate rock.
- Add plenty of well-aged compost to planting beds before planting. In regions where the soil is sandy or where there is heavy rain, supplement the soil with nitrogen.
- Adding a moderate amount of nitrogen-rich blood meal or cottonseed meal to the soil ahead of planting will enhance leafy growth.
- Cabbage can be grown in sandy loam or heavy clay if watered correctly.
- Adequate moisture will allow cabbage to be grown in hot regions. Without adequate water in hot regions, cabbage will bolt–flower and go to seed.
- Cabbage will grow in USDA Zones 1-10. They can withstand temperatures as low as 20°F. They grow best when days and short and temperatures are cool. In areas with hot summers and cool, but cold winters, grow cabbage as a winter crop.
Cabbage Planting Time
- Cabbage grows best in regions where there is a long, cool growing season with temperatures between 45° and 75°F (7-24°C).
- Cabbage can tolerate frost and briefly temperatures as low as 20°F (-6.70°C).
- Cabbage will bolt and go to seed in temperatures greater than 80°F (26°C).
- Early varieties are generally started indoors for a 2 to 3-week head start on the season; mid- and late-season varieties are generally direct seeded in the garden.
- Sow midseason varieties directly in the garden on the frost-free date, and late-season varieties one month later.
- As a general guideline: in southern mild-winter regions, start cabbage indoors or in a cold frame in December and set plants in the garden in January; in northern cold-winter regions, start cabbage in hotbeds or indoors in February and set plants in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. In northern regions, plant starts seeds again in May or June and set them in the garden in July.
- Start seeds indoors as early as 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in spring.
- Sow seed outdoors when the soil can be worked in spring. Transplants can go in the garden from 5 weeks before to 3 weeks after the last frost.
- Place transplants in the garden when they are 3 to 4 inches (7-10cm) tall as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring.
- Transplant seedlings that are 4 to 5 inches tall.
- For the best result transplanting cabbage, transplant after rain or soak the hole with water overnight before transplanting then water again after young plants are set in place. If the weather is sunny, give new transplants a few days of shade until they are acclimatized.
- In cool-summer regions, plant cabbage in late spring for a fall harvest.
- In mild-winter regions, start seed in late summer—about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost–for a winter or spring harvest.
- Cabbage comes to harvest in 80 to 180 days from seed and in 60 to 105 days from transplants depending upon the variety.
- Unused cabbage seed is good for 5 years.
Spring cabbage starting tips: Plant Spring Cabbage in Fall.
Cabbage Planting and Spacing
- Sow cabbage seeds a ½ inch deep spaced 1 inch (2.5cm) apart; thin plants to 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart–18 inches apart for earlies, 24 inches apart for lates.
- Cabbage seed is tiny; just 1 ounce of seeds will produce 1,500 to 3,000 plants.
- Transplant cabbage to the garden when plants are 4 to 6 weeks old with 4 to 5 true leaves. Set transplants in holes up to the bottom of the first pair of leaves, making sure the crown is not too close to the soil surface.
- Set leggy or crooked stemmed plants deeply; you can bury 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5cm) of the main stem even up to just below the top two sets of leaves.
- Space young seedlings 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart in rows 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) apart. You can space plants closer but the heads will be smaller at maturity.
- Space early varieties 14 inches apart; space mid-season varieties 16 inches apart; space late varieties 24 inches apart.
- In early spring plant cabbage through black plastic or garden fabric set in place to warm the soil. Cut an x in the fabric to set out transplants.
- Provide cutworm collars for seedlings and young cabbage plants.
- Plant succession crops every two weeks or plant seeds and transplants at the same time or plant early and midseason varieties at the same time so that they come to harvest at different times.
- Cabbage yield: Plant 4 to 8 cabbage plants for each household member.
More tips: Cabbage Seed Starting Tips.
Container Growing Cabbage
- A cabbage will grow easily in a container at least 8 inches (20cm) deep and wide.
- In large containers grow cabbage on 12-inch (30cm)centers.
- Keep the soil evenly moist, do not let the soil go dry, and do not overwater.
- Feed cabbage growing in containers with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion every two weeks.
- Cabbage dislikes hot weather; move containers into the shade when the weather warms.
- Cabbage requires regular, even watering. Uneven watering can result in stunted or cracked heads. Give cabbage 1 to 1½ inches of water every week; 1 inch equals 16 gallons (60.5 liters).
- As plants reach maturity, cut back on watering to avoid splitting heads.
- Always water at the base of the plant; avoid over-head watering which can spread disease.
- Cabbage is a heavy feeder.
- Three weeks after planting side-dress cabbage with well-rotted manure, or apply manure tea every three weeks until harvest.
- Fertilize cabbage at midseason when plants are established with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as 10-5-5 or feed plants a dilute solution of fish emulsion every two weeks.
Companion Plants for Cabbage
- Grow cabbage with beets, lettuce, radishes, celery, fragrant herbs, onions, and potatoes.
- Interplant cabbage with beets and radishes and leafy lettuce; there will be ample room for these crops next to maturing cabbage.
- Cabbage can be grown alongside broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, cauliflower, and peas.
- Avoid planting cabbage with pole beans, strawberries, and tomatoes.
- To deter insects, plant dill or thyme near cabbage.
Caring for Cabbage Care
- Mulch around cabbage—especially in warm weather—to preserve soil moisture and keep the soil cool in warm weather.
- Cabbage heads will split when they grow too fast and take up too much water.
- To prevent this damage, twist heads a quarter turn to separate some roots and interrupt water uptake a week in advance of harvest.
- If heads are small at harvest, add nitrogen to the soil next season and plant earlier.
- If cabbage suddenly starts to flower, this is caused by temperatures of 40 to 50°F for three or four weeks; this may happen to cabbages that are overwintered.
- Cabbage can be attacked by cutworms, cabbage loopers (caterpillars preceded by small yellow and white moths), imported cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, slugs, and aphids.
- Place a protective collar around young plants to exclude cutworms.
- Handpick loopers and worms destroy them or spray with insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis.
- Cabbage maggots are the larvae of a fly. Plant radishes near cabbages to repel the flies. Place row covers over seedlings or plant through the garden fabric to keep flies from laying eggs in the soil. Mound diatomaceous earth or hot pepper around stems if maggots are in the soil. You can also mix wood ash into the soil near the roots.
- Cutworms and flea beetles will attack young plants.
- Aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage maggots, harlequin bugs, imported cabbage worms, and leafminers attack cabbage.
- Flea beetles nibble holes in young leaves; attacks are worse in dry weather; keeping the soil moist will deter attacks.
- Mealy aphids are gray-green, waxy-looking aphids that suck juices from leaves; squash by hand or introduce ladybugs into the garden.
- Cabbage whitefly are clouds of small white insects; spray with insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis.
- Caterpillars are the larvae of various types of cabbage white butterflies and moths; these pests eat holes in leaves; insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis.
- Cabbage root fly: these adult flies lay eggs at the base of young brassica plants; hatched grubs tunnel into roots causing plants to collapse; exclude the flies with row covers; dig up and dispose of collapsed plants.
- Slugs and snails eat ragged holes in leaves; handpick and destroy these pests.
- Birds can attack young seedlings; protect seedlings with netting or row covers.
- To deter insect pests, plant thyme alongside cabbage in a row about 6 inches away. You can also spray plants with a mix of boiled onion and garlic.
- Black rot, also called blackleg, clubroot, and yellows are fungal diseases that can attack cabbage
- Blackleg leaves yellow, V-shaped lesions on leaf edges. Plants with clubroot wilt and look stunted; there will be galls on the roots. Cabbage yellows are marked by the yellowing of lower leaves.
- Blackleg, bacterial blight: control diseases through crop rotation; collect and burn or dispose of in the trash can plant material after harvest.
- Clubroots is a soil-borne disease that results in root swelling followed by yellow leaves, the collapse of the plant, and death. Lift the entire plant and dispose of it in the trash or burn it; do not compost diseased plants
- Downy mildew and yellows can also afflict cabbage plants.
- To avoid fungal diseases plant disease-resistant varieties or seeds that have been hot water treated. Plant in well-drained soil. Water with compost tea.
- Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
- Rotate crops on a three-year cycle.
More tips: Cabbage Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.
Cracking Cabbage Heads
- Cabbage heads crack or split if the soil is allowed to go dry and then watered. The center and outer portions of the head develop at different speeds. The heads of early varieties often split in warm weather.
- If a cabbage head starts to crack or split, you can slow growth and the harvest time; give the plant a 180° twist at ground level to break off some of the roots; this will slow growth.
- If cracking continues, twist another 90° or harvest right away.
- Cabbage will be ready for harvest at maturity in 80 to 180 days from seed depending on the variety or in 60 to 105 days from transplanting. However, cabbage can be harvested at any size. Baby heads are considered a delicacy. Cabbage does not have to form a head to be edible; you can eat loose leaves.
- Cut cabbage with a sharp knife when heads are firm and the base of the head is 4 to 10 inches (10-25cm) across.
- Splitting heads are a sign of irregular watering or cabbages past their prime.
- Harvest before the weather becomes too warm in spring. Cabbage will be sweet if harvested in cool weather.
- To harvest cabbage, cut the heads off the root system with a sharp knife. Discard the outer leaves and inspect the head for insects along the leaf stems if you plan to store heads.
- Cabbage for a fall crop or winter harvest can sit under a blanket of snow without harm. Simply pull away the spoiled outer leaves after harvest.
- If you want a second harvest from the same plant, cut the head just where the center of the stem meets the head leaving most of the stem and several leaves attached to the stem stump. Small new heads—about the size of a baseball–will grow from the stalks for later harvest.
- To hold maturing cabbage in the garden longer, pull or twist the heads to break off some of the feeder roots. This shock will keep cabbage from bolting or splitting for a period.
- To get a second harvest from early varieties, cut the initial head off leaving the stalks and roots in place. The stalks will resprout with little buds; remove all but one or two of the new sprouts and let them develop into small heads for a second harvest.
More tips: How to Harvest and Store Cabbage.
Storing and Preserving Cabbage
- Cabbage will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks or longer.
- Cabbage stores best when kept cool and most at 32° to 40°F. Late-season varieties store best.
- Under proper conditions, cabbage will keep for 5 to 6 months.
- In mild-winter regions, cabbage can be stored outdoors in the garden row or in pits or trenches. Place a thick protective mulch over cabbage stored outdoors.
- Late-season varieties with firm, solid heads should be picked just before the leave lose their bright color; these can be stored in a pit or cellar.
- Cabbage also can be dried and frozen or cured in brine as sauerkraut.
- Cabbage seeds can be sprouted.
Storing Cabbage in a Cabbage Pit
- Cabbage can be harvested root and head in a pit or cellar.
- Dig a pit 2 feet deep and line it with straw; place the cabbages in the pit with roots up and cover with straw; then place a burlap sack over the heads and shovel a bit of soil over the sack. Lift the sack as you want to use heads.
Storing Cabbage in a Root Cellar
- Place cabbage heads on a sheet in a root cellar; leaves several inches between each head.
- Cabbage leaves can be shredded or cut into wedges and then blanched for 2 to 3 minutes; place blanched cabbage in freezer bags and then freeze.
Cabbage in the Kitchen
- Cabbage tastes best when eaten soon after harvest.
- Cabbage is high in vitamins; it has good amounts of vitamins B1, B2, and A, plus calcium and vitamin C.
- Cabbage can be used in both raw and cooked forms. Uncooked cabbage is higher in nutrient value than cooked cabbage.
- Grated, raw cabbage is the main ingredient in cole slaw.
- Slivers of cabbage can be added to stir-fries, soups, or stews.
- A cabbage roll is ground pork or beef mixed with sauteed caramelized onions and rice, stuffed in a cabbage leaf.
- Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, such as cabbage and Korean radish.
Varieties of Cabbage to Grow
There are hundreds of different varieties of cabbage. Choose a variety of cabbage that fits your growing time and needs.
- Green cabbage varieties: ‘Stovehead’ (60 days); ‘Jersey Wakefield’ (63 days); ‘Golden Acre’ (65 days); ‘Market Prize’ (73 days); ‘Green Boy’ (75 days); ‘Round Up’ (76 days); ‘Blue Ribbon’ (76 days); ‘Blue Boy’ (78 days); ‘Rio Verde’ (70 days); ‘Badger Ban Head’ (98 days); ‘Flat Dutch’ (105 days).
- Savoy cabbage varieties: ‘Savoy Ace’ (80 days); ‘Savoy King’ (85 days).
- Red cabbage varieties: ‘Red Acre’ (76 days); ‘Red Ball’ (70 days); ‘Red Ribbon’ (78 days); ‘Ruby Perfection’ (90 days).
Cabbage Varieties by Harvest Time
There are summer cabbage, autumn cabbage, and winter cabbage varieties. Early-season varieties come to harvest in late spring and summer; mid-season varieties come to harvest in late summer and autumn; late-season varieties come to harvest in autumn and winter.
- Early-season green cabbage: ‘Bergkabis, Charmant’ (52-65 days); ‘Derby Day’ (58-65 days), ‘Discovery’, ‘Dynamo’, ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ (63-70 days); ‘Golden Acre’ (58-65 days); ‘Jingan’; ‘Julius’; ‘Mini Cole’; ‘Parel’; ‘Primo’; ‘Stonehead’ (50-70 days).
- Early-season red cabbage: ‘Barteolo’; ‘Bentley’; ‘Cardinal’; ‘Copenhagen Market Red’; ‘Lasso’; ‘Lennox’; ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ (90-95 days); ‘Red Acre’ (75-85 days); ‘Red Debut’; ‘Red Drumhead’ (95 days); ‘Red Rodan’ (140 days); ‘Red Rookie’ (78 days); ‘Rona Red’ (98 days), ‘Rougette’; ‘Ruby Perfection’ (83-85 days); ‘Solid Red’ (83 days).
- Midseason cabbage varieties: ‘Blue Vantage’ (76 days); ‘Copenhagen Market’ (72 days); ‘Fortuna’ (80-85 days).
- Late-season cabbage varieties: ‘Bruswick’; ‘Danish Ballhead’ (100-105); ‘Gloria’; ‘January King’; ‘Late Flat Dutch’ (100-110 days); ‘Savonarch’ (110 days); ‘Solid Blue’; ‘Wivoy’.
Recommended Cabbage Varieties
- Copenhagen Market: ball-shaped 6-inch heads; good keeper; about 70 days to maturity.
- Golden Acre: 5-inch or larger heads on short stems; does not like hot weather; yellow-resistant; 60 days to maturity.
- Modern Dwarf: a small plant with 4-inch heads; sweet and tender, cracking resistant; 60 days to maturity.
- Stonehead: round 6-inch heads; compact growth; dense hard heads; yellows-resistant, heat-resistant; about 60 days to maturity.
- Glory (Enkhuizen): round, blue-green heads to 7.5 inches; dense and solid; old Dutch variety; 75 days to maturity.
- Red Acre: blood red round heads to 6 inches; yellow resistant.
- Savoy Ace: round heads can weigh up to 4 pounds; crinkly leaves; sweet and flavorful; All-America Selection; matures in about 80 days.
- Danish Ballhead: round, blue-green leaves to 8 inches; good keeper; somewhat heat tolerant; 110 days to maturity.
- Drumhead: large round, but flattened 9-inch heads; extra hard; very good keeper; 90 days to maturity.
- Savoy King: semi-flat head with crinkly leaves; flavorful; weighs 4 to 6 pounds; All-America Selection; 80 to 120 days to maturity.
- Chieftain Savoy: flat heads weigh up to 5 pounds; crinkly leaves; sweet flavor; All-America Selection; 80 to 90 days to maturity.
- Danish Ballhead is large with a solid head; 3 to 5 pounds; late variety; 105 days to maturity.
- Late Dutch Flat is a late-season variety with bluish-green leaves; matures in 110 days.
- Early-Jersey Wakefield is an extra-early variety with dark green leaves; grows to 2 to 3 pounds; 65 days to maturity.
- Red Acre has a dark red head, 6 to 7 inches across; grows to 4 or 5 pounds; early to mid-season variety; 86 days of maturity.
- Ruby Ball is ball-shaped; grow to 5 pounds; All-Aerian Selection; early variety; 70 days to maturity.
- Chieftan Savoy has blue-green leaves; flattened head; grows to 4 to 5 pounds; All-America Selection; 85 days to maturity.
More about cabbage varieties: Choosing Cabbage Varieties to Grow.
Cabbage Pollination and Seed Saving
- Cabbage is an insect-pollinated biennial. Differing cabbage varieties can be cross-pollinated unless they are planted 100 yards apart
- To save cabbage seeds, cut stalks when seed pods are dry and brittle. Dry pods on trays and separate the seeds.
Cabbage Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why do my cabbage heads split?
A: Cabbage heads split when they grow too fast and take up too much water. You can reduce the damage by breaking some of the plant’s roots with a quarter-turn twist of the head.
Q: Why are my cabbage heads small? What causes smaller heads?
A: Small or poor-quality cabbage heads can be the result of over-warm weather or of nutrient deficiency. Plant earlier and check soil fertility before planting.
Q: What are the small yellow and white moths or white butterflies flying around my cabbage plants?
A: These are the adult form of the cabbage looper and imported cabbage worm. When these moths fly about cabbage they are also landing and laying eggs on the leaves. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars begin eating the leaves.
Q: One year a few of my cabbage plants became diseased, I’ve had problems with cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower ever since. What can I do?
A: The plants are likely infected with black leg or black rot disease, both of these diseases attack cabbage family plants. These diseases can survive in the soil for two or three years. To gain control, do not grow cabbage family plants in the affected areas of the garden for three years. Then buy seeds that have been hot-watered treated.
- Cabbage is a hardy biennial grown as a cool-weather annual that can tolerate frost but not heat.
- Cabbage grows an enlarged terminal bud of broad, overlapping leaves called a “head” atop a short, stubby stem. Heads can be round, flat, or pointed. Leaves can be smooth or crinkled in shades of green or reddish-purple and the head can be round, flat, or pointed.
- Cabbage varieties can come to harvest early in the season, mid-season, or late season.
- Exposed to severe frost, too little moisture, or too much heat cabbage will not form a head but instead bolt and go directly to seed.
- Cabbage heads–which are mostly water–will expand and split if the weather grows too warm as the heads take up water more quickly than the moisture can transpire from tightly wrapped leaves.
- Botanical name: Brassica oleracea capitata (brassicas are also known as cole crops)
- Origin: Southern Europe
More tips: Planting Cabbage.