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How to Grow Chinese Cabbage

Chinese cabbage Pei Tsai
Pei Tsai Chinese cabbage

Chinese cabbage which includes pac choi (bok choy), pei tsai, Michihli, Napa, and celery cabbage is a cool-weather vegetable. Sow Chinese cabbage directly in the garden as early as 4 to 6 weeks before the last average frost date in spring. Chinese cabbage must come to harvest in the cool temperatures and shorter days of spring or autumn before temperatures rise above 75°F (24°C). Plants require from 50 to 85 days to come to harvest depending upon the variety.

Description. Chinese cabbage is a hardy biennial grown as an annual. Chinese cabbage has broad, thick, tender leaves and heavy midribs. There are several varieties of Chinese cabbage some are loosehead and some are tight headed; plants grow from 15 to 18 inches (38-45cm) tall.

Types of Chinese Cabbage

There are two types of Chinese cabbage, loosehead, similar to loose-leaf lettuce, and heading or tight head.

Loosehead Chinese cabbages include pac choi, also called bok choy, and pei tsai. Pac choi and pei tsai have open, loose heads or rosettes of usually dark green leaves with white celery-like stalks. These are heat-tolerant but will bolt if the weather turns from chilly to very warm Plant these at 2 to 3-week intervals for a continuous harvest. Loosehead types can be harvested a few stalks at a time, cut-and-come-again.

Heading types include Michihili and Napa;  Michihili has a tall cylindrical or tapered head while the Napa is a short barrel-shaped head. These can be grown like cabbage, though they are mild-flavored, unlike cabbage. When these heads are trimmed they reveal compact heads. The entire head to cut at harvest time.

Yield. Grow 6 to 8 plants per household member and grow cut-and-come-again.

Chinese cabbage seedlings
Chinese cabbage seedlings

Planting Chinese Cabbage

Site. Grow Chinese cabbage in full sun in cool regions and in partial shade in warm regions. Plant Chinese cabbage in well-worked, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and side dress crops with compost again at midseason.

Planting time. Chinese cabbage is a cool-weather plant that will bolt and go to seed quickly in warm weather and long days; grow Chinese cabbage in spring or autumn in temperatures ranging from 45° to 75°F (7-24°C). Sow seed 4 to 6 weeks before the average date of the last frost in spring. Sow seed directly in the garden; seedlings transplanted into the garden may be shocked into bolting to seed. In mild winter regions, plant Chinese cabbage in late summer or autumn for a late autumn harvest.

Planting and spacing. Sow seed ½ inch deep and 4 inches (10cm) apart. Thin successful seedlings from 12 to 18 inches (30-45cm) apart. Space rows 18 to 30 inches (45-76cm) apart depending upon the variety.

Chinese cabbage does not transplant well. Seedlings started indoors should be started in biodegradable peat or paper pots which are easily set into the garden.

Companion plants. Cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. Do not plant with tomatoes, peppers, okra, or potatoes.

Container growing. Chinese cabbage can be grown in containers at least 8-inches (20cm) across. Plant Chinese cabbage on 10-inch (25cm) centers in larger containers. Plants are sensitive to heat so move them into the shade when the weather warms.

Pac Choi (Bok Choy) Chinese cabbage

Chinese Cabbage Care

Water and feeding. Keep soil evenly moist so that plants grow fast and stay tender. Slow growth can result in plants going to seed.

Care. Keep plants cool when the weather warms; do not let Chinese cabbage sit in direct sun for more than 8 hours each day.

Pests. Chinese cabbage can be attacked by flea beetles, aphids, and cabbage worms. Aphids can be handpicked or hosed off. Cabbage worms can be controlled by spraying Bacillus thuringiensis.

Diseases. Chinese cabbage is susceptible to yellow virus, clubroot, and black rot. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Avoid handling plants when wet. Remove and destroy infected plants.


Napa Chinese cabbage
Michihili cabbage

Harvesting and Storing Chinese Cabbage

Harvest. Cut whole heads at soil level when they are compact and firm and before seed stalks form usually 50 to 80 after sowing. Complete the harvest before the arrival of freezing weather. If the first fall frost arrives before heads form, Chinese cabbage can still be harvested for greens.

Storing and preserving. Chinese cabbage will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about 4 weeks. Chinese cabbage can be blanched and frozen for 3 to 4 months.

Chinese Cabbage Varieties to Grow

  • Pac Choi (Bok Choy): ‘Joi Choi’, ‘Black Summer’, ‘Mei Qing Choi’, ‘Li Ren Choi’, ‘Win-Win Choi’, ‘Rosie’, ‘Red Pac’, ‘Green Pac’.
  • Heading types (Michihili and Napa): ‘Minuet’, ‘Mounment’, ‘Rubicon’, ‘Bilko’, ‘Red Dragon’, ‘Tokyo Bekana’.

Common name. Chinese cabbage, white cabbage, flowering cabbage, celery cabbage, pakchoi, Michihli, Napa cabbage

Botanical name. Brassica chinensis

Origin. China


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    • After planting radish cover the surface with ashes. Flies won’t lay their eggs into ground that has ashes and there will be no maggots in the radishes

        • Diatomaceous earth acts as a desiccant; it injures the exoskeleton of many insects and causes them to die. Use diatomaceous earth as a barrier around the plants you want to protect. It must be reapplied after rain or irrigation.

    • Look for hybrid varieties of Chinese cabbage that are resistant or tolerant to bottom rot and black speck. If you can’t find a local source, purchase your seed online. Try Johnny’s Select Seed or other seed growers.

    • Cabbage root maggots are the larvae of very small cabbage maggot flies which lay masses if eggs in the soil near plants. When the eggs hatch the tiny white maggots burrow into the soil and tunnel into the plant roots where they feed. The best way to prevent cabbage maggots is to prevent flies from laying eggs. Fly barriers are the most effective. Window screening shaped as a cone and set over plants is one very effective barrier. A second type of barrier is a piece of tar paper or carpeting placed around the base of the plant to prevent the flies from laying eggs near the plants. Cut a square or circle of tar paper and then cut a slit to the center so that you can slip it around the stem of the plant. Row covers are another type of barrier; place the row cover over newly planted seedlings making sure flies were excluded. Finally, you can also try a hot pepper dust sprinkled over the soil surface; this may repel flies.

    • In your region, you will want to choose a cabbage variety that is heat resistant. As well, choose a variety that is quick to harvest–less than or about 70 days would be best. Then sow seed just before the start of the coolest time of the year in your location.

    • Chinese cabbage can be harvested cut-and-come again. At the first harvest you can simply take leaves from the outside of the head or bunch and use those leaves–leaving the rest of the head to continue growing from the center outwards; you will get several harvests–3 or 4 or more. Or you can cut off the head about 1 inch/2.5 cm from the soil line and let a new head form; the second head will be smaller than the first; this method you will get 2 harvests.

    • No, salty or saline water is not used to irrigate vegetables. Water with salt levels of 1,000 parts per million will kill vegetables.

    • Chinese cabbage will be ready for harvest between 45 and 90 days from seed sowing depending on the variety you are growing. Chinese cabbage leaves are edible as soon as they are large enough to eat. You can harvest individual leaves cut-and-come-again for daily salads. If you want to harvest the whole head, then wait until the full days to maturity for the variety you are growing.

    • Harvest seed by placing the flowers in a paper bag. When the flowers dry the seed will drop and you can separate the seed from the flower petals. If the Chinese cabbage is not a hybrid then you can replant the seed and it should grow to be like the parent.

    • You can answer this question by experimenting with rice water irrigation on a small planting bed. Compare the results to a bed that uses your regular irrigation water.

    • When cabbage bolts, natural sugars are transferred from the leaves into the new flower stem leaving the leaves bitter. You can trim cabbage back and some leaves will regrow; however, the best course is to sow new seeds–if you have enough cool weather weeks left before summer.

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