Ideas & Inspiration
How to Grow Cabbage in Your Vegetable Garden
The centerpiece of a cool weather vegetable garden is cabbage. Versatile and tasty, cabbage can be used in the kitchen for salads, slaws, stews and braises, and the bonus: it’s easy to grow in the vegetable garden.
Grow cabbage in early spring for an early summer harvest or in summer for a fall harvest. Cabbage thrives in temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You can grow cabbage from seeds or seedlings, depending on how much time and space you have in the garden.
Planting cabbage in the late summer garden with a fall harvest is popular because, like collards and kale, cabbage is sweeter after a light frost, when the starches in the vegetable convert to sugars. Cabbage plants can handle temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit for a brief time. More veggies that are sweeter after a frost.
Cabbage need lots of sunlight, at least 6 to 8 hours each day. Most cabbage plants grow very large. In the garden bed, allow for the size of a mature plant, as sometimes the flopping leaves can reach to 3 feet across.
Because growing cabbage heads may need protection from pests and frost, a raised bed is a practical solution. Row covers easily attach to the sides of the raised beds. Irrigation helps ensure even moisture, especially during times of heat stress.
Cabbage needs well-draining soil amended with plenty of organic matter like compost. A soil test is helpful to determine pH, cabbage likes fertile soil with a pH in the 6 to 7 range.
When you plant cabbage seedlings, you can count on about 70 days to maturity, sometimes longer. Some mini varieties, like Bonnie Plants Golden Cross Cabbage, can be harvested in just 45 days.
When you start cabbage from seeds, you’ll need 120 days before you can harvest. Read seed packets, plants tags and online recommendations before selecting your cabbage seed and plants. Learn how to start vegetable seeds.
- Keep cabbage seedlings watered until you are ready to plant.
- Prepare enriched planting holes about 16 inches apart since cabbage plants need plenty of space. Use a spade or digging fork to loosen a 12-inch square of soil, and then mix in a 1-inch layer of organic compost and a standard application of an organic or time-release vegetable fertilizer. Follow label directions for how much to use.
- Keep insects away from your cabbage by covering the plants with a row cover or very lightweight cloth like tulle. Use stakes or hoops to hold the cover above the plants, and use clothespins to secure it in place.
Water your cabbage every two to three days, or more often if the weather is unusually warm and dry. Cabbage needs at least 1 inch of water per week. But avoid wetting the leaves when watering your cabbage late in the day. Plants that stay wet at night can develop issues with mold and mildew.
Fertilize cabbage with a water-soluble organic fertilizer when the plants have 6 to 8 leaves, and again a month or so later, when the inner leaves begin to fold over in the center to form a head.
To keep weeds down, cultivate between the plants with a hand cultivator or hoe. Frequent, shallow cultivating will keep the weeds controlled. A layer of organic mulch helps, too, and has the added benefit of helping the plants retain moisture.
There are a few pests that can be problems for cabbage. Cabbage loopers, the small caterpillars that begin life as small white or yellow moths, and cabbage worms, along with aphids and slugs, may appear. While they can always be hand-picked (wear gardening gloves) and dropped into a bucket of water, the best defense is another organic solution, Bt, bacillus thuringiensis. It is a biological insecticide that will affect cabbage loopers, but not beneficial insects. (it also targets tomato hornworms, bagworms, cankerworms and gypsy moths).
It’s time to harvest cabbage when the heads are a usable size. Watch the weather when your cabbage crop is nearing harvest, a heavy rain can cause the vegetable to “split.” In spring, temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit will affect the flavor of the cabbage, making it bitter.
Use a sharp knife to cut the cabbage head away from the outer leaves.
Heads of cabbage stored in the refrigerator in plastic bags will keep for several weeks.
Whether you need the right tools, seedlings or garden soil, The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.