Growing Cabbages

May 2, 2006

I received a recent request from a gardener asking for tips on growing cabbages in the home garden. Cabbage is a cole crop that’s closely related to kale, collards, broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts.

Instead of forming loose leaves along its stem the cabbage leaves wrap around and fold over each other to form a dense head of layered leaves. Cabbages are heavy feeders and appreciate a fertile soil enriched with good compost or a balanced organic fertilizer.

Tips for Growing Delicious Cabbage Heads

Cabbages grow best during cool weather and are usually planted as a spring or fall crop to avoid growing during the heat of summer. While the cabbage seeds can be sown directly into the garden’s soil, you’ll get better results from seedlings started indoors under lights or purchased as transplants.

Plant the seeds indoors about four to six weeks before you intend to set them out into the garden. Cabbage plants are frost tolerant and can be planted in the garden very early in the spring. For a fall crop transplant the seedlings into the garden during mid to late summer depending on the variety and the recommended days to maturity.

The key to growing great cabbages is to provide a rich soil and to irrigate as required to insure that the plants have all the nutrients and moisture needed for rapid and uninterrupted growth.

Terrific Cabbage Varieties for the Home Garden

For the home gardener, and for growing cabbages in raised beds I prefer the smaller sized varieties such as Early Jersey Wakefield, Red Acre, Greyhound, Winningstadt, Cour Di Blue, and Golden Acre, which all produce sweet and tender, compact heads that can be spaced closer together in the garden.

For larger cabbages and fall harvests plant Mammoth Red Rock, Brunswick, Premium Late Flat Dutch, Copenhagen Market, or one of the many Savoy varieties such as January King, Vertus, Perfection Drumhead, or Chieftain.

Care and Harvesting of Organic Cabbages

Cabbage Worms are the main pest but they can be easily controlled organically by hand picking or through occasional applications of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis).

Heads can be harvested whenever they reach the desired size but will also hold nicely in the garden after the cabbages reach maturity.

Heads left in the garden too long will often begin to split. You can slow maturity and delay splitting by pruning the roots. Simply drive a spade into the soil around the heads to sever the roots of the growing cabbage plants.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • Aurora

    Hello, Kenny.

    Just want to let you know how much I enjoy reading your logs since I discovered them a couple of days ago. I bookmarked your site and plan to visit it regularly.

    Although I am not a vegetable gardener nor am I a cook, I love vegetables and someday hope to grow them myself. For now I just tend to my many houseplants and sometimes have some herbs growing inside and by my front door. Since I really know little about cooking, I just usually dream about the day when I can…hahaha.

    I discovered your site when I was researching about chickweed, which I had a lot of. I was telling my son that I think the weeds that I have are edible, but he won’t let me try to eat them…bossy son. 🙂 Your site assured me that they are indeed chickweeds and edible, so I have to wait for them to grow again, and I’ll steam some. I had just pulled out A LOT of them just before I found your site 🙁

    Anyway, I can tell that you make a lot of people so happy with your website. Thank you very much. I am so hungry for some fresh vegetables after reading your log.

    Be happy and healthy.


  • Susan

    My cabbage plants are not forming a head just lots of healthy leaves- any ideas what I need to do?

  • Kenny Point

    The healthy leaves are a good sign, just keep the cabbage plants watered and fertilized and the heads should begin to form soon, provided those really are cabbage plants and not just collard greens! :)

  • Dan M.

    Summer comes early in Kentucky, Can you prevent splitting heads by tying together the leaves? Thanks in advance.

  • Kenny Point

    Dan, I don’t think that tying the leaves will help solve your problem with the cabbages splitting or extend the time that you have to harvest them. Some growers use a sharp spade to slice straight down into the soil along a couple sides of the cabbage plant. This severs some of the plant’s roots, slows the head’s growth, and helps prevent the cabbages from splitting.

  • Hello,

    great article.

    If you want you can add it to Garlicoon, the Food & Wine network.

  • Karen Anderson

    Im a very novice gargener. I’ve planted some red & green cabbages and both are looking great but dont have any heads on them, just great big leaves. Have they bolted? If so what causes this. Weve had a lot of rain recently is that it?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Karen, your cabbages sound like they are doing just fine to me. Sometimes it takes a while for the heads to begin to develop, but cabbages aren’t prone to bolting as easily as other greens such as lettuces. The cabbages haven’t bolted unless the plants start developing pronounced upright growth, or the heads split and send up a stalk.

  • Angela

    Could you please tell me what might be wrong with my cabbage? I planted red and green and all the green ones have something wrong with them. From the outside they look fine when you peel back the leaves instead of a large head there are seven or eight small heads about the size of a baseball. Every plant is like this.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Angela, it sounds like your cabbage plants may have been stressed and tried to bolt or resorted to emergency growth mode. Sometimes the stems will sprout multiple heads like that after the main heads has been harvested and the plant tries to continue growing. Could the growth of your cabbage plants have been interrupted by drought or excessive heat as the plants were developing? Did you time your plantings to allow for the cabbages to grow and mature during the cooler time of year in your growing region?

  • Claudia

    Hi. My daughter brought home 2 cabbage plants.
    She’s in a contest. What kind of fertilizer should we use?
    How often, how much water should we use?
    We live in Arizona, where it’s around 69/40 degrees. We’ve already transplanted them. Do we need to cover them at night?
    Thank you! We hope to grow BIG, beautiful cabbage. :o)

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Claudia, an organic fertilizer that is high in nitrogen would work well for your cabbage plants. Compost, fish emulsion, liquid seaweed, would all work well and a side dressing of earthworm castings would be great if you can find them. The frequency of fertilization will depend on how rich and healthy your soil is, but supplementing with a feeding once per month should be sufficient and a couple doses per month of an organic fertilizer would not hurt. Watering, again depends on your weather conditions and temperatures. Irrigating the cabbage plants twice a week should be plenty at those temps but water deeply when you do irrigate, and watch the moisture closely until the plants have a chance to become established outside in your garden. They should be fine without covering at night in your climate. Did you harden the plants off before transplanting? If not you may want to provide them with a little shade and a windbreak for a few days until they are better acclimated to outdoor conditions. Good luck with the contest!

  • Claudia

    Thank you for responding so fast, Kenny.
    I did harden the plants off, w/o knowing actually.
    I would take them out daily so they could get some sun. They seem to be doing very well outside.
    We will try all your suggestions.
    Thank You!

  • katheyrn

    Hi,My son is in a contest at school and we live in florida and its going to be real hot soon the winning student has to have the tallest cabbage do you have any good tips for us so that maybe he can win there is a nice scholarship award for the winner

  • wendy patterson

    Can you eat the outer cabbage leaves (like collards)?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Wendy, sure the outer cabbage leaves are perfectly edible but you might want to cook them since they are sure to be tougher and stronger flavored than the inner leaves.

  • I just wanted to add that plantcycle groups also love to swap seeds for SASE or one for one trade.
    Thanks for your tips on growing cabbage. I never had luck growing and cole crop except brussel sprouts one year in some muckland soil that was added to my bed.

  • My third grader, several months ago, brought home a green cabbage plant which he had grown from a seed in a classroom project. We kept it on the window sill until we transplanted it to our garden a few weeks ago. While the plant got off to a slow start, it is now growing quite fast although a head has yet to form.

    My son does not recall the cabbage’s variety. Would anyone know what variety of cabbage seed would probably be used in elementary school class projects?

  • Kenny Point

    Tom, there are so many different varieties of cabbages that it would be difficult to even venture a guess at what cabbage your son is growing, but good luck and maybe you can take a photo when the plant matures.

  • chuc

    I will be going to Africa to teach for one year. I love my cabbage, etc. the average weather there is 80F to 100F. Will love to take along 3 to 5 different cabbage seeds with me to plant. I love big size cabbage, can you please advise me what type of cabbage seeds to buy and take along with me. Please reply soon leaving in May ending 2010. By the way I love your responses and advice, please keep up the great information.

  • Kenny Point

    Hello Chuc, I don’t know really know any heat-loving cabbage varieties that I can recommend for growing in Africa. I think I would grow a heading variety of collard greens instead. They are closely related to cabbage but can stand up to summer heat much better. Good luck in Africa and keep in touch, take some photos, and let us know what’s growing over there and what kind of gardening techniques are in use.

  • Cathy McCarty

    Can you tell me what I can do to avoid hot cabbage. Like when last years crop matured I made coleslaw and the cabbage was hot. I have about 15 heads growing in the garden now any hints or ideas would be appreciated. Cathy

  • Kenny Point

    Cathy, the only thing that I can think of that may cause your cabbage to grow spicy would be maybe if the plants are stressed by heat or drought. Was your cabbage planted during early spring in time to mature before the hottest part of summer arrived? I have never heard of that happening before, you may also just want to switch to a different variety that is better suited to you growing region.

  • TJ

    I am growing my first garden (Seattle)… I have several cabbages planted and while leaves look great, no heads have formed and I noticed there are flower things growing in the center… what does that mean? Thank you for any information you can give me!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi TJ, it probably means that either your weather or your timing when you planted the crop was off and your cabbage plants are going to seed instead of developing heads. If that’s the case there isn’t much that you can do to salvage the crop and you may as well pull them out and use the space to plant something else. Did you start the cabbage plants from seed or did you purchase transplants? If transplants were they very root bound when you set them out into the garden? That can sometimes stunt the plants and prevent them from maturing properly.

  • TJ

    oh no!! yes… i bought them as starts… and it has been raining like heck out here in seattle for weeks… well.. i guess i’ll pull them and let the chickens have them… thanks for the quick answer.. btw–when is the best time to plant cabbages? i figured that if the nurseries in the area had the starts, planting them wouldn’t be a problem.. same thing with my walla walla onions–they don’t seem to be developing, but the onion sets i bought look great..

  • Kenny Point

    Nope, you can’t always trust in the nurseries to supply seedlings at the proper time for planting. I’ve even seen plants that didn’t sell during early spring simply left on the shelves for some unsuspecting gardener to purchase and plant months later… not much chance for success from those babies! Here in Central PA I set cabbage transplants out in April for a spring harvest and again in July or August for a fall crop. The timing may vary in your specific climate or growing region and depending on the cabbage varieties that you are planting.

  • Eric Kooma

    I am a cabbage grower and a scholar in Africa. I have observed in most discussions that high temperatures cause multiple heads on cabbage. Are there other factors that lead to multiple heads? I would appreciate if I could get physiological explanation of multiple head formation as a result of these factors. Thank you.

  • gina ketchen-carter

    will cabbage make a second head

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Eric and Gina, after the main head has been harvested cabbages will often sprout additional much smaller heads if the stalk is left in the ground. Doesn’t always happen and I’ve never found it to be worth the effort, I prefer to pull the stumps after harvesting the cabbages and replant the area with another crop.

  • Barry

    We just had a very bad winter in my part of Australia with quite bad frosts. I planed my cabbages in Autumn (fall) but my cabbages all started forming multiple heads inside the main head with just a few leaves forming the outer of the head. Could the bad frost (the worst in living memory here, so much for global warming!) cause this? I have had to pull the entire 40 plants and compost them.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Barry, I don’t believe that the frost would cause your cabbages to form multiple heads like that. More likely the timing was off and you should experiment with planting the cabbages earlier during mid to late summer.

  • Patty

    Hi. I planted some cabbage plants in the fall (October). It has been at least 4 months. The plants look very healthy with large leaves, but they are not forming heads. I live in North Florida and we have had very cold winter with a few nights of hard freezes. Could these temperatures cause no heads to form. Since the plants look good, should I just wait longer and see what happens or should I go ahead and harvest the leaves – I’ve been told that I can at least it those. Thanks for your comments!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Patty, cabbage plants are pretty hardy but they do get stressed and stunted by temperature extremes at times and fail to develop heads. I would wait and give them more time to see what they will do before I harvested the outer leaves, but yes you can eat them too.

  • Nirmala

    Hi Kenny, I have some cabbage plants that I planted in early November…which are still slow in development.. they just started form little cluster (about the size of a lemon) from now long would it take to harvest? I wanted an idea as its time to plant spring veggies soon 🙂 Thanks for your assistance on this matter

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Nirmala, cabbages can be slow to mature but once they begin forming a head they will grow a lot faster. Maturity varies depending on the type and variety of cabbage. Some of the compact varieties can go from a button to mature head in a few weeks time. Can you inter-plant your spring veggies around the cabbages? If not I would let the cabbage grow until you need the space and then harvest and use them at whatever size they have attained at that point.

  • Hi Kenny,

    I live in Chile in the Casablanca valley. Don’t know how to describe the weather exactly except to say it’s famous for Wineries and the weather is similar to southern California. Very little to no rain in the summer, all of our rain is in the winter. Summers get hot and the sun is very hard on my garden. I tried growing cabbage and they did begin to head but the heads never got very big. The largest was about 3 inches across and 4 or 5 inches high. Many of them were stunted with no heads at all.

    I figure that the heat was too much for them. I am considering planting another crop now, we are going into fall right now, the seasons are approx 6 months difference here. Sometimes we get no hard freezes until August. What do you think?



  • Kenny Point

    Hi Ken, I would try it… cabbages are pretty hardy and prefer cooler temps. Maybe cultivating them during a different season is just want you need to get better success. Try experimenting with different sowing dates until you get the timing just right. Please let us know how they grow for you and which season works best in Chile.

  • andrew

    hi kenny i live in south phx az and i was wondering iif my cabbage that i planted in always moist dirt will grow

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Andrew, what do you mean by “always moist?” Is the soil waterlogged? Most garden plants would have a problem growing in those conditions. Or is the area just irrigated on a daily basis? If so that should be okay. What is causing the soil to be moist all of the time?

  • Deanna Kearns

    I planted cabbages last fall and they are doing nicely. You may have answered this question already, but my eyes are getting tired reading them! lol There are a few that are sending up what looks like flowers things, what is this? What could I have done wrong? Thank you so much for letting us pick your brain!!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Deanna, sounds like the cabbage plants are going to seed rather than developing heads. That happens sometimes when the plants are stressed due to the growing conditions. What growing zone are you in and when did you plant the cabbages? Did you use seeds or transplants? They could become stressed by hot weather, root bound transplants, drought, etc. It is best to raise them during the cooler seasons and to set plants out as established transplants to reduce weed competition and damage from insects like flea beetles.

  • Deanna Kearns

    I am just outside of Atlanta GA- zone 8. I over wintered a few, started seeds indoors and direct sowed some when I transplanted. Trying all possibilities! We have been having some very strange weather here. We had about a weeks worth of summer weather here (high seventies/low eighties) and that was just when they hit a growth spurt. I did water the entire bed a few times. I pulled the one up that bolted, what should I do with the others to ensure that this doesn’t happen to them? Thank you!!

  • Kenny Point

    Deanna, the best thing that you can do to prevent bolting is to plant your seeds or seedlings at the ideal time and provide the moisture and nutrients to keep them growing without interruption. Cabbages generally aren’t as prone to run to seed as plants like lettuce. It also could have been a freak issue with that particular plant and turn out to be an isolated incident.

  • Monika

    Hello, three of my cabbage did not form heads and grew pretty yellow flowers instead. The outer leaves look good and healthy, can I eat them?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Monika, yes you can eat those cabbage leaves and the flowers too if you’d like.

  • jan

    Hi Kenny, I live in England and I’m growing January King 3 cabbage, they were planted in May and they have got gigantic leaves! Is this normal? They are starting to get middles though. Also they have developed raised pale green yellowy dots on the leaves as have my cauliflowers, is this some kind of disease and are they safe to eat? One more question, if safe to eat can I take those massive outer leaves off and eat them or will they be tough? Thanks 🙂

  • Kenny, I live in Iowa. I planted cabbages from seedlings I bought at the nursery. That was in March and it’s now mid-July. They’re growing ok, but I don’t know when to harvest them. They don’t seem very big. One of them has yet form a head properly, but doesn’t seem to have the flowers someone else in the comments had (the Seattle person). Is it time to take them out of the garden and eat them?

  • april sprinkle

    i have a cabbage plant with strange cauliflower type little growths on the stem. any thoughts? disease, insects, should i steralize soil ater pulling up this plant? your opinion would be much appreciated!

  • Jane

    I planted cabbage seedlings in the garden 3 months ago (Seattle – cool and wet this year). I have many HUGE, healthy leaves but not even a hint of a head. They are in a raised bed with rich soil. Is this normal?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Jane, some varieties of cabbages can be slow to develop heads so don’t give up yet. Growing them during hot weather can stunt the plants and cause them to bolt or not head up but that doesn’t sound like that was the case for you… give it a little more time. You can also try growing a second planting of cabbages as a fall crop.

  • Back in 2009, I asked for help identifying the cabbage my third-grader brought home from school. Kenny Point gently pointed out the myriad of possibilities.

    Number two son brought home a similar plant at the beginning of the summer, and since it is probably the same genus-species of his big brother’s, I felt compelled to update that Jared’s plant had a tag which read, “BONNIE MEGA-CABBAGE School Cabbage”. The tag also had a picture of a baby nestled next to the cabbage’s overpowering leaves. Perhaps the plant was never intended to form a head.

    Jared’s cabbage did not grow very well either.

    I’m suspecting my garden is too close to a Black Walnut tree I grew from a ‘tree-ling’.

    No worries – I just felt compelled to update this site in the off-chance that someone can benefit from my experience.


  • Jane

    A while back I posted that my cabbages were not even thinking about forming heads (Seattle). You told me to have patience. FINALLY, they are forming heads!! I had no idea it would take SO long. I started a couple of seedlings along with some Brussel sprouts for fall. Thanks, Kenny.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Tom, thanks for the update. Black walnut trees will definitely retard the growth of vegetable plants that are grown nearby or even where their leaves have fallen and decayed. It’s not a tree that you want growing near the veggie patch!

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks Jane, glad to hear that the cabbages are finally heading up for you. I would experiment with different planting times and maybe try some other varieties next time to see if you can get them to size up and form heads earlier. Good luck with your fall garden… Brussel sprouts can be even more of a challenge in getting them to bear fruit!

  • Chuck Huntington

    I have a large buternut tree out back. Are these leaves harmful to plants like blacck walnut.

  • Annette

    I love this site! I started my first garden this summer which was amazing and now my fall garden is keeping us fed with the usual cole crops. The best thing is no bugs and no weeds in this season. My question is, can you eat young cabbage leaves just as you can young spinach, collard, broccoli florets, etc. My Cabbages are just beginning to form small heads, and I have so many I would like to begin harvesting and eating some. Will baby leaves taste alright?

  • Annette

    Sorry, I hit submit before I said thank you. I do thank you very much for this terrific site.

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks Annette, yes you can eat the young cabbage leaves, or baby cabbage heads if you’re willing to sacrifice production just as the plants are beginning to mature. The leaves will taste fine and will be extra tender compared to the mature leaves. Fall gardens are amazing and a winter like this one allows you to harvest throughout the season and the plants will resume growing in just another five or six weeks from now.

  • Jennifer

    Hi Kenny, I am a novice gardener and have planted our first garden mid April in Virginia. The weather was still fairly mild(mid to upper 70’s) at that time. We did have a week of a cold-snap here though(enough to where my melon seeds didn’t come up). The cabbage seeds that I planted started out nicely, but are not forming heads, and all but one have formed flowers now. Should I just pull them up at this point or leave them be? Will they form heads after they flower? Also, if I just cut them off close to the base, would they possibly grow a head later? I wish I knew what I did wrong:(

  • Just wanted to drop a note to say how much I appreciate all the advice you’ve given others in their comments. I’ve planted a very small amount of red cabbage for the first time to see if we like it homegrown and was simply looking for some basic information to help me along. This page has provided everything I could have wanted to know. Thanks a bunch!

  • sandy

    hi kenny, i live in spokane wa and decided to go for it and plant a fall garden on aug 1. my cabbage are beautiful but just starting to form heads and it snowed last night. can you please tell me what to expect will they live ? do i cover them with straw? will they live and produce in spring if their covered. thank you,sandy

  • Susan

    I planted starter plants at the middle of June so it has been about a month now and they still are not past the original leaves as far as development goes,they also look rather sparse as far as development goes,will they still have time to fully develope?our fist frost date is mid sept.

  • Kenny Point

    Susan, they do seem to be growing slowly but you still have plenty of time for the cabbages to mature. I plant them as both a spring and fall crop. My spring cabbages are about ready to harvest now and I am just about to plant seed for the fall crop. Also cabbages will tolerate frost so they can continue to mature well past the first frost date. For now just water them as needed and feed with an organic fertilizer every other week or so if your soil is not in good shape.

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