Cabbage Plant Profile

cabbage growing in the garden

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

In This Article

Leafy cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is a vegetable grown for its densely packed heads. Some can be quite beautiful. They are classified by head shape, round and flat-head being the most commonly seen. There are cabbages with smooth leaves and pronounced veins and some with crinkled, or savoyed, leaves. You'll find cabbages in shades of white, green, and purple, and the flavor varies by variety. There are even ornamental cabbage varieties bred for their looks, not their flavor.

Cabbage is in the Brassica genus along with broccoli, cauliflower, and other cole crops. Cabbages are some of the most popular vegetables to grow, although most home gardeners tend to grow a small fraction of the hundreds of varieties available.​

Cabbage plants are moderately fast growers and typically are ready to harvest about two months after the seedlings emerge or are transplanted in the garden. They are biennial plants that are typically grown as annuals. These are cool-weather plants that grow best in late-summer to fall in most climates. They can also be planted in spring.

Botanical Name  Brassica oleracea 
Common Name  Cabbage, Head cabbage
Plant Type  Biennial (typically grown as annual)
Mature Size  12 to 18 inches tall and wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Rich, well-drained 
Soil pH  Neutral (above 6.8) 
Bloom Time  Typically does not flower 
Flower Color  Typically does not flower 
Hardiness Zones  2 to 11 
Native Area  Europe

How to Plant Cabbage

Cabbage plants can grow in cool weather, so you can get an early start on the season. They can also be re-seeded throughout the summer, provided the temperature isn't to high, to provide a continual harvest of heads as you need them, rather than having them all mature at the same time.

There are cabbage seedlings available at every garden center in spring, but for the best variety you will need to start yours from seed. Luckily that's easy to do. You can start seeds indoors about 6 to 10 weeks before your last expected frost date. Because cabbages can handle a little frost, you can transplant the seedlings outdoors a couple of weeks before your last frost date, as long as the soil is workable. Later plantings can be direct sown in the garden.

Plant transplants, or thin direct-sown seedlings, to a spacing of about 1 to 2 feet.

Cabbage Care

Light

Cabbage plants can handle full sun to light shade. Since cabbage plants are not setting flowers or fruit, they do not need a full day of sun. Gardeners in warmer climates will want to provide some shade during hot months, so the plants do not dry out.

Soil

Cabbages need a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. To help prevent a common cabbage disease called club root that is most prevalent in acidic soil, keep the soil pH above 6.8.

Water

The biggest maintenance issue when growing cabbages is keeping them watered. Watering is also the key to preventing the heads from splitting. You want the cabbage heads to fill out, but not so quickly they burst open.

Temperature and Humidity

Cabbages do best in the relative cool of spring and fall and begin to suffer when daily temperatures stay around 80 Fahrenheit and above. Afternoon shade is recommended during the high heat of summer.

Fertilizer

Cabbages can be heavy feeders, and side-dressing with compost every three weeks will keep the soil rich.

Cabbage Varieties

  • 'Drumhead' has deeply savoyed leaves and a wonderful savory crunch.
  • 'Early Jersey Wakefield' is a classic cabbage that has been popular for years.
  • 'January King' is a beautiful purple and green cabbage that is extremely frost-hardy.
  • 'Murdoc' has a pointed head and tender, sweet leaves.
  • 'Red Acre' and 'Red Delight' are early, easy-to-grow purple varieties.

Harvesting

The length of time a cabbage takes to mature will vary by variety, but most require about 50 to 60 days from transplant. Harvest when the head forms fully (depending on the variety) and they are firm to the touch. If you leave the heads on the plants for too long, they may split.

You can remove the entire plant, or cut off the head at its base and leave the wide, outer leaves and roots in the ground for a second harvest; keep just a few of the new heads and let them grow to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter before harvesting.

Cabbages can be stored for months in a root cellar where the temperature is between 45 degrees Fahrenheit and freezing.

cabbage growing in a garden
The Spruce / Autumn Wood 
closeup of cabbage
The Spruce / Autumn Wood 

Common Pests and Diseases

Unfortunately, there are many problems that plague cabbage. Cabbage worms and cabbage loopers are the main pest threats. They will munch holes throughout the leaves. Their coloring allows them to blend in with the cabbage, but they can be handpicked easily if you can see them. Slugs will also attack your cabbages as will cutworms.

Diseases include club root; a fungus called blackleg that causes dark spots on the stems and leaves; black rot, which affects the veins, making them dark and foul-smelling; and the yellows (fusarium wilt), which leaves you with stunted, yellow heads.

Once your cabbages are infected, there's not much you can do. You have to prevent these diseases by choosing disease-resistant varieties and by not growing cabbages in the same spot year after year. The fungus spores can remain in the soil over winter and reinfect new plantings.

Another preventative measure is to never leave cabbage debris, or any cole crop debris, in the garden over winter. Once again, the spores can linger and over-winter, waiting to reinfect next year's plants.