It takes a couple of months to grow cabbage, but some varieties are worth the wait. Napa cabbage, sometimes referred to as Chinese cabbage because it is believed to have originated near the Beijing region of China, is a large, puckered, tight-headed, fresh green with a flavor that is sweeter and milder than traditional cabbage. It is no more difficult to grow than traditional round-headed cabbage and is very versatile in the kitchen.
Napa cabbages do not need a lot of tending. They do need regular water, especially during hot spells. Drought will cause bolting. If you amended your soil, you should not need supplemental fertilizer. However, if your plants look like they need a boost, use a fertilizer high in nitrogen, like fish emulsion or soy meal.
The large, oblong leaves are crinkled and very tightly wrapped the head. The stalks are almost white and the leaves are a very pale green. Heads grow upright. Chinese cabbage flowers are the familiar 4 yellow crossed petals of the cruciferous family.
Brassica rapa var. pekinensis
|Common Names||Chinese cabbage, Napa cabbage, Peking cabbage, Celery cabbage|
|Mature Size||Full-size heads grow about 20 inches tall and fill out to 5 or more inches in circumference.|
|Sun Exposure||Full or partial sun|
|Soil Type||Rich well-amended|
|Hardiness Zones||It may survive the winter under cover in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 7.|
|Native Area||Near Beijing, China|
How to Grow Napa Cabbage
If you choose to plant in the spring, either direct sow or start seed indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date. Hold off sowing outdoors until after your last frost date or be prepared with some type of row covers.
Plant seed 1/4–1/2 inch deep, spaced 6 inches apart. Thin and eat the thinned plants when they are a couple of inches tall. If you are growing full-sized plants, thin to a 12–18-inch spacing.
Napa cabbage takes about 70 to 80 days to mature. Because of spring's unpredictable weather, it grows better in the fall than the spring. Early spring sowings can be hit by frost or cold nighttime temperatures, which can signal that it is time to start setting seed and cause the plants to bolt. If you get past that hurdle, the warming temperatures will also tell the plants to stop growing and focus on going to seed. Although it is not impossible to grow Napa cabbage in spring and early summer, planting in mid-summer allows the plants to mature as the days cool, in the fall.
Test for maturity by squeezing the heads. A mature head that is ready to be picked will feel dense, with little give.
Napa cabbage can grow in full sun or partial shade. It must, however, get at least four to five hours of sun each day and plenty of water.
Since Napa cabbage has a relatively long growing season, you will want to start with rich, well-amended soil. Start by digging in several inches of organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure. Soil pH is not a big concern but aim for something in the 6.5–7.0.
Napa cabbage should be watered regularly to encourage growth and reduce the likelihood of the plant going to seed too early. Provide about an inch of water per week, either from rain or from direct irrigation.
Temperature and Humidity
Napa cabbage can handle both warm and cool weather. In milder climates, it will grow year-round.
While Napa cabbage does not absolutely require fertilization, it benefits from a topdressing of compost. Alternatively, once a head begins to form, apply fish emulsion or a 20-20-20 soluble blend.
Varieties of Napa Cabbage
- "Blues F1" - Early season, with bluish-green leaves. Disease and bolt resistant. A good choice to try in the spring. (57 days)
- "Chinese Express" - Glossy leaved, late-season variety, also with good resistant. (90 days)
- "Monument" - Mid-season, with tall, narrow heads. Resists bolting. (80 days)
Pests & Problems of Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage does not share the quick growing advantage of many other Asian greens. This makes it a target for the usual line-up of brassica pests and diseases, including clubroot, cabbage yellows, black rot, and blackleg. Do not plant Napa cabbage in a spot that had brassicas growing in it previously.
In addition to Cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and flea beetles, be on the lookout for slugs and cabbage root maggots. Whiteflies and aphids are less of a problem.
Cooking With Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage is a very versatile vegetable. It can be used in recipes calling for either regular cabbage or bok choy. Individual leaves are often used as wrappers, for steaming or blanching. It is great for a mild, Asian inspired coleslaw and it also makes a mean Korean pickled Kimchi. Grilling it brings out its natural sweetness.