Cabbage is a cool season vegetable which can be grown in both spring and fall, but does not fare well in the summer heat and naturally the deep freeze of winter. It belongs to brassica family along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi.
Spring plants should be set out early enough so that they can be harvested before the dog days of summer, about 4 weeks before the last frost –See Frost Dates.
I generally prefer to plant several varieties with varying maturities for an extended harvest. Planting through black plastic will help to warm the soil in early spring. New plants for transplanting need to be protected from the elements and hardened off before placing in the ground.
Fall plants should be set out 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost. Growing plants that have been hardened to cool weather are more tolerant of frost.
Cabbage that matures in cool weather is also tastier. Cabbage requires at least 6 hours of full sunlight daily, but even more is better. It also requires fertile, well drained, moist soil with ample organic matter. The soil pH should be 5.8 -6.2 See Soil pH
For best performance and growth as well as to discourage diseases such as clubroot. Your late crop seedlings should be spaced farther apart than the spring crop, and preferably placed where a tall crop, such as corn can provide some afternoon shade.
High nitrogen fertilizer and rich amendments such as blood meal, or composted manure can be added to the soil before planting. I usually fertilize the plants again with fish emulsion after they’ve begun to develop new foliage and also when they start forming heads.
Cabbage is easily transplanted. Set cabbage plants so that at least 1″ but no more than 2″ of the main stem is buried. Space according to directions on the seed packet. If the packet is unavailable this should be 12 to 24 inches apart in a row, dependent on the variety and the head size. For maximum head size, space generously.
Cabbage requires even moisture to be productive. Mulch with compost, to keep the soil cool and moist and suppress weeds. Water regularly, applying 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water weekly assuming if it doesn’t rain. A rain gauge left in the garden is a good idea not only for Cabbage but other garden vegetables as well.
Wetting the foliage during periods of high humidity or cool weather is not advisable, constantly wet leaves are more prone to disease.
Good Companion plants for Cabbage include Potatoes, celery, dill, chamomile, sage, thyme, mint, pennyroyal, rosemary, lavender, beets, onions
- Chamomile – Improves the flavor of cabbages and onions.
- Avoid planting cabbage near, or in rotation with Rue or Strawberries.
- Aromatic plants deter cabbage worms
- Interplant Thyme w. Brassicas as it repelscabbage worm
- Clover inter-planted with cabbage has been shown to reduce the native cabbage aphid and cabbageworm populations by interfering with the colonization of the pests and increasing the number of predator ground beetles
See also Companion Planting
Pests and Disease
To avoid disease and pest problems, keep your cabbage healthy and your garden clean.
Common Disease Problems
Black leg – fungal disease, forms dark spots on leaves and stems
Black rot – black and foul-smelling veins
Clubroot – prevents water and nutrient absorption
If club root has been a problem , test soil pH before planting , if needed to raise the pH to at least 6.8 – see Soil pH
Fusarium wilt or “yellows” produces yellow leaves and stunted heads.
Remove and destroy plants affected by these diseases, do not put them in the compost pile – this will only perpetuate the disease.
To prevent disease organisms from accumulating in the soil, avoid planting cabbage or other brassicas in the same spot in subsequent seasons. Rotate with a non-brassica crop for 2 years before returning to the same spot.
A sharp knife to cut heads when they are firm is the best harvesting method. I prefer to leave the stalks and roots in place as they produce miniature cabbages which can be used like Brussells Sprouts.