How to grow cabbages from seed: When to grow cabbages and diseases to watch out for


Cabbage is a cool-weather crop. Grow cabbage in spring so that it comes to harvest before the summer heat or start cabbage in mid to late summer so that it comes to harvest during the cool days of autumn, winter, or early spring.

  • Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Place cabbage transplants in the garden when they are 3 to 4 inches tall as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Direct sow seed outdoors when the soil can be worked in spring.
  • In mild-winter regions, start seed in late summer for a winter or spring harvest.

Where to Grow Cabbage

  • Grow cabbage in soil rich in organic matter that is well-drained. Prepare planting beds ahead of planting by covering beds with 2 to 3 inches of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix and turning it under to 12 inches deep.
  • Cabbage grows best where the soil pH is between 6.5 and 6.8.
  • If clubroot disease has been a problem, adjust the soil pH to 7.0 or slightly higher by adding lime.
  • Add plenty of well-aged compost to planting beds before planting. In regions where the soil is sandy or where there is heavy rain, supplement the soil with nitrogen.
  • Adding a moderate amount of nitrogen-rich blood meal or cottonseed meal to the soil ahead of planting will enhance leafy growth.

Cabbage Planting Time

  • Cabbage grows best in regions where there is a long, cool growing season with temperatures between 45° and 75°F.
  • Cabbage can tolerate frost and briefly temperatures as low as 20°F.
  • Cabbage will bolt and go to seed in temperatures greater than 80°F.
  • Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Sow seed outdoors when the soil can be worked in spring.
  • Place transplants in the garden when they are 3 to 4 inches tall as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • In cool-summer regions, plant cabbage in late spring for a fall harvest.
  • In mild-winter regions, start seed in late summer—about 6 to 8 weeks before the first frost–for a winter or spring harvest.
  • Cabbage comes to harvest in 80 to 180 days from seed and in 60 to 105 days from transplants depending upon the variety.

Cabbage Planting and Spacing

  • Sow cabbage seeds a ½ inch deep spaced 1 inch apart; thin plants to 18 to 24 inches apart.
  • Transplant cabbage to the garden when plants are 4 to 6 weeks old with 4 to 5 true leaves.
  • Set leggy or crooked stemmed plants deeply; you can bury 1 to 2 inches of the main stem even up to just below the top two sets of leaves.
  • Space seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. You can space plants closer but the heads will be smaller at maturity.
  • In early spring plant cabbage through black plastic or garden fabric set in place to warm the soil. Cut an x in the fabric to set out transplants.
  • Plant succession crops every two weeks or plant seeds and transplant at the same time or plant early and midseason varieties at the same time so that they come to harvest at different times.
  • Plant 4 to 8 cabbage plants for each household member.

Container Growing Cabbage

  • A cabbage will grow easily in a container at least 8 inches deep and wide.
  • In large containers grow cabbage on 12-inch centers.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist, do not let the soil go dry and do not overwater.
  • Feed cabbage growing in containers with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion every two weeks.

Watering and Feeding Cabbage

  • Cabbage requires regular, even watering. Uneven watering can result in stunted or cracked heads. Give cabbage 1 to 1½ inches of water every week; 1 inch equal 16 gallons.
  • As plants reach maturity, cut back on watering to avoid splitting heads.
  • Fertilize cabbage at mid-season when plants are established with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as 10-5-5 or feed plants a dilute solution of fish emulsion every two weeks.

Companion Plants for Cabbage

  • Grow cabbage with beets, celery, fragrant herbs, onions, potatoes; avoid pole beans, strawberries, tomatoes.

Caring for Cabbage Care

  • Mulch around cabbage—especially in warm weather—to preserve soil moisture and keep the soil cool in warm weather.
  • Cabbage heads will split when they grow too fast and take up too much water.
  • To prevent this damage, twist heads a quarter turn to separate some roots and interrupt water uptake a week in advance of harvest.
  • If heads are small at harvest, add nitrogen to the soil next season and plant earlier.

Cabbage Pests

  • Cabbage can be attacked by cutworms, cabbage loopers (preceded by small yellow and white moths), imported cabbage worms, cabbage root maggots, slugs, and aphids.
  • Place a protective collar around young plants to exclude cutworms.
  • Handpick loopers and worms and destroy them or spray with insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis.
  • Cabbage maggots are the larvae of a fly. Plant radishes near cabbages to repel the flies. Place row covers over seedlings or plant through the garden fabric to keep flies from laying eggs in the soil. Mound diatomaceous earth or hot pepper around stems if maggots are in the soil.

Cabbage Diseases

  • Black rot, also called blackleg, clubroot, and yellows are fungal diseases which can attack cabbage
  • Blackleg leaves yellow, V-shaped lesions on leaf edges. Plants with clubroot wilt and look stunted; there will be galls on the roots. Cabbage yellows is marked by the yellowing of lower leaves.
  • To avoid fungal diseases plant disease-resistant varieties or seeds that have been hot water treated. Plant in well-drained soil. Water with compost tea.
  • Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
  • Rotate crops on a three-year cycle.

Harvesting Cabbage

  • Cabbage will be ready for harvest in 80 to 180 days from seed depending on the variety or in 60 to 105 days from transplanting.
  • Cut cabbage when heads are firm and the base of the head is 4 to 10 inches across.
  • Harvest before the weather becomes too warm in spring. Cabbage will be sweet if harvested in cool weather.
  • Cabbage for fall or winter harvest can sit under a blanket of snow without harm. Simply pull away the spoiled outer leaves after harvest.
  • If you want additional heads from the same plant, cut the head at the center of the stem but leaves several leaves attached to the stem stump. Small heads—about the size of a baseball–will grow from the stalks for later harvest.

Storing and Preserving Cabbage

  • Cabbage will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks or longer.
  • Cabbage also can be dried and frozen or cured in brine as sauerkraut.
  • Cabbage seeds can be sprouted.

Cabbage Varieties to Grow

  • Green cabbage varieties: ‘Stovehead’ (60 days); ‘Jersey Wakefield’ (63 days); ‘Golden Acre’ (65 days); ‘Market Prize’ (73 days); ‘Green Boy’ (75 days); ‘Round Up’ (76 days); ‘Blue Ribbon’ (76 days); ‘Blue Boy’ (78 days); ‘Rio Verde’ (70 days); ‘Badger Ban Head’ (98 days); ‘Flat Dutch’ (105 days).
  • Savoy cabbage varieties: ‘Savoy Ace’ (80 days); ‘Savoy King’ (85 days).
  • Red cabbage varieties: ‘Red Acre’ (76 days); ‘Red Ball’ (70 days); ‘Red Ribbon’ (78 days); ‘Ruby Perfection’ (90 days)

Cabbage Varieties by Time of Harvest

  • Early-season green cabbage: ‘Bergkabis, Charmant’ (52-65 days); ‘Derby Day’ (58-65 days), ‘Discovery’, ‘Dynamo’, ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ (63-70 days); ‘Golden Acre’ (58-65 days); ‘Jingan’; ‘Julius’; ‘Mini Cole’; ‘Parel’; ‘Primo’; ‘Stonehead’ (50-70 days).
  • Early-season red cabbage: ‘Barteolo’; ‘Bentley’; ‘Cardinal’; ‘Copenhagen Market Red’; ‘Lasso’; ‘Lennox’; ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ (90-95 days); ‘Red Acre’ (75-85 days); ‘Red Debut’; ‘Red Drumhead’ (95 days); ‘Red Rodan’ (140 days); ‘Red Rookie’ (78 days); ‘Rona Red’ (98 days), ‘Rougette’; ‘Ruby Perfection’ (83-85 days); ‘Solid Red’ (83 days).
  • Midseason cabbage varieties: ‘Blue Vantage’ (76 days); ‘Copenhagen Market’ (72 days); ‘Fortuna’ (80-85 days).
  • Late-season cabbage varieties: ‘Bruswick’; ‘Danish Ballhead’ (100-105);’Gloria’; ‘January King’; ‘Late Flat Dutch’ (100-110 days); ‘Savonarch’ (110 days); ‘Solid Blue’; ‘Wivoy’.

About Cabbage

  • Cabbage is a hardy biennial grown as a cool-weather annual that can tolerate frost but not heat.
  • Cabbage grows an enlarged terminal bud of broad, overlapping leaves called a head atop a short, stubby stem. Heads can be round, flat, or pointed. Leaves can be smooth or crinkled in shades of green or reddish-purple and the head can be round, flat or pointed.
  • Cabbage varieties can come to harvest early in the season, midseason, or late season.
  • Exposed to severe frost, too little moisture, or too much heat cabbage will not form a head but instead bolt and go directly to seed.
  • Cabbage heads–which are mostly water–will expand and split if the weather grows too warm as the heads take up water more quickly than the moisture can transpire from tightly wrapped leaves.
  • Botanical name: Brassica oleracea capitata
  • Origin: Southern Europe