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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Cabbage

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Curious about what it could take to grow fresh cabbage heads in your vegetable garden? This tasty cool-weather crop is a favorite pick in early spring and fall. 

Cabbage is a great vegetable to grow in the home garden. It stores well, tastes delicious, and can be cooked up in many different ways. Here you’ll learn how to plant cabbage seeds, care for them as they grow, harvest your crop when it’s time, and even give some cooking suggestions!

When to Plant and Grow Cabbage

Cabbage is a cool-season vegetable and a member of the brassica plant family. That means it grows best during the early spring and fall seasons when temperatures are cooler. For an early summer harvest, plant cabbage seedlings, young plants, after all danger of frost has passed. Begin seedlings indoors first, and be sure to harden them off before transplanting to the garden. (See my full post on how to harden off seedlings.) 

In spring, plant cabbage seeds after all danger of frost has passed and nighttime temperatures remain consistently above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

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To transplant already established cabbage plants, wait until the soil is warmer and night time temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. In most areas, cabbage seedlings should be planted after the last frost date for your zone. This can vary depending on your location, but if you live in a cold region, it’s likely the last week of April or early to mid May.

For a winter harvest, plant cabbage in late summer or early fall, depending on your zone. The information on the seed package or plant information stick should advise you on the particular variety of cabbage and when it is best planted in your area. 

No luck getting your cabbage planted in early spring? Cabbage can be grown in summer as well if you have a shadier area of your garden that doesn’t get too hot and you live in milder climates.This is especially true for those in zones with a short growing season. 

Not sure what variety of cabbage to plant in your garden this year? With all of the options between red cabbage, Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage, and more, what’s a gardener to choose? Here are some tried and true varieties to get you started this garden year:

  • Golden Acre Cabbage– This heirloom variety is an early cabbage type that’s slow to bolt.
  • Red Acre Cabbage– This heirloom cabbage has a beautiful red color , and these seeds in particular are non-GMO and organic.
  • Savoy Cabbage– The crinkly leaves of savoy cabbage are tender and sweet. A fun variety to add to your early spring or fall garden!
  • Chinese Cabbage– This variety of Chinese cabbage actually forms a head, as opposed to Pak Choi and other looser leafed varieties. Try this for something new!
  • Purple Savoy Cabbage– As the name implies, this cabbage variety has many of the same qualities as a savoy cabbage, but has a rich red color. Though it can be planted in the spring, this cabbage is best suited for a fall crop. 
  • Pointy Headed Cabbage– This variety of Wakefield cabbage is typical here in the South and commonly called pointy-headed cabbage because of the point that forms at the top. A delicious variety that is also fun to grow. 
Cabbage growing in my Dad’s garden in Florida

How to Care for Cabbage in the Garden

  • Plant cabbage in a sunny spot (unless you’re growing in the middle of summer). Ideally, plants would receive 6 hours of full sun per day at a minimum.
  • Cabbage should be planted in well-drained soil, nutrient rich and pH between 6 and 7. (Not sure what your soil Ph is? Get a free soil test done at your local cooperative extension office.) Raised garden beds are a great option for cabbage since they typically drain well. 
  • Amend soil with compost before planting to be sure the plants have all the nutrients they need to grow. Cabbages are large plants, and big plants have big needs! These heavy feeders thrive in rich soil that is amended well with organic matter. (Interested in getting started composting? See my full guide for How to Start Composting at Home!) 
  • Space each plant at least 24 inches apart for cabbages that will grow larger than two pounds each. If you prefer smaller heads, they can be grown closer together or planted with other vegetables like lettuce or beans. 
  • For best results, fertilize cabbage with a good quality organic plant food about every two weeks and keep the soil moist, but not too wet. I prefer Espoma’s Garden Tone Organic fertilizer for my garden, but always have a soil test done each year to make sure you are only adding to your soil what is needed. See my full post on Why You Should Test Your Soil
  • Be on the lookout for holes in the leaves of your cabbage plants. This could indicate any number of pests, but the dreaded cabbage worm or cabbage looper can devastate a cabbage crop. (See my post on How to prevent cabbage worms.)

Common Cabbage Pests and Diseases

Cabbage is in the brassicas family, which means they are affected by many of the same diseases and pests. Diseases are much easier to prevent than cure so pay close attention when growing cabbage, especially if you have had cabbage diseases in the past.

Common cabbage pests

  • Aphids– suckering insect pests that can damage plants over the long term. These tiny pests can typically be washed away with a good spray from the garden hose, but see my full post on Getting Rid of Aphids for other natural prevention and management techniques. 
  • Cabbage looper worms– Green worms that will eat small holes through the leaves of the cabbage plants. They can be recognized by their inching movements.
  • Cabbage moths and worms- Cabbage moths are white with a black dot on the wing. They will lay their eggs on the leaves of any cole crop or brassica plant. Once the eggs hatch, the worms emerge and can decimate the leaves of the plant. See my full post on How to Prevent Cabbage Worms for natural pest control methods. 
  • Diamond back moth– Red and yellow moths whose larvae eat cabbage leaves. Watch for the moths, then check the leaves for any larvae or eggs. 
  • Root maggots– Cabbage root flies lay their eggs in the soil at the base of the plant. The larvae will then burrow into the cabbage plant and feed on them, causing serious damage to your entire plant. Look for plants that aren’t developing and appear sickly.
  • Harlequin Bug– This variety of yellow and red spotted stink bug enjoys cabbage plants and other cole crops. Be on the lookout for the eggs of the harlequin bug on cabbage plants.

Common diseases in cabbage plants:

  • Black Rot- ​A bacterial disease that can affect the size of the cabbage heads and cause the outer leaves to die back. If black rot has been an issue for you in year’s past, make sure to implement crop rotation and to use varieties of cabbage that are resistant to black rot. 
  • Downy Mildew- This mildew disease can quickly overtake an entire crop of cabbage if not taken care of. Remove any plants that are showing signs of this mildew and be sure plants are properly spaced for ventilation and that weeds are kept in check. Cool, moist conditions can contribute to downy mildew, so it’s more common to see in a fall crop than in a spring one.  

How to Harvest Cabbage

You can harvest cabbage at any time during its growing season, whether after a frost or before one, which is why it’s such an easy vegetable to grow in your garden.

Before harvesting cabbage, you need to be familiar with the variety you have grown. (Always save the tags from plants or the packages from seeds!)

Some smaller varieties will reach maturity more quickly, while others will obviously have a longer growing season, so check your growing information, and keep track of when you planted. (Need a garden planner to help you keep track of important garden info? Check out my Print and Printable Garden Planners in the shop!)

To harvest cabbage, use a sharp paring knife , and cut the cabbage from the stem at the bottom, so as to not damage other cabbage around it.

freshly harvested cabbage on kitchen counter

In late fall, you can leave cabbage in your garden until light frosts arrive. If the outer cabbage leaves seem damaged due to the frost, simply remove these when you harvest the plant.

How to Store Fresh Cabbage Heads

If you’ve harvested cabbage that you aren’t going to use immediately, be sure to store it in the refrigerator. I personally like to keep it in a plastic bag to hold in any moisture. You can leave cabbage in the fridge for up to two weeks.

If the cabbage has been cut, and part of it used, then definitely store in an airtight bag to keep that cut side from being exposed to too much air.

Cabbage Recipes to Try

  • Easy Shrimp and Cabbage– one of my Yaya’s favorites! Fresh cabbage and shrimp combine in this one pot meal that has a kick of heat!
  • Sautéed Cabbage (Well Plated by Erin)  Keep it classic with this easy sauteed cabbage that can be an easy side dish to almost any meal. 
  • Easy Sauerkraut Recipe (The Pioneer Woman)  Making sauerkraut at home is incredibly easy, so grab this recipe and keep it on hand. Sauerkraut can easily be kept in the fridge for a quick side dish or a topping for brats. 

I hope you’ll give cabbage a try in your home garden this year. With so many varieties to grow, you’ll be glad you decided to give this cool-season crop a shot! Have more cabbage growing tips? Leave them below!