The 411 on How to Grow and Harvest Cabbage
Chop it for coleslaw or shred it for stir-fry. Any way you slice it, cabbage is king.
This hybrid cabbage forms big, blue-green heads. Southern gardeners can plant it in spring and fall. It's a good summer cabbage for Northern gardens.
Cabbage loves cool weather. It’s hardy enough to tolerate a light freeze or frost, and many gardeners say the cold sweetens its flavor. If you planted in spring or early summer, your cabbages will be ready to harvest by fall.
If you didn't plant this year, you can sow cabbage seeds next spring. Start them indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. The plants will be ready for the garden after they produce their second set of leaves. But before you transplant them, harden them off by putting them outside in a sheltered spot for a couple of hours each day. Gradually increase their time outdoors over a week or so. Then space them as far apart in the ground as directed on the seed package, and mulch to help retain moisture and prevent weeds. Thin the transplants when they’re about 5” high. Buy cabbage starts, if you'd rather skip the seeds.
'Chinese Napa' has a mild taste and thick, white midribs. Plant it in full sun to partial shade, in fall, spring or early summer. It’s ready to harvest in 45-60 days.
Wait about 3 weeks before applying fertilizer, and keep the soil evenly moist to help prevent the heads from splitting. Give them 1-2” inches of water per week if there’s not enough rain.
Harvesting and Storing Cabbage
Your seed packet will tell you approximately when your variety will mature, but you can double-check by squeezing the heads. When they're ready to harvest, they'll feel firm and solid.
Use a sharp knife to cut the head from the base, leaving the outer leaves on the stalk so smaller, side heads can grow. (Early cabbages are your best bet for getting a second harvest.) Remove all but 3 or 4 side heads, which will grow about as big as tennis balls.
W. Atlee Burpee Co.
Use the large, mild leaves of 'Big Flat Head' as sandwich wraps or for slaw or cooked dishes. Give it full sun and harvest in 80-85 days.
Instead of cutting the cabbage heads, some gardeners grab them with both hands and pull, or give them a quick twist to snap them off. Keep the cut heads in a shady spot until you take them indoors.
After you've harvested the heads, pull the plants out of the ground. Toss healthy plant parts into the compost pile, and trash anything that looks diseased or infested with pests.
Let the heads dry, and loosely wrap them in plastic. Store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
When you’re ready to plant next season, start before the temperatures rise. If you live where the weather heats up fast, wait until fall to plant, or about 8 weeks before your first frost.
Rotate your crops to different parts of your garden every year, so diseases won’t build up in the soil.
Let The Kids Grow Giant Cabbages
Registration is open year-round for the National Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program. It’s a free, fun way to get kids interested in gardening and outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine.
Any third-grade classroom in the U.S. can participate. Third grade teachers, sign up for the 2018 program. Be sure to register before Feb. 15, 2018, or your school may not get a spot until next year.
Once your registration is confirmed, Bonnie Plants trucks will deliver 2” cabbage plants, and instructions for growing them, to each school in the spring of 2018. To make the contest more fun, the plants are oversized varieties that can grow to over 40 pounds.
The kids will grow their cabbages at home, and at the end of the growing season, each teacher will choose a class winner. (Teachers, you’ll get details on how to choose.) The winning names will be entered in a state-wide scholarship drawing, and 48 winners will be randomly selected by each state’s Department of Agriculture. One student from each state will receive a $1,000 scholarship.
In case you’re wondering: the biggest cabbage grown for the contest to date weighed 75-pounds! For more information, see Bonnie Plants.