How to grow cabbages
Find out how to sow, grow and harvest cabbages, in this practical Grow Guide.
Cabbages are a versatile vegetable crop, coming in a range of different colours, shapes and with different leaf textures. They can be shredded in salads, added to stir-fries or mixed into soups. Due to the huge varaiety of cabbages to grow, it's possible to harvest cabbages almost all year round.
How to grow cabbages
Grow cabbages in firm, alkaline to neutral soil in a well-prepared bed. Pay attention to the seed spacing requirements on the packet – different varieties should be spaced at different intervals. Firm them in well to prevent cabbage root fly laying eggs in the soil around the stem, and use a root collar if necessary. Feed cabbages with a nitrogen-rich liquid food every fortnight. Your cabbages should be ready to harvest after around 20 weeks.
More on growing cabbages:
How to grow cabbages from seed
Different cabbages can be sown at different times of year. For best results, sow seeds indoors, 2cm deep, in pots or trays, and place on a sunny windowsill. After about five weeks, plant the young cabbages outdoors.
How to plant out cabbages
Cabbages do best in a sunny spot with moist, alkaline soil that has had plenty of well-rotted organic matter, such as garden compost, added. If you think your soil may be acidic then do a pH test and add lime to the soil if necessary. Not only will the plants grow better but it's also thought this can prevent the fungal disease club root.
Spacing requirements vary, depending on the type of cabbage you're growing: grow spring cabbages 25cm apart, with 30cm between rows; summer cabbages 38cm apart, with 30cm between rows, autumn cabbages 45cm apart, with 45cm between rows; and winter cabbages 45cm apart, with 60cm between rows.
More like this
The tried and tested way of planting brassicas crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips and Brussels sprouts, is to grow them in very firm soil. In this Gardeners' World clip from May 2013, Monty begins an experiment to compare the performance of cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale) plugs planted in the traditional manner, with plants grown in a lighter, airier raised bed. Watch now to discover how to plant brassicas and to pick up tips on spacing and dealing with cabbage root fly:
How to care for cabbages
Keep cabbage plants well watered and ensure that soil never dries out. Don't let it get waterlogged either. Feed fortnightly with a nitrogen-rich liquid feed.
Growing cabbages: problem solving
Cabbage plants are easy to care for but watch out for pigeons and the caterpillars of small and large white butterflies, known as 'cabbage whites'. Cover over your plants with a fine mesh netting to deter caterpillars, and string up some old CDs to deter birds.
Club root is a fungal disease, affecting the roots of cabbages and other brassicas, including Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnip and swede. Roots become swollen and distorted roots and overall growth can be stunted. It's difficult to completely remove from soil, but there are plenty of ways to prevent it.
In this video, Alan Titchmarsh explains why cabbages suffer from club root and how to avoid it.
How to harvest cabbages
After about 20 weeks, use a sharp knife to cut the cabbage. It's a good idea to leave a 10cm stalk, as you may get a smaller, second crop from it. Simply score a shallow cross in the stump to encourage smaller cabbages to form.
Preparing and cooking cabbages
Discard any floppy outer leaves. Cut out the hard central stalks from the leaves. Wash well, then shred and use raw in salads and coleslaw, pickled in sauerkraut, braised or lightly steamed as a side dish with a knob of butter, but never boiled to death when the taste and smell turn bitter.
Save the cooking water, which is full of vitamins, minerals and flavour, to make nutritious soups or gravy.
Cabbages are best eaten as soon as they are picked, but winter and red cabbages can both be stored in a cold place.
Cabbage varieties to try
Cabbages are grouped according to when they're ready to harvest.
Spring cabbages (sown in late summer) produce loose leaves or conical heads. Summer cabbages (sown in early spring) have large round heads. Autumn cabbages (sown in late spring) have large round heads. Winter cabbages (sown in spring) include crinkly savoys. Varieties to grow include:
- ‘Earliest Of All’ – compact, pale green heads ready for picking from July
- ‘Langedijk’ – tender heads with a white heart for use over autumn and winter
- ‘Primero’ – blackish-purple summer cabbage
- ‘Savoy King’ – autumn/winter cabbage, hardy
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