Cabbage is one of those “cool weather” crops that has stymied me for a while. Being in zone 9 means that one has to take advantage of the fall season, just when you think you get to take a break from your summer garden, if you want to have success with these kinds of crops.
Cabbage, like broccoli, actually germinates best in warm soil but matures better in cooler air temperatures. That means it’s really meant to be planted in fall. Spring planting can work, too, but I have found that spring can be too unpredictable. There are often sudden warm streaks that prevent proper head development and before you know it it’s summer. At that point, you won’t get much more growth to the cabbage head.
*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*
Cabbage can grow very large so you will want to be sure to give them space. They should be 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart in each direction. When starting from seed, I will usually plant 2-3 seeds per hole and thin out to one seedling per hole once they are 1-2 inches high. Thin seedlings by cutting the stems of the smaller plants at the soil level. I have had success moving some of the seedlings to holes where plants were not successful by very GENTLY digging the seedlings out and teasing apart the roots, then gently rebury them in the desired location. However, it can be risky as the roots are very delicate at this point.
For zone 9, starting in late summer to early fall is best. Be sure that the variety you plant will have time to mature before frost danger. You may be able to find pre-started plants at your local nursery for planting in the spring to give you an early enough start for plants to mature before it heats up. If not, you can start cabbage seeds indoors or in a greenhouse about 1-2 months before the last expected frost date, then transplant once the seedlings are a few inches tall and frost danger has passed.
Cabbage requires a fair amount of nutrients so be sure to amend the soil with rich compost to feed it. There are a few pests to be aware of, as well. Aphids can be a big problem, but are easily removed by hosing them off or spraying with insecticidal soap. Cabbage worms, snails, slugs, and cutworms are all other problems that can cause physical damage to the plant. Be sure to monitor your cabbages for damage and remove the critters as needed. It’s also important to provide consistent moisture in order to prevent splitting of the head as its forming.
The plant will only produce one head, so as soon as it has reached a good size harvest it by pulling out the whole plant then peel off the outer leaves and cut the head at the base. The unused portions can be composted. You can store your cabbage in the same manner as my method for root vegetables to keep it fresh for a very long time until you are ready to use it, like my cabbage roll recipe!
- Height: up to 1-2 feet, depending on the variety
- Width: up to 2-3 feet, depending on the variety
- Sun: full sun, or part shade in warm weather
- Water: keep soil moist, but not soggy
- Soil pH: 6.5 – 7.5
- Soil type: loose, amend with organic material if soil is either very sandy or heavy clay
- Key nutrients: balanced with a little more nitrogen to support leaf development
- Planting time: zones 8+ in early fall or early spring