Collards and Kale (cont)
By: Deborah Wechsler
You may not have noticed but there's something of a boom underway in the ornamental kale trade. These shockingly colorful kales are extremely useful during fall and early winter to landscapers in large gardens, who must please a public gone numb on mums and pansies. At Disneyland and Disney World they are planted by the thousands. Even more--hundreds of acres' worth--are used in restaurants across the country, where they serve as garnishes or as an edible underlay on lavish salad platters.
These new varieties come mostly from Japan and are called "ha-botan," or leaf peonies. The hybrid uniformity in size, color and rate of growth of these ornamental bedding plants is a distinct plus for both gardeners and commercial growers.
There are three distinct leaf types: crinkle-edged like kale, such as 'Nogoya Hybrid'; feather-leaved, like 'Red Peacock'; and round-leaved, such as 'Tokyo Hybrid', which looks something like a collard or cabbage and may even be listed as "ornamental cabbage." Each kind comes with centers of red, pink or creamy white. The usual practice is to plant at least two types for contrast.
Timing Ornamental Kales
To grow any of the ornamental kales to perfection, timing needs to be precise. Coloration doesn't begin until night temperatures regularly drop below 60oF, and full coloration takes three to four weeks. The plants need to be almost full grown when coloring time arrives. Here are some guidelines for achieving that:
- Plant seed 75 days before the onset of cool nights. Germination occurs in about 10 days at 70° F.
- Plan on growing the kales in containers for at least two months, until it's time to rejuvenate annual flower plantings.
- Grow the plants quickly, using ample fertilizer and water. Stop fertilizing after the plants reach full size, or they won't color properly.
- When seedlings have three to four true leaves, pot them up to four-inch containers.
- Set them a foot apart in the garden and watch the color change begin.
- Consider using ornamental kales for long-lasting and unusual cut flowers for the holiday season. Use these special techniques to develop small heads (six to eight inches) on long stems (16 to 24 inches).
- Start seed two weeks earlier than kales destined for use as bedding plants.
- Follow the same transplanting and fertilizing regime as above, but space the plants very closely together, about five or six inches apart. This keeps the heads small and forces elongated stems.
- Remove the lower leaves when the plants are six inches tall. Repeat this two to four times until the coloring period arrives.
- When plants get 10 inches tall, support them with a stake.
Deborah Wechsler is a freelance writer and consultant based in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
Photography by National Gardening Association