Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Cabbage Essentials

by National Gardening Association Editors


  • Cabbage is grows best when the heads mature in cool weather, so plan to harvest before the onset of hot weather in summer or in the fall.
  • For a spring-planted crop, buy transplants at a nursery or start seedlings indoors 50 to 60 days before the last spring frost date.
  • Late-maturing varieties are best for fall harvests.
  • Plant them in early summer in the North, mid- to late summer in central and southern areas. Chinese cabbages are best grown for a fall harvest.


  • A week or so before planting, mix three or four shovelfuls of aged manure or compost into the planting bed for each transplant you'll set out, or use a balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-10 at the rate of 3 to 4 pounds per 100 square feet.


  • For spring crops, set out well-hardened cabbage transplants in the garden 2 or 3 weeks before the last expected frost date. Space early-maturing cabbages 12 to 15 inches apart, either in beds or single rows; later types, 18 to 24 inches apart.
  • For fall crops, sow seeds directly in the garden. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep, 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.
  • Sow seeds for Chinese cabbage in the fall 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep and 3 inches apart.


  • When cabbages are 4 to 5 inches tall, thin or transplant to stand 18 to 24 inches apart; Chinese cabbages should be thinned to 12 to 15 inches apart.
  • About a month after transplanting, side-dress cabbages with about 1 pound of 10-10-10 or its equivalent per 25 feet of single row. Side-dress Chinese cabbages with 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 or its equivalent per 15-foot single row when plants are 4 to 6 inches tall, and every 3 weeks thereafter.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to retain moisture.
  • See our article Summer's Bad Guys by Charlie Nardozzi for controls of common cabbage pests such as aphids, root maggots, cabbageworms, and cabbage loopers.


  • Start harvesting when cabbage heads are firm and softball size.
  • Cut the head from the stem with a sharp knife and discard the outer leaves.
  • Begin harvesting Chinese cabbage when the leaves are 10 inches tall and still loose or wait until the heads are formed.
  • To keep cabbage as long as possible, harvest late in the season before hard freezes and keep heads in a cold, moist area.

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