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What Are the Best Tips for Growing Cabbage?

Eugene P.
Eugene P.

Growing cabbage can be an incredibly rewarding and easy experience for some gardeners and a frustrating and confusing disaster for others. Cabbage is a vegetable that is particularly sensitive to water, temperature and soil composition, more than some other common garden plants. The broad, tightly packed leaves also can make a home for some harmful insects that can go undetected until it is too late. Additionally, as easy as cabbage is to grow in some areas, planting times can make a large difference in the development of the head. With the proper care, growing cabbage can yield large heads of the vegetable in the spring or fall, or both with staggered plantings.

One tip for successfully growing cabbage is to know when to plant. Cabbage enjoys cool weather and, as a mature plant, thrives in it, although the seedlings are not as resilient before they are hardened off. There are two times when cabbage should be planted: either a few weeks before the final frost in the spring or at the end of summer as the weather starts to become cooler.

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Planting in the spring, especially from seed, can be risky. If the weather does not warm up before the plants have hardened off, then they might not ever form a head, an event known as bolting. Should the weather get too warm too quickly, bolting could occur and any heads that do form might crack and die. These risks can be mitigated by using seedlings that have been hardened off indoors and making sure the soil is prepared correctly.

Two of the reasons why a cabbage plant could die, fail to grow or crack open are water and heat. A cabbage plant is very sensitive to the amount of water it receives. Should there be a period of inadequate watering followed by aggressive watering, the leaves will absorb too much water and break apart the tightly compressed cabbage head. This means that, while growing cabbage, the water levels for the plants need to be maintained as consistently as possible.

Heat can be another problem when growing cabbage. The term "bolting" means the cabbage has, in a way, misinterpreted outdoor conditions and is attempting to put all available energy into seed production instead of growing leaves. Once the seeds are produced, the plant will die. This can be avoided by using shade cloth during heat waves and planting the cabbage in an area that gets a small amount of shade during the day in hotter zones.

The soil in which a cabbage is planted should be prepared in a way to help prevent some of the problems that can make growing cabbage unsuccessful. Water is going to be a constant concern, so mulch is an important addition to the soil. The ground itself also should be well drained so excess moisture will not well up around the roots. Fertilizer can be applied frequently, especially if it contains a high amount of nitrogen, although over-fertilizing might cause the head to crack. Finally, when the season is over, one should avoid replanting cabbage in the same area to prevent diseases such as black rot from developing in the ground.

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